«EMERGENCE Metta Center for Nonviolence EMERGENCE magazine is a monthly e-magazine by the Metta Center dedicated to sharing stories about nonviolence ...»
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Metta Center for Nonviolence
EMERGENCE magazine is a monthly e-magazine by the Metta Center dedicated to sharing stories
about nonviolence movements worldwide.
Note from Executive Director | Stephanie Van Hook | p3
Editorial | Michael Nagler | p5
Nonviolence & Music | Will Travers | p7
Storytelling & Politics | Conversation with novelist Aruni Kashyap | p11 Book Excerpt | The House with a Thousand Stories | p 13 Art, Truth & Violence | Conversation with cartoonist Mir Suhail | p17 Education Corner |Stephanie Knox Cubbon| p22
OUR MISSIONOur mission is to promote the transition to a nonviolent future by making the logic, history, and yet-un- explored potential of nonviolence more accessible to activists and agents of cultural change (which ultimately includes all of us). We focus on root causes (sometimes called “upstream” causes) to help people in any walk of life discover their innate capacity for nonviolence and use it more strategically for long-term transformation of themselves and the world. We work to challenge and replace the pre- vailing worldview with a much higher image of humanity informed by nonviolence and its implications for the meaning of life and value of the person.
Board of Directors Michael Nagler, Founder & President Richard J. Meyer James Phoenix, Vice President James Schuyler Gilda Bettencourt, Secretary Tal Palter-Palman Maja Bengtson Prashant Nema Anna Leinberger Susan Rockrise Tiffany Ornelas de Tool note from executive director stephanie van hook D ear Beloved Community, In this issue of Emergence Magazine we turn our attention from movements worldwide in order to explore the power of art within those movements. But is not art itself a kind of movement? In a culture that looks to com- modities over creations, to meaninglessness instead of purpose, art is a midwife to the spirit itself! The explora- tion of beauty, power, personal creation; the engagement of art with society--to tell a story, serve a purpose, even create purpose and meaning in some instances, not to mention the immense healing, cathartic salves--art is a revolutionary tool embodying the revolution itself as it proceeds.
Turning hatred into love, transforming fear into fearlessness; there is perhaps nothing more beautiful than this gentle artistry of the heart. By our very being human, this art is ours for perfecting.
S ome fifteen years ago Bob Dylan was invited to give a concert at – of all places – West Point.
The troops-to-be loved the show. Naturally, some reporters asked a commanding officer, didn’t they sense a certain cognitive dissonance (Dylan had not tried to hide his strong anti-war stand). The officer said, “Oh, we were just listening to some nice music.” I was reminded how the future Augustine, not yet a saint, went to hear his mentor-to-be Ambrose in Rome “to pick up some tips on public speaking,” only to find himself overwhelmed by Ambrose’s passionate exposition of the Christian faith. Hopefully Dylan had some such effect on those music-loving soldiers, for a rhythmic message can be more powerful than simple argument.
A striking example of something else that art can do unfolded in a violence-plagued school recently in New England. The place had driven many a principal to despair when one younger person tried a different and counter-intuitive approach (if you think our present conditioning is really intuitive): the first thing he did on stepping into the desperate job was to fire the entire security staff, and with the money he saved set up an art program. It was the end of the violence in that school. By having the courage to give up on the “security” of arms and turn it in for some art he ended up with both.
Art has played an important, but sometimes ambiguous role throughout the history of social change. Art can, when it works, touch deep chords. It can awaken passions more dynamically than the levels of communication that appeal to reason only. Songs have brought down dictators and roused populations (usually in reverse order). But art has also been misused to make fun of persons rather than actions, and that’s a setback for the deeper capacities of nonviolence.
I have long been pessimistic about the use of symbols in nonviolent action. I think we overuse them, inadvertently sending a message that we can’t do anything concrete. I noticed years back – and checked my hunch with Arun Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson – that Gandhi virtually never did anything that was just symbolic.
He marched, not to demonstrate his commitment (or even just to rouse followers) but to pick up real, i.e. concrete, physical salt as an act of civil disobedience, which worked. His people spun khaddar (homespun cotton) that was not just, as Nehru said, “the livery of our freedom:” it put food and clothing on starving millions and reminded them that they had power to take back their culture and their economy from the colonial regime.
Art can provide, as it did at West Point, a safe space for the kind of criticism that would lead to outrage and repression if it were aired in other forms. The griots of various West African societies, for example, who function as advisors to kings and chiefs, sometimes enjoy extraordinary license to criticize their rulers in ways that would otherwise get them killed. I suppose that with the weakening of our commitment to truth and muddling of genres today – ‘infotainment,’ ‘infomercial,’ etc. – we have something a bit similar: one could watch Oliver Stone’s JFK and tell oneself that it’s “fiction,” which one could not do with, for example, James Douglass’s superbly researched JFK and the Unthinkable. But it’s not clear that the film, impressive as it was, led to much change in attitude among the unconvinced.
The Filipino singer and activist Renato M. Reyes, Jr. recently said, “Music is …an outlet where we can express ourselves and help amplify the message to a broader audience.” We can. But we can also feel that once we’ve ‘expressed ourselves’ we’ve done our job, the nonviolent battle’s won. This can be dangerous.
I believe we should think of art in nonviolence as we do symbolism in general. Art is strong when it reflects reality, not when it replaces reality. It can work powerfully to galvanize and inspire people to action, not so well when they think that expressing themselves is the action. Within those guidelines art has been and will hopefully continue to have a crucial role in nonviolent action
I f as an average American we begin to free associate, putting together the words ‘nonviolence’ and ‘music’ we might think of someone like Pete Seeger – someone who had the power to get audiences of all ages singing along to songs of uplift and inclusion like, “We Shall Overcome,” but who could also pen a biting antiwar song, “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy,” censored by CBS in 1967. We might think of Marvin Gaye, whose mainstream appeal allowed him to ask “What’s Going On?” and have almost everyone say collectively, “Right on!” We might think of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, of Mahalia Jackson and Odetta – anyone, really, who became associated with the US Civil Rights movement. But according to these traditional definitions, in the United States we tend to think a protest singer has to either carry an acoustic guitar and a harmonica holder, or themselves represent a group marginalized by society.
My personal introduction to the intersection of music and nonviolence, however, goes back to the hardcore punk subculture of the 1980s. Though by no means the only songs of that genre dealing with social and political issues, a few that reached my tape player were compositions like “Bottled Violence” by Minor Threat, and “Holiday In Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys. A bit later on I was exposed to tunes written in reaction to the first Gulf War, such as “Face The Flag” by 411, and “Facet Squared” by Fugazi, both touching upon the absurdities and dangers of patriotism and blind adherence to ideology. Though the lyrical content was perhaps familiar to fans of earlier protest songs and opponents of earlier wars, traditional folk music this was not.
So I’ve always been quick to admit that loud, guitar-based music typically accompanied by slam-dancing and stage-diving is not the first thing people think of when they contemplate the ways in which nonviolence and music can be combined. Yet therein lies the beauty of the art form. Virtually any style of music can be used to convey social and political messages, just the way virtually any visual medium can be used – theater, film, poetry, graffiti, even dance. One need look no further than Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” or the Philip Glass opera “Satyagraha” to see how traditional European music can be molded in this direction, or if you prefer jazz, Max Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite” and Les McCann’s “Compared To What” are both equally powerful.
08 Image@Lokashakti When well done, music can affect us in a great many ways: gutturally, emotionally, cerebrally. It can even encourage very real lifestyle changes. My own experience as a teenager is instructive: within the tradition of hardcore music there are a handful of songs that discuss issues surrounding vegetarianism and animal rights.
Two early compositions that affected me deeply were “Cats And Dogs” by Gorilla Biscuits and “No More” by Youth Of Today, both New York-based bands from the late 1980s. I made the decision at age 15 to become a vegetarian, and those two songs helped keep the ideas in my head as I was making up my mind. This was a concrete lifestyle change, and it happened to me personally, so that’s how I’ve always measured what kind of an impact a musician is capable of creating.
Lokashakti Records grew out of a desire to create music with a revolutionary message that could also have a chance at finding a large audience. There have been innumerable politically trenchant critiques set to music in recent years, and yet most protest songs are never able to reach the mainstream. It takes a great amount of skill as a lyricist to insert political messages that are neither so obvious that people feel like they’re being beaten over the head, nor so vague that no one’s really sure what the song’s about. The trick while composing protest music is to find that middle ground, and our record label is designed very specifically to promote artists who are able to achieve that goal, all while crafting the highest quality music.
We’ve only just started our journey at Lokashakti Records, but we have high hopes for the future. Although the record industry today is a vastly different place than it was even just 20 years ago, we’re confident that we can make a positive impact promoting talented, socially aware musicians from around the world. And even though as an organization we have nowhere near the support necessary to be able to promote anyone yet the way we’d like to, we’ve become part of a truly amazing community of activists and musicians engaged in some of the most promising efforts you could imagine at that intersection of music and nonviolence. Please stay in touch with us as we grow throughout the years
H ow can art be effectively used as a form of political statement to promote nonviolence? Give some examples from your personal work or others work where we see art playing an important role in shaping contemporary events.
I think there is a narrative in the heart of every piece of art. I think like that because I am a storyteller but storytelling is very crucial in a politically charged situation where human rights are denied and violated with impunity. Art, because of its public nature, brings the perpetrators of human rights violations to a public trial by exposing the reality to the public. On the other hand, when art travels, it invites sympathy. In fact, stories are the only way one can raise awareness about the graveness of a situation – reporting, photography, fiction, poetry, are all ways of telling stories about people. All kinds of human rights intervention take place after stories are circulated, that helps in forming public opinion. Of course, who is telling and what kind of stories is being circulated is important. We need a balance of stories, and we need storytellers from the grassroots. But this is how art can be used to form a consensus, awareness.
My novel is set against a series of extra-judicial killings allegedly committed by the Indian government during the late 90s in the state of Assam to curb an armed dissent. This episode is known as the secret killings of Assam. Numerous investigations have been conducted to nab the culprits, but the relatives of the victims who were killed are yet to receive justice. There are many versions and theories about the series of murders. I tried to represent this situation of chaos in my novel by telling the story in a non-linear way because I wanted to create a textual equivalent of the atmosphere of fear and suppression that prevailed during that period and I thought the non-linear way would be the most suitable. This atmosphere, this chaos, is represented in the broken sequence of the novel. That’s why the central story of the novel is buried within many other stories because the novel emerges from a political context where stories are suppressed, where people know what is the truth and yet don’t know if it is really the truth at all.
As an artist how do you respond to violence around you? You have written about a violent and bloody chapter of Assam, tell us more about the experience of dealing with such difficult topics.