You Can’t Improvise Non-Violent Resistance

Non-violent resistance takes minute preparation: not just physical and intellectual, but spiritual, too. Does MUD really understand what it’s signing up for?

To take on an authoritarian regime, your best bet is non-violent resistance. We know that. It has shown the best and more effective results in the last 100 years but if has to be carried out right. To succeed, NVR needs structure. It needs cadres with the right mindset and training.

In an ideal world, we would’ve spent the last six months training tens of thousands of MUD cadres around the country on these principles and these techniques instead of chasing the impossible recall dream. In the world we live in, this is a task we can delay no longer.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Main Luther King Jr. explains that non-violent resistance has four phases: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.

The first phase has been duly covered by all kinds of civil society institutions, NGOs and politicians, very much including Caracas Chronicles. Injustice is rife in Venezuela and perpetrated by the State: if you read this blog, you know. The second phase is negotiation. Can the oppressing party open channels to resolve the injustice? Again, the answer in the Venezuelan case is clear. It’s been proven over and over again, most recently with the deadly halt to the RR.

Self-purification is not easy. It requires committed activism. You have to put yourself through physical and mental training to resist violence.

The third stage is the one that concerns me the most. When you’re attack, your instinct is to fight back. To meet violence with violence. Non-violence resistance is specifically about not doing that. MLK Jr (and Gandhi before him) called the process of preparing for this self-purification. And that’s something that has to be learned…and taught.

Self-purification is not easy. It requires committed activism. You have to put yourself through physical and mental training to resist violence. You have to be prepared to go to jail. This isn’t some afterthought. This is the heart of the matter. NVR is a political tactic with a spiritual dimension — it’s no surprise that it’s most famous practitioners have often been religious leaders. One thing’s for sure: you can’t wing it.  

Only after completing all three of these stages does it make sense to take direct action.

Direct action doesn’t need to be massive. It should be in some instances but in many others small, agile protests are better. You need to plan the escape routes. Make sure that injustice is visible and documented. This is no game for old ladies, who, even if they’re deeply committed, can have patatús at any moment.

MUD’s leadership is top heavy with old-style politicos, people at home at El Alazán with a steak and a pinky-stirred-whiskey.

Now, is MUD really prepared for the berenjenal it’s getting itself into? Are MUD’s leaders, and opposition activists in general, cognizant of the scale of the challenge?

This is the thing that keeps me up at night.

MUD’s leadership is top heavy with old-style politicos, people at home at El Alazán with a steak and a pinky-stirred-whiskey. People who understand their profession as centered on negotiating in back-rooms, making speeches at the National Assembly and organizing elections campaigns. That’s good and vital work…but it’s not this.

Seriously, have you seen Simon Calzadilla give a speech? Enrique Márquez? Omar Barboza? These are the guys who are going to lead our non-violent resistance? Really?!

The 2014 protests showed more than just the lengths at which the government is willing to go to repress us, but on how unprepared we were as activists to rise to the occasion.

If we go to Miraflores, what are people imagining they’ll be greeted with? What do they imagine will happen if they reach their destination? Are they ready to be subjected to physical violence and respond non-violently?

The reception Chúo Torrealba has received for even daring to suggest negotiation is a sign that we’re not really prepared. The ultimate goal of non-violence is to strike a deal with the oppressor and erase injustice. Here’s MLKJr. from his Birmingham jail:

You may well ask, “Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So, the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. We therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in the tragic attempt to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

The struggle might be just beginning. The preparations are late. 

Rodrigo Linares

Many interests, little time. Mechanical Engineer, first from USB, later from MIT. Making a living as a machine designer.