Campaign Nonviolence Conference Call June 2016 with Walter Conser on American Independence
On June 28, 2016 we held our latest Campaign Nonviolence Conference Call. On the call we welcomed guest speaker Walter H. Conser, Jr. who literally wrote the book on the nonviolent history of American Independence, and talked about the nonviolent campaigns that established independence, self-rule, autonomy, and economic, social, and political noncooperation with the British Empire.
Campaign Nonviolence National Conference Call
June 28, 2016, 5pm Pacific/ 8pm Eastern (60 minutes)
Listen to the call here:
Welcome -Rivera Sun
Opening – Rivera Sun
There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that. –Mark Twain
Roll Call – Ryan Hall – 80 People registered to join this call!
CNV in 2016 – Rivera Sun
Welcome to CNV, we’re working on creating a culture of peace and nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism, environmental destruction and the epidemic of violence.
Thank you to the thousand ways you contribute to this movement to build a culture of nonviolence.
Guest Speakers section
Rivera Sun introduces Walter Conser
Walt Conser is a professor of religion and a professor of history at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He is co-editor along with Gene Sharp and others of Before Lexington: Resistance, Politics, and the American Struggle for Independence, 1765-1775 which is forthcoming quite soon from the Albert Einstein Institute in Boston.
Walter Conser shares his research on nonviolence during American Independence
Walter said most of us are familiar with the standard story that Americans won their independence through the war. However what his research challenges is that interpretation to show that there was a lot of nonviolent struggle between 1765 and 1775 specifically around the Stamp Act, Townsend Act and the Intolerable Act. That decade of nonviolent struggle shows that the nonviolent resistance that took place in those 10 years undermined American allegiance to British Institutions and replaced that allegiance with parallel American Institutions. This decade of resistance established de facto independence in the majority of the 13 colonies prior to the outbreak of military hostilities.
John Adams noted that the American revolution is not the history of military operations, but rather in the union of the colonies, in the minds and hearts of the American people before the commencement of military hostilities took place.For Adams independence was a reality before the battle of Concord and therefore the American independence is not the war.
There were a variety of forms of nonviolent tactics and popular resistance that took place such as protest and persuasion, demonstrations, parades, political symbols. Another example, similar to Gandhi’s spinning, in 1769 in Massachusetts and Rhode Island ministers gathered women in their congregations to spin their own threads and cotton so as not to use British goods and to have a sense of their own liberty.
Various campaigns of noncooperation between 1765 and 1775 refused to do what was expected or ordered. The most familiar one was non-importation campaigns where Americans would boycott British goods. By refusing to purchase British goods that put pressure on British merchants which in turn put pressure on British politicians. This helped repeal the Stamp Act through nonviolent means. Another example would be non-consumption which basically was buying only American made goods. Finally, non-exportation which didn’t allow Americans to ship anything to England. All these types of campaigns challenged the allegiance to the British Crown.
The development of parallel American institutions is crucial to this story as well since that is how the de facto American independence took place. The Stamp Act and Townsend Act are good examples of this. Between 1774 and 1775 there was a deeper awareness of a growing American identity which helped fuel further nonviolent resistance and helped bring about the First Continental Congress. This congress coordinated the noncooperation campaigns as one unified strategy. This ended up becoming a parallel government and Americans began to transfer their allegiance to this Congress. In reality American independence had been achieved by 1774/1775 via nonviolent means which took place before Lexington and Concord.
The battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 during the 2nd Continental Congress created a shift in strategy to military actions. By this point George Washington was put in charge of military operations, but it’s important to note that he was actually a supporter of these nonviolent methods of resistance prior to military operations. Walt said that prior to the battle Americans understood what they achieved but not what further accomplishments were possible. Walt said that basically Americans achieved independence through nonviolent means but defended it through war. However that war had many repercussions and there were no strategic considerations given to the shift to military struggle. Nonviolent action works on a broad basis of support. After military operations begin though that broad support diminishes and is mostly left to active young males. He also said that armed resistance was not that popular and was a polarizing event that weakened American unity.
Walt said that there were instances of violence during this nonviolent struggle. For example the Boston Tea Party infuriated the British government which brought down the full power of the British army on Americans. He also mentioned tarring and feathering which actually was very limited and were private grudges not political aims. Even Sam Adams said that “nothing can ruin us expect our violence.
The nonviolent methods used were very pragmatic. Resistance wasn’t carried out by principled pacifists, but by people who simply wanted to resist the Crown effectively and had no thorough understanding of how nonviolent action works. Ultimately Walt said that the standard interpretation that this decade 1765-1775 was simply a prelude to the real action of military campaigns is fundamentally wrong. Instead we see in this decade systematic, economic, political and social forms of nonviolent resistance which shifted the power to the colonies and supplied the potential foundation for an independent self governing nation after 1783.
Q & A
Rivera Sun: She said she never learned anything about this in history classes and asked how curriculum can be re-worked for our children and adults to change the narrative. Walter said that the role of nonviolent struggle has often been overlooked or marginalized so that that decade was only a prelude to the war. The first thing we need to do is become better informed. There are a number of books that provide histories of this period. America really has a rich history of nonviolent action, including resistance around slavery, labor unions, women’s movement, civil rights and farm workers movements. He also suggested conversations around this in small communities for boards of education and textbooks.
Randy Gamble in Tennessee: He asked about the nonviolent action that took place by African Americans during 1765-1775. Walter said this nonviolent struggle didn’t include many African Americans since they were mostly enslaved. When the declaration of independence was signed it also didn’t include women or African Americans.
Catherine Schroeder in Ohio: The threat of violence is often used as a way to create any kind of revolutionary changes to take place, if not actual violence. How could we communicate to others that this is not necessarily the case to create change? Walter said that this decade of resistance, 1765-1775 took place 10 years prior to the war, and the threat of violence didn’t happen until later in that period, which meant threatening violence didn’t mean much. A second point is that people resist oppression, that’s what motivates people to change. Resisting in a military sense would have been suicide so people chose the best ways they knew how by withdrawing cooperation which would change the balance of power. People power is what brings about change not violence.
Angela Parker in California: She said she is a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and wanted to bring these ideas to them and asked whether Walter had been in touch with them at all. Walter said he hasn’t been in touch with them, but suggested that if she has a conversation with them to stress that we are not denying their heritage or legacy. What we are talking about is looking at the number of women involved during this decade before the war. They had a huge impact on American Independence via nonviolent means, but when the shift to war began they got sidelined. Walter said that 4400 people died in the war, and that if Americans continued the nonviolent method of independence there still would have been sacrifices, but not likely 4400 people.
Alice Soto in California: She works with Military Families Speak Out, a counter-recruitment effort, and she would like to get this information to them. Walter will send us some more resources which we will share online. He also mentioned that nonviolent action requires the same kind of courage that violent action requires. You have to be courageous and disciplined for both. Nonviolence is not passive, but involves often putting lives on the line.
Rivera Sun: What is one major take-home lesson for today in our contemporary lives that we can learn. Walter said that stories of national origin provide conceptions of national identity. We celebrate on the 4th of July these charter events, but what would it all be about if we realized the true history which includes nonviolent action. We could be inspired and informed by it. We have to learn that this happened. We also have to ask questions about it, why did it work and what lessons can we learn. We also have to realize that violence is not the only way, it hasn’t been in the past and doesn’t need to be in the future.
Rivera Sun: Would the movement of nonviolent resistance have been successful in achieving real American Independence without shifting to violent methods? Walter thinks Americans would have been successful and the British would have faced widespread non cooperation throughout all the colonies. Basically Americans had de facto independence so essentially the British would have tried to occupy all the colonies against a population determined to resist. Also by 1774 there was widespread support for the nonviolent methods of independence but when military operations come into play you shrink support because less people can be involved.
Savannah Hawkins in Illinois: She said she felt the the US was founded on conflict since we used so much violence against the Native Americans.
CNV Action Organizers stories
Randy Gamble Tennessee: He said they are working on the lynching site project and want to do a nonviolent action around racial terror. He’s hoping to see if anyone has other ideas around this project. Rivera said she will certainly let him know if we hear anything and thanked him for his work.
Pam Kemp in British Columbia, Canada: They will be celebrating Canada’s #8 position on the global peace index. They will be walking to 8 different places with quotes from different peace makers along with crafts and other activities.
Josh Carpenter in Ohio: He is working on a website called thepeaceablerevolution.org. He’s hoping to provide more theoretical info on nonviolence and wants to highlight important people in the Christian Nonviolence movement. He’s also looking for more diverse populations of people too, including women and people of color.
Chris Nelson in California: She said seven of her friends were arrested at Beale AFB against drones and asked how this applies to our times now and how to get more people involved. Rivera said that there are a lot of dimensions to nonviolent strategies. Rivera said she would be in contact with her directly to help her sustain her movement and grow it. Ken Butigan thanked Chris for her efforts too, especially for getting arrested. He said she was on the right track!
Wrap-up – Rivera Sun
Date and Time of Next Meeting:Tuesday, July 26th, 8pm ET/5pm PT, with a special focus on YOU! CNV organizers are highly encouraged to come to this call with news about their September Week of Actions events to inspire one another.
Thank you to Walter, everyone on the call, PeB staff.·
Closing – Ryan Hall read the CNV Pledge
Here are a few of the relevant books suggested by Walter Conser:
Ronald McCarthy & Gene Sharp eds., Nonviolent Action: a research guide (NY: Garland, 1997) [a good bibliography up to 1997]
Roger Powers et al., eds. , Protest, Power, and Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action [good, short entries on a variety of topics]
Adam Roberts & Timothy Garton Ash, eds., Civil Resistance and Power Politics [case studies of nonviolent action]
Maciej Bartkowski, ed., Recovering Nonviolent History [case studies, including my essay on the American struggle for independence]
W. Conser, Gene Sharp, et al., eds. Before Lexington: Resistance, Politics, and the American Struggle for Independence, 1765-1775 [forthcoming from Albert Einstein Institution]
The Albert Einstein Institution has many more resources which are available at no cost and can be downloaded by individuals. Their website is www.aeinstein.org . They also serve as a clearinghouse for much local, national, and international news about current nonviolent struggles in the world.
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict also is a good resource for information about current nonviolent struggles. Their website is www.nonviolent-conflict.org .