The foundation for nonviolent alternatives to military force can have their roots in community action. I recently gave a presentation to the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Rochester, New York. Afterwards I scooted up to Waterloo, Ontario to attend a presentation by Nobel peace prizewinner Jody Williams who talked about the need for taking action, rather than just talking about peace.
Consistent with Jody’s message, Gandhi talked about the need for “constructive program” in addition to obstructive actions against injustice. As defined by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, “Constructive program is action taken within the community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression.” Constructive programs provide for the basic human needs of food, shelter, clothing and I would add, a sense of meaning in one’s life. They also contribute to a sense of self worth and self-sufficiency.
The Gandhi Institute is an excellent example of constructive program in action – a nonprofit organization accomplishing impressive things on a meager budget. Its Director is Kit Miller, who previously headed the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication program here in Oakland. She provides the inspiration of the Institute in the areas of restorative justice, environmental and economic sustainability and race relations as applications of nonviolence.
What constructive program means to them is local community action. In spite of their internationally recognizable name, this nonprofit has chosen to work deeply within the local community as opposed to attempting to operate worldwide.
The range of their programs is impressive, focusing on:
- Youth violence – prevention of bullying and gang violence by offering opportunities for youth to design and coordinate their own community project while receiving instruction in the principles and practices of nonviolence.
- Organic Farming – operation of a student run program at the University of Rochester to provide local food for student consumption while educating the community on social justice issues surrounding food.
- Environmental Protection - a program called Gandhi River Keepers that teaches citizens to see how even small efforts of debris cleanup can improve the environment, how all life forms are ultimately connected and how our habits impact the sustainability of other species.
- Nonviolence Education – operation of the Gandhi Reading Room, a resource center in the UR campus library containing the complete works of Gandhi and articles written by and about him.
- Nonviolent Communication – a regular series of lectures on techniques of nonviolent communication.
- Women and Race – facilitated retreats for women who seek to create a better community by working through the issues of race and ethnicity in Rochester.
- Youth Activities – a Youth Activist Movement Program that provides professional training for youth ages 13-21 in nonviolence, conflict transformation, and leadership.
They are currently teaming with other local organizations to create a hydroponic farm that will grow locally produced organic food and provide jobs for the community. In all their actions, the Institute serves as an impressive model for what can be accomplished by other communities around the world.
This is nonviolence in action. I think Jody would be impressed by the work of the Gandhi Institute.