The Metta Center Roadmap: An Evaluation

newmandala1An organizer I hold in high regard recently asked me my opinion about the Metta Center for Nonviolence Roadmap. Following is my response.

Founded by Michael Nagler, the Metta Center’s  mission is:

to promote the transition to a nonviolent future by making the logic, history and yet-unexplored potential of nonviolence more accessible to activists and agents of cultural change (which ultimately includes all of us). We 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, focusing on the root causes (sometimes called “upstream” causes) of injustice, competition and violence. Ultimately we work to replace the prevailing worldview with one that rests upon a much higher image of the human being, a world informed by nonviolence and the sanctity of all life.

Their website affirms Six Principles of Nonviolence:

1. Respect everyone – including yourself. The more we respect others, the more effectively we can persuade them to change….

2. Always include ‘Constructive Programme’. Concrete action is always more powerful than mere symbolism, especially when that concrete action is constructive: setting up schools, cottage industries, cooperative farms, etc….

3. Be aware of the long term. Nonviolent action always has positive results, sometimes more than we intended….

4. Look for “win/win” solutions that will satisfy the real needs of all parties. Remember that you are trying to rebuild relationships, if at all possible, not score “victories.”…

5. Use Power Carefully. We are conditioned (especially in the West) to think that power “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” There is indeed a kind of power that comes from threats and brute force – but it is powerless if we refuse to comply with them. There is another kind of power that comes from truth….

6. Claim our Legacy. Nonviolence no longer needs to take place in a vacuum. To know the history of the many nonviolent movements we referred to at the beginning, and be in touch with others involved in similar efforts today, can be very helpful (see our website for resources)….

The center’s key tool is the Roadmap, a graphic with three concentric circles. At the center is Person Power. The second circle is Constructive Program and the outer circle is Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha). The outer circle is divided into six categories:

  • New Story Creation
  • Peace
  • Democracy and Social Justice
  • Vibrant and Need-based Economies
  • Climate Protection
  • Environment

Each of those categories has three proposed projects within the corresponding Constructive Program section.

My comment on the Roadmap included the following:

I highly value Michael’s work and like the Roadmap, which I see as integrating the personal, the social, and the political. However, if [you] were to formally integrate your work into the Roadmap, I would suggest supplementing, modifying, or clarifying it with three elements:

1) Compose a New Story that articulates the need to reform “the system,” which consists of all our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals (who reinforce the system). As such, that New Story would address more than [those six categories]. It would also address, for example, Education, Media, and Religion. Understanding “the system” helps to avoid demonizing and scapegoating “enemies.”

2) With regard to Person Power, develop a tool that small support groups could use, perhaps in monthly dinner meetings, to support one another in their self-development. To my mind, AA offers a model, though I find it too complicated. A simple, easy-to-learn structure/format/method that activists could quickly use to conduct member-run groups could be easily replicated and widely adopted. The idea is that the group’s focus would be open-ended, with each member defining their own goals. Thus, it would differ from top-down “leadership training” (which can be valuable). With the Occupy Be the Change Caucus, which Michael Nagler helped to launch, we experimented some with such formats. Since then, I’ve discussed the idea on numerous occasions. There seems to be considerable support for it, but so far I know of no such tool. It would not be easy to design, but I think it could be.

3) For the outer ring in the Road Map, I would use something like “Political Action” rather than “Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha)” and clearly affirm your intent to focus on shorter-term winnable objectives that lead toward fundamental, systemic reform (as did Gandhi and King). I see direct nonviolent action as a tactic to be used when needed and potentially effective. In the meantime, other tactics such as letter-writing, circulating petitions, testifying at hearings, and conducting picket lines can help build a campaign. All such work can be done with a nonviolent approach that fosters nonviolence as a way of life. But nonviolent direct actions can be taken while insisting that all participants merely commit to nonviolence for that particular action, without necessarily committing to nonviolence as a way of life. So I find “Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha)” as the title for the outer ring to be confusing.

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