PCM STATEMENT ON
JOHN LEWIS’ DISCIPLINED NONVIOLENCE
In early July, President Donald Trump sent in heavily armed personnel to
Portland, Oregon to quell protests following the murder of George Floyd.
The federal officers used heavy-handed tactics that Oregon governor Kate
Brown called “a blatant abuse of power,” and an attempt “to provoke
confrontation for political purposes.”
The president’s hopes in the upcoming election had hinged largely on a strong
economy. The covid-19 pandemic has shattered that expectation, and revealed
his stunning incompetence in dealing with a significant crisis. Increasingly
desperate, his strategy shifted to inducing fear in the minds of voters. Trump
insists that “violent anarchists” allied with “radical left” Democrats have
launched “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous
crimes of violence.”
It is crucially important that activists in Portland and elsewhere refuse to play
into Trump’s hand, and adopt a nonviolent discipline. This end has been aided
greatly in Portland by a “Wall of Moms” that formed to protect other protesters
When the women were tear-gassed, a group of men showed up with leaf-
blowers to redirect the teargas. A “Wall of Vets” followed, after a Navy veteran
was struck by federal officers.
The life of renowned Civil Rights leader and U.S. Representative John Lewis was celebrated at his home-going on July 30. He was often on the front lines of demonstrations, including the famous 1965 confrontation at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He spoke of the essential commitment to disciplined nonviolence, “Before we went on any protest, whether it was sit-ins or the freedom rides or any march, we prepared ourselves, and we were disciplined. We were committed to the way of peace - the way of nonviolence - the way of love - the way of life as the way of living.”
On the day of his funeral, Lewis’ final written words were published, containing this exhortation, “Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.”
Pax Christi Michigan is dedicated to working for peace with justice through nonviolent conflict transformation.
The most effective method of countering authoritarians like Donald Trump is to follow the advice of John Lewis and not “tolerate injustice;” to fulfill our “moral obligation to stand up, speak up, and speak out.” And in doing so, we must follow the example of Christ himself, and again listen to the message of John Lewis, so clearly derived from the Gospel, by disciplining ourselves to abide by “the way of peace - the way of nonviolence - the way of love - the way of life as the way of living.” ♦