2012: A Year in Nonviolent Dissent

“It gets into your system … the force and power of nonviolence.”

The above quotation is taken from a Guernica essay by Eamon Kircher Allen that was published in April this year. In April I had just returned from Egypt and was about to embark on a summer course through the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. The power of nonviolence was in my system.

Through taking the course and talking to young Egyptian activists,  long-held understandings shifted. I started to realise things that should have been obvious. Authority, global order: these things are not rigid. Oppression draws power through our consent; we can withdraw that consent. Nonviolence does not mean inaction: it is often strategic.

In the ICNC course I learned a lot about strategy; about movements from West Papua to Burma and Chile; about different terms used for nonviolence (Satyagraha, People Power..) I learned about creative resistance (the Estonian Singing Revolution, Burmese clowns, Chilean cueca sola…)

As I moved through the year and from this place to the next I saw signs of dissent; civil resistance, and what Kircher Allen called the “common font of yearning for an alternative global order.” From Egypt to Mexico and the USA I saw people struggle for rights, recognition and to strategise a commitment to nonviolence.

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012.
Cairo, Egypt. February 2012.
Mexico City. September 2012.
Mexico City. September 2012.

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USA
USA

There is some nuances I still debate. Such as the photograph below.

It is a stencil of Mubarak and (what I am told is) writing that says “when will he die?” I saw others (that I didn’t photograph) of his image in a noose. I believe that words can be violence so do those images have a place in a nonviolent movement?

Luxor, Egypt. March 2012.
Luxor, Egypt. March 2012.

What about the destruction of property? Below is a photograph of the burned-out NDP building in Cairo. My first glance at it inspired an initial feeling of horror, which lifted when a woman smiling and taking photos of it expressed to me how happy the sight made her.

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012
Cairo, Egypt. February 2012

A question posed in the ICNC course: If property destruction is violence then how should we think of the Danish Resistance blowing up Nazi railroad tracks?

I am learning and I am asking myself questions and I don’t understand much but I am trying. I still struggle with hopelessness and anger but I am trying to be an optimist. There is both optimism and despair in dissent but signs of nonviolent dissent give me hope. I think that is a good way to move into the new year.

Cairo International Airport. March 2012.
Cairo International Airport. March 2012.

My Travel Memories Taste Like Sugar: Chile

Food is memory. My memories of places are informed by the taste of the sweet things I ate there.

Kuchen in Chile

I arrived in Puerto Varas after a long journey south from my home, Valparaiso, via Puerto Montt. I had one thing on my mind: kuchen.

Kuchen, a sweet tart with crispy exterior, arrived in Chile with mid-19th century German immigrants, many of whom settled in the cute little European-styled southern town of Puerto Varas. There are all sorts of adventurous things to do in Puerto Varas; whitewater rafting, hiking, sailing, but my mission was purely gastronomic. I was going to have a slice of kuchen from every cafe in town.

I don’t think I quite met my goal but I distinctly remember eating four slices on my first evening.I tried it in all kinds of flavors, like strawberry, rhubarb and something called murta — something like a small cranberry.

I remember sitting in a little cafe where the menu was in Spanish and German, watching the rain beat against the window, sipping tea, writing in my journal and taking slow bites of raspberry filled kuchen. I remember feeling that I had finally found a cozy feeling I had been missing since leaving London six months earlier.