Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Introduced by Rob Fairmichael
In working to prepare a set of posters for the INNATE website, we were casting our net far and wide for suitable material and quotes, and wanting to avoid the obvious. We kept coming to the writings and witness of Barbara Deming, a US nonviolent activist and theoretician (1917 – 1984) – and one quotation from her will be in our poster set. There are many things which are distinctive about her; she was a secular theoretician of nonviolence, and out as gay when even on the left that was not an easy place to be. Ira Chernus wrote that “Deming made it intellectually plausible, and even respectable, for nonreligious people to commit themselves to nonviolence with no religious basis.” She was a very energetic activist in the civil rights and peace movements.
In the thirty or so years since she died the world feels a different place but much of her thought is as relevant today as ever, with her emphasis on justice, and her enunciation that “A liberation movement that is nonviolent sets the oppressor free as well as the oppressed” forms the quote on our poster of her.
Material from and about Barbara Deming is easy to find on the web, though the Wikipedia piece is sparse. Material worth looking at includes:
Reviews of “A Saving Remnant - The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds” by Martin Duberman which will likely come up when doing a word search.
There follows a brief extract (published 1982, while she was still alive) from Pam McAllister’s book “Reweaving the Web of Life; Feminism and Nonviolence” (New Society Publishers) writing about Barbara Deming:
“Her daily life an her work exemplify the attention to detail, the passion and the commitment required of the nonviolent feminist. She is a friend, a “learn-together”, a wise-woman-witch, a role model to younger feminists around the globe. For too long her soft, deep voice has sand a lonely song, persistently intertwining the two strands of feminism and nonviolence into one convincing melody.....
Barbara has published six books: Prison Notes (1966), Running Away from Myself: A Dream Portrait of America Drawn from the Films of the 40’s (1969); Revolution and Equilibrium (1971), Wash Us and Comb Us (Stories) (1972), We Cannot love Without Our Lives (1974) and Remembering Who We Are (1981).
Barbara....believes that, because it is often those whom we love who oppress us, it is only by “further inventing nonviolence” that we will find the heart to wage our struggle boldly enough. For women, nonviolence requires that we refuse the roles that have been assigned us and, in effect, “go on strike” against the patriarchy’s elaborate two-fold lie: that women belong to men and that women and men are essentially different in nature. By our actions we must convey the truth that men are not our masters but our brothers. Barbara believes too that, though it is very important to establish our right to self defense through violence, to reply to violence with violence can be a desperate, even a passive act that indicates the acceptance of the oppressor’s vision.”
The War Resisters League (WRL) in the US publishes “We Are All Part of One Another: Barbara Deming Reader” by Jane Meyerding which looks a good place to get further to grips with her thought.