How nonviolence works
One of the most difficult things to see when you’re not looking for it is an act of nonviolence. We think of it always as something shown in the face of violence, as an act against violence. But sometimes that act is in words. So I understand how Richard Kim missed the act of nonviolence Jose Antonio Vargas committed when he wrote his June 22 New York Times article coming out as an undocumented immigrant.
Kim shows his lack of understanding when he suggests that GLBT people and others tell their stories and say “Are you with us, or against us?” He suggests that New York organizers did the same and said through their stories “you’re either with me, or you’re with the haters—but you can’t have it both ways.”
The power of Vargas’s story isn’t that it is a weapon, that it divides people into haters and supporters. Its power comes from his act of laying himself bare in front of the American people, making himself vulnerable to the very thing he was afraid of: deportation from a country and people he loves. He didn’t do it so that he would get deported, but so that he could show the injustice of the system. This is exactly how nonviolence worked in the civil rights movement of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. People put themselves in harm’s way at lunch counters and on freedom buses to expose the injustice of the oppression. Their actions invited compassion, and did not divide people into camps that they did not choose for themselves. Never does Vargas say or even imply that his readers either be with him or against him. He says “Here’s my neck. Cut it if you can. Now reflect on that.”
I refuse to use my stories as weapons against neighbors and friends who are not sure how they are going to vote on the Minnesota marriage amendment in 2012. They deserve to have my compassion as they tell me they’re not sure. But I’m going to tell them my stories, hopefully to lay bare the injustice. Not to impugn them but to fault the system we all inherited and want to make right.
N. Jeanne Burns
Jul 10 2011 - 12:58am