John Lewis: Let peace triumph over violence

Dear Friends,

Since my election to the Iowa Statehouse in 1992, I’ve kept a “Memorable Letters” folder. It’s a mix of supportive correspondence along with communications filled with enough vitriol to embarrass the crustiest of sailors.

One of John Lewis’ 45 arrests during the 1960s struggle against racial injustice.

Speaking of crusty, here’s one bit of colorful feedback I received last week: “Drag those crusty misogynist knuckles back from whence you came.”

That definitely qualifies as a “Memorable Letter.” I love the imagery, but I’m pretty certain the comment wasn’t intended as a compliment. My commentator hails from the political Left, not the Right. In fact, over the years, my harshest critics are evenly spread across the political spectrum — although those on the Left tend to use more creative language.

The “crusty” comment was in response to last week’s blog and talk show, where I criticized assault weapons at BLM protests and made the case for nonviolent action along the lines of what Martin Luther King and the late John Lewis advocated and practiced.

John Lewis earlier this year.

While I don’t have a lot of patience for name-calling and insults, I’m happy to have a thoughtful discussion about how best to fight oppression, injustice, and racism. Violence vs. non-violence. Malcolm X vs. Dr. King. Che Guevara vs. Mahatma Gandhi. Simone Weil vs. Dorothy Day. I have great respect for all these revolutionary leaders — but my heart, mind, and experience place me firmly in the camp of those who embrace nonviolence.

I hope you’ll listen to this week’s Fallon Forum program. I’m happy to have your continued feedback, preferably civil. Here’s the summarized bullet points of my argument in support of nonviolence:

  • Those of us working to end racism, poverty, injustice, war, and the destruction of our planet need to stand together, despite our differences. If we can’t find a way to unify, there’s not much hope for homo sapiens at large.
  • Beyond the moral efficacy of non-violence, there’s the tactical advantage as well. As extensive research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan show, nonviolent resistance is more than twice as effective as its violent counterpart. In their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, Chenoweth and Stephan write, “Successful nonviolent resistance movements usher in more durable and internally peaceful democracies, which are less likely to regress into civil war.”
  • A couple of my critics wrote that it’s time to arm the Left. Do you have any idea how many guns the far Right owns? Between the radical Right and the immense fire power that police forces command, there is no way the Left could ever match that arsenal and prevail in a violent conflict.
  • Though we are right to demand justice now, we have to be patient. It is sad but true that progress comes in spurts, in increments. But look at what the Black Lives Matter movement has already accomplished through nonviolent action! Among many positive reforms, 62 of America’s 100 largest cities now have policies restricting the use of chokeholds. And this week, Iowa’s Republican governor signed an executive order granting most felons the right to vote.
  • Having lived in Des Moines’ inner city for 19 years, I absolutely know the sting of discrimination that too frequently afflicts my Black friends, neighbors, and constituents. I would never, ever invalidate it. But responding to systemic violence with violence is what President Trump wants. Trump hopes his storm troopers make us so mad that we start carrying guns and begin to respond to their violence with violence.
  • To those who tell me to sit down and shut up, my response is “Never!” I have fought against racist policies and behaviors for over thirty years. One example: Despite indifference from my legislative colleagues, in the mid 1990s I introduced the resolution recognizing Juneteenth. One other example: I was regarded by many as the Legislature’s most vocal advocate for prisoners’ rights, regularly visiting men and women in prison and setting up a special staffing position to address injustices in the prison system.
  • The battle against racism is not an isolated fight. It is connected with so many other struggles. Indigenous sovereignty. Full equality for women. Gun control. The climate crisis. All these issues have risen to greater prominence in the past three years. Every single one of them affects every one of us. At some level, in at least one of these arenas, all of us need to be engaged, involved, and outspoken. And every one of us has not just a role to play but an opinion that counts and needs to be respected.
  • John Lewis said it well in the farewell address he wrote before he passed: “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”



    On this week’s Fallon Forum:

    — Breaking the cycle of violence through nonviolent action
    — Making sure all our votes count (with Veronica Fowler, ACLU of Iowa)
    — Industrial meat boycott gains momentum (with Mike Carberry, Organic Consumers Association)
    — Corporate pushback against backyard hens (with Kathy Byrnes, Birds & Bees Urban Farm)
    (Click here for Facebook video of our fourth segment)

    Please support the local businesses and non-profits who make this program possible. Click on their logos elsewhere on this site, and visit Story County Veterinary ClinicBold Iowa, and Birds & Bees Urban Farm.

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    Ed Fallon