The title of Gandhi's autobiography is "The Story of My Experiments with Truth." While the book is more focused on his own personal habits and spiritual disciplines rather than his political and strategic thoughts on satyagraha, the idea is one that motivated a group to gather in Virginia and North Carolina over the last three weeks.
Three of us from the Climate Disobedience Center joined around two dozen activists from across the US to see if we might experiment with a new expression of the truth in the climate fight. At the invitation of local activists, we visited with communities fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and listened to those who were on the frontlines of this fight talk about this massive new project to export fracked gas from West Virginia. And at their invitation on Friday February 2nd, we occupied the North Carolina Governor's office.
An experiment is designed to test a hypothesis. Our hypothesis is that groups of people willing to take public risk in confrontation with the destruction of life on this planet can unleash not only a new power and vitality in the climate movement and the broader movement for a new way of being in relationship with one another and the planet we depend on. The hypothesis is also that the way that we take action matters: the spirit with which the action is taken and opponents are approached changes the public's and allies' perception of the action in ways that effect the size and vitality of the movement. Acting in a loving and forgiving spirit not only increases the invitational aspect to the movement and potential allies, but also opens the possibility of a change of heart for those who are in a position of leadership in government and business.
We were firm but not mean. Part of this experiment is about finding the sweet spot between holding our ground and being uncompromising with evil, while being compassionate with those who are caught playing a role in the system of destruction and domination. Our time in the Governors office provided some fresh evidence that this third way - of being valiant for the truth and loving towards our enemies creates new possibilities. First it was clear that the activists who invited us to North Carolina found the action empowering and inviting of a deeper commitment and risk taking. Second, after meeting for over an hour with the Governor's chief of staff and top energy aid, it was clear that the way we acted, the compassion and humility we offered when pared with the unflinching truth of the environmental racism and climate catastrophe embedded in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, opened the hearts of those who were listening.
Now we are under no illusions that those moved hearts are going to go back to their offices and revoke the permits currently being issued to construct this pipeline. But I'm convinced that people with tears in their eyes because they are being lovingly confronted with the reality of their decisions are much more likely to become allies in the future than people who are yelled at. Tender hearts, rather than hardened hearts, are much more likely to be transformed and to reevaluate the choices that they've made.
Following our work in North Carolina, this group retreated to the Vine and Fig community in Harrisonburg, Virginia to process our experience and to see if our work together may be laying a new pattern and a new model that we should continue working with in the future. While we don't know exactly where this will lead at this point, there was a lot of power in evidence down there, and I'm hopeful we'll find a way together to bring that power of deep, integral nonviolence into the heart of our movement in the future. Seems like a worthy experiment to me.
video from our friends at Beyond Extreme Energy