The Three Levels of Nonviolence

In Perspectives on Nonviolence, my father described three levels of nonviolence.

  • First Level is Technique such as tactics and strategies that hold out more promise than violence or retaliation.
  • The Second Level is Policy, that one can and must find a way without using violence or brute force.
  • But the Third Level is A Spiritual discipline in the Hands of God.

Walker explained, “There are times when no way other than violence seems open, when nonviolence gives promise of nothing but utter defeat. At such times, one must walk by faith and not by sight. At the third level, nonviolence is an act of trust in God and obedience to His will. He can bless this act of faithfulness beyond human calculation. In this dimension is revealed the truth that ‘... God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.’” (1 Cor. 1:27).

Five Steps to Nonviolence

Five steps are usually involved in a successful nonviolent approach to injustice. These are the steps that Charlie Walker and Martin Luther King most often recognized:

1) Investigation. The first Step is “Investigate. Know the facts. Rev. King sometimes took months investigating a situation before moving in. He investigated and learned the facts, the laws, the personalities on both sides. He knew what he was dealing with, knew what he was talking about, and had a plan when he approached the leadership of a city or nation.
2) Negotiation. After determining the facts and related laws, negotiate based on those facts and specific things you desire to change. Make sure you negotiate with those who have power to make the changes you seek. In Montgomery, Martin Luther King and other black leaders were very specific in their demands. They met with city officials in March of 1955 to negotiate seating on city buses and gave the city the chance to correct wrongs. The boycott did not begin until Rosa Parks’ arrest nine months later.
3) Educate the Public. If negotiation fails, educate the public about grievances so peaceful change may take place. Try to educate the public into understanding, accepting, and even perhaps demanding  peaceful change. Publish articles, brochures, and electronic media to get the word out.
4) Spiritual Preparation. According to Charlie Walker, “Nonviolent direct action relies upon moral and spiritual resources.” Before beginning direct action, Gandhi sometimes undertook a period of fasting for spiritual self-purification. Some may find a period of prayer and self-examination important for clarifying motives and purpose. Train using role playing to achieve spiritual discipline and moral strength.
5) Direct Action. Only as a last resort, should direct action be launched. Too often people charge ahead, without laying the groundwork, and act based on rumors. They fail to negotiate based on specifics learned from investigation.  Charlie Walker stressed, “Direct action must be launched only when all attempts at persuasion have failed, repeated offers of negotiation are refused and no area of compromise can be found.” He wrote, “the effort is not to overcome or humiliate the opponents, but rather ... to seek reconciliation, understanding and friendship.”