I've been thinking about non-violent revolutions for the past few days. To be honest, I think about this subject often, but, the recent events in Charlottesville, VA have me fixed on the idea in a more pointed manner. The story of a small nation of people (Estonia) standing up to and wearing down their Soviet Superpower oppressor has long stuck with me. And, I wonder if Americans can glean something from the experience.
From CULTURE AND SYMBOLS AS TOOLS OF RESISTANCE by Walter C. Clemens, Jr. in the Journal of Baltic Studies June 2009: "...mass literacy, free thought and respect for individual dignity" are the ingredients for a soft revolution. This non-violent soft revolution, or transfer of power, is not to be confused with pacifism, but rather, should be understood as a just and fair enactment of liberation.
Clemens goes on to repeat Senator Patrick Moynihan's observation, "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."
Culture, Clemens says, shapes our outlooks and world-views. It affects our relationship to outsiders. "These perceptions contribute to our construction of reality." And therefore, some cultures are more fit for social good than others. The key in culture benefiting society is that it promotes individual human dignity. What we see in Charlottesville is scorn for human dignity. Nazis do not possess a culture worth spreading, and thus they bring violence.
Another component alongside literacy and dignity to be used in unleashing a soft revolution is a shared epic. This is where things become more complicated for American citizens than for a largely heterogeneous society like Estonia. In America, the black community has its slavery and freedom epic. The Native American epic is one of patience and stolen birthrights. The white epic might be of rugged individualism long used as a cloak for alienation. There are many other groups with their own epics that make up America that I haven't named here. They all matter, of course. But the inability to highlight all of the epics in this space also speaks to the clash of epics. It's not that there are too many epics, it's that America has not yet seen its hour of unity. The hour is still coming, but not very far away. This coming hour is the one in which we join together as one chorus against those who would lead us into darkness.
We are in fragile times because the shared epic is being shaped before us.
Edited 8/14 8:45 AM EST