From Gandhi to Catalans, the Revolutionary Movement of Peacemakers

As Trump’s dangerous move on Iran’s nuclear deal and his provocative reaction to North Korea undercut diplomacy, tension is rising for World War III. Discord in the international community has been amplified in conflicts of identity politics across America. Greed and power-seeking leaders’ ambition for profits never end. With ever-increased military budgets, combined with tax cuts for the rich and slashes in health care and public funds, the legacy of imperialism is carried on. Uncertainty created by economic stagnation is generating frustration and anxiety, which is turned into anger and fear. These emotions are then channeled to harness a false sense of nationalism and white supremacy.

In the air of hostility that surrounds us, it is tempting for people to shun those who have opposing views and to respond to hate with even more hate. Resistance can easily be relegated to reactionary rallies. Protests quickly turn into an ideological battle of us versus them, which often results in violence. Yet for real social change to happen, it is imperative for all of us to overcome this loathing toward different views and work together.

There is a force within each person that can counter the hatred that seeks to separate us. Mahatma Gandhi recognized this as the power of peace and applied it to create nonviolent civil disobedience that led to India’s independence from British rule. Now, more than a half century later, a similar peaceful resistance has emerged.

Recently, leading up to the independence referendum on October 1 in Catalonia, Spain’s richest province, Spanish police engaged full force to stop the voting. WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange, who has remained confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than five years, acknowledged the peaceful act of self-determination by the Catalonian people in facing this police violence. Calling it “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi,” he said that “its results will spread everywhere.” Peace is a revolutionary force that largely remains untapped. How can social movements be created by this innate transformative power and bring harmony to this divided world?

The great law of peace

The same force of peace that guided Gandhi to fight against the oppression of Britain was present at the beginning of the United States. In history classes, many learned about the American Revolution and the War of Independence, where founders bravely fought for separation from King George. We all know America was founded on revolutionary spirit, but little is known about the quiet strength behind a fiery passion of war at the birth of a nation.

Early colonists, after settling into this New World, interacted with indigenous people. Historians have consistently noted how the original framers of the US Constitution like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin greatly admired the core concepts of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and their democratic governance that was based on a vision of peace. So what does peace mean?

From Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace to John Lennon’s popular song Give Peace a Chance, the word “peace” is in our everyday vocabulary. Many of us make slogans, carry banners of peace, and march in the streets. In our culture, peace seems to have become a mere symbol and has come to simply indicate the opposite of violence or a lack of conflict. Native Americans had a different conception of peace. Philosopher Jacob Needleman1 described how to them, it is “not as something passive, not as a mere absence of conflict, but as a force that can harmonize the actions and impulses of human life in all their multiplicity and opposition to each other” (p. 215). Peace, to Native Americans, is at the center of their way of life.

Needleman recognized how this peace diverges from European religious and ethical principles that work in duality and supports the “radical separation of the good (however it is understood) and the evil (that which resists the good)” (p. 198). He noted how peace conceived by Native Americans acknowledges interconnectedness of good and evil and it “includes all the forces of life,” even “what we often call ‘evil’” (p. 195). He then described for them “to be at peace means to be at peace with one’s conscience” (p. 196).

The First Nation’s conception of peace calls on each to recognize and respect each other’s differences, even the opinions and viewpoints of those we disagree with or condemn. The Great Law of Peace protects independence and individual liberty, while at the same time bases decision-making processes on consensus rather than majority rule. This wisdom of peace was not only at the root of Native American governance, but also influenced the formation of the US government—in particular, the key concept of decentralized power that was secured by the separation of power and checks and balances incorporated into the US Constitution.

Lost ideals and call for love

This peace placed at the foundation of America is a radical acceptance of differences that recognizes all equally in their uniqueness. Out of this fertile soil that embraces diverse seeds sprang the sprouts of inalienable rights. These include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that were promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Yet this revolutionary idea of peace that enlightened the mind and lit the hearts of early settlers seems to have been cast off by the shadow of the old world of monarchy. As Frederick Douglass reminded us in his famous speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” America became “false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” From the onset, with internal contradictions in the genocide of natives, slavery of Blacks, and the oppression of women, the nation diverged from the ground upon which it stood. The promise of equality in the Declaration became empty words. History, with absence of authors who can take responsibility for their creative power, remained asleep to its potential and fell prey to the darkness within.

As the republic expanded, with a focus on material happiness and short-term pleasure through acquisition, the force of peace retreated into the background. Yet it continued to speak to the hearts of ordinary people who still listened to the cries in the wilderness, awakening impulses for social change.

In the 1840s, women’s suffrage gained strength. Through the emergence of feminism, nature began to speak its silent language of peace. Some recognized the influence of the Iroquois principles of democracy, in which women played an important role. In the mid-1950s, mass protests erupted against racial segregation and discrimination in the southern states, which launched the nationwide civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. found the power of peace that Gandhi had discovered. In his effort to liberate Black people in the struggle for civil rights, he inspired the nation through a true message of peace—its unifying force of love even for one’s enemies. In his speech delivered in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King said:

Somewhere, somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.

Such is the decentralized power of peace. It inspires all to yield the urge for power in order to open a space for others to come forward, a principle necessary for democratic dialogue.

Rage against the machine

The ’60s brought the further destruction of the democratizing force of peace and at the same time created a resurgence of peacemakers. As the country engaged in military action overseas, the opposition to US involvement in the Vietnam War quickly organized anti-war protests. Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1969 at Woodstock struck a chord in the hearts of many, letting people hear “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” over Vietnam.

As the nation began seeking for answers blowing in the wind, a massive student movement kicked off at UC Berkeley. In the launch of the free speech movement (FSM), Joan Baez, who led the first group of protesters into Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, echoed Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence. She reminded the crowd of the commitment to act with love in the heart and that students were going to be “nonviolent in thought, word, and deed”.2

The clash of two forces became visible in images of flowers placed in gun barrels. As the youth turned to the hardened America represented by armed police, for a moment a breath of peace was brought back to resuscitate this dying culture. Yet this power of peace upheld by childlike innocence alone was not enough to confront the growing beast of the military industrial complex, which with its insatiable hunger consumes all into its soulless capitalism. As Mario Savio, the spokesperson for the FSM depicted in his passionate speech in December 1964, the “operation of the machine becomes so odious.”

As the rise of corporate power rolled back most progress that consumer advocate groups had made, the rage against this machine was quietly building up. Decades later, a call for an uprising came from southern Mexico, one of the poorest parts of the world, where indigenous people were treated like animals and abandoned by Western neoliberal economic policies. On January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, the people in Chiapas revolted against the Mexican government. This ignited the revolutionary power of peace on the streets of Seattle in 1999. The protest against the World Trade Organization (WTO) spawned a cycle of global social justice movements. Yet this victory was short-lived and the enthusiasm for a different world was crushed by the Bush era’s “war on terror” and a draconian crackdown of dissent, creating a chilling effect and moved society toward a more authoritarian state.

The age of cypherpunk

In the moral ice age of the post-911 world, a new front of courage emerged from the internet. In April 2010, with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, an unknown website burst onto the global stage. When the government’s internal mechanism of checks and balance had been broken, WikiLeaks opened an avenue for a new accountability. Through this whistleblowing platform, patriotic and liberty-loving men and women found a way to restore the peace of a nation by each choosing to be at peace with their conscience.

Empowered by the vision of cypherpunks, a group that advocates social change with the use of strong cryptography, WikiLeaks engaged in nonviolent information warfare, freeing speech that is censored and oppressed. With its radical acceptance of speech in all forms, backed by innovative technology, WikiLeaks made the First Amendment available to the whole world.

From the election in Kenya and the Icelandic revolution to the Arab Spring and Occupy movements, WikiLeaks’ publications sparked contagious courage, helping open a future where ordinary people armed with knowledge began claiming the power of peace that was for so long stripped away and denied. History that was awakened through this courage is still moving.

Now in Catalonia, as Assange observed, significant events were happening that would change the “relationship between population and state in Western Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” As the Spanish government seized election literature, shut down websites, and threatened politicians as well as the offices of newspapers, the Catalan president gave his people instructions on how to circumvent this blockade and obstruction of free speech. Assange then noted: “When #Catalonia‘s press is Tweeting how to use proxies to avoid voting censorship we are in the age of cypherpunk.” He then provided technical support for people in Catalonia to communicate and organize securely, as they faced Spanish oppression for their right to vote for the referendum.

Currency of radical acceptance

The unchecked power of the dominant elite continues, engaging in the suppression of free speech through economic censorship. Along with control of public media and police, the Spanish government has been trying to seize control of Catalonia’s finances. Assange, who had firsthand experience of this kind of financial warfare with private companies’ illegal banking blockade of WikiLeaks, called people’s attention to the network of resistance that has been steadily growing online.

The invention of Bitcoin was the holy grail of cypherpunks. With features of permissionless, censorship resistant, and unseizable transactions, it was envisioned to become stateless currency that preserves the individual liberty of all. The white paper of this revolutionary decentralized money was published in 2008. It became operational in 2009.

The Iroquois’ law of peace codified in the wampum belt is now being coded into software. It becomes an armory that is made much more secure and immutable to any foreign or domestic attacks. Here, the First Nation’s vision of great peace that inspired its democratic confederation seems to have found its realization in the open source protocol of the consensus algorithm. Security expert and author Andreas M. Antonopoulos calls Bitcoin’s governance model “leaderless”—that which creates decentralized power. He describes how the system motivates people to come to consensus at a very high level and decisions are made by the circle of five constituents: miners, developers, wallets, merchants, and users.

As the era of cypherpunk opened up, the tyranny of the incumbent legacy system gathered up its power to define a new digital age on its own terms. Western liberal democracy, with the arms of technology and transnational corporations, has now expanded throughout the world, placing all into an elaborate web of a financial industrial complex. In this artificial machination of the world, money that has been used as a weapon to wage war and exploit can be automated, with humans no longer in charge. With mass surveillance and control, it can create a total dystopia. Here, the Great Law of Peace enshrined in a piece of mathematics can offer a shield for ordinary people to defend themselves against the sword of power that seeks to control and enslave all living beings into institutional hierarchies.

With Bitcoin, the First Amendment becomes an app that can be distributed across borders indiscriminately to anyone, including those condemned as enemies. Stewarded by developers around the world committed to the shared ideals of cypherpunk, Bitcoin makes its transactions from country to country, from belief to belief, from opinion to opinion, and traverses the way of peace. Having demonstrated its unbreakable integrity for the last eight years, the protocol of radical acceptance continues to evolve, providing an alternative to tyranny without fighting, by each engaging in the creative act of innovation.

As governments all over the world become destructive and old systems begin to crumble, new networks are being made by linking the knowledge of computer science with the wisdom of the First Nations, who have lived in harmony with nature. Now, the West and natives, two minds from the same roots that once diverged paths can come together to begin a new civilization. By each choosing freely to chart the way of peacemaking, social movements can be created. People walking side by side bring this world toward a more perfect union, founded upon a principle of equality that allows everyone to be free.

  1. Needleman, J. (2002). American soul: Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders. New York, NY: Penguin Group. []
  2. Nagler, M. N. The search for a nonviolent future: A promise of peace for ourselves, our families, and our world. Maui, HI: Inner Ocean, 2004, p. 202. []

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D., is a writer who has been covering issues of freedom of speech, transparency, and decentralized movements. Her work is featured in many publications. Find her on twitter @nozomimagine.

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