REFLECTION: Building new “nonviolent cities”

Rev. John Dear, S.J.by John Dear, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace

Last year, I was invited to give a talk on peace in Carbondale, Illinois. I was surprised to discover that in recent years, activists from across Carbondale had come together with a broad vision of what their community could one day become—a nonviolent city. They wanted a new holistic approach to their work, with a positive vision for the future, so that over time, their community would be transformed into a culture of nonviolence.

nvcarbonThey created a coalition, a movement and a city-wide week of action and called it, “Nonviolent Carbondale.” They set up a new website, established a steering committee, set up monthly meetings, and launched “Nonviolent Carbondale” as a positive way to promote peace and justice locally. In doing so, they gave everyone in Carbondale a new vision, a new idea, of what their community could become.

I think “Nonviolent Carbondale” offers a positive example of a new way forward for every community and city in the nation. Every city should become a nonviolent city. That should be the goal and vision of every local community, as Gandhi and Dr. King taught long ago. Activists and people from across the spectrum should come together locally to envision their community as a place of nonviolence and start organizing to make that goal come true. With all the violence, hatred, and warmaking these days, we need to help one another imagine what our local communities would look like if they were nonviolent, and systematically plan a long term course of action to make that vision come true.

From the start, the Carbondale activists held their local organizing meetings occasionally before city council meetings, which they then attended together as a group. At city council meetings, they started suggesting and lobbying ways their city could become more nonviolent. Their movement eventually became based out of the main Carbondale Library. Over the years, they have done positive work with their police department, local schools and school system, religious communities, the library system, and local non-profits. As grassroots activists, they have lifted up a positive vision of their community and brought it into the mainstream…

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