March 16th, 2012 by Cynthia Shahan
Human Potential For Peace
Pursuing economic justice with nonviolent protest is not new, not an invention of the present Occupy movement. It has been around probably as long as economic injustice has been around. One relatively recent example is that it effectively produced change in the 1930s for Northern Europeans who were starving.
George Lakey, in Nation of Change, writes:
“[Norway’s] high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.”
Norway’s economy shifted out of deep poverty at this time due to the successful end of five years of nonviolent protests. Since that time, and presently, Norway ticks as a sustainable culture — for all people. It leads the world as peaceful timekeeper. Its citizens desire peace and prioritize peace as a value more than many other countries.
Graham Kemp and Douglas Fry note, in their anthropological text Keeping the Peace: Conflict Resolution and Peaceful Societies Around the World, that “peace is highly valued in Norwegian society, and members of the society have exhibited a consistent preoccupation with the peaceful settlement of conflict, both nationally and internationally.”
Comparing these 1930s Nonviolent Protests to Occupy
George Lakey also shares information about this gentler culture: “In the 1930s Sweden and Norway, both experienced a major power shift after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They ‘fired’ the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society. The labor party was empowered and created the basis for something different.”
In the early to mid-part of the last century, northern Europeans not only attempted what the Occupy movement is attempting now, but they were able to successfully manifest change. This was done with nonviolent protests. This change took time.
The struggle lasted from 1929-35. It was a struggle that was able to manifest success. Prior to this time (when Norway’s working class finally took over), people were starving due to the structure being set to support only the ruling 1 percent; thousands were emigrating due to this starvation. After the 1 percent were ‘fired’, the changes worked for the whole of society. The working class was empowered in political bodies. They were able to structure positive change for all people — not just the affluent. Due to this, their economy improved. Both countries built wonderful economies. As Lakey points out, they “eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment.”
Quiet Ambiance, Prioritizing Peace
As Americans, we cultivate different value systems and value different character traits. This is a time of change. As we grow, there is much we will gain by imbibing some of the gentler ideals of Norwegian folks. There is a sense of homeostasis of individualism in this Northern European culture, as part of the sameness of each other. In this way, Norwegian’s empower a quiet ambiance and it is a prime national value and character strength. Another may argue that this isn’t real peace — still, there is much proof that Norway has made some large imprints in peacekeeping due to these attitudes and established practices.
The Swedes have what Lakey offers us to consider, “what the latest CIA World Factbook calls ‘an enviable standard of living’.” This struggle did not come easily or without paying the price that one wishes was not part of change. At that time, the 1 percent (in Norway and Sweden in 1930) was stacked in the country’s political bodies, such as it now seems in America. Strikers were killed in 1931. Please read more by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database. And if you can find it, Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg recounts the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31.
“Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?)”
Norway went through times of constant outreach in this movement. Lakey notes that people have to do this in protracted, nonviolent reform campaigns. Lakey’s brief summary of the time: “Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms.”
While that is similar to our country at this time, what is different is a lot: “Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues.” People counted strongly as the growing sea of workers (nonviolently) demanding better reciprocity. “The Conservative-led government lost legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate.” The poor farmers and laborers were deep into the movement. However, they were growing more strained in the ways of hunger. Compromise was reached and laborers took some of the reins of governmental bodies with both sides becoming more adapted to the need of the struggle.
The struggle is also detailed in Global Nonviolent Action Database 1931-1935. Ultimately, there is no disagreement that, in Norway, it was “nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.” The freedoms of a healthy economy today (which began in 1935) are found presently. The delightful deep gentleness that comes from cultivating kindness in the standard of peace and empowering the value of peacekeeping through nonviolence is a force that is shown to overcome hardship.
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