The Farce of Nonviolence: A Dispatch From Guerrero, or Why I Hate Quaker Values

On November 5th, members of the Popular Indigenous Council of Guerrero — Emilio Zapta, or CIPOG-EZ, were once again victimized by the narco-state superstructure, which has, in some manner or another, been waging a low-intensity war in southern Mexico for decades. Three members of the community defense organization, formed in response to violent incursions by state actors, extractive developments, and narco-trafficking, were abducted by municipal transit police in the city of Chilapa, Guerrero. After a period of jurisdictional ambiguity with all the signs of collusion from narco groups, the men — Adan Linares, Moises Cuapipistenco, and Guillermo Hilario Morales — were found dead in the nearby town of Xochilmilco. Unfortunately, to the indigenous residents of southern Mexico, this sort of terroristic violence is tragically a part of everyday life, a result of the deep ties between corporate, narco, and local state apparatuses in the region who act against community defense groups like the CIPOG-EZ with impunity. 

Indeed, even the head of the municipal government of the region was previously implicated in the lack of prosecution against members of the narco group known as “Los Ardillos.” Police in the area frequently collude with narco militants to disappear, murder, or otherwise enact bloody means of control against members of the CIPOG-EZ. Federal forces, on the other hand, are not so much implicated as they are complicit, seemingly deeming the area too dangerous and allowing for the plague of violence to continue. So in this environment of constant massacre and disappearance, where the blood of collusion runs in the streets, why has the murder of these three community defense members generated more than just the usual denouncements? 

The reason is the primary theme of this essay, and something rather insidiously present at this very institution: the liberal fetishization of nonviolence. Ingrained into our cultural history is a sense that the right way to advocate for change is, first and foremost, nonviolent and, even further than that, nondisruptive and uncontroversial. We hear incessantly about the Quakers in all their nonviolent glory, gladly martyring themselves in the face of religious persecution as early advocates for abolition and suffrage. Our culture similarly canonizes the perceived dignity and non-confrontational nature of the Civil Rights Movement, which supposedly won the hearts of (white) America, as opposed to giving credit to the movement simply for its opposition to an unjust set of systems. This sort of historical myth is as politically effective as it is wrong. Abolitionists, including Quakers, took up guns and pitchforks to defend fugitives fleeing slavery, and suffragettes launched a campaign of bombings against political opponents. Not to mention the entire Civil War. These movements were successful in spite of the dogmatic pacifism of William Lloyd Garrison and his followers, not because of them. The creation of this myth, however, has nothing to do with making a coherent or even tenuous claim about these movements for its own sake, as it is fundamentally uninterested in the past. Rather, it seeks to create a mythology of political activism that is primarily about rhetoric and respectability, promising activists that as long as they constrain their action to the least disruptive forms of communication, they can make a moral appeal to the constructed public. This serves two points: first and foremost, it attempts to limit the power of current groups’ potentially subversive abilities by rendering them constantly in contrast to the canon of legitimate means of protest. Secondly, it suggests the fact that a goal cannot succeed without the use of more extreme action is an indictment of the goal itself, an argument that uses the constructed “American People,” a group largely indifferent to the plight of those downtrodden, as the ultimate jury for the worthiness of a given cause. This paradigm also constrains the demands of movements to goals attainable only through the “proper channels” of discourse and electoralism, as other goals would necessitate working outside of those channels. They would then be seen as automatically alienating the constructed public and, therefore, as illegitimate. 

This entire structure of the fetishization of nonviolence, is, of course, rhetorically bunk and historically lacking, but its flaws are revealed at perhaps their most absurd in the case of Guerrero. On October 21st, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, visited the embattled region, declining to leave his car for the majority of the visit. No doubt this was due to the violence in the area, but it not-so-subtly reveals his attitude. It is too violent for him personally to even be outside in, but the residents of the region are not afforded the same concern. Needless to say, the vehicular AMLO was not particularly enthusiastic to hear the concerns of the people, but they pleaded with him nonetheless. As the CIPOG-EZ wrote

“We told him ‘the narco-paramilitaries kill and disappear our people!’

We told him, ‘We don’t want to be cannon fodder for the organized crime groups commanded by Celso Ortega Jiménez and the deputy Bernardo Ortega Jiménez.’

We told him, ‘We don’t want social programs, but justice, security, and for our word to be heard.’”

It is in the response of the corporatist President that we see both the political utility and the comparative flatness of the liberal cult of nonviolence. 

“There is only one thing I say to you in all sincerity, avoid violence, there are other ways to fight, the most effective of all is non-violence. This policy of non-violence was put into practice by Gandhi, Mandela, Luther King, and they taught us that it is possible to change things peacefully. We must not fall into provocation, we must get rid of provocation and we must seek change through peaceful means. We will continue to act peacefully and without complicity with anyone.”

This is a speech we have heard so many times it has become a parody of itself, exaggerated in every way as to be indistinguishable from farce. Even within the context of the United States, this sort of sentiment is endlessly frustrating when related to the pressing issues of racial justice, environmentalism, or any of the other ways that our current paradigm enacts its own violence against various communities. Within the context of Guerrero, however, where the violence in the streets is not just systemic but stochastic and occurs every day, the contradictions between the messaging and the actions of those whose violence is deemed legitimate are all the clearer. It is in moments of true dissonance like this, where the terrorized are chastised, that I come to truly hate the quiet ascendency of so-called “Quaker Values”. The organizing that groups like the CIPOG-EZ coordinate are in direct response to the scars their communities bear. The guns their members wield are no escalation. They are not, as AMLO deems them, provocation: they are in fact a rational response to the power vacuum of the region. The same can be said of agitating for change in the United States, for the causes that we fight for are not empty rhetorical shells for which no line can be crossed. Rather, we ought to consider protest as what it is: self-defense against the corporate and state forces which would see us dead. 

It is for this reason, then, that the murder of these three community members was such a blow to the people of Guerrero. Their president had, just weeks prior, come and told them to maintain nonviolence, to allow themselves to be senselessly martyred by the state and narco groups and the local and national alliances between them. All because the formation of effective self-defense in these communities would fully invalidate the claims the Mexican government makes on them. Instead, by delegitimizing the CIPOG-EZ, the state can add insult to injury and “investigate” the killings, justifying further mobilization of police in the region and continuing the cycles of violence that the CIPOG-EZ seeks to end. In the words of the people of Montaña Baja in Guerrera, “If we do not defend ourselves, who will defend us.”

1 Comment

  1. The entire purpose of nonviolence *is* disruption. Takes a glance at any Quaker or Nonviolent text—even, perhaps, a pamphlet—to understand this. While I agree that the “liberal cult of nonviolence” often presents reactionary and submissive, the theoretical underpinnings of its praxis are, and always have been, revolutionary.

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