Alycee J. Lane, Nonviolence Now!

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Alycee J. Lane, Nonviolence Now!: Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace
alycee-lane1Alycee J. Lane is a former professor who taught African American literature and culture at UC Santa Barbara. She is author of Coming in from the Cold, a blog in which she analyzes political and social issues through the prism of Martin Luther King, Jr. s philosophy of nonviolence. A student of Engaged Buddhism, Alycee in 2012 participated in the year-long Commit to Dharma course offered by the East Bay Meditation Center under the tutelage of Larry Yang. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Howard University, Doctorate of Philosophy from UCLA, and Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Alycee currently lives in Oakland, California.

 

TRANSCRIPTION:

Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody we’re back. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. What do you think of that song? I’ve been listening to that song as the intro to my show now for six-and-a-half years. I don’t always get to hear much of it because we just play the beginning of it, but I really enjoy it. I hope you enjoyed that moment. I did. I want to tell you my brother wrote and performed that piece—Barry Hartglass. You can find out more about him and his work at BarryHartglass.com. I never tire of that little bit of music so I just had a fun little moment there, I hope you did too. Did you hear the bass? That’s my favorite part.

Let’s move on to the second part of the program. I want to bring on my next guest Alycee J. Lane, who is the author of a new book Nonviolence Now! Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace. Alycee is a former professor who taught African American literature and culture at UC Santa Barbara. She is author of “Coming In From the Cold,” a blog in which she analyzes political and social issues through the prism of Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of non-violence. A student of engaged Buddhism, Alycee in 2012 participated in the yearlong Commit to Dharma course offered by the East Bay Mediation Center under the tutelage of Larry Yang. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Howard University, Doctorate of Philosophy from UCLA, and Juris Doctor from UC Berkeley. She currently lives in Oakland. Welcome to It’s All About Food!

Alycee Lane: Caryn how are you doing?

Caryn Hartglass: Good!

Alycee Lane: Thank you so much for having me on.

Caryn Hartglass: Now how do you pronounce your first name, I don’t know if I was saying it right.

Alycee Lane: You were close, it’s “aaay-leece,” so it’s a long “A”. The two “E”s are silent. I don’t know why my mother did that but, you know, it’s my name. What am I going to do?

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah she wanted to give you more, so she gave you an extra e for bonus. Alycee, okay.

Alycee Lane: The next one could be silent, one could say

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I like it. Why not? Hey, this world, it’s all as we make it, and we make it up as we go along. Now the key is to make it more peaceful than we’ve been doing—that’s the trick.

Alycee Lane: Absolutely. I agree with you one hundred percent, and that’s one of the reasons I wrote my book.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s not easy. It’s not easy to act nonviolently. You go into great detail in your book, kind of giving us a template with history and ideas and quotes and stories, to help us do that. Thank you.

Alycee Lane: Yes. You’re welcome.

Caryn Hartglass: Now let’s just start with the beginning, your title: “The Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace.” Can we just go back to that 1963 event? Because I hate to admit it but when I was in public school I don’t remember learning about this.

Alycee Lane: No, it’s not one of those things you learn in public school. In fact you learn very little African American history, and American history for that matter, in public schools. It was a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement, the first time that children were deployed on the front lines of the struggle, and it made all the difference in the world because people got to see for their own eyes, on television, the kind of brutality that African Americans faced in the south. For many people, to see children hosed down and have dogs sicced upon them made all the difference in the world in terms of their support for changes in civil rights and in terms of dismantling Jim Crow in the South. So it was a very important event. It actually lasted for quite a few months, so there were different actions during the course of the months. Ultimately it was one of the things that compelled President Johnson to act in terms of legislation, voting rights and so forth. It wasn’t the pivotal thing—it was in that regard, but it was one of the many things that gave him some sort of impetus to move forward.

Caryn Hartglass: Now you’re promoting nonviolence…

Alycee Lane: Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: In terms of when injustice occurs, the reaction shouldn’t be an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, and getting violent. Instead it should be resisting and not reacting in a violent way. That’s a very hard, and a tall, order.

Alycee Lane: Well I think nonviolence—Martin Luther King put it in beautiful terms when he said that to speak of self-defense or these kinds of things in the context of nonviolence makes about as much sense as asking a soldier who’s at war to not put himself in harm’s way. The point is to put oneself on the line and to, what King called, “engage in redemptive suffering.” That is to say that one step forward is willing to suffer in order to change the system and willing to suffer for others. So yes it’s a huge decision, because it requires you to confront your fear of death, your fear of bodily harm, and to ask yourself: how committed are you to undoing injustice? It’s not just a matter of promoting it in terms of confronting systems, but what I try to argue in my book is that we’ve done just a piece of nonviolence. What it really requires of us is that we change the way we live, to sort of come back to that place where it’s a way of life and it’s a political imperative.

Caryn Hartglass: We have to make a lot of changes. There are so many things that are wrong with our system, and I’d like to think that we can work within it but sometimes I think we just got to start all over again. Things are really a mess. There were so many different things that I noted in the book. You bring up so many great quotes from Dr. King and many others, so many of them I noted and want to keep close to my memory. I want to bring up—you told one story that really got to me to the point where I want to make an apology—you were talking about feeling good outside in the woods, how you like to go out in nature.

Alycee Lane: Yes. Yes.

Caryn Hartglass: I know that feeling. I love being out in the woods, in nature. We’re all taught, some way or another, with certain fears about what we should be afraid of. Especially as women, you know. We’re all afraid of being raped, whatever. I remember comedians in my circle, Jewish comedians in particular, that would make jokes about how if we saw two African American men walking down the street we’d be afraid but it wouldn’t happen if we saw two little Jewish guys walking down the street, because the little Jewish guys aren’t strong and, you know they can’t do anything, and everybody laughs. And I laughed; but then I realized, wait a second—then you tell your story: you were taught to be afraid of the white folks if you were alone in the woods, and what they might do. First of all I want to apologize because I didn’t think, when I would hear these comedians, of the other point of view. And I felt really bad about that, so I’m sorry.

Alycee Lane: Well, let me clarify. I wasn’t ever taught to be afraid of white people by my parents or anybody else. I was told to be aware of the potential of violence from them. And so the woods became this place where I could possibly confront their violence—what would I do, was the question for me. So it wasn’t so much an issue of fear as it is ‘watch out there’s some crazy people going out to the woods,’ or there’s just some crazy people out in the world, and so I understood them to be talking about white people, and white men in particular. And then men generally, to be quite honest.

Caryn Hartglass: Yes I agree with you there. I mean there really isn’t any difference—there are crazy people out there of red, white, blue, yellow, polka dot, whatever. They’re just crazy. And sometimes they’re socialized to feel like they have the authority or the right to do some pretty awful things, unfortunately.

Alycee Lane: Right. They feel entitled, yes.

Caryn Hartglass: Entitled. That’s a good word, thank you. That’s what I was groping for. I love being out in the woods and it’s a very frustrating thing to know that I can’t be entirely at peace, alone as a woman in the woods. Although I have done some camping in Costa Rica on my own and everybody told me I was crazy, I was more afraid of the humans that I might interact with rather than the animals that were out there in nature.

Alycee Lane: Absolutely. And it’s good to be cautious, and to protect oneself, but it can also be paralyzing. When you take your history and your stories with you, it can be even more paralyzing. So the challenge for me was, and continues to be for me, to understand that I belong everywhere on earth. I get to roam freely. And I should be able to get to roam freely without having to worry about any harm being done to me. That is my birthright. But it’s still—to negotiate that with the realities, and that there are very frightening people out in the world today.

Caryn Hartglass: So how do we feel…a lot of people like to carry a gun, or know that they have a gun nearby, because it makes them feel safe. In promoting nonviolence, how do we manage that? Or have a feeling of security without feeling a need to have that weapon as a crutch?

Alycee Lane: I think you allow yourself to feel vulnerable and you understand that to use a weapon—you can hold a weapon as a crutch, but you’re buying into a system of violence. So to practice on that level is to, like I said, confront your fears of death and harm and to be willing to be powerful enough to say “no” and to do that nonviolently. I don’t particularly think that guns make any sense whatsoever and I don’t think there’s any indication that they actually create more safety. I think the proliferation of weapons and the increase in violence speaks otherwise. And I mean, most people don’t know how to use guns, and don’t bother to learn how, but they go buy one. My thought is you commit to nonviolence and you commit to soul-power, you commit to heart-power. You stay committed to that and you follow through.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay now I want to open up and talk more about chapter 5, which encompasses my favorite subject, which is food, and the things we bring into our bodies.

Alycee Lane: Sure.

Caryn Hartglass: So that can be actual food or it could be the toxins in the air, the emotions we take in, the thoughts we take in, and food for the soul. It’s a big picture, it’s all important. I wanted to say that we tend to evolve, or improve, in increments, and I would like to…

{RINGING}

Alycee Lane: I didn’t hear the last part of what you said because that bell rang over your voice, you said we tend to…

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I don’t know—I’m disconnecting this phone very soon because I only get the prank callers and spam callers.

We tend to evolve in increments, where we give women the right to vote. Then we have civil rights acts, and now we’ve allowed for gay marriage. We’re moving along, allowing people to live as they should live, with freedom and rights, and it takes time to open the floodgates and allow true freedom for all. And then ultimately I would like to think that our non-human animals will also be given respect.

Alycee Lane: Sure.

Caryn Hartglass: But it takes a long time and it has to work in steps, which I find really really frustrating.

Alycee Lane: Yeah. I think it’s really a matter of political consciousness. People have to unlearn the things that they have been taught about what it means to exercise power in this world. So we feel like we’ve been given nature to exploit. We believe that—we’ve propagated that myth—and it will take quite some time to undo it. And we need to undo it sooner than later because it is a myth that has led to resource depletion, to climate change, and of course to defamation of civil species, because of the choices that we made and the ideology that we bought into. So yes it will take some time, but we don’t have much time. We don’t have time to evolve. We have to actually become activated and push our government and our corporations and whoever else to make the kind of changes that we need to make, and that requires also a very different worldview and to see that we are connected to the world, that we are not masters of other species and other kinds of life on earth.

Caryn Hartglass: Now that’s important what you just said: “we are not masters of other species.” This is something big that we really need to figure out. Because we really believe that we are master, that we are better, that we are more intelligent, and as a result it limits our possibilities. It’s actually devastating to us.

Alycee Lane: Yes. When Thich Nhat Hanh talks about inter-being and that we are all made of non-human elements, that everything that’s in the cosmos is required for our life and our survival, when King talks about interrelatedness, and we see ourselves in one another—that has to include the natural world. And if it doesn’t, then we’re really doing harm to ourselves. I think that this is getting played out in really awful ways on our planet. It frightens me that we want to go elsewhere to look for other life in other parts of the universe as we’re taking our ideology with us. I don’t necessarily think that that will turn out well for other forms of life at this point.

Caryn Hartglass: I personally believe that one of the greatest nonviolent acts that we can do is by choosing nonviolent foods at every meal.

Alycee Lane: Well I think, yes, I think everything that we do, including our eating, should be reframed in terms of nonviolence to ask the question: what harm am I participating in? Our society is complex enough so you just simply cannot remove yourself from doing some harm, but you can become conscious of it and make very different decisions, and I think at the dinner table we can make those kinds of decisions. That includes thinking about the kinds of ways we support corporations that exploit resources and harm animals and so forth.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay so let me ask you what you eat. What kind of diet do you have?

Alycee Lane: I have a diet that needs to go through nonviolent training. I used to be a vegetarian and then—this was years and years ago—and then a light turned on for me and I started eating meat again. As I now become more aware of the harm that that does and I become more invested in living a life of nonviolence, I am slowly sort of kicking myself into a vegetarian diet.

Caryn Hartglass: I like the way you frame that. “Nonviolent training.” That’s very good. I might use that. If there’s anything that I can do to help you get to a more nonviolent way of eating I’d be happy to do that, we do that a lot at Responsible Eating and Living.

Alycee Lane: I appreciate that.

Caryn Hartglass: We do our very best to make plant-eating not only nutritious, but delicious and fun. But eating plants, too, can have a certain amount of violence involved in terms of toxic pesticides and herbicides, which we’re not only putting into the earth, which gets into our water system and gets into our food. The poor farm-workers that handle these chemicals often times, not because of them but because of the people that hire them, they don’t follow the safety procedures. Women tend to have tremendous problems with birth and their children have birth defects. It’s just a disaster what we do every step.

Alycee Lane: Including genetically-modifying our food. I totally agree.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah so I’m just kind of curious. I hope you don’t mind if we stay on this subject a little because I love food.

Alycee Lane: I don’t. Not at all.

Caryn Hartglass: But I always like to understand…we’re so complex and hard to understand but how do you manage eating food that you know has come from a violent place.

Alycee Lane: That comes from a where?
Caryn Hartglass: From a violent place. Slaughtering animals that have been in factory farms and—

Alycee Lane: Right. So what I try to at least—since I buy meat—I try not to buy meat that is not raised in factory farms and for a lot of reasons. I’ve seen the shows. I can’t remember the name of it now, the movie that was done on factory farms and animals and that completely opened my eyes, to think of the kind of cruelty involved in mass-producing pork, and mass-producing beef and so forth. So I try to be real conscious of where I get my food. Often I go to farmer’s markets, talk to the farmers themselves, and try to buy local, paying attention to purchasing organic foods, reading my labels to make sure that they performed certain things such as they haven’t been genetically-modified. Just trying to be really conscious and purposeful about the everyday decisions I make about the food I buy. And not purchasing items that I think might contribute to more violence in the world and certainly not contribute to creating stress in my body and my consciousness.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really an important point because when we consume animals that have been in a very stressful situation—I haven’t seen any science on this—but I believe that we’re consuming those chemicals of stress and fear and it becomes a part of us, which doesn’t do us any good.

Alycee Lane: Yeah I’ve heard that theory, and I think it’s intriguing. I’m not sure how true it is but I think it’s something to think about when we—obviously our own body chemistry changes when we’re under stress and when we’re fearful, and so one has to wonder how that change in chemistry affects those who consume meat products and so forth.

Caryn Hartglass: We’re hearing about so much violence. All over the world. We have this horrendous Middle-Eastern crisis and not only is it just horrible with the wars and the violence going on there but now all these people are trying to move through Europe, nobody knows what to do with them. We have terrorism in our own country, the United States, even though somehow we don’t like to call it terrorism often.

Alycee Lane: Exactly.

Caryn Hartglass: When some crazy things happen and somebody goes in and shoots all these people in a church…where do we begin? Where do we begin with nonviolence? Where do we begin? There’s just so much going on.

Alycee Lane: Well, I think I may have said this earlier, but I think we have to do away entirely with the public prior that characterizes how we do and conceive of activism. We can come up with so-called “peaceful solutions” but if they’re infused with our own violence, those solutions will last only so long. We have to reimagine our society from our everyday actions and then to use that opportunity to transform the structures of violence in our society. So let me just give you an example: I went to a peace rally in Hawaii when we were bombing Iraq. At that peace rally I noticed a mother and child interacting and the mother was grabbing the child by her pigtail and yanking it and talking to her in ways that were clearly angry, and then yanking it again. I had to ask myself: can those of us who are here actually bring peace? I looked around and saw other evidence of non-peaceful ways of being. And then I had to think about my own investments in anger and rage and so forth, and the ways in which every day I play out violence. I had to ask myself: can I live in a society that I can create from this place? So I think we have to do both. One way is to meet those crises with serious political activism, and that means confronting our government. I think that is of utmost importance, to require that our governments begin to adopt nonviolent domestic and foreign policy. But we also need to do the work ourselves.

Caryn Hartglass: Well you’ve given us a lot of food for thought today. Thank you very much for that.

Alycee Lane: Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: I enjoyed reading your book.

Alycee Lane: Thank you.

Caryn Hartglass: There’s, as I mentioned before, a few sections in there that I’m going to continue to repeat to myself. I think we all need to do that. If there are things that we like or something that gets to us, don’t put it to the side, put it out in the front somewhere you can continue to remember it. ‘Cause we’re constantly bombarded with stuff and the important stuff seems to just get lost. All right well thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and all the best with nonviolence. Now let’s get it!

{Outro music plays}

Alycee Lane: All right thank you very much Caryn.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay take care.

Alycee Lane: Bye.

Transcribed by Samantha Rakela, 8/6/2016

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