The Common Good
July-August 2002

A Toast to Freedom

by Rose Marie Berger | July-August 2002

There are basically three kinds of power: domination, collaboration, and satyagraha (truth force).

There are basically three kinds of power: domination, collaboration, and satyagraha (truth force). Domination is political power that proceeds from the barrel of a gun. Collaboration promotes "united we stand, divided we fall." Truth force, or spiritual power, preaches "the truth will set you free." All three kinds of power make up the shifting riverbed of the history of social movements and campaigns.

Linda Rabben's Fierce Legion of Friends tracks the strategies of modern social campaigns, an interest that started with her work for Amnesty International in Brazil. Reading through case histories, she discovered the rich and often tragic stories of people who crusaded for freedom in every generation.

Who were the lesser-known people who pushed forward the British, American, and Brazilian anti-slavery movements? How did the famous ceramicist Josiah Wedgwood come to develop a line of Jubilee pottery to fund the abolitionist cause? What prompted lawyer Wendell Phillips to link slave rights with workers' rights? Who marched in support of Chicago's Haymarket prisoners? How did Mark Twain end up fighting against forced labor in the Belgian Congo? Rabben takes the reader through an extraordinary living history honoring organizers, letter writers, and petition signers who collaborated to transform societies for the better.

While Rabben touches lightly on the spiritual influences in human rights campaigns, Gros and Rempel's book digs in deep. The gospel places peacemaking at the center of the identity of the Christian church. Over the centuries, however, churches have divided over the specific place of the peacemaking imperative in their lives and teachings. This book invites 15 scholars from 10 Christian traditions—from Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox to Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Brethren—to examine the theological, doctrinal, social, and personal place of peace in their mission. With the rise in "holy wars" in the late 20th century, these essays give insight into the Christian dialogue on how the commitments of faith generate the spiritual power that motivate mass movements for peace.

MASS MOVEMENTS, of course, are built one person and one story at a time. The stories in Hebron Journal by Art Gish and Walking on Fire by Beverly Bell are the flesh that covers the bones of history.

As a young man, Gish—an Anabaptist organic farmer from Ohio—was a conscientious objector with Brethren Voluntary Service in Europe. This book chronicles five years of Gish's experience as a member of a Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron living with Muslim families, engaging in nonviolent actions with Israelis and Palestinians, and experimenting with how small disciplined groups can engender peace in places of conflict. Amid dramatic stories of blocking Israeli bulldozers and being attacked by Zionist settlers, Gish explores the vastness of spiritual power. "The people who are in power are in power because they are not afraid to kill," he writes. "The only human force that can overcome that oppressive system is people who are not afraid to die."

Walking on Fire collects the voices of Haitian women speaking to "beat back the darkness." Under the Duvalier dictatorships many Haitian women lived a classic case study of domination power under the heel of economic oppression, social bondage, and military might. As Edwidge Danticat writes in the introduction, these women have been forced to be "more than heroic" by turbulence of history, yet they reject mythologizing for the distance it creates. Those who survived have songs to sing, stories to tell, and strategies to teach. Says Lelenne Gilles, "Since I am a journalist, I choose to be a voice for those who cannot speak. I want to make the ‘big ears' listen." Perhaps there is a fourth kind of power. The revolutionary power of one person's story has time and again changed the course of human history.

Rose Marie Berger is an associate editor of Sojourners.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)