To be gentle and subversive – an alternative truth!

We will continue to fail in our ability to love until we recognize that it is the personal responsibility of each individual to learn how to love…

Love must be an integral part of all areas of our society, so that it can halt the march of isolation, separation and a hostile social order…

Petra Kelly (1947 –1992)




Considering this Saturday’s wide-spread peaceful protests against the new American Trump administration, activist Petra Kelly’s essay below on Social Defence written 25 years ago, still sing true today. 

Petra was born in Germany in 1947. Her step-father was an American army officer based in Germany, although Petra remained a West German citizen. The family returned to the United States in 1959. Petra was active in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s.  During Robert Kennedy’s bid for the US presidency she was a campaign organizer. 

After studying political science at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington, D.C., Petra returned to Europe. During the 70’s she worked on Public Health Issues and Environmental Protection in Brussels for the European Community Commission. Later, 

Petra Kelly was a leader in the peace and anti-nuclear movements  when I heard her speak in Vancouver in the mid 1980’s. She was also deeply involved with ecological and human rights issues, helping form the German Green Party and becoming among the world’s first green parliamentarians in 1983. In the late 80’s and early 90’s she helped organize support for both the Free Tibet Movement and the Chinese Democracy Movement.Tragically, she was murdered in 1992.


Listen up! Here an excerpt of her life-work.


Wildlife near Carbondale, Colorado 2 - bruce witzel photo


On Nonviolent Social Defense 


Social defense is practical and pragmatic. It requires excellent preparation, organization, and training; a courageous, creative, and determined citizenry; and a radical commitment to democratic values. Independent, resourceful, freedom-loving people that are prepared and organized to resist aggression cannot be conquered…


In the 20th century, we have seen several examples of the effectiveness of nonviolent social defense. The home-rule movement led by Gandhi mobilized so much grassroots pressure that the British were forced to withdraw from India. The civil rights movement created profound changes in U.S. society. Philippine “people power” overthrew Marcos non-violently. And in Eastern Europe, it was citizens’ movements, not political or military powers, that toppled the state security systems.


Full demilitarization can only come about in a society in which power is shared at the grassroots. In the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau called upon free citizens to engage in civil disobedience and nonviolent actions whenever there is an injustice. Civil disobedience and nonviolence are an integral part of any democratic society. Even in Western democracies, the state seems invincible, and as individuals, we often feel powerless, unable to have much effect. We must remind ourselves that the power of the state derives solely from the consent of the governed. Without the cooperation of the people, the state cannot exist. Even a powerful military state that is nearly invulnerable to violent force can be transformed through nonviolence at the grassroots. Noncooperation, civil disobedience, education, and organization are the means of change, and we must learn the ways to use them. Direct democracies will come into being only when we demand from our leaders that they listen to us. This is fundamental to Green politics. Power is not something that we receive from above. To transform our societies into ones that are peaceful, ecological, and just, we need only to exercise the power we already have.


Like the militaristic mode of defense, social defense demands courage and the willingness to place the interests of the community ahead of individual self-interest, relying as it does on well-organized, tightly bonded affinity groups in every neighborhood prepared to conduct acts of nonviolent resistance on short notice. Every neighborhood must know how to conduct resistance and subversion. This method of democratic security requires little material apparatus but a lot of organization and training…


Faith that we have a natural disposition to love, that we are possessed of moral conscience, and that all life is sacred, are at the foundation of nonviolent action, and we can see their power in practical application. The political techniques of nonviolence — noncooperation, civil disobedience, grassroots organizing, fasting, and so forth — derive their power from the faith and confidence that through the integrity and self-sacrifice of our actions, we can awaken our opponent’s conscience and bring about a change of heart. Gandhi was uniquely creative in applying nonviolence as an effective force for political and social change. For him, nonviolence was always active, powerful, and dynamic, and had nothing to do with passivity or acceptance of wrongful conditions. He acknowledged the influence of the nineteenth century Indian women’s movement in the development of his approach. Because women’s contributions to nonviolence are often unrecognized, this influence is especially encouraging.  He was also directly influenced by Jesus’ gospel of love and the writings of Tolstoy, Emerson, and Thoreau.


Violence always leads to more violence, hatred to greater hatred. Nonviolence works through communion, never through coercion. We must win over, not defeat, our opponent through openness, dialogue, patience, and love. Our real opponent is not a human enemy, but a system and way of thinking that give some people the power to oppress. Each struggle is part of a larger vision, one of building a society dedicated to the welfare of all. Gandhi felt that India could only become healthy with strong, politically autonomous, economically self-reliant villages. He was critical of industrialism for dehumanizing workers, splitting society into classes, and taking work from humans and giving it to machines. And he saw that any centralized production system requires a state that is restrictive of individual freedom. To him, the spinning wheel represented the dignity of labor, self-sufficiency, and humility needed to guide the people of India in the work of social transformation. Gandhi’s influence runs deep in the Green movement. Satyagraha and all it implies have inspired and informed our vision of nonviolent change.


All forms of structural and institutional violence — the arms race, warfare, economic deprivation, social injustice, ecological exploitation, and so forth — are closely linked…


A nation’s policies, values, institutions, and structures comprise the preconditions for violence or for peace. Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is the greatest force (hu)mankind has ever been endowed with. Love has more force than a besieging army.” Martin Luther King, Jr. added that this power of love is physically passive but spiritually active — that “while the non-violent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive towards his opponent, his mind and his emotions are constantly active, constantly seeking to persuade the opposition.” Nonviolence is a spiritual weapon that can succeed where guns and armies never could. “Democracy can only be saved through nonviolence,” Gandhi said, “because democracy, so long as it is sustained by violence, cannot provide for or protect the weak. My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest should have the same opportunity as the strongest. This can never happen except through nonviolence.”


Excerpt from Thinking Green (1993), by Petra Kelly



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The Sacred Black Hills of the Dakota - bruce witzel photo (2)


19 thoughts on “To be gentle and subversive – an alternative truth!

  1. a beautiful read, Bruce!
    i was unaware of her compassionate insights.
    a shortcoming of the human mind
    and exercising the responsibilities
    of free will seems to be how easily
    reactions of fear and hate
    so easily are manipulated
    to override actions & words
    of wisdom, imho 🙂

    • Thanks for your humility, your love and your own responsible example, David. It is really hard to fathom the depths of these reactions and manipulations, and at the same time to really work to love those who are moved towards the hatred and persecuting others. The whole earth is moaning with this dissonance…. Petra really spoke of how we, all people, need to learn to love… And I am like a child in this.

  2. Excellent post, Bruce. Thanks for sharing the insights of Petra Kelly.

    “We must remind ourselves that the power of the state derives solely from the consent of the governed. Without the cooperation of the people, the state cannot exist.”

  3. Bruce I shared this on my Facebook page. It’s something that we all need to hear. This section by Petra Kelly radiated with me: “Violence always leads to more violence, hatred to greater hatred. Nonviolence works through communion, never through coercion. We must win over, not defeat, our opponent through openness, dialogue, patience, and love. Our real opponent is not a human enemy, but a system and way of thinking that give some people the power to oppress”. We must not let fear drive us to become the very thing we condemn.

  4. Excellent post. Thank you. I don’t know the story of Petra Kelly, but remember her name somehow. Does anyone know who murdered her? Sounds like a valuable resource. And wasn’t yesterday totally amazing! Millions of people, all over the world. Wow.

    • Hi Susan, it’ good to hear from you. Yes, the Saturday response was amazing. In regards to Petra’s death, the German police identified her life partner as the murderer who they say then shot himself. Most people accept this official explanation, though some others are skeptical. Petra’s work was threatening to many governments, and especially to the military establishment. Irregardless, her life work stands as a testament to what people can achieve in confronting the Goliath’s of the world. She also fought hard to expose the causes of cancer, especially after her 10 year old sister died of it. In 2002 the Dalai Lama presented Petra Kelly’s mother and family the International Campaign for Tibet’s Light of Truth Award.

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