Nonviolent revolution and the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2009


So today, Google’s homepage greeted me with a link to this archive of photos of the Berlin Wall, as it fell 20 years ago today. In November 1989, I was six years old, and the event was a vague, but certainly positive, event from my perspective. In November 1999, I was a high school student, intentionally very distant from the political world.

But this anniversary is very different for me. It sounds pathetic, but my interest and involvement in politics began on 9/11. It began when I saw what revenge and anger immediately caused in my country, and I heard voices calling for dialogue from the underground punk scene, or reminding us that “If you bomb Afghanistan you bomb Me” walking around my college campus, and these voices were utterly drowned. I tried to join these voices, asking for nonviolence and prayer, from that beginning.

So in the last few years, that involvement has grown to include the gut-wrenching situations and stories of Africa, Asia, and Latin America; this year’s valiant attempts at nonviolent revolution in Iran; as well as the oppression that Palestinians endure at the hands of the formerly oppressed people of Israel1; and the ways in which my own country’s insatiable thirst for power has contributed to all of these things and more. But today, it is worth remembering 1989.

While I was driving home from work, I heard a story on NPR, and searching for it tonight led me to this post about October 8, 1989, in which East German soldiers marched to a Lutheran church, which had a prayer meeting that had grown to include over 70,000 people. All of them waited for violent crackdown, similar to that of Tiananmen, or what we have seen in Iran this year, but it never came. They were willing to face it, having been warned of it, but it never came.

A quote from a communist official has been flying around the internet the last few days, and it reads, “We planned everything. We were prepared for everything, except for candles and prayers.”

It is a powerful quote in itself that cannot be overstated, as many see it as a direct catalyst to the fall of the Berlin Wall, but inside the context of the story I heard today we can learn of that Lutheran pastor, Christian Fuhrer, and his desperate belief in the nonviolent message of Jesus that led him to hold these times of prayer for peace when they had very few people. They announced the nonviolent kingdom of Jesus, and it worked. At times throughout history, this has been tried and temporarily failed, but many times it has succeeded, even after years of suffering, but far more times it has not even been tried.

The story needs to be told today. The nonviolent kingdom of Jesus needs to be announced today, through prayers and candles in the face of empire – both those suffering on the outside of empire, and those of us dying of comfort inside the empire.

  1. I cannot encourage you enough to watch this powerful interview, in two clips, that Jon Stewart recently did with two nonviolent activists – one, a Palestinian political leader, and one, an American Jewish woman. It is powerful. []