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Home Resources Articles Chisholm Articles International Midwife to Nonviolent Change

International Midwife to Nonviolent Change

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Nonviolent social movements require midwives.
They are NOT spontaneous events.

Many historians fail to portray the intense preparation and training which precede the dramatic and courageous actions of nonviolent social movements. Richard Deats, himself a peace activist and teacher, is an exception. His new book, Marked for Life (New City Press), describes the life and work of Hildegard Goss-Mayr, a midwife to people power movements across Africa, Europe, North American, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East.

Hildegard Goss-MeyrGrowing up in Austria under the Nazis, Hildegard experienced the hell of occupation and war. Her family were Catholic pacifists associated with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Even under constant surveillance, they lived as faithful Christians and Gandhian resisters, refusing to cooperate with Nazi oppression and also refusing to hate the enemy. Hildegaard earned a doctorate in Philosophy and married Jean Goss, her partner in active peacemaking.

Hildegard's work illustrates how nonviolence training can help oppressed people envision new possibilities and find their own power to make change. Her teaching strategies led, in less than two years, to the People Power Revolution in the Philippines where thousands of citizens successfully and nonviolently overthrew the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Her work was grounded at every stage in prayerful reflection, an appreciation for the culture of the people, and a deep understanding of nonviolence as the only means to achieving a nonviolent future. began by traveling around the country to study the social conditions and meet with diverse groups who opposed Marcos. studied the local situation from many perspectives and discerned local traditions and experiences which would Filipinize the training.

The nonviolence training lasted several days. Hildegard "developed a compelling way of presenting the core beliefs of Christian nonviolence, rooted in the Gospel but also shaped by Gandhian methodology." She invited small groups to share their own experiences and insights. They worshipped together and formed a stronger community. They learned to analyze their own oppressive situation and the supports which seemed to maintain it and needed to be removed. They studied the history, stories and methods of active nonviolence and its religious and humanistic roots, and finally developed their own unique and culturally-specific strategies and tactics. Rising tensions between protesters and the army provided real life, practice situations. More difficult for participants to accept, yet basic to Hildegard's teaching, was a principle she insisted upon: that enemies, too, deserve respect and carry within them the image of God ---- that violence exists within ourselves as well as within the enemy.

Deats' little book documents Hildegard's life chronology and context, achievements and awards, and writings. He shares his valuable insights about her spiritual resources, guiding principles and training methods.

This humble, spiritual woman has served people of many faiths and cultures. At the age of 79 she remains active and is the preeminent nonviolence trainer, a midwife to nonviolent social movements around the world.


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