Taking its cue from the Albert Einstein Institution, a Boston organization devoted to disseminating formal principles of nonviolent social change, the DC Occupyers created a formal pledge of 11 principles.
“People had to sign the pledge in order to join the encampment,” says Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and one of the group’s earliest members. These tenets are not icing on the cake of activism he says, “they are critical.”
Without strict adherence to the formal practice of nonviolent response, even to the most aggressive kinds of provocation up to and including rifle fire, Mr. Zeese says, “this movement would have achieved nothing.”
He points to key moments in the Occupy movement’s short history, such as pepper spray incidents in lower Manhattan and UC Davis. In both those cases, he says, “if those girls in New York had done anything either to provoke or respond there would not have been the outcry or attention there was.”
Similarly, he says, if the students at the UC Davis campus had thrown things at the police or even called them names, “they would not have made the impact they did just by sitting quietly.”
This view however, is not a simple sell throughout the movement. Activists in Oakland have declined to adopt an explicit nonviolent code.
“We embrace a diversity of tactics,” says Shake Anderson, a member of the Occupy Oakland media team, adding that this stance flows directly from its adherence to being a “non-hierarchical group with no single person telling anyone else what to do.”
This attitude also stems from a narrower definition of violence.