The Philippines Chooses Non-Violent Direct Action

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.” -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ray Powell | APRIL 2, 2024
The Philippines Chooses Non-Violent Direct Action
The Philippines' resupply boat Unaizah May 4 water-cannoned by China Coast Guard ships, 23 March 2024

Ray Powell




On July 23rd 1961, my father was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for "breach of peace" and sentenced to serve time in the notorious Parchman Farm penitentiary. His crime was refusing to leave his seat in the "Colored" waiting room at the Jackson train station. He'd also sat in the "wrong" section during the train ride up from New Orleans that day, but the police enforcing Jackson's racist laws were waiting for him and six other fellow protestors when they arrived at the train station. 

Everyone knew what would happen that day. Seven passengers from that train would peacefully protest an unjust law, and then they would go to prison for "breaching the peace".

Here's Dad's mug-shot from the day of his arrest--prisoner number 21239:

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Dad was one of 436 Americans to take part in the 1961 Freedom Rides--one of the seminal events of the early Civil Rights Movement in the United States. 

You'll notice Dad was wearing a suit and tie on the day of his arrest. That's because he and his fellow travelers were engaged in the noblest form of protest: non-violent direct action. They embarked on their journey to challenge an unjust law, but they would absolutely not strike back. Instead, they chose to accept suffering and fight oppression with courage, grace and quiet dignity.

They were heroes, and they changed the course of history.

Among the weapons used against many of the Civil Rights protestors was the water cannon. Pressurized water has long been considered a "non-lethal" weapon, but it is a weapon nonetheless--capable of inflicting significant damage to property and injury to people.


Just ask these three heroes, who were water-cannoned at point-blank range by two China Coast Guard ships on March 23rd 2024. 


These brave young men and their comrades went knowingly into danger protected only by the thin, wooden, unarmed frame of the civilian Unaizah May 4 resupply boat, which of course was not built to withstand this kind of barbarity. 


Though as members of the Philippine Navy these sailors were trained in the use of lethal force, on this occasion they too purposefully engaged in non-violent direct action against an oppressor. Their task was to deliver food and replacement personnel through a blockade--one which they knew would be enforced with remorseless brutality. They solemnly obeyed their orders and accepted their fate with courage and professionalism.

Just as the government officials in 1960s Mississippi blamed the Civil Rights protestors for disturbing the peace of their discriminatory regime, Beijing's officials now routinely blame the Philippines for refusing to bow to oppression and violating the sanctity of China's outrageous blockade of a Philippine outpost.

Yet the Philippines has committed itself to this noble path of peaceful resistance to oppression, and by doing so it is gradually winning the sympathy and support of the world

This is the path that was forged by heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a long and difficult path, but an honorable one.

It is also one which has led its pilgrims to victory before.

Ray Powell

Ray is the Director of SeaLight and Project Lead for Project Myoushu at Stanford University's Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He's a 35-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and was a 2021 Fellow at Stanford's Distinguished Careers Institute.

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