Sowing Seeds for the Future by Andrew Rigby – review by Steven Waling
The subtitle of this book is ‘Exploring the power of constructive nonviolent action.’ Andrew Rigby has written an often times fascinating account of the various means of creating a new society within the present often violent and exploitative world we now live in. One of the perrenial questions around nonviolence and pacifism is, what exactly would a society look like if it were to be run along nonviolent lines? This is a book as much about good examples as it is about principles, running from wartime refugee programmes to village independence in India; from the Diggers to present civil resistance movements.
‘Constructive nonviolent action’ in this book is seen as an alternative to ‘direct action’, not the alternative. Lying down in front of trucks carrying nuclear weapons, lobbying parliament, trying to change society in direct ways is not seen as a bad thing, or a waste of time; but the author is asking us to think of ways we can change our own behaviours to provide models for a future more equitable society.
Thus, it looks at the Ghandian concept of society as it is applied in Indian villages to create more equitable distribution of land and resources to the poor and landless. It’s not unaware of the difficulties that entails in a society still largely based consumption and competition, and one of the refreshing elements of this book is that it never ignores the pluses and minuses of its ‘good examples.’ The Diggers, for instance, were not a long-lived movement; but their example of alternative living still resonates and inspires us today because they showed a different way.
The book’s discussion of the Intifada is particularly apt for peacemakers, because here is a cause that is ongoing, and seemingly intractable. Despite initial successes, there is a strong awareness of the continuing struggle and the exhaustion of those fighting against oppression. The concept of “sumud” – which seems to mean something likes “forbearance” and “to exist is to resist” – is a very powerful reminder that the road to peace and justice is often long and hard, but that just by living in “the spirit that leads to peace” we can continue to be an example to the world.
For me, what this book reminds us of, is that sometimes our work as peacemakers goes on outside the normal channels of publicity; even when nothing seems to be happening, when all the voices seem to be for war, somewhere things are happening underground. In fact, in a recent article in Peace News, Andrew Rigby has said that constructive action for change can be seen as a form of resistance in itself, and be one of the backbones of a peace and justice protest movement. The practice of satyagraha in India is one such example, as is the formation of the Aberdeen People’s Press, a cooperative enterprise that enabled lots of protest movements and activists to learn about peaceable alternatives and to publicise their own actions.
While there is a need for big public demonstrations and actions, there is also simply a need to live in a way that leads to peace. People who provide help for refugees from war or persecution, people who set up schemes in cities to provide food for others, are all workers in the vineyard of peace, and they are all centres of resistence to the status quo of capitalist greed and violence.
This is a book at once very personal and very well-researched. It’s neither blind to the difficulties of peace action, nor is it unhopeful about the prospect for alternative ways of thinking about the world.