What would you do if a Neo-Nazi group chose your town for a yearly march? Would you challenge them with violence or nonviolence? The village of Wunsiedel, Germany, boasting just over 1,000 inhabitants was faced with this dilemma. Since Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer to Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1941, was buried in their graveyard, neo-Nazi groups visit annually to walk their streets with Nazi signs and banners. The fed-up villagers even removed his remains and took down his gravestone with his family’s permission, and still they came.
In 2014, the tables turned when the organization “Rechts gegen Rechts” (Right against Right) had another, if I may say, brilliant idea: turn it into a charity walk to raise money to help people leave neo-Nazi groups. Each meter walked by the group raised 10 Euros for the charity “Exit Deutchland.” As the neo-Nazis marched along, they were met by shouts–not in protest, in cheers, since with each step they were earning money for such a good cause! On top of that, the villagers even provided food for the marchers, under a banner of bold letters, “Mien Mampf,” meaning “my food.” They raised over 10,000 Euros. That’s a lot in dollars. . .
We can appreciate their spirit of appropriate humor, which incidentally increases the likelihood of popular support for any action.
But there is more to learn. This story is a perfect illustration for what we call in nonviolence a “dilemma action,” where you put your opponent in a situation where you “win” no matter what they choose: either the neo-Nazis stop marching in your town or if they march, they are raising money to weaken their movement. But yes, yes, I know–the language of winning and losing is somewhat misleading: nonviolence is never a zero-sum, a situation where one person “wins” and the other “loses,” like in a war, or a competitive game of Scrabble. Whenever violence is transformed, we all win.
No action is perfect. Where might the village experiment in strengthening their nonviolent action? What else might they include? What ideas might be helpful for them to keep in mind when planning for next year’s march/charity walk?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org