The Nobel Prize committee has the chance to signal a better future for a prize with a fraught past.
I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice — Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. "Letter From Birmingham Jail" 1963
Nominations have been announced for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
Among notable nominees are Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner, politician and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Depending on your political biases, you likely find at least one of those nominations offensive, though it should be noted that the list of nominees is long, and anyone can be nominated.
In this case, Black Lives Matter was nominated by Petter Eide, a member of Norway's parliament. As for Jared Kushner, he was nominated along with former Special Representative for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz — the famed Harvard law professor, Trump sycophant, and defense attorney for O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Epstein. Kushner and Berkowitz played central roles in brokering the Abraham Accords declaring, "Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations" between the US, Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE.
The Abraham Accords: The PR of the 'peace deals' | The Listening Post www.youtube.com
At face value many Americans would no doubt see the negotiation of a peace deal as more legitimate grounds for nomination than a protest movement that sparked violent confrontation with police and counter protesters around the country in 2020. And, if we look at the history of the Peace Prize, there is a sense in which they would be right — the prize has often been awarded for superficial diplomatic theater rather than the real and often messy work of addressing injustice.
The Fraught History of the Nobel Peace Prize
In 1928, Secretary of State Frank Kellogg received the prize for getting all the world's major powers to officially, meaninglessly renounce war...shortly before Hitler took power in Germany. Another Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, was selected by the Nobel Committee for negotiating a cease fire with Vietnam in 1973 — the same year it was revealed that he had masterminded a secret carpet bombing campaign in Cambodia, which is credited with giving rise to the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
More recently, in 2009, Barack Obama was given the Peace Prize just for being elected president — in a move Obama acknowledged as premature. And in 2020, Donald Trump's son-in-law and his buddy Avi were nominated for the award for arranging "peace" between nations that were never at war — with a substantial arms deal thrown in for good measure.
To put it bluntly, it would make nearly as much sense for Jared Kushner to win the Nobel Peace Prize as it did for a number of other recipients with dubious claims to peace work. By contrast, in 1948 the Nobel committee chose not to award anyone — rather than acknowledge Mohandas Gandhi's work in pushing for Indian independence from Britain.
Historically the committee has often erred on the side of the powerful — rewarding hollow and hypocritical displays of diplomacy over the controversy that tends to arise around grassroots struggles. So while it may be unlikely that Kushner and Berkowitz will receive the peace prize, neither would it really be surprising.
But with Black History Month kicking off, it's worth articulating not just why their diplomacy is underwhelming, but why the Black Lives Matter movement deserves recognition for advancing the global fight against injustice.
No Justice, No Peace
While extensive efforts have been made to paint the Black Lives Matter movement as violent, anti-White, and at the political fringes, in reality it is the largest and most racially diverse protest movement in American history. And considering the thousands of demonstrations that have taken place, involving many millions of individuals, the relative lack of violence from the protesters is much more worthy of note than a handful of dramatic scenes.
Compared to the January 6th Trump rally, where a crowd of around 30,000 spawned a violent insurrection — which was handled with kid gloves by the police and led to five deaths — the 15 million plus who participated in BLM marches in 2020 were remarkably peaceful. The same cannot be said for far too many of police who patrolled those marches and gave proof to the brutality that inspired them.
A compilation of videos that captures how police officers incite violence. How are they responding to protests ag… https://t.co/7rBOh3OHMP— Simran Jeet Singh (@Simran Jeet Singh)1590893613.0
And though regrettable incidents of arson and violence have undeniably taken place in connection with BLM demonstrations, the alternative was not "peace."
What is often overlooked in discussions of peace is the reality of social and political injustice as among the most prevalent forms of violence on Earth. When millions of people, targeted through no fault of their own, are systemically dehumanized — their lives and their contributions devalued and their opportunities for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness both deliberately and incidentally truncated for centuries — that is violence that destroys lives on another scale altogether.
For Black Americans that obviously means slavery and its aftermath, as well as segregation and the continued legacies of practices like redlining. But it also means a so-called "war on drugs" that treats addiction as a crime rather than an illness and disproportionately targets and locks up Black Americans, depriving too many children of their parents.
It means racist police procedures like Stop and Frisk, as well as the implicit (and often explicit) racial biases of the officers themselves. It means making it nearly impossible for people convicted of felonies within this unjust, racist system to live within the bounds of the law, depriving them — as well as millions of Black Americans who haven't been convicted of anything — of the right to participate in democracy and change the system that treats them so cruelly.
And none of this even covers the immense wealth inequality that makes life harder for almost all Americans — though, again, the harm is leveled disproportionately against Black Americans. All of these ordinary and unacceptable aspects of American life are violence — "the negative peace which is the absence of tension."
They destabilize communities, families, and individual lives. And that violence came to a head in June, following the horrific killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill.
While far from the only evidence of systemic racism in America, the murder of unarmed Black men, women, and children by police and by racist vigilantes who — more often than not — are allowed to walk free, is perhaps its most blatant and disgusting expression.
And the names of the slain — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, too many more to mention — have become rallying cries.
A Black Lives Matter protester carrying a counter protester to safety in London
With all the domestic resistance the protests met from people who insist on spitting "all lives matter!" (as if fighting for the value of Black lives implied otherwise) and "blue lives matter!" (as if the safety of police officers depends on their ability to shoot unarmed Black men, women, and children without consequence), it would be easy to lose sight of how much support the movement has received overseas. While the movement was started in America, the impact has been global.
"Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat to Justice Everywhere"
The reality of living as a dehumanized minority in a bigoted society is sadly all too common in the world. And while not everywhere is as bad in this respect as America, the recognition sparked protests of solidarity and of common cause around the world.
Like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Black Lives Matter has continued the fight for America to live up to its promise. Because right now "the land of the free" is home to a carceral state where more people are imprisoned than anywhere else on Earth, and citizens are killed by police at a higher rate than in any comparable nation.
Because the systems that were deliberately set up to keep newly freed Black citizens oppressed following the Civil War were never truly purged — have been covertly bolstered and supplemented ever since.
That is not peace. Only a stable form of violence.
A cartoon from the 1960s My father wasn’t beloved by America. In ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ he responded to 8… https://t.co/ygwaqnWoO9— Be A King (@Be A King)1611017549.0
In 1964 the Nobel committee opted not to side with power. It was the same year the FBI sent a harassing letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to commit suicide.
He was considered by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover — and many others in positions of power within the American government — to be an enemy of the state. There is even reason to believe that these forces were directly involved in his 1968 assassination.
His protest movement was disruptive to the normal order of American life that most white Americans were content to maintain. Many balked at the idea that it could be called peaceful. But the Nobel committee selected him for the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was a serious signal that the world was watching how America handled peaceful dissent.
Did that make a difference in passing the voting rights act of 1965? Who can say? But the Nobel committee has a similar opportunity this year.
What Black Lives Matter has been fighting for in recent months is the "positive peace" King spoke of as "the presence of justice." With that in mind — and with some uncertainty remaining as to how a decentralized, leaderless movement of millions can receive an award — the Nobel committee should take seriously the option of selecting Black Lives Matter.
Martin Luther King Jr. Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech www.youtube.com
There are no doubt many nominees whom the committee could select for the Peace Prize — including Jared Kushner. And some who would even be worthy — including Stacey Abrams.
But the significance of acknowledging a grassroots fight for justice that was centuries in the making (in a nation which — for all its flaws — continues to shape culture around the world) is too powerful to deny.
Trumps latest Twitter harassment is directed at a man who is genuinely heroic
You may have seen the footage of Martin Gugino—a 75-year-old peaceful protester—being shoved to the ground by police in Buffalo.
Or, if you prefer the perspective of President Trump and associated right-wing conspiracy theorists: an Antifa provocateur who was harassing the police and trying to sabotage their equipment before deliberately falling "harder than he was pushed," cracking his skull on the sidewalk, and (intentionally?!) bleeding from the ear.
Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after… https://t.co/aFgYc1MCfD— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1591706079.0
Setting aside the absurd notion that a man in his mid-70s—no matter how passionate and impressive a figure—would exaggerate his fall and risk permanent brain damage when a burly police officers 40 years his junior suddenly and forcefully shoves his chest, it's worth looking into who this man is. Is it possible that he is—as Donald Trump posed in a Tweet Tuesday morning—a member of "ANTIFA" (whom Trump has attempted to designate a "terrorist organization") sent to make the Buffalo police look bad? Or is Martin Gugino a gentle man of principle who was brutally assaulted and sent to the hospital in an incident that further exposed the hostility of police forces to the communities they "serve" and their pathological resistance to accountability? Spoiler alert: It's the second one.
Then again, I'm just a stranger on the Internet. Why would you believe me over the President of the United States parroting his favorite ass-kissing, propaganda network? Fortunately, you don't have to. In the difficult choice between a known liar who has never met Martin Gugino and a random stranger who has never met Martin Gugino, there exists a secret third option—people who actually know him:
Terrence Bisson, a mathematics professor at Canisius College, first met Gugino at a demonstration at Buffalo City Hall around 10 years ago. The two have since volunteered together at the Western New York Peace Center, where Gugino served as Treasurer and Bisson as chair on the Latin American Solidarity Committee—whose members are "committed to non-violent civil disobedience." Bisson describes Gugino as "funny and gentle" and says, "He'd never shout or oppose someone. He would ask questions if he thought something was not right."
While some observers have tried to find a provocation in the way Gugino stood in front of police, those individuals seem to have had an obstructed view of events (watching, as it turns out, from inside their own a**holes), and Bisson rejects the idea outright, saying that Gugino "is the last person you would want to push down; he's the kind of person who you would want to speak up."
Mark Colville, who founded the Amistad Catholic Worker house in New Haven Connecticut has likewise known Gugino for years and describes him as "shy and reserved," saying, "He likes his privacy. He doesn't make a spectacle of himself. He likes to show up and be present. He likes to be involved in these movements for justice. But he doesn't do it in a self-promoting kind of way."
Tom Casey, a Buffalo coordinator for Pax Christi—an international Catholic peace movement—dismissed the idea of Gugino as a provocateur, claiming, "I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody and I spent a lot of time talking to him." Then again, this account is contradicted by Mary Anne Grady Flores, an anti-drone warfare activist who describes Gugino as "a gentle giant, who is so articulate, so thoughtful." Oh wait, not contradicted. The opposite of that.
Kinda surreal when the President starts accusing your 75 yr old friend of being an agent of ANTIFA. My friend Mart… https://t.co/NDVSwLXigv— keithgiles (@keithgiles)1591712208.0
In short, Martin Gugino, a retired computer programmer who has lived alone since the death of his mother, is a devout Catholic, a passionate peace activist, and probably not someone who conspires to be grievously injured on film or to "black out" police equipment with his cell phone—if that was even possible. You can disagree with his politics (especially if you suck, are racist, or love being ruled over by narcissistic billionaires), but you can't misrepresent him as something he's not.
He's not a provocateur, a terrorist, or even someone associated with the tactics or organizations indicated by the label Antifa. He was not—as Buffalo mayor Byron Brown has claimed—any more so than any passionate protester trying to agitate for meaningful reform. He did not provoke the police who shoved him, or "fall harder than he was pushed," nor did he "slip"—as one police union president claimed. He was peacefully participating in protests against police brutality following the horrific murder of George Floyd. He was standing in the way while Buffalo PD officers set out to clear Niagara Square, so he was pushed with enough force to send him sprawling against the sidewalk where he cracked his skull, bled from his ear, and was left lying motionless as police officers moved on.
Martin Gugino (right) at a protest following the killing of 12 year old Tamir Rice by police
The fact that 57 other police officers stepped down from their positions in protest of the idea that the officers responsible for that violence should be punished only reveals how entrenched and dangerous police unity is for communities who would seek to hold them accountable. And the fact that Donald Trump would magnify a conspiracy theory about Gugino serves as a reminder of how callous and instinctually authoritarian he is—with no regard for how this "shy and reserved" man who "likes his privacy" might be affected by the attention and no concern for the fact that his followers often follow up tweets like this with death threats.
When reached for comment by USA Today, Gugino responded to his assault at the hands of the police with a simple tweet: "No comment other than Black lives matter. Just out of the ICU. Should recover eventually. Thx."