My name is Dr. Tom Hastings and I am a professor of nonviolence and conflict resolution at Portland State University. I've been a nonviolent activist for the past 44 years, spent time in jail and three prisons for nonviolent actions, and have written extensively on the subject. Ask me anything!

My books are available on Amazon here

You can read my blog here

Here's my proof:

You can compare my picture to an images search, or my Huffington Post contributor page, or this video from the Center for Nonviolent Conflict YouTube channel.

Edit: I'm headed out - Thanks to everyone who asked such thoughtful questions. I hope I was able to answer each of you to your satisfaction. I will be around later to get back to the unanswered questions when I can. Thanks again!

Comments: 117 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

InvalidArguement13 karma

How do you even begin to get involved in things like this? I'm 16 and trying to start "saving the world" before I grow up and lose the idealism that young people have. I want to do something now.

DrTomHastings1 karma

You are the sort of student I get in my Peace and Conflict class at Portland Community College--some high school students can qualify for these classes. While I am full time in the graduate program at the university, I teach this one community college class and I get great joy from students like you. We go through 11 weeks of studying nonviolent case studies and, all the while, teams of students are working on hypothetical campaigns, which they present together in Week 11. They hypothetically need to show me that it's a realistic plan. I am amazed at some of the things they work on and develop a strategy toward a specific goal and show it can be done. Hook up with others, keep it nonviolent,and feel free to contact me at [email protected] as you work for any opinion you'd like on how it's going and what might work.

Mukhers10 karma

What were the reasons for your imprisonment?

DrTomHastings12 karma

I've been in many jails, coast-to-coast, and in three prisons, all for nonviolent opposition to militarism. The felonies that landed me (as expected) in prison were both in the Plowshares movement, that is, I used handtools to dismantle a weapon (in my case a component of a nuclear arsenal command facility).

ProudOwner72 karma

Where can I read about this? I am having a hard time believing the last sentence.

Leaper_colony8 karma

I've come to learn about non-violent strategies and conflict resolution in a round about way through parenting, specifically gentle discipline. I find a lot of the principles for parenting can apply to all humans in general.

My question is wether you are a parent or otherwise around kids and have you had the opportunity to use any of your skills with kids. And do you have any tips for parents?

DrTomHastings8 karma

I was a single dad for about 12 years and my boys used every nonviolent strategy on me! My tip is learn from them and hope for the best. We have to train the nonviolence OUT of them and we can only hope they get it back as adult citizens. I am NOT being flip; parenting successfully is harder sometimes than achieving a public policy change!

Jeml14 karma

I am a parent. I have been really influenced by Elise Boulding's writing about peace work in the family context. Dr. Hastings, can you also comment on her work?

DrTomHastings5 karma

She is such a major figure in our world, our work, and she is one of those Renaissance people who deserves the eulogy given to Gandhi by Philip Noel-Baker upon Gandhi's death (corrected for gender): Her greatest achievements are yet to come.

Jeml16 karma

Would you please talk about a lesson you have learned from your practical experience in the field?

DrTomHastings10 karma

Resilience and discipline generally lead to victory. If we believe that a setback is a loss we have created a self-fulfilling prophesy. We surprised ourselves with many victories that finally came after serious setbacks.

Jeml13 karma

Would you please talk about one of those victories? Also who are some of the people who inspire your work?

DrTomHastings6 karma

Sure. We struggled to close the thermonuclear command facility in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We eventually shut it down. I think we made every error possible except for violence. We eventually learned how to form effective coalitions and we won. Certainly along the way I was inspired by Dorothy Day, the Berrigans, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and many more nonviolent leaders.

Crerin5 karma

Hey Dr. Hastings! Thank you so much for doing an AMA - I've been a huge fan of your work for some time now.

I just have two quick questions: Do you think breaking windows or property damage is nonviolent? Why?

DrTomHastings4 karma

No, not usually nonviolent in any sort of strategic sense, but not necessarily violent either. Property is a special concept but most important is public opinion, in my view, because if a window is broken and it hits the media and turns off many people, that is a negative. Is it violent? Maybe, maybe not. Are there people behind the glass? When those in the Plowshares movement dismantle weapons we believe we are taking a life-saving action and we have never ever hurt anyone because we try to be exceedingly careful about that. We are very transparent; we never wear masks and we are all accountable personally.

gammison4 karma

Do you have any plans for the july 4th NSA protests?

DrTomHastings4 karma

Perhaps. I don't say this to be coy. I will be at a large peace gathering then, so we'll see.

reddit0611133 karma

What would be your total length of time in jail?

DrTomHastings5 karma

Between everything, a year incarcerated and a couple of years either wearing a 'state jewelry' electronic ankle bracelet or on parole/probation.

Unluckybutler3 karma


DrTomHastings4 karma

I'm a pacifist. IMHO it's time to repeal the 2nd Amendment and get civilized.

robshere3 karma

What advice or insight can you share for how we can stay motivated and positive in a world that's already so full of violence and contention?

Thank you for doing this! I admire your conviction and dedication.

DrTomHastings10 karma

I love the various movements that use humor and singing and eating together a lot more than stone-faced anger or whining or rage. One of my all-time favorite lines is the Burmese monk who said (about the brutal generals in charge who were trying to spruce up their image by constructing some new Buddhist shrines), "No matter how many pagodas the generals build, they are still coming back as rats."

slmouradian3 karma

Would you live next to a nuclear power station if it meant the world no longer needs to fight for resources (oil) ?

DrTomHastings0 karma

False dichotomy, sorry. Nuclear power and weapons should be banned as permanently toxic to life.

CountBlackula1990593 karma

Banning weapons won't actually rid them from the world, though.

DrTomHastings6 karma

It's a great start. Gotta start someplace.

rottie_Boston_daddy2 karma

Very interesting AMA Dr. Hastings, thank you. What do you think it will take for this country to go all "Egyptian" and demand a stop to non-stop war? I would have thought that millions in aid to "rebels" in Syria while schools are being shut down would open this countries eyes, but I thought wrong.

DrTomHastings2 karma

I know; the battle is a long one. We are dealing with the valorization of the military and the sacralization of the violent warrior. We have a culture of war and it will take all of us to turn it around. No one can take your place. Syria is a special tragedy. It started nonviolently and then they were given a sucker punch by Obama, who provided violent forces to aid the Libya insurrection, so Syrians instantly thought, well, he's going to help us too, since Assad is like Qaddafi and is an enemy of the US. The Syrian nonviolent Arab Spring was overwhelmed with a surge in violent opposition and a foreign fighter influx. The US is now compounding all those errors by lining up to send more arms to that poor country.

reddit0611132 karma

How's that non-violence thing working out for you?

DrTomHastings12 karma

So far, so good! Certainly a lot better than the violent thing worked out for the US government when it invaded (fill in the blank).

phoenix_insurgent2 karma

Do you distinguish between nonviolence and self-defense, and is burning down a police station a nonviolent act? In the US it would not be seen that way, but in the rest of the world it seems to be acceptable in various situations (like Egypt, for instance).

DrTomHastings7 karma

I use nonviolent self-defense. Fire and explosions are not, in my view, nonviolence because once started they are out of your control and others can be hurt.

platysaur2 karma

What inspired you to become the activist that you are today?

DrTomHastings5 karma

I am so old that I was initially inspired by the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and '60s and then by the antiwar movement opposing US military involvement in Vietnam. I saw the nonviolent courage of the Civil Rights movement and hoped I would have the nerve to do something, no matter how small.

FrankCinco4132 karma

how do you feel about Malcolm X's approach "By any means necessary" in terms of effectiveness and actually getting the results you would like to see?

DrTomHastings12 karma

I feel like if Malcolm had lived he would have tweaked it to "by any nonviolent means necessary." While Malcolm was a great orator and organizer, let's remember that he was not a part of the Civil Rights movement and he neither sought nor got public policy change toward more rights and gains for African Americans. That was only achieved b nonviolence.

LittleWhiteTab2 karma

How does this square with the narrative of Gelderloos, Churchill, et. al. that the Civil Rights movement and earlier Indian independence movements were a mix of militant and non-violent elements, acting as balancing effects for maximizing pressure on the State?

The suggestion is that radicals like Malcolm X and Bhagat Singh acted as leveraging elements that made the State more likely to negotiate and give legitimacy to non-violent actors who represented a more moderate message.

DrTomHastings7 karma

I understand the argument and it appears persuasive until you actually do the research and think more deeply about it. I don't square with Gelderloos or Churchill and believe them to be not only incorrect but quite harmful in many ways to many movements. Check out the research by Brian Martin, Erica Chenoweth, Maria Stephan, and Kurt Schock, all of whom examine and test theories about the so-called 'radical flank' effect.

gabbagool2 karma

don't you think states and governments are getting better and bound to get much better at dealing with non-violence?

DrTomHastings9 karma

Yes, and when it comes to technology or behavior/strategies, movements either become creative or they are outmatched.

Frajer2 karma

Do you feel like with things like Newtown and Boston the world is becoming more violent and if so how can we remain nonviolent?

DrTomHastings9 karma

"The world" is a big place. We certainly have more weaponry than ever, but we have dialed way way back in interstate war and we have stopped many civil wars using nonviolence, so it's a sort of race.

Cfx992 karma

What is your view on American hatred of Islam in light of the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 bombing of the WTC, despite equal or more domestic terrorism in the same time frame? Who do you think is most at fault for sowing that hatred?

DrTomHastings4 karma

It's all identity conflict complicated by the fundamental negative attribution error. It's what we do as humans and we have to evolve to overcome it.

Cfx993 karma

Do you feel there's anything we as humans can do to expedite that evolution or is it just going to take time.

DrTomHastings3 karma

I think we have two arenas. One is our personal lifestyle. We all have much to do in that regard. The other is our public and corporate policy. We need each other to make that happen. We will indeed evolve but each of us pushes it forward or drags it backwards every day.

reddit0611131 karma

Which taste do you prefer:

Mace - O.C. - Pepper Spray - Boot - Billy Club

DrTomHastings6 karma

You first. If you use violence, you have much more experience eliciting those responses from armed agents of the state. I used to in my callow youth (I'd have to say I probably earned more cop fists than any of your choices, and I have the busted nose and stitched-up face to prove it) but now I prefer victory to getting stomped. Go figure.

reddit061113-3 karma

I prefer a chemical attack versus physical attack any day of the week. Boot leather and wood can leave much more lasting effects.

On a side note, our current .gov and associated police force appear much more inclined to deploy a tazer or other attack quickly versus in years past. What is your take on the .gov violence now?

DrTomHastings5 karma

We can affect the level of violence inflicted by the state. It is not just up to them. Outreach, liaison, transparency, nonviolence all make it far less likely that they will resort to the brutal stupid stuff. All violence backfires and I remind cops of that. When I tell them that we will be nonviolent and that they aren't the issue but if they get violent then they will be the issue, they generally get mellow.

frankgoochburner1 karma

are you aware of the moral mondays nonviolent demonstrations that have been going on in north carolina? if so, what are your thoughts on the ordeal?

DrTomHastings2 karma

No, tell us more!

frankgoochburner3 karma

student groups, clergy, NAACP, and other activist groups have been protesting a lot of the decisions and bills passed since Pat McCrory came into office. most of the time, it's in the form of civil disobedience actions in the general assembly. they've arrested hundreds by this point.

david lamotte is a pretty big figure among some groups here, and his father was actually arrested. today he just posted a blog that talks about the event a little bit, and gives a brief summary of some of these rulings:

DrTomHastings3 karma

Thank you!

Snaaaaaaaaaake1 karma

I asked this on "AskReddit" but someone of your expertise would be better suited to answer it I feel:

What should humans have the right to that some people may take for granted? How do you feel we can advocate this right?

DrTomHastings16 karma

We have the right to live without war. Most Americans have not known war in their communities so I expect we will not be the first to insist on this, but humankind is poised to ban war. It should be a basic human right and most Americans take it for granted, it seems to me.

Snaaaaaaaaaake2 karma

Thank you so much for answering, honestly yesterday when I posed this question (and answered it myself) I had focused on the right to real food as opposed to manufactured food, after watching the documentary "A place at the table". 1 in 6 Americans suffer from "food insecurity"-not knowing where their next meal is coming from-and if more social programs were funded people would be less reliant on processed food (which may go in hand with obesity) and have better access to real food.

When I thought about how to advocate or fund this right, my first thought was cut all the money we spend on the defense department. I can completely understand you're answer, the second someone says "cut military spending" we go up in arms and patriotically stand firm on how this is going to hurt us, but the truth is we've only hurt ourselves short-term and long-term but not taking care of America's education and social interest. If we could just end our wars, for good, wouldn't humanity be such a better place to be? Wouldn't we be able to fund the programs to let America be prosperous once again? Again thank you for the answer, I hope more people give this a little awareness.

DrTomHastings6 karma

Yes, almost all the money spent on the Pentagon and other aspects of violent conflict management is wasted when it's needed elsewhere. We are only making enemies with such investments and we need so many other things, from universal health care to education to environmental protection. Instead we train people to use big guns to intimidate the world and we wonder why the world is angry at us.

LittleWhiteTab1 karma

What are you thoughts on non-violent direct action and the use of property destruction as a legitimate tactic in preventing greater harm against human beings? I.e., last night Turkish protesters tore apart and drained a truck hauling water to the police riot lines.

Where do acts like this exist within the broader framework of non-violent activism?

DrTomHastings5 karma

I'm headed for Turkey next year and will be very interested in the learning they do and report out. My response to your very good and very specific question is that the water to be used as water cannon (if that's what it's for) may indeed be fair game if the people of Turkey agree with the protesters and if they are gaining sympathy and support even as they protect nonviolent protesters. If I were there my response would be more informed and categorical. As it is, I confess to wishing I knew more.

mancub1 karma

Hi, Dr. Hastings. I had never heard of you before this AMA, so thank you for stopping by. I'm eager to check out your work. For now, I have two questions for you.

Coincidentally, I'm reading Alinsky's Rules for Radicals for the first time. How would you compare your approach toward social change to his?

Second, what issue(s) concern you the most these days, and how can everyday citizens help you to change them?

Thank you for doing what you do.

DrTomHastings3 karma

I love Alinsky. My father made me read those books decades ago. He spent a bit too much time ridiculing and objectifying his adversaries (yes, they almost beg for it, at times), but I generally think a great deal of Alinsky's approach. I hope all citizens nonviolently resist all wars and help stop the funding of them and weaponizing them. Right now we should be stopping US arms involvement in Syria. Time to invest in the changes we need to lower carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

fuddmillbyrne1 karma

Hi Dr Hastings, thanks for taking the time to answer q's

  1. What has complelled you to do what you have done for your lifes work?

  2. Do you feel that non violent forms of protest work better in developed nations over developing nations, does the development level of a nation matter?

  3. What do you see as the biggest blaocade in the way of reducing the kinds of conflicts we see around the world against leaders in power?

Thanks in Advance

DrTomHastings4 karma

  1. For me, nonviolence became existential during the efforts to stop nuclear war, which were imminent threats during the Reagan years, especially pre-Gorbachev. I came to see its utility and effectiveness in all struggles.
  2. This is a question for your Ph.D. research and dissertation. Generally, I think the evidence shows that real movement is more likely when problems are massive.
  3. I am personally not interested in reducing conflict, just in changing the methods by which it's managed.

_theGame1 karma

What is your advice for getting people to stand up for a cause that they already believe in?

DrTomHastings3 karma

Moving the believers to action is a function of inducing raised expectations (the sociological term for hope). If people believe you are helping them to actually achieve something and you give them hope, they will generally respond at higher rates. Of course, part of it is watching for the likely opening.

Frostiken0 karma

As an American, how thoroughly screwed would you say we are?

DrTomHastings2 karma

Pretty much in many ways, not so much in others. We need to learn nonviolent conflict management, from the interpersonal to the transnational. The biggest polluter is the Pentagon and its supply industries. The biggest consumer of oil is the Pentagon. We are driving the mad rush for the last of the oil and all the violence that will entail by our failure to learn better ways (more just ways) to manage conflict. On the other hand, Americans are ingenious and generous. We supply more volunteers in NGOs than any other nation. We invent.We are capable of what Grace Paley called 'enormous changes at the last possible minute.' That last possible minute is fast approaching. We need to both develop alternatives and resist the destructive path. Being screwed is a choice in this case.