"Fierce Light" is filmmaker Velcrow Ripper's term for what Martin Luther King called "Love in Action" and Gandhi called "Soul Force." These concepts reflect nonviolent social change philosophy and action rooted in compassion, faith, and what Gandhi called "satyagraha," the power of truth.
Ripper's 2008 documentary Fierce Light: Where Spirit Meets Action tells several stories that show the victories of grassroots activists relying on nonviolent methods against seemingly overwhelming forces of hate, oppression, greed, and violence.
The Canadian director begins his film by sharing his personal reactions to the assassination of his friend, journalist Brad Will, killed by government paramilitary gunmen in Oaxaca, Mexico, while filming a teacher's strike. He then asks himself this question:
Why do I keep working to change the world when we're up against impossible odds and how can I even think about spirituality when they're killing my friends?The film follows how Ripper and others respond to this question by affirmative attitude and action—regardless of specific outcome. And many of the multi-leveled outcomes are not what they initially appear to be.
Compassionate activists featured include civil rights activist John Lewis, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, Archibishop Desmond Tutu, Daryl Hannah, eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill, Ralph Nader, eco-organizer Van Jones, eco-activist John Quigley, actor Danny Glover, and Engaged Buddhist Joanna Macy.
Congressman Lewis described how spirituality formed the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement. His strategic advice:
Get in the way.Fierce Light followed the movement to save South Central Farms, an urban cooperative farm and garden project in Los Angeles, in real time. Daryl Hannah, Julia Butterfly Hill and John Quigley joined a mass sit-in of urban farmers who attempted to prevent the eviction and closure of the farm.
Van Jones observed during this struggle:
Our whole species is on trial.In the episode on war and the wounds of war, Thich Nhat Hahn talks about actions that come from the heart. He emphasizes that war, as with all violence, starts at the level of thought and emotion.
If we want to end the war in the world, we need to end the war in our own hearts.Two million Vietnamese people and 60,000 Americans died during the Vietnam War. Fierce Light shows Hahn returning to Vietnam in 2007 after 40 years of exile, leading a ceremony to help heal the wounds of war. At dusk, with candles floating on lotus flowers illuminating the sacred space those who have gathered have created, the Buddhist monk invites all the souls of deceased people to gather with them for release.
In the segment on the Civil Rights Movement John Lewis relates how social change for human rights merged with the movement to end the war in Vietnam. During this period, Thich Hahn and Martin Luther King became colleagues in their struggle to show the connections between racism, neo-colonialism, militarism, and war.
How do we stay strong, clear, and focused in our grassroots work to support the shift from a primitive and unsustainable civilization based on structural exploitation and state violence to an affirmative and sustainable civilization based on cooperation?
Congressman Lewis guides us:
We've been in the storm so long, I don't know of any other way—but the way of Love...The Fierce Love on YouTube offers many inspiring "video diaries" spotlighting Aung San Suu Kyi & Alan Clements (the first American ordained Buddhist priest in Burma) and the movement for democracy in Burma; the creation of Bat Nha monastery and its persecution by the Vietnamese government; Congressman John Lewis; the World Social Forum; and Gandhi's Phoenix Ashram and Robben Island in South Africa; and more.