KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

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"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

Non-violent resistance: Old School and New School Strategies

I felt so charged from last Saturdays Freedom School session. While in school, I heard a lot from folks in African-American Studies around non-violent resistance. But many of my professors seemed to be more aligned with the black nationalists and really pumped up the work from the BPP and folks like Kwame Toure or Robert F. Williams. The first couple of thoughts that come up for me when I think of non-violent resistance are mostly Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they peacefully resisted against their struggles. Honestly, I thought of them as more passive. I’ve never really thought of the strategies of non-violent resistance as anything more than meek and peaceful protest. Now I feel like I’m a non-violent resistance convert. A new picture has been planted in my mind from this past Saturday. Between the video about the Nashville sit-ins of 1960 and the personal account of Jean Wiley, I felt something that I had never felt before…power. It was so empowering to see and hear about the ways in which the concept of non-violent resistance went from small workshops, to real folks applying it via sit-ins, to community participation, all the way to real outcome and change.
I have so much respect and admiration for the way that folks were able to strategize in a way that it drew national attention and community participation. I feel like that is one of my biggest personal frustrations, when I am completely outraged and frustrated by what seems like blatant ____________ (racism, bigotry, homophobia, whatever), and wanna do something, but know that it would take more than just me, but people, and lots of them to 1.) feel like there is a problem 2.) feel like something should be done about it and 3.) ACT! I really appreciate that this was a movement that as Ms. Wiley stated, “anyone could join.” I also absolutely love the fact that there was a clear vision about the strategies to be used and that there was firmness about it. The fact that there was a clear message and sense of discipline around the non-violent strategy is definitely something that should be spread around to folks who are doing a lot of the same work and organizing but never get on the same page together as more collective and unified in their strategies. Another piece that I really appreciate about the idea that “anyone could join” is that it breaks down something that I thing happens today where there are lead/key organizers and organizations that you have to know about or fight to access in order to be considered a part of “the movement.” It feels to me like a lot of the organizing today is more exclusive. I feel like you have to look and talk a certain way to be a part of the so-called movement and you are sized up by what organizations you are connected to or know about, the marches you’ve attended, and your ability to use the words “imperialism” and “capitalism” in the same sentence. The point that I’m trying to make before I go too far on my cynical tirade is that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of space for the people, everyday people. I really think that engendering the strategies of the 1960’s and non-violent resistance could do a whole lot to reshape the potential and impact of movements today.

I also just wanted to shout-out some of the jewels that I got from Ms. Jean Wiley:
*Duties of activists: read, ask, debate, listen, and LISTEN
*Discipline
*Regardless of who you are (doctor, lawyer, minister, garbage man/woman), you become a leader by acting.
*Don’t stop! Keep pushing…keep moving and send more (when needed) to break down resistance
*Movement was called Southern Freedom Movement by organizers not Civil Rights Movement

A really great question that Ms. Wiley opened with that still has me thinking is “What would you like to be on the agenda for a founding meeting of today?” I think that this is a brilliant question that we should all be asking ourselves. I also feel like there should be a collective and unified agenda so that we can really move forward together.

Finally, I want to pay respect to those like Sammy Young and George Bess who were mentioned this Saturday and to all of the warriors who lost their lives in their fight for liberation and justice.

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