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, May 23, 2011

One Lesson of the Freedom Rides - the power of nonviolent resistance

Bernard Lafayette wrote an op-ed piece for the NY TIMES about one particular incident he witnessed while caught in a church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Lafayette, a veteran of the Nashville sit-ins, was one of the volunteers for the first Freedom Ride of 1961 (The FIRST Freedom Ride was in 1947).  His bus had been stopped by violence in Birmingham and then in Montgomery.  Rev. King held a mass meeting in Montgomery's First Baptist Church in support of the riders.  During that meeting, a white mob surrounded the church threatening more violence.  Meanwhile, some black cab drivers were organizing an attack on the mob to rescue those in the church.  King needed 12 volunteers to leave the church and tell the cab drivers not to attack the mob.  Lafayette observed the volunteers, a

art work by Matt Rota for NYTIMES
...small group gathered at the front door of the church, lined up in twos. Then they walked out the doors, as if they were marching. There was an unforgettable silence as they passed out of the church. We watched as they walked through the howling crowd; I was sure I would never see them again. And yet, for all the yelling, the mob didn’t touch them — such is the power of nonviolence. About an hour passed. Suddenly, out of the darkness, they all reappeared, unharmed. Dr. King had convinced the cab drivers to abandon their mission. This was no small miracle. Dr. King showed through this act of courage in this most harrowing moment of the campaign that fear was not a factor for him. It was, at that point in the Freedom Rides, the greatest lesson he could have offered. 

Bernard Lafayette and King were philosophically nonviolent.  Most of the activists who did participate in nonviolent resistance (NVR) during the movement were tactically nonviolent--they did not believe in the power of nonviolence to win over the hearts of their oppressors.  Those who were tactically nonviolent adopted NVR because they knew it was the only way to defeat violence and money power.  Either way--philosophically or tactically--the power of nonviolence has always been more effective more often than violence.

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