Approximately 75 graduate students, undergraduates and Yale faculty members crowded into the law school last night for a discussion on nonviolence led by Reverend James Lawson.
Lawson — a leader in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in Nashville — framed his lecture within his work in Tennessee. His lecture capped the first day of a two-day seminar sponsored by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and several Yale departments. The seminar engaged 44 faculty members, graduate students and undergraduates in discussions about civil resistance — the use of repeated nonviolent action to incite a change within a society.
Before the lecture, attendees viewed a brief video on Lawson’s work in Nashville. Following the video, Lawson discussed his experience and activism within the context of modern social and political issues.
He said that activist groups are often not prioritizing the right issues.
“I am all in favor of environmental justice, but I don’t know if it’s possible to teach the American people that a tree is more important than a baby or a human being,” Lawson said.
ICNC has helped to organize seminars on civil resistance in universities across the United States, according Maciej Bartkowski, ICNC senior director of education and research. The goal of the conference was to raise academic interest in civil resistance, Bartkowski said, adding that universities currently do not offer students sufficient opportunities to study nonviolent activism.
Conference organizers hope that the seminars will inspire graduate students to consider civil resistance in their dissertations, Bartkowski said.
“If Yale’s not teaching the tactics of people’s movements and of direct action, then perhaps you need to demand courses in nonviolent people’s movements,” Lawson said.
The conference is following in the footsteps of a similar one held at New York University last spring, said Consuelo Amat GRD ’18, one of the conference organizers. The discussions will be opened to the participants, she said.
Conference organizers hope that the conference will prompt a discussion and create a community of students and faculty involved in civil resistance movements, Amat said.
“I hope to see more exchanges of ideas because this is an area of study in political science that’s cross-disciplinary,” Amat said. “[The conference] is about trying to improve our understanding of how civil resistance works in real life.”
In addition to opening up discussions among graduate students about using civil resistance in their research, the conference brought new perspectives to community members and undergraduates.
According to Lawson, civil resistance in the United States should not stop with the Civil Rights Movement.
He encouraged his audience to look beyond electoral politics to solve modern issues.
Students each had different takeaways from the conference.
“One thing I’ve had on my mind is whether or not the military can employ methods of nonviolence,” Becca Modiano ’16 said.
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict last held a seminar on civil resistance at New York University in March 2014.