Tag Archives: civil disobedience

Happy Birthday Rosa Parks!

birthday-black-history-rosa-parksJust in time to kick off Black History Month today marks what would have been Rosa Parks‘ 100th birthday. The “Mother of the Freedom Movement” continues to inspire generations of Americans who believe in equality. Arguably the most famous woman activist in American history, Parks’ legacy lives on along side legends of the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked by Parks’ refusal to obey an unjust law, and her subsequent arrest, trial and appeals lead to the Supreme Court decision upholding a federal district court ruling in the case that Alabama’s segregation laws were unlawful.

BlackHistoryRosaPark’s humble quote here that she was merely “tired of giving up” is inspiring, but overshadows the truth that she had been groomed for making history by her own family, her community, and civil rights leaders of the time. Indeed, other “test subjects” against segregation, like Irene Morgan, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Aurelia Browder (the lead plaintiff in Browder v. Gayle which effectively ended segregation on public buses in Montgomery Alabama) had been considered as the face of the boycott. Parks was chosen because of her stellar history as an investigator for the NAACP of sexual assaults on black women, like Recy Taylor, her acceptable employment and family life, and because she was “above reproach.”

rosa parks stampIt is both heartening and saddening to learn that the Civil Rights Movement was sparked by a community outraged at the brutal sexual assault of one of its women; heartening because it is everyone’s duty to work together to create communities and a world that are safe for all people regardless of sex, race, age, ability or religion, and saddening because we are still fighting today to make our communities safe for all people. The fight against racism is inextricably linked to the fight against sexism, and the fight against homophobia, and the fight against ableism, etc. In the words of Dr. King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Rosa Parks landmarkAlthough Parks is the most famous woman activist of the Civil Rights Movement, many women had to come together to ignite the fight for equality, including Jo Ann Robinson, Coretta Scott King, Mary Fair Burks, Josephine Baker, Mary E. King, Daisy Bates, and the women of the Women’s Political Council. Although most history books focus on the male leaders of the movement, without these and other women who dedicated their lives to the fight for equality, many of the laws we now take for granted would never have been adopted. The everyday folks in Montgomery who participated in the bus boycott day in and day out for 381 days, who walked to work through rain and cold and sweltering heat were the ones who made the boycott a success. Without the cooperation of the community Rosa Parks’ determination would have been swallowed up by complacency and a resignation that the status quo would never change. It is your duty now, today, to honor Parks and other activists like her who have dedicated, and in some cases given, their lives in the fight for equality. Analyze, strategize and act to create equality. And do it with love.
Happy Birthday Rosa Parks: You are an inspiration to us all!

Rosa Parks arrest


International Day of Nonviolence

Feminist Activism is all about strategic nonviolent action and activism (SNVA) so today, the International Day of Nonviolence, I wanted to share with you all some thoughts on nonviolent strategy and successful activism. Today is different in key ways from the International Day of Peace because nonviolence is, by definition, different from peace. See these FAQ from the Albert Einstein Institute for a simple yet thorough explanation.

My practical knowledge of activism comes from years of working with non-profit women’s organizations like VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, the Gay-Straight Alliance, the National Organization for Women, and the V-Day Campaign. Tabling, phone banking, burma shaves, political rallies, marches, protests, and productions were all lessons I learned in high school and college.

My theoretical knowledge of strategic nonviolent action comes from Dr. Mary E. King and the UN-Mandated University for Peace. Dr. King served as the press secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. She and Casey Hayden co-authored “Sex and Caste”, which has been credited as one of the first documents of the women’s liberation movement. Her experience and vast knowledge of the literature about SNVA brought the ideas of brilliant theorists like Gene Sharp to the forefront of my actions, and allowed me to meet Retired Colonel (and expert strategist) Robert Helvey via Skype to discuss how SNVA could be used in the United States to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

As celebrations of Gandhi‘s birthday–the International Day of Nonviolence– occur from Oman to Armenia to Tibet, I’d like to define for you, in my own words, what some prominent concepts of nonviolence mean for me. While you’re reading, think about how they can be applied to abolishing patriarchy and establishing gender equality.

Nonviolent action is not passive.
It is not inaction.
It is action that is nonviolent.

Peace: Not just the absence of violence but a state of calm and understanding that leads to respect and love. A lofty philosophy, nearly impossible ideal, and absolutely necessary goal. Peace can and will only be achieved when equality is achieved.

Nonviolence: Not to be confused with nonviolent action, nonviolence is a preface or adjective in many phrases in the field of peace studies. The biggest mistake most people make when thinking nonviolent action is ineffective is confusing it for principled nonviolence which tries to win the hearts of opponents. Most people who practice some kind of nonviolence, especially those who practice nonviolence strategically, do not believe in principled nonviolence.

Principled nonviolence: The religious, spiritual, moral or ethical belief that violence is wrong and must never be used under any circumstances. Many great nonviolent leaders like Gandhi and MLK have used principled nonviolence to demand discipline and adherence to nonviolent behavior amongst their followers, with the belief that nonviolence is morally superior to violence. Pacifism and satyagraha are forms of principled nonviolence.

Strategic nonviolent action/activism: The strategic use of nonviolent actions with the understanding that well-planned strategic nonviolent actions are statistically more successful than violent action. Nonviolent action produces change through conversion, accommodation, nonviolent coercion, and disintegration, and targets six sources of power to do so (authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources and sanctions). Nonviolent action can be broken down into acts of commission and acts of omission, and into three different categories as described and defined by Gene Sharp–nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention. In 1973 Sharp outlined 198 methods of nonviolent action with the caveat that the number of methods could be infinite. Through the wonders of the internet, telecommunications and social networking the creativity of new methods never ceases to amaze me. Other phrases that are often used interchangeably with SNVA include people power, civil disobedience, political defiance and nonviolent struggle. My favorite word to neatly explain SNVA is the Turkish word direniş.

If you want to learn more about SNVA follow Feminist Activism on Twitter @FeministSNVA, read everything you can get from the Albert Einstein Institute, keep up with Change.org and the Care2 and Avaaz petition sites, and find and participate with your local NGOs’ actions through Idealist, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Most importantly, find your passion, figure out what you want to change, then make it happen! Happy International Day of Nonviolence everyone, go out and kick some ass–metaphorically of course!

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