Hope in the Face of Injustice
by Erin Niemela
The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict recently hosted the James Lawson Institute in Nashville, Tenn. The first event of its kind, the Institute is an eight-day intensive training for North American organizers and activists, hosted by none other than Rev. James Lawson, himself an iconic figure of the Civil Rights movement. I was among 45 applicants afforded the opportunity to attend, notable activists and organizers from a variety of causes and campaigns (all of them far more experienced and courageous than I consider myself, to be sure). What I went there hoping to learn about civil resistance is nowhere near as important as what I actually gained: a profound sense of hope for the future of this world, this powerful group we call the people.
Our teachers included Rev. James Lawson, an instrumental figure in the Civil Rights Movement, Ivan Marovic, a leader of Optor!, the Serbian nonviolent revolution of 2000, and Mary King, an inspirational woman who worked in the pre-eminent Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement. We underwent four 14 hour-per-day trainings, covering historical cases, strategies, tactics, and movement cultures, among other more sensitive topics such as privilege, systemic oppression in movements, sustainability, burnout and dealing with interpersonal conflict. The intensity of these discussions had been set too high and left there permanently with little reprieve, and I found myself asking some existential questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? Where am I going? (more…)