Indian nationalist leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, Kathiawar, India, then part of the British Empire. Gandhi, a deity to many people, was studied by Dr. Martin Luther King. Ironically, King like Gandhi was assassinated.
Recently many visionaries gathered at the University of Memphis for the annual Gandi King conference. The purpose of this conference is to bring together modern visionaries of nonviolence for social change with community leaders, activists, academics groups and organizers. Participants learn, train, plan, and organize cultures of liberation and justice for all. The goal is to create a stimulating environment where scholars, activists, educators, practitioners, and artists can build communities and explore interconnections.
Panelists included a variety of presentations from different perspectives of how to promote change. One view brought by Dr. Erica Chenoweth infused her research on Nonviolent resistance. Ultimately, the big questions were is nonviolent resistance still efficient and does her research prove nonviolent resistance is a genuine means for political change in 2016?
Dr. Chenonweth discussed planting seeds by creating a culture by engaging artists and shaping society.
Discussion on Civil resistance is a method of conflict in which unarmed civilians use a variety of coordinated tactics like strikes, boycotts, protests, demonstrations, etc. to confront oppressive actions. Her research shows that mass civil resistance has been an effective way for civilians to remove incumbent leaders from power. Understanding the barriers and allocating proper methods of participation is essential to achieving the ultimate goals and preventing a backfire by resorting to violence.
Nonviolence resistance can include several effective tactics which include, sit-ins, standing, and staying at home. When people stay at home, it allows more people to participate because they don’t have to do any work. This affects those deeply engaged in the cause. Dr. Chenowith also discussed the micro relationship in the movement and the effects of repression and concluded that to achieve a significant impact we have to maintain nonviolent resistance. Statistics have proven that it is more effective than violence. This method produces realistic results because it is not something that government is capable of dealing without responding with violence, thereby making those holding power the aggressor.
Memphis sanitation workers participated in a stay at home, sit-in city council meeting, and standing up for their rights, 1960 tactics because of the deaths, and deplorable conditions of black sanitation workers. The NAACP passed a resolution supporting the strike. Despite the death of Dr. King the workers achieved economic equality and social justice which resulted in policy changes which benefited their cause. It has been proven that there is safety in numbers. A campaign of nonviolence is more effective when large groups participate and other organizations support their efforts through resolution.
Power is achieved in many ways. The power to create culture through art is a method that other presenters discussed which addressed good and bad propaganda. Art is contrived from all media. The power of art reflects something about a group of people. It creates an experience for the person and reality for those taking in the art. We experience life through our senses which are the doorways to our thoughts.
The artist’s responsibility is to be ethical. Consequently, propaganda is the use of art to create change and is used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
Willie “Bing” Davis a project designer and curator from the Ebonia gallery discussed how his organization forced city leaders who had plans to demolish a school in Dayton, Ohio to incorporate reflective pioneers with the new architecture. The importance of this project to the city was revitalization. Mr. Davis and others agreed that the type of art to be incorporated in the new building was vital so the students could have a vision of pride that Black Life Mattered in Dayton. Subsequently, the city demolished the building but agreed to purchase all of the art from the local black artists. The city permitted Mr. Davis to work with the architects to ensure that each part of the building possessed the collective art.
Understanding Nonviolence is virtually impossible in a city so desensitized to violence but as we gain momentum our group sees hope through producing art and music not only to entertain but to engage a community to resist the continual oppression and to cease violence among ourselves.
As Black Lives Matter Memphis moves forward, many speculate that we are planting seeds for an empty crop. Others concur that we are promoting a sufficient cause that will be remembered as this generation’s movement. The unchanging fact is that our youth are watching everything with today’s’ technology. By combining art with nonviolent resistance, we can promote change. We can also create a culture of justice and social liberation. We will achieve true democracy and erase the problems that face our people.