Krista Thomason, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Member, Peace and Conflict Studies Faculty Committee
Member, Peace and Conflict Studies Faculty Committee
We join with so many scholars and activists around the world who appreciate the life and work of Gene Sharp, who died on January 28, 2018 at the age of 90. His impact on our work is hard to express. We are so grateful.
Jørgen Johansen has offered a beautiful and informative orbituary that we would like to share here.
Gene Sharp has died and the world has lost a global educator
by Jørgen Johansen
Just a week after his 90th birthday Gene Sharp passed away.
The journal New Statesman once described Gene Sharp as the “Machiavelli of Nonviolence” and Thomas Weber labelled him “the Clausewitz of Nonviolent Action.” Who was this man and what is his contribution to our understanding of the possibilities to use nonviolent actions in large scale societal conflicts?
Gene Sharp completed his baccalaureate in 1949, just a few scant years after the close of World War II, and quickly turned his attention to the study of nonviolence. After serving nine months in prison for being a conscientious objector to the Korean War, Sharp secretaried for A.J. Muste. He next joined the editorial team of Peace News in London before accepting an invitation from Arne Næss to join him in Oslo with Johan Galtung and others to study the philosophy and practice of Mohandas Gandhi. Throughout this time, Sharp exchanged letters with Albert Einstein, deepening his understanding of and commitment to nonviolence.
While in Oslo, Sharp devoted much time to interviewing teachers who resisted the Quisling government during the Nazi occupation of Norway. Through these interviews, Sharp began to formulate the ideas that would come to constitute his major contribution to nonviolence theory. Moving away from a strictly philosophical, moral, or spiritual nonviolence in the vein of Gandhi, Sharp turned instead to a pragmatic nonviolence. The rest of his life would be spent delineating and analyzing the practical tools of effective nonviolent action.
After his years in Oslo, Sharp pursued his PhD at Oxford University. In 1968 he defended his thesis, The Politics of Nonviolent Action: A study in the control of political power. He continued to develop his thesis work and five years later Porter Sargent published his monumental The Politics of Nonviolent Action, from which “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” is taken. This book from 1973 has been called “the bible for nonviolent activists” and is still in print nearly 50 years later. Through this and myriad other writings, Sharp contended against a normative approach to nonviolence, where the practice of nonviolence is formulated as a spiritual directive. Nonviolent action need have no moral impetus to be effective; nonviolent actions may be pursued on a purely practical basis on the ground that they are simply the most effective tools available to social and political movements. Indeed, much research by Sharp and others has shown that in the long term nonviolent revolutionary achievements are far more permanent than those fought with kalashnikovs and guerrilla warfare.
Taking this a step further, Sharp maintained that nonviolence could not only resist and overthrow dictatorships or occupations, but could effectively replace all militaries. By thoroughly training the civilian populace in nonviolent strategies and tactics, a nation could make itself ungovernable at will. If such a nation were to be invaded, it could never be subjugated. Those in powerful positions can punish but not force individuals to follow their orders without a certain level of cooperation. As history has shown, people practicing total noncooperation will only serve to drag down their oppressor. The burden of an inoperative state outweighs the benefits of its occupation.
This part of the heritage from Sharp is less known and accepted than his works on nonviolent actions by actors outside the state. Sharp worked hard to convince politicians around the world of his position. Despite some positive feedback from Sweden, Norway and the Baltic states, however, the discussions never moved from the fringe to the central political agenda in any country. The main argument against a national, civilian-based defense might be that such an “army” could also be used against its own state. Does the government trust its own people enough to enable their use of nonviolent actions on a massive scale? Many doubt that they could! We may hope, however, that these ideas came at the wrong time in history and that future discussions will give them the credit they deserve.
The revitalization of research on nonviolent actions after the so-called “Arab Spring” might make such discussions possible.
Though he may not have convinced governments to adopt nonviolent training, it is clear that grassroots political and social movements have taken up Sharp’s writings with a passion. The last fifty years has seen the steady spread of Sharp’s fingerprint in movements around the world. When Gandhi and his movement liberated India from the British colonizers in 1947, their use of nonviolent actions was an exception among revolutionary groups. An important shift in strategy took place in the late seventies and early eighties, however. When the Shah was forced to leave Iran in 1979 and Solidarity organized the workers in Poland in 1980, we saw some exiting examples of movements that based their struggle on nonviolent strategies and tactics. To what degree these movements were familiar with the works of Gene Sharp we do not know. What is clear, however, is that revolutionary movements in the next four decades adopted a broad and ever-broadening range of nonviolent actions and strategies—those same strategies Sharp had been elucidating.
Later, when several of Sharp’s key works were translated into dozens of languages, his ideas indisputibly inspired thousands of suppressed people searching for ways to fight for their freedom, rights, and for democracy. The removal of president Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, the liberation of Eastern Europe and dismantling of the Soviet Union after 1989, the first Intifada in Palestine in 1990-91, the Colored Revolutions following the fall of Milosevic in Serbia in 2000, and the uprising in the MENA region from 2011 onwards all evidenced deep understanding of practical nonviolent revolution. Journalists, activists, academics, and politicians then found a new interest in these fascinating regime changes and their theoretical sources. For each and all of them the works of Gene Sharp now became obligatory—and enlightening—reading.
When Sharp began his study, peace research was a small, odd branch on the academic oak. A hardly visible twig on that branch focused on nonviolence. Seventy years later the field has expanded to be a significant part of several academic disciplines. It has also moved beyond the university campus, reaching suppressed people around the world and turning theoretical ideas into practical tools for social movements. Sharp’s lifelong research and voluminous writings have played a crucial role in this development.
When, at the age of 84, Sharp received the 2012 Right Livelihood Award, he humbly played-down his role as a source of inspiration for the twentieth century’s swell—and the twenty-first century’s tsunami—of unarmed revolutions and social movements. He did note, however, that for the first time in his entire life he found himself interviewed by journalists who at least understood what is was that he was talking about.
His contribution to the field of nonviolent actions will for ever be seen as the equivalent to the first humans landing on the moon. A majority of present researchers in the field of nonviolence have benefited enormously by building on the works and theories published by Gene. Many of us have now lost a friend and many more lost an important source of inspiration.
Among this year’s events is the annual candlelight vigil at the Black Cultural Center.
The College community will honor and commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a series of educational and inspirational events later this month:
Tuesday, January 23 from 4 – 6 p.m. (Scheuer Room): The program kicks off with a social justice workshop presented by the Aorta Foundation. In “Fighting the Systems: Destabilizing Systemic Oppression,” community members will develop a shared language and a deeper analysis of how systemic oppression operates to better understand how we can transform ourselves and our organizations, workplaces, and communities.
Wednesday, January 24 at 6 p.m. (Black Cultural Center): A candlelight vigil will be held in honor of those who have suffered while promoting equality and inclusion.
Thursday, January 25 at 7 p.m. (Scheuer Room): Racial justice and mindfulness mentor Amanda Kemp and her husband, musician Michael Jamanis, will present “Say the Wrong Thing! Racial Justice from the Heart.” They will take the audience “on a musical and poetic journey” through the evolution of a sometimes conflicting creative relationship that led to their signature piece, “The Chaconne Emancipated.”
Friday, January 26 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. (Friends Meeting House): The commemoration concludes with a collection in memory of Dr. King.
Sponsoring the events are the Black Cultural Center, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and the Office of the President.
This year’s Stephen G. Cary Memorial Lecture at Pendle Hill will be delivered by Swarthmore’s own Prof. Sarah Willie-LeBreton!
Stephen G. Cary Memorial Lecture 2018
“Holding Tension – Making a Place at the Table for Continuing Revelation”
7:30pm-9:00pm in the Barn at Pendle Hill.
Live streaming will be available to registrants.
The Stephen G. Cary Memorial Lecture was endowed by Norval and Ann Reece and established in 2004 in concert with Pendle Hill’s publication of Steve Cary’s memoir, The Intrepid Quaker: One Man’s Quest for Peace.
By Lee Smithey
I hope everyone finds an opportunity to reflect and take some sort of action (or preparation for action) in pursuit of justice and peace on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
While the nation focuses on service, I am usually drawn on this day to Dr. King’s speech, “Beyond Vietnam.” Public schools are closed today, and I sit in my office at home listening to the speech with my daughter (11 yrs old). I am amazed and touched that we can listen to this together knowing that Alison had the opportunity to meet Dr. Vincent Harding (who wrote the speech for King) at Pendle Hill shortly before his death in 2014.
This speech at Riverside Church was one of King’s most important and controversial speeches because he spoke against the War in Vietnam, drawing the ire of nationalists and even allies, who felt King should remain focused on domestic racial injustices. This was the address during which King decried “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.”
It is with such activity that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” [applause] Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see than an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Let’s also remember that this year is the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, exactly one year to the day after he delivered the Beyond Vietnam speech. (Stay tuned for announcements about commemorative events at the College this spring.) I hope to get a few minutes today to make a bit more progress through Michael K. Honey’s book, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign. On the night before he was killed, as he delivered another momentous speech about the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, King was again talking about both service (using the parable of the Good Samaritan and emphasizing fixing the dangerous Jericho Road itself.
What a humbling challenge. It is a privilege to share this day with you, and I look forward to the coming semester as we renew our work together.
From the Tri-Co Courageous Conversations Planning Committee:
We warmly invite you to an interfaith conference taking place at Bryn Mawr College on February 1 and 2, 2018:
“Courageous Conversations: Equipping Ourselves for Dialogue Across Differences in Faith and World View”
The conference will equip participants to frame useful questions that allow them to deeply listen, moving beyond “us vs. them” and hearing the personal fears, desires and experiences of others. A thoughtful speaker, case studies, and practical techniques will be part of the program.
The program includes a Thursday evening dinner and speaker, followed by Friday workshops. There will be a break for Jummah (Muslim prayers) and an optional Shabbat service at the end of the day on Friday. Staff and faculty are welcome to attend parts or all of the program. There is no cost. This is supported by InterFaith Youth Core, the organization that brought Eboo Patel to our campus in November.
If you plan on coming fill this out: https://brynmawr.wufoo.com/forms/courageous-conversations/
During the planning process, the committee was intentional about choosing a start that would make it convenient for Swat students, faculty and staff to attend (see schedule below) .
Tri-Co shuttle from Swat schedule.
For more information, contact Eishna Ranganathan at erangan1 or Joyce Tompkins at jtompki1
We want to extend our congratulations to the new 2020 class of Lang Opportunity Scholars!!
“The Lang Scholar Class of 2020 is an extraordinary cohort who exemplifies vision, courage, and engaged scholarship,” says Lang Scholar Advisor Jennifer Magee. “Their projects span the domains of digital literacy in Egypt, human rights in Nepal, public health in Guatemala, social cohesion in New Zealand, and women’s empowerment from Jordan to Philadelphia and beyond. With the mentoring and resources available through the Lang Center, Lang Scholars gain the knowledge, connections, and skills needed to craft effective and innovative solutions to social problems.”
The Lang Scholar Class of 2020 includes:
Nancy Awad ’20 (Chantilly, Va.). In collaboration with the Hands Along the Nile Organization, Agents of Resilience (Nancy’s intended Lang Project) will address the lack of educational opportunities that orphaned and Coptic young women have access to in rural Upper Egypt. Agents of Resilience will be a digital literacy mentoring and certificate initiative for the young women at the Lillian Trasher Orphanage in Assuit, Egypt. Participants will train one other person or their mentee, thus ensuring that the project is sustained by the local community.
“Joining the LOS program means being a part of a supportive and socially-conscious community,” Awad says, “and finally having the structure, direction, and resources to design and implement a project that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Aayushi Dangol ’20 (Kathmandu, Nepal). Aayushi’s Lang Project, नव ज्योति [Nawa Jyoti, translated to “New Light”], will be a collaboration with an NGO in Kathmandu to shift from the paradigm of rescue, repatriation, and rehabilitation of those who have been trafficked to an approach that protects and promotes trafficking victims’ human rights. A component of Nawa Jyoti will be a web-based learning platform where the trafficking victims gain vocational and life skills training. It is hoped that through this training, Nawa Jyoti will empower the trafficking survivors and put an end to the uncertainty and passivity which the victims have to encounter. Dangol’s mantra: “Passion, patience, and persistence in all I do.”
Elizabeth Erler ‘20 (Lexington, Mass.). Zone 3 of Guatemala City contains one of the largest garbage dumps in Central America. Elizabeth’s Lang Project, Alianza de salud de zona tres [Zone 3 Health Alliance], will build upon the existing network of neighborhood presidents to bring increased access to preventative and chronic healthcare to the residents of Zone 3. This network of health advocates will work to promote awareness about and treatment of preventable but deadly illnesses such as malnutrition and diarrheal illnesses which devastate these communities and establish long-term community plans to treat chronic diseases including asthma, diabetes, and addiction.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity the LOS Program gives me to return to Guatemala City and partner with the communities in Zone 3,” Erler says. “I am excited to use experiences and lessons from Swarthmore to develop and implement a plan to increase access to healthcare in this community.”
Layla Hazaineh ‘20 (Amman, Jordan). As a women’s rights activist, Hazaineh strives to amplify the fight against the patriarchy. She has used Facebook as a platform to disseminate videos that address taboo topics and crimes related to misogyny in Jordan and, to date, has 26,388 followers on Facebook from all over the world. With her Lang Project, Hazaineh plans to strengthen her social media platform, elevate it, and create a professional, social, and academic space which will be utilized to fight the patriarchal system, thus empowering women across the Arab world.
“The LOS Program showed me that, when believed in, ideas can grow into projects and projects can turn into a changed and positive reality,” Hazaineh says. “Considering my financial limitations, this scholarship is the opportunity I’ve been hoping for. The LOS Program not only provides support, but also faith in the Lang Scholar, and those are the keys for making change.”
Seimi Park ’20 (Virginia Beach, Va.). Press for Peace, Park’s intended Lang Project, is an initiative dedicated to promoting the education of women in journalism, media, and communications, with a defined focus on data and technology as platform for impact. Operating in several hubs in the greater Philadelphia area, Press for Peace aims to empower women to use their voices, with the long-term goals of: increased diversity in the fields of technology, media, and telecommunications; economic empowerment through relevant skills-based workshops and training programs; and development of an independent news platform. This model will equip women with the tools to thrive in this capacity, while driving academic and cultural discourse in a time plagued by a lack of productive and constructive dialogue.
“I am honored to be joining the LOS community,” Park says. “The LOS Program is truly one of a kind. It invests in social impact, big ideas, and most of all, students. I have already experienced an incredible amount of support and encouragement through this process and cannot wait to see what the future holds.”
Nancy Yuan ’20 (Auckland, New Zealand) Yuan will explore how to create social cohesion in New Zealand through the integration of indigenous Maori, immigrant, and refugee populations.
“Becoming a Lang Scholar means that I can access mentorship and financial resources needed to develop and implement a project to have a positive impact on my community,” Yuan says. “Through the LOS program, I hope to gain experiences which lay the groundwork for me to continue to pursue my passion for development and public policy even beyond my time at Swarthmore.”
The Eugene M. Lang Opportunity Scholarship Program each year selects up to six members of Swarthmore’s sophomore class as Lang Scholars. Selection criteria include distinguished academic and extra-curricular achievement, leadership qualities, and demonstrated commitment to civic and social responsibility. As its central feature, the program offers each scholar the opportunity and related funding to conceive, design, and carry out an opportunity project that creates a needed social resource and/or effects a significant social change or improved condition of a community in the United States or abroad. In addition, it offers each Scholar a diverse succession of undergraduate and graduate financial and other benefits. The program was conceived and endowed by Eugene M. Lang ’38.
“Writing from the Wound: Literature and Disenchantment in Postwar Central America”
Nanci Buiza, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Tuesday, December 12th, 4:15 PM
McCabe Library Atrium
Open to the Public
Professor Buiza will examine how contemporary Central American writers have made literary art out of a heritage of violence, trauma, and social disaffection.
Torn by decades of civil war and political terror, and more recently by the depredations of neoliberalism and urban violence, Central America has been unkind to the artistic enterprise. And yet despite the adversity, its writers have in recent years managed to put Central America on the literary map. They have made a virtue of their situation by submitting their disillusionments, traumas, and dislocations to the discipline of art and have produced works of high literary achievement.
Of special interest in this presentation is the way in which these writers contend with the senseless modernity that radically remade Central American society after the era of civil wars had come to an end in the 1990s. The “culture of peace” as a code of conduct promoted by market-oriented postwar reconstruction projects; the unresolved wartime traumas that have devastated the social fabric; the disenchantment that took root after the dreams for social utopia had been dashed by the failed revolutions and by the forces of neoliberalism—all these features of the postwar experience are central concerns of these writers, but they also pose problems for what it means to make art. How contemporary Central American literature registers and resists these problems is the focus of this presentation.