“As we approach the 75th anniversary of Quaker work at the UN, we have an opportunity to reflect on those in our community who have taught us valuable lessons about the Quaker traditions of non-violence and direct engagement with those who hold power. The wisdom and life of Quaker civil rights activist Bayard Rustin offers insights and lessons that continue to guide us today and as we look into the future.”
Prof. Smithey plans to provide transportation to the lecture, which will take place on Monday, September 12 at 7:30pm-9:00pm Eastern Time.
It’s considered an epidemic in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20,000 deaths in 2020 alone, as it tears through communities and tears families apart, especially in low-income and urban areas.
Yet unlike the global pandemic, this public health issue — gun violence — receives relatively little public attention, aside from the high-profile mass shootings that dominate headlines. And specific details about these crimes can also be hard to come by, making it difficult for advocates to get the support their communities need.
Working to fill in those gaps, Swarthmore students have developed an interactive map that tracks all gun deaths in the College’s surrounding communities. Created under the guidance of Professor of Sociology Lee Smithey, the Delaware County (Pennsylvania) Homicide Database aims to assist in the prevention of gun violence while telling a fuller story of the effects of firearms.
The project is a peacebuilding effort in partnership with local anti-violence groups, says Smithey, who is also coordinator of the Peace & Conflict Studies Program. Although crime statistics are readily available from law enforcement agencies, he says, they are rarely presented in a way that’s easy for the public to process. By utilizing the College’s technological and scholarly resources, the students served as research assistants for these community groups, supporting them in their advocacy.
“One of the most rewarding things about this project,” Smithey says, “has been getting connected with gun violence prevention groups,” including Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, co-founded by Robin Lasersohn ’88 and her husband, Terry Rumsey, and Women of Strength United for Change. “We felt it was important to learn from others who have been working locally on this problem.”
For the database, students downloaded homicide information from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report and then cross-checked their findings against local news reports to glean further details about each case, such as victims’ names and where the shootings happened. Database users can search gun deaths in Delaware County going back to 2005, while filtering by such demographics as victims’ age, sex, and race, and applying map overlays including median income per area.
The database was developed over five nonconsecutive semesters as part of Smithey’s Gun Violence Prevention course, which explores firearms from the perspective of public health, policy, law enforcement, advocates, and even gun enthusiasts. Community partners and survivors of gun violence are frequent guest speakers in the course, often sharing how they’ve been personally affected by firearms.
“For me, the course was really about humanizing both the living and, unfortunately, deceased victims of gun violence,” says Aleina Dume ’23, a sociology and educational studies major from Queens, N.Y. One speaker, Beverly Wright — a mother from Chester who lost her son to gun violence — made a particular impact on Dume: “Hearing her story but also about her grassroots activism really helped me remember that these are lives that we’re entering into this database,” she says. “We might not know this person’s name, but that just speaks to how important the work is.”
After consulting with community members like Wright, Smithey’s students decided against using pinpoints for each death in the database, so as not to reduce each victim to a statistic. Instead, the information is presented as a heat map, with areas growing more saturated in color as the number of cases increases.
“When I look at that map, I probably tend to see it as a sociologist first, and I start thinking about proximity to the interstate, the income level in these various neighborhoods, etc.,” Smithey says. But for residents of areas where gun violence is prevalent, he says, “they see a mosaic of stories and individuals and people, and they know that many of these homicide events are related to one another. It opened our eyes to how this is going to tell a different story to different people.”
Smithey expects the database to be useful not only to violence-prevention groups, but also to trauma surgeons, public health workers, and local governments. The ultimate hope is for the database to raise awareness of gun violence, while helping communities make gains in combating the epidemic.
“I wrote a paper relating gun violence to the coronavirus because that’s exactly what it is: a public health crisis,” says Oliver Hicks ’22, a political science and peace & conflict studies major from San Luis Obispo, Calif. “Our gun violence problem is not limited to just the school shootings that have perversely normalized themselves in news headlines — it’s so much more.”
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.
An exciting line-up of Martin Luther King Jr. Day events is lined up for next week:
MLK Welcome Luncheon and Keynote Speaker Collin Williams Jr.: “Like You’ve Never Seen Obstacles”
Sharing his personal experiences as a first-generation college graduate with West Indian roots, Collin Williams, Jr. will give a riveting talk on the struggles of Black and Latino students in America and his current research with Dr. Shaun Harper at the University of Pennsylvania. Opening remarks will be given by Naudia Williams ’14.
Monday, January 20, Bond Memorial Hall, 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM.
MLK Luncheon and Documentary: “The Story of Higher Education for Undocumented Students”
Enjoy lunch and a lively discussion with colleagues about the state of higher education for undocumented students. A short documentary highlighting the revolutionary work of Freedom University will be shown, with closing remarks to be given by Jennifer Marks-Gold, International Students and Scholars Advisor at Swarthmore. (Film to begin at 12:15pm).
Wednesday, January 22, Black Cultural Center, 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM.
MLK film, “Waiting For Superman”
Documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim explores the tragic ways in which the American public education system is failing our nation’s children, and explores the roles that charter schools and education reformers could play in offering hope for the future. Snacks will be provided.
With King Day coming up, we wanted to share this announcement that was circulated on the faculty-staff list today.
Range of Family-Friendly Events Planned in Chester for Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21
Members of the community are invited to participate
CHESTER, PA – The Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee has planned a range of events to celebrate the legacy of the civil rights leader. Members of the community are invited to take part in a range of activities:
Jan. 18, noon to 2 p.m., throughout Chester. The Institute for Physical Therapy Education and the School of Nursing at Widener University will offer health and wellness clinics for residents at 12 different sites throughout Chester who are in need of blood pressure screenings, assessment of assistive devices, and educational resources for supporting healthy practices
Jan. 20, 4 to 7 p.m., YWCA, 4 E. 7th Street in Chester. The YWCA and Tau Delta Omega Chapter will host a Sunday Supper and Movie event. This fun event will include food, conversations, games, prayer and a presentation of the film “Half the Sky.” Reservations are encouraged; call (610) 876-2222.
Jan. 21, 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., YWCA, 4 E. 7th Street in Chester: A range of free activities will be available for people of all ages, including:
Creation of personalized T-shirts.
Stuffing of bags filled with personal care items for area needy.
Collaborative art project: Led by representatives from the Community Arts Center of Wallingford, children and adults will color individual quilt squares that we will assemble on the wall in a collaborative design celebrating King’s connection to Chester.
Presentations about safe medication use, financial management and gun violence prevention.
Quilting, bib-making and dress-making for people in Haiti (sewing experience needed).
Collection and sorting of books to benefit incarcerated veterans (co-sponsored by Widener University and
Live musical performances.
Jan. 21, 1 to 4 p.m.., YWCA, 4 E. 7th Street in Chester: Children can enjoy a special “King’s camp” filled with a variety of fun activities, including a virtual tour of Chester, a movie, crafts, museum tour, snacks and more. Cost is $2.
Jan. 21, 1:30 p.m., Old Main Building at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, One Medical Center Boulevard, Upland: A wreath will be laid in front of the site of the former Crozer Theological Seminary, where King earned his Bachelor of Divinity in 1951. Rev. Dr. Bayard Taylor, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church (where Dr. King worshipped while he was a student), will deliver brief remarks.
Jan. 21, 2 to 2:45 p.m., Clark Auditorium at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, One Medical Center Boulevard, Upland: The public is invited to a celebration that will include speeches and musical performances.
6:30 p.m., Alumni Auditorium, Widener University, 14th and Walnut Streets: Widener’s annual commemoration of Dr. King’s life, sponsored by the University’s Black Student Union. The program will include reflections from members of the Widener community about the significance of King’s life and work.
Since 1994, the Martin Luther King Commemorative Committee has worked to honor the memory and legacy of Dr. King in Chester, where Dr. King studied and preached before emerging as a civil rights leader on the national scene. As such, this holiday has always had a special meaning for Chester residents. In fact, it was the first community in Southeastern Pennsylvania to have a day of service on the holiday honoring Dr. King. Organizations involved in the planning and funding of the events include the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey in Delaware County, Widener University, the Chester YWCA, the Community Arts Center, Swarthmore College, Eastern University and Crozer-Chester Medical Center.
For more information about events at the YWCA, call (610) 876-2222.
For more information about Widener’s participation and the evening event at the University, contact Marcine Pickron-Davis at (610) 499-4566.
The parade, that starts at 1 P.M. from MLK Memorial Park, 7th and Engle sts., travels along 7th and 5th streets, and ends up around 2 P.M. at the Museum of the History of Delaware County, 408
For more information about the event at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, contact Grant Gegwich at (610) 447-6316.
Collect Food for King Day
Pathways PA will be collecting food for families in crisis at the Center for Families, a residential facility for women and families transitioning from situations of homelessness and abuse. Cereals, snack foods and non-perishable items are being collected through January 21, at PathWays main office at 310 Amosland Road in Holmes. For more details, call Josh Glickenhaus at 610-543-5022.
Black History Parade
The Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS) will present the first-ever Black History Parade in Chester on Saturday, Jan. 26th to celebrate the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a former Chester resident; and Chester Clippers basketball. It also kicks-off its Black History Month exhibit.
Avenue of the States in Chester, will be followed by a special program celebrating the grand opening of the exhibit that runs until March.
The parade will feature members of the PA Buffalo Soldiers on motorcycles; re-enactors of the Civil War-era 3rd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops; Noah Lewis, the re-enactor of the Revolutionary War hero, Ned Hector; and locals including Kollective Talent Drill Team and other organizations.
Following the parade, the program inside the museum will feature singer Pam Gordon, the Gospel Disciples of Chester, an African dance presentation by Monika Rhoades and presentations from the Buffalo Soldiers, the Chester Clippers and others.