I was sad to hear of the death of John Lewis yesterday, 7/17/2020. In a time when there are few heroes, John Lewis was a hero to me and many others. He was in his early twenties when he was put in charge of training for nonviolent direct action by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Every Tuesday night for the fall semester of 1959, John Lewis made his way to Clark Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. There, in the church basement, Rev. James Lawson mentored a group of Black college students in the philosophy and tactics of nonviolent direct action. “Those Tuesday nights became the focus of my life,” recalled Lewis, who’d since childhood in rural Alabama sought a way to fight white supremacy.SNCC Digital Gateway
I studied John Lewis and the SNCC in 2013 when I became involved with the Keystone Pledge of Resistance (see below). The Keystone Resistance was a national campaign, that would trigger acts of nonviolent civil disobedience across the country, simultaneously, if it appeared that President Obama was going to approve the permit for the Keystone pipeline. At then end of this are parts of the training manual for the Pledge. And President Obama’s letter about his decision regarding Keystone.
The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) held training sessions in 25 U.S. cities that summer. This was training for people who would then organize and train others in their communities for nonviolent direct action. Nearly 400 Action Leads (those who received this training) were trained, who then trained nearly 4,000 people in their communities. In Indianapolis, we held six training sessions in which about 50 people were trained.
I always asked to teach the parts about nonviolence and direct action.
President Obama denied the permit for the Keystone pipeline. The current president approved the permit. Currently parts of Keystone have been constructed, but as of now construction has been halted while further environmental assessments are being done.
The Edward F. Snyder Award for National Legislative Leadership in Advancing Disarmament and Building Peace is presented annually to an outstanding member of Congress who has displayed leadership in advancing legislative priorities consistent with those advocated by the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Edward Snyder served the Friends Committee on National Legislation for 35 years, as a Legislative Secretary from 1955 until 1962, then as Executive Secretary until 1990. The 2007 recipient was John Lewis:
2007: Rep. John Lewis (GA), for his commitment to non-violent resistance, both in his work with the civil rights movement and his opposition to the Iraq war.
When John Lewis came to the FCNL annual meeting to receive this award, he signed copies of his book, “Walking with the Wind: a Memoir of the Movement”. My parents were there.
If you’ve read recent posts from this blog, you know I’ve been using the journal I started when I was a Senior at Scattergood Friends School to share what was going on at a particularly significant and chaotic time in my life, and for the country. That was in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War. Yesterday’s post was the conclusion of the long, difficult process of coming to my decision to commit an act of civil disobedience, and become a draft resister.
The other significant influences on my life that I hadn’t mentioned, since they weren’t written in my journal then, were related to the civil rights struggle that was going on at the same time, including the eloquent speeches by, and example of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1963, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail about nonviolent resistance.
The key to the success of any nonviolent campaign, besides inspiration and commitment, is training. It is a sad commentary that our country devotes so much effort and billions of dollars to training our armed forces, but to work for peace and justice, we have to do our training ourselves. The success of the civil rights movement hinged on the incredible organization and training of thousands in the techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience and direct action by John Lewis and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and many others.
There was the inspiration of the willingness of so many to risk their lives, and the tragic deaths of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner and others.
The courage of the parents of, and the high school, middle school and elementary students who marched in Birmingham in 1963 with over 1,000 of them filling the jails after being brutally attacked by dogs and with fire hoses.
Civil Disobedience and the Civil Rights Movement, Nov. 15, 2017
“A truly moral agenda must be anti-racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative and deeply rooted and built within a fusion coalition. It would ask of all policy, is the policy Constitutionally consistent, morally defensible and economically sane. We call this moral analysis and moral articulation which leads to moral activism.” —Rev. Dr. William, J. Barber, II
Rev William Barber continues his faith based activism, using nonviolent civil disobedience as a tool for change:
“People of faith and moral conscience around the nation are preparing for direct actions to protest the laws and policies of this administration. We pledge to support nonviolent civil disobedience as a form of #MoralResistance. We will learn about the moral framework for civil disobedience and choose a role for ourselves, whether as protesters, medics, legal observers, witnesses, or care providers. We will train in civil disobedience as practiced and perfected by thousands before us. And we will show up in the time, place, and manner we are needed.
Nonviolent civil disobedience is grounded in the ethic of love – for others, opponents, and ourselves. When people use civil disobedience to protest not just a single policy but widespread injustice, then this act of love becomes revolutionary. It can change a community, a culture, even a country. #RevolutionaryLove is the call of our times. We pledge to answer the call together.”
Here is our modern day Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)–if you weren’t around in the 1960’s, SNCC was the group, at one time led by Representative John Lewis, that trained people for the civil disobedience actions during the civil rights movement.
The United States House of Representatives Democrat’s sit in has been fascinating to watch.
The symbolism of the action being led by Representative John Lewis, a leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was powerful. John Lewis was once the leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) which trained many people in the theory and techniques of nonviolent direct action. His book, “Walking with the Wind” is well written and very interesting history of the civil rights movement and SNCC.
It is highly unusual that this technique needed to be employed in the very institution that is supposed to craft the legislation that is often the goal of nonviolent action. This points to the failure of the Congress to fulfill its purpose, by which we create laws to support a just society.
Keystone Pledge of Resistance
In the face of a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline coming in the next few months, the Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance is a commitment to massive and historic nationwide acts of peaceful, dignified civil disobedience if President Obama’s State Department recommends approval of Keystone XL as in the National Interest.
The pledge is being organized by CREDO, Rainforest Action Network and the Other 98% to put direct political pressure on President Obama to reject Keystone XL.
More than 62,000 people have already signed the pledge, committing to risk arrest if necessary to protest approval of Keystone XL. In making this pledge, it is our hope that we can convince President Obama to reject Keystone XL, so that our risking-arrest is not necessary.
To demonstrate our commitment and seriousness, over the summer we will have small-scale preview actions, and we will train hundreds of activists to lead civil disobedience actions in their own community, at State Department Offices, federal buildings and other strategic targets.
NON-VIOLENCE GUIDELINES AND PRINCIPLES
- With the recognition that history is on our side in the fight against the fossil fuel industry, that we are a part of the proud and successful tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, and that our actions also reflect on tens of thousands of others standing together across the country, we will conduct our behavior in only the most peaceful and dignified manner.
- We are each firmly committed to the safety of all participants and the surrounding community, and will not bring with us any weapons, drugs or alcohol, or participate in any acts of vandalism or destruction of property.
- We will work to protect everyone around us from insult or attack, including those who may oppose or disagree with us.
- We will remember that irresponsible actions could endanger others, or lead to the arrest of people who do not want to go to jail, and will not use threatening language or threatening motions toward anyone.
- We will act and communicate in a manner of openness, friendliness and respect toward everyone we encounter, including police officers and members of the community at large.
- As members of this action, we will follow the directions of the designated organizers.
- If an individual has a serious disagreement with the organizers of the action, the individual will withdraw from the action.
- If an individual does not respect these guidelines and principles, that individual can not participate in an action as part of the Pledge of Resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Civil Disobedience as a Tactic
There is a long history of non-violent civil disobedience in the U.S.
This slide depicts a movement you might be familiar with:
During the 1960s, members of the civil rights movement staged ‘sit-ins’ at lunch counters to draw attention to unjust segregation – this photo was taken in Greensboro, North Carolina
Civil disobedience has been – and still is – used by many movements for justice, including: the women’s rights movement, “suffragettes” who won the right for women to vote, the labor rights movement, pacifist and immigrants rights movements.
Since the 1970s, the environmental movement has used this tactic to challenge nuclear power, deforestation and fossil fuel extraction.
Now the climate movement is following in a long proud tradition to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.
Keystone Pledge of Resistance Training Manual
I want to begin this book with a little story. It has nothing to do with a national stage, or historic figures, or monumental events. It’s a simple story, a true story, about a group of young children, a wood-frame house and a windstorm.
Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.
That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. Line up and hold hands, she said, and we did as we were told. Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the font of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.
And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.
More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.
It seemed that way in the 1960’s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America itself felt as if it might burst at the seams–so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.
And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.
And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house still stand.
But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.
And we did.
And we still do, all of us. You and I.
Children holding hands, walking with the wind. That is America to me–not just the movement for civil rights but the endless struggle to respond with decency, dignity and a sense of brotherhood to all the challenges that face us as a nation, as a whole.Walking with the Wind, John Lewis