Rights veteran shares nonviolent blueprint

Diane Nash met students at Wednesday and will give a community lecture at Cordiner Hall tonight at 7.

Diane Nash met students at Wednesday and will give a community lecture at Cordiner Hall tonight at 7. Photo by Michael Lopez.

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WALLA WALLA — A woman who led some of the most successful protests and campaigns of the 1960s Civil Rights Movements gave an intimate workshop Wednesday to 20 or so area college students in the front room of the Glover Alston Center at Whitman College.

Her voice never rising above the level of a quiet conversation, Diane Nash shared tips on how to lead a successful nonviolent campaign and some of the principals of nonviolence, as well as nostalgically reflecting on her involvement in the turbulent times leading up to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which set in motion the desegregation of the South.

Nonviolent campaigns: The basics

Diane Nash shared information on how to conduct a nonviolent campaign. Tactics include:

  1. Set an objective and write it down. With larger groups, it’s important for everyone to agree to a common objective before moving to the next steps.“You’ve got to know what you want to do before you can do it,” Nash said.
  2. Investigate. Find out exactly how an oppressive system works and who the oppressors are.
  3. Educate. Educate your constituents about how they are being oppressed and how they participate in that system.
  4. Negotiation. Make contact and let your opponent know your goal and also that you are open to future negotiations.
  5. Resistance. This is where the oppressed withdraw their participation from the system. In the Nashville civil rights sit-ins in the 1960s, Nash and her colleagues refused to participate in a segregated society. She mentioned the Arab Spring, the recent series of revolutions and protests in the Middle East, some more successful than others, saying that there are more options than just mass protests, such as strikes, refusals to pay taxes and setting up alternative, parallel institutions.
  6. Educate future generations to ensure problems don’t recur.

The primary take-away from Nash’s visit was that individuals have the right and capability to change the world, regardless of the social or economic standing.

“This is your country, your world,” Nash told the assembled students. “You have the right and should exercise an amount of power in this world.

“You’d be amazed at the power at the amount of power inside yourself that many people live their entire life and never discover.”

She also took questions from the students, who were crammed into the small room on folding chairs, love seats and couches, and some of whom were involved in a November protest on the Whitman campus against racism and cyberbullying.

One student asked how to educate students at Whitman about racism, saying that despite the College’s image as a progressive, liberal school, it too struggled with racism.

“I think you have to identify specifically how this is racism manifests,” Nash responded. “When you deal with large amounts of people, you have to be incredibly specific.”

As for how to lead a nonviolent campaign, Nash gave six steps (see sidebar), sprinkling in examples from her days leading the Nashville, Tenn., lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Ride protests.

She also shared two principles.

The first is that pppression requires the participation of the oppressed. That is, she said, an oppressive system only works if those being oppressed allow it to without resistance. She gave Rosa Parks’ defiance of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., as an example.

“Blacks had to pay a fare, get on the bus and walk to the back of the bus,” Nash said. “The moment blacks decided the bus wouldn’t be segregated, it wasn’t.

“The only person you can change is yourself. And when you change yourself, the world has to bump up against that.”

Her second principle is love. It is important to love and respect your opponents while at the same time rejecting their racism, she said.

“People are not your enemy,” Nash said. “Unjust political systems are, unjust economic systems are, racism, sexism, all those are enemies.

“And when you try to solve a problem by killing an individual, you leave the idea untouched.”

Nash, who lives in Chicago and has regular speaking engagements across the country, is set to give a public lecture at Cordiner Hall tonight at 7.

Ben Wentz can be reached at benwentz@wwub.com or 526-8315.

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