Fletcher Features

Fletcher Summer Institute Sheds Light on Nonviolent Conflict Strategies, Ideas


From June 24 to June 30, 2012, the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, in partnership with The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, hosted the 7th Annual Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict (FSI). FSI is the only executive level educational program in the study of nonviolent civil resistance in the world. It brings together organizers, educators, journalists, practitioners and scholars to learn about the ideas and strategies of civil resistance, which are used by nonviolent movements and campaigns to achieve rights, justice and democratic self-rule.

This year's institute brought together 44 participants from 26 countries including Afghanistan, Canada, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgystan, the Maldives, Mexico, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Tanzania, Togo, Zimbabwe and the United States.

Over the course of the week participants engaged with leading scholars and practitioners on practical questions in movement formation, unity and coalition building, the impact of violent flanks, democratic backsliding, how civil resistance is relevant in fragile states and other critical aspects of nonviolent struggle. In addition, they heard several distinguished guest speakers:

*   Mohamed Nasheed – former President of the Maldives, whose leadership of the Maldivian pro-democracy movement led him to become the first democratically elected President of that country

This year marked the second time ICNC has presented the James Lawson Award, which is given to an individual or individuals whose work has advanced the study, practice or reporting of civil resistance. This year's awardee was former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, who was forced to resign in February 2012 under threat of violence by forces associated with the former dictator of the Maldives. President Nasheed was recognized for his leadership during many years of the nonviolent opposition to authoritarian rule in his country, his courage in the face of the armed coup, and his renewed commitment to nonviolent action on behalf of restoring genuine democracy in his country.

Watch President Nasheed's remarks and view top tweets from the award ceremony.

*   Rev. James Lawson – one of Dr. Martin Luther King's key strategists during the Civil Rights Movement and a leading voice in several contemporary social and economic justice struggles across the United States

Rev. James Lawson's keynote address is an FSI tradition, as he has delivered the keynote for all but one institute to date. Each year, Rev. Lawson weaves current events and campaigns in with his own experience as a civil rights movement strategist and his continued work as an advocate and organizer for social and economic justice. As part of the tradition, his keynote is preceded by screening the segment of the documentary film, A Force More Powerful, which profiles Lawson's work during the U.S. Civil Rights movement organizing and training students for the sit-in campaigns in Nashville, TN, and throughout the American South.

This year Lawson spoke about the numerous direct action campaigns for immigrant rights in the U.S. Just prior to the start of FSI, President Obama announced that certain aspects of the DREAM act would be passed via executive order, giving children of immigrants a series of rights for which they've been organizing and fighting for several years. Lawson highlighted several sit-in and walkout actions organized and carried out by young people that raised awareness about immigrant rights and put pressure on the President to act.

Watch Lawson's keynote address and view top tweets from this session.

*   Czeslaw Bielecki – former Polish dissident and one of the key leaders during Poland's Solidarity movement in the 1980s

Czeslaw Bielecki's talk invoked many lessons from his years as an activist. Despite harassment and imprisonment, Bielecki remained committed to nonviolent struggle throughout the 1970s and 1980s, applying his experience and artistic background to the operation of an underground publishing house in Poland that challenged official censorship and gave Poles access to the free word. As part of his presentation, Bielecki discussed his work on "Freedom: A Do-It-Yourself Manual," which offers advice on how to organize more effectively and maintain resilience in the face of repression.

Watch Bielecki's speech and read top tweets from his presentation.

*   Dr. Peter Ackerman – civil resistance scholar, co-author of "A Force More Powerful" and founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

In his presentation, Dr. Peter Ackerman, founding chair of ICNC, framed nonviolent conflict as a contest between two sides with different skills and opportunities, in which the quality of their decision-making and action were the primary determinants of success. His presentation also highlighted the work of Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria Stephan, whose recent Woodrow Wilson Award-winning book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, showed that nonviolent movements are more than twice as likely to succeed as violent struggles.

Watch Dr. Ackerman's presentation and view top tweets from his session.

*   Dr. Deborah Winslow Nutter – Senior Associate Dean at The Fletcher School

The Fletcher School’s Senior Associate Dean Deborah Winslow Nutter led a conversation about "Leadership in Civil Resistance" with Lhadon Tethong and Czelsaw Bielecki. The three explored the challenges that leaders of movements face, such as how to visualize an achievable future, summon sustained participation and negotiate with disparate parts of a coalition for action.

Read tweets from the session.

Several additional Fletcher School faculty members also presented and facilitated sessions throughout the week. Kim Wilson, in addition to being the Fletcher faculty coordinator for the Institute, co-presented a lively session with Sadaf Lakhani on the topic of "Internal Agency and External Assistance," during which they explored what can be learned from community banking and development assistance about better models for helping people organize and act on their own behalf.

Watch this presentation and read top tweets from the session.

Another new addition to this year's FSI was the showing of a new film by Dr. Howard Barrell and Josh Yager (F93) on how those involved in civil resistance movements can use conventional and also independent media. The video touched on numerous story-telling techniques that movements can employ to improve coverage of their struggle. The film featured interviews with past leaders of major struggles such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Desmond Tutu.

Lastly, several participants were selected to give presentations on their own struggles. Stories and insights were shared from conflicts ongoing in India, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine and Zimbabwe. Drawing on what was learned throughout the week and applying it to their own contexts, these participant presentations were an ideal way to close out the week and continue the work of FSI as a networked global community.

-- Daryn Cambridge, ICNC

Images: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

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