Category Archives: audio and video

conversation with Danielle Allen about civic education

I really enjoyed a conversation with Danielle Allen last week, which was organized by Facing History & Ourselves and very nicely moderated by Facing History’s Elizabeth Carroll. You can watch the video here. (You’ll have to create a free account, which is a good thing to do, since Facing History is a wonderful organization.)

what to keep and what to let go

Here is a podcast episode by Tufts’ Julie Flaherty & Anna Miller. Their summary says:

Sometimes we don’t even know why, but we hold onto things. We’re not talking about bad relationships or lousy jobs, but the actual stuff that takes up space. How do you decide what’s worth keeping and what you would be happier getting out of your life?

In this episode, we get advice from a home organizer on how to pare down and from an archivist who knows something about what’s worth keeping for the next generation.

Even if you decide you want to donate your stuff, we learn that it’s not always easy to find the right home for it, especially if it’s a 30-ton book collection you inherited from your father. 

That 30-ton book collection belonged to our family, and in the podcast, I share a few thoughts about giving and receiving.

Moral and Political Discussion and Epistemic Networks

Yesterday, I got to give an International Society for Quantitative Ethnography (ISQE) Webinar on “Moral and Political Discussion and Epistemic Networks.” I really enjoyed the questions and conversation. This is the video of the whole event:

Abstract: An individual holds linked beliefs about political or moral issues, which we can model as a network. How these ideas are linked together influences the person’s actions and opinions. When individuals discuss, they share some portions of their respective networks of which they are conscious at the time. Some network structures are better than others for discussion: overly centralized or scattered networks are problematic. Individuals tend to demonstrate similar network structures on different issues. Thus, relying on certain kinds of networks is a character trait. People, with their respective networks of ideas, are also embedded in social networks. An idea is more likely to spread depending on features of both the social network and the idea networks of the people who interact. As a whole, a population may develop a shared network structure. An idea that is widely shared and frequently central in individuals’ networks becomes a norm. Institutions are partly composed of such norms. A community or a culture is a single network with disagreement. Ultimately, all such networks interconnect. This theory has implications for politics, ethics, and research methodologies.

Additional ISQE webinars are listed here.

Rev. James Lawson, Jr on Revolutionary Nonviolence

I was truly honored to talk on Monday with Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. and Kent Wong. This is the video of our conversation (introduced by Tisch College Dean Dayna Cunningham).

Rev. Lawson has been a leading teacher and tactician of nonviolent direct action since the late 1950s. As one of the legendary figures in the Freedom Movement, he played key roles in the Freedom Rides, the Nashville sit-ins and the broader desegregation movement there, and the Memphis sanitation strike. While working in Nagpur, India (after having served three years in US prisons for antiwar resistance during the Korean conflict), he read a news article about the Montgomery Bus Boycott and rushed home to serve as one of the most important bridges between Gandhian theory and practice and the Black American movement against white supremacy.

Rev. Lawson has never ceased his effective teaching and activism, mainly as part of worker and immigrant rights movements in Los Angeles. His efforts over the past quarter century could be described as “intersectional,” combining economic, racial, environmental, and feminist issues. His work is deeply interracial and intergenerational. Rev. Lawson often collaborates with Kent Wong, who directs UCLA’s Labor Center. They have co-taught a course on nonviolence for twenty years, and Wong has published books on the labor movement, immigrant rights, and the Asian American community.

Their new book is Revolutionary Nonviolence: Organizing for Freedom (by Lawson, with Michael Honey and Kent Wong). As I say on the video, it is a truly important work. It is clear, eloquent, rigorous, and concise. It is also unique in that Rev. Lawson can comment on recent movements, such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), from his personal experience as a leader in the 1950s and 1960s, while also discussing the Freedom Movement with knowledge of the 2020s. The book will therefore serve as a particularly accessible (and challenging) introduction to radical nonviolence for young people, and I intend to assign it.

I asked both visitors to address the biggest misconceptions about nonviolence. Rev. Lawson emphasized its power and effectiveness, countering the misunderstanding that nonviolence is somehow passive and constrained.

The book also addresses several other misconceptions. For instance, I find that people equate nonviolence with protest—and protest with marching in the streets. Rev. Lawson stresses the other activities that are required to accomplish change. For instance, he attributes the success of the Nashville campaign more to a sustained boycott than to the famous sit-ins. He even writes, “The march may the weakest tactic, not the strongest.”

In the book, Rev. Lawson describes BLM as “one of the largest, most creative nonviolent movements that have captured the imagination of the human family.” To organize literally tens of thousands of peaceful marches and events has required intensive planning, discipline, and training. Yet I observe that BLM is not widely described as nonviolent. Critics definitely don’t acknowledge its nonviolence, which is no surprise. More interestingly to me, BLM leaders and would-be allies don’t typically emphasize its nonviolent philosophy, although BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors endorses Rev. Lawson’s new book. I asked him to comment, and he offered a tactical critique of BLM that I found somewhat unexpected.

In the book, he notes that there is a lot of activism today: more than during his lifetime except for the late 1960s. He calls the “range” of organizing the greatest he has ever seen. “But people are not developing a thesis of social change that is both personally transforming and transforming of society and of the immediate social environment, and that is part of the power of a nonviolent philosophy and theory.” I asked him to elaborate on that remark, which he did.

I also asked about Ukraine and Russia. In the book, Rev. Lawson mentions that anti-communist dissidents in the former Soviet world read Gandhi and King. I’d add that Polish dissidents invited Bayard Rustin to provide trainings in the 1980s. I have had the privilege of working with pro-democracy organizers in Ukraine since 2015, and I can testify that they deeply appreciate the Black American Freedom Movement. I asked both speakers about the prospects of nonviolent resistance in (possibly) occupied Ukraine and in Russia. Rev. Lawson’s response was interesting. He is a consistent pacifist who has earned a right to that position by making sacrificial commitments to rigorous nonviolence for 75 years. I must admit that I am not so consistent: I think that Ukrainians must oppose the invasion with military force and that we should support them. But Rev. Lawson is certainly right that Putin cannot accomplish his goals with violence and that nonviolent resistance can play an important role in both Ukraine and Russia (and in Belarus). His prophetic voice is essential for that reason, as well as for our struggles in the USA.

See also: the case for (and against) nonviolence; civilian resistance in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus; prospects for nonviolent resistance in Ukraine and in Russia; syllabus of a course on the Philosophy of Martin Luther King, Jr.; three new cases for learning how to organize and make collective change.