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Panel discusses Tar Sands, Occupy movement

Published: Thursday, February 16, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 04:02

Tar Sands

Ashley Scarfo / Tufts Daily

A panel discussion last night hosted by the Peace and Justice Studies program discussed nonviolent campaigns and media interactions on the campaigns.


Ashley Scarfo / Tufts Daily

George Lakey spoke of his experiences in a 1963 Civil Rights sit-in.

Members of the Tufts community participated in a panel discussion last night hosted by the Peace and Justice Studies program focusing on nonviolent campaigns through the changing lens of media. The discussion was held in light of recent events such as the Occupy Boston Movement and the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline controversy.

The department invited George Lakey, a Swarthmore College professor and activist, as well as Tufts senior Natalie Schils, Tufts Professor of Sociology Sarah Sobrieraj and Occupy Boston participant Brian Kwoba, to share their experiential knowledge on what was portrayed as a merging of "theory and practice."

Lakey spoke about surprises and lessons learned as he recounted his first arrest for participating in a 1963 Civil Rights sit−in.

"My first experience for a sit−in, Chester, Penn., was wrought with a large−scale mass civil obedience," Lakey said.

Lakey cited how questions of successful campaign strategies inspired him to start the Global Nonviolent Action Database, an online search database that provides archives of 600 completed cases of nonviolent struggle in over 900 countries. It offers behavioral descriptions of nonviolent actions as a resource for activists to contextualize their histories, successes and stumbling blocks.

"What's the difference between the campaigns that win and the campaigns that don't? ... Wouldn't it be great to study this, to figure out what creates wins and losses on the great chessboard of social change," Lakey said.

The Occupy movement has yet to be documented in the database, he said.

Schils was arrested in Washington, D.C., for taking issue with the proposed Keystone XL natural gas pipeline in Canada, which would create corporate access to one of the world's largest oil reserves. She credited her advisor for inciting her to action in the capital city.

"Now it's become a huge political issue, so at the end of the summer there were a thousand people who were arrested," Schils said. "The way it boils down is that either president Obama could allow the pipeline to be built, or not."

She informed the audience about the significance of the individual, noting how social media outlets such as Twitter aided in sharing information quickly.

"It reminds us of the power that individuals have when they stand up to these things, not just ‘what we have to offer,'" she said. "Now there's a huge buzz … it's a rallying call."

Sobrieraj discussed news narrations' negative and often inaccurate portrayal of rising activists and their ever−evolving role.

Sobrieraj suggested that these groups have maintained anonymity, with one reason for that choice being the media's tendency to highlight the most radical things.

"When [the media] do receive a fleeting reference, they're usually crime stories framed as a threat to disorder," Sobrieraj said.

She claimed, however, that Occupy Boston is unique in that it fosters a community and interactive feel instead of just one−way broadcasting.

"The other newsworthy shift is that the movement isn't media−centric in the same way as groups that I studied in the past. They were often stuck in a "soundbite" mentality, of which Occupy is not a part," Sobrieraj said.

The final speaker, Brian Kwoba, fleshed out some issues through his involvement with the Occupy Boston movement in Dewey Square.

"I wanted to talk about some of the dimensions of the movement," he said. "I've been an activist for a few years on various different issues, but I feel like Occupy is something that, even people who have been active, is something we have been waiting for years for years. It feels like a bursting into the mainstream."

Kwoba discussed how he felt personally pressed to address issues of police infringement of freedom of assembly while using the pretext of protecting safety through his encounters and the media's role.

"What does it mean to say we're the 99 percent if the movement is not reflective of the 99 percent? … I think the question of racism and white supremacy is front and center," he said. "In Boston, it's 95 percent white. I think this is a glaring contradiction that needs to be overcome. I want it to represent all, for the 99 percent."

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