James Lawson is still active. He is still engaged in intelligent analysis, noting at the 40th anniversary gathering of the veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that the job of dismantling racism was far from finished (Zengerle, 2000). Most young black activists and their allies would concur.
Much of the most directly usable conceptual advice from the Civil Rights movement to today's youth activists comes in succinct form from Lawson who was, after all, the primary initial nonviolence trainer for the Sit-In movement in 1960 and was one of the architects of the various successful movements that gave us the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lawson is spot-on in many of his most salient points to activists, including but not limited to these lessons learned then and still key:
- Strategize, plan, and prepare your campaign; don't just run it crisis to crisis.
- Recruit with a serious strategy and devotion of purpose and resources or face defeat.
- Develop highly trained and disciplined activists that will weather all attack with skill and calm.
- Make certain everyone has a role and no action is undertaken that excludes other people--even as you exclude certain destructive behaviors.
- Focus on one winnable issue at a time and sequence your campaigns for a series of successes that build upon each other.
- Maintain unity of purpose, behavior, and adherence to decisions. Do not fall prey to divide and conquer.
Will young activists listen to Lawson? If they do, and with the new tools they command (e.g. social media and other tech advantages) coupled with the research that now undergirds nonviolence more than ever, the next generation will show us some major progress toward peace, justice, and environmental protection. If they dismiss him as just another white-haired activist from back in the day, they will have a much steeper climb to much smaller victories and much more loss to discourage them.
So we'll see!
Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Zengerle, J. (2000). Laughter and Forgetting. New Republic, 222(18), 14-15.