Tuesday, October 13, 2015

#286 / Nothing Passive About It

It was a privilege to attend a session of The New Yorker Festival that featured a conversation between David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, and Congress Member John Lewis. Lewis represents Georgia's Fifth Congressional District, and he is the former Chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC. Lewis was among the most personally courageous and dedicated leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. 

I found Lewis to be inspiring (in a very unpretentious and low-key way). He urged not only equality, but diversity. He counseled against those who preach fear. He advised us to "hope not hate," and he insisted that "we are all living in one house, the world house." Anyone unfamiliar with Lewis' biography might like to read up on his life. Walking With The Wind is Lewis' own memoir, and he has also written a graphic novel trilogy, based on his experiences on the front lines of the Civil Rights struggle. March: Book One and March: Book Two are already available, with a third volume promised.

For me, the only jarring note in the inspiring conversation between Remnick and Lewis was Remnick's repeated reference to "passive resistance," a term that Lewis never acknowledged or used himself. Having already read Remnick's article on the horrible killings in Charleston, South Carolina, and having commented on that article (see yesterday's blog posting), I was perhaps particularly sensitive. But Remnick appropriated the term "passive resistance" for himself, having merely reported on the use of this term by someone else in "Blood At The Root."

In fact, there is nothing "passive," at all, about the kind of nonviolent action that made possible the advances that came with the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and the term "passive resistance" is an obvious oxymoron, once one thinks about it. 

You cannot be "passive" and "resist." Those words don't go together. "Resistance" is a type of action, and it is the opposite of "passive." It is "nonresistance" that reflects "passivity."

As we watch what is happening in our country now, it is "nonresistance" that we often see. "Resistance" is what we need.

John Lewis affirmed, and his life makes clear, that the kind of action we need, the kind of active resistance that is required of us, must always be, and can maintain itself, as "nonviolent."

It is called "nonviolent resistance." There is nothing passive about it!

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1 comment:

  1. Of course you can be both "passive" and "resist" at the same time! Why do you insist on trying to redefine words?

    Passive: "accepting or allowing what happens or what others do"

    Resist: "withstand the action or effect of"

    In life, you can't decide what other people will choose to do. You can only decide how you will react. So-called "passive resistance" is the philosophy that you allow other people to do what they choose while accepting and withstanding what happens as a result of their actions. This is totally consistent with the definitions of the words!

    Reactions made from emotion, retaliation, revenge, and violence are in many cases less effective than passive resistance. Especially social movements against violence and prejudice. Instead of appearing emotional and combative, which fosters a negative reputation, you appear poised and collected. Instead of appearing vengeful and violent, oppression and abuse you suffer will be plain for everyone to see. The philosophy works and name is apt.

    Other things that resist passively:

    * Trees vs. the wind
    * Roofs vs. the rain
    * Cliffs vs. the ocean
    * Walls vs. animals that try to climb up over them
    * Electronic resisters vs. the current flowing through them


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