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Prominent leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. are known all around the world for teaching and practicing nonviolence while fighting for human justice and peace. They are graced throughout history books, not only for their commendable actions but for their effective manner of inducing change around the world. Although these prominent figures leave everlasting footprints on the soil of this earth, there are many more that have contributed and still contribute to the struggle of human survival.
In writing You Can't Kill the Spirit, Pam McAllister attempts to capture the hearts of women around the world. Through the fight for justice, women suffer the risk of being arrested, losing their jobs, homes and even losing their lives. This book illustrates the stories of women who have fought for their right to be recognized and heard. It's about the right to be granted civil liberties not based on laws of the land but based on human dignity that all people should have a right to obtain. Yet through their tribulations the spirits of those who have died and struggled for the cause, live on and are depicted through the actions of those who continue to fight for freedom through nonviolent interventions. By identifying the categories of protest through persuasion, noncooperation and intervention, the contribution in which the dimensions of nonviolent organizing is demonstrated is displayed throughout the book.
Beginning in 1976 mothers, daughters and granddaughters of Argentina started demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo on behalf of their missing children who seemed to be disappearing with no trace of ever reappearing. Although public demonstration was forbidden in Argentina, the Mothers of the Plaza, in which they were later named, continued to withstand tear gas and constant arrests. This act of nonviolence demonstration later caught the attention of media and many women around the world who were experiencing the same travesties involving their missing children. (McAllister p 24)
Eroseanna Robinson was arrested on January 26, 1960 by governmental authorities for not paying taxes for over ten years. Her act of resistance was based on the fact that a large percentage of the budget is used for war purposes, in which she did not support. Upon fasting and praying for ninety-three days in jail, along with long time supporters and activists, Robinson was unconditionally discharged from prison. Many women would later follow in her footsteps of nonviolent noncooperation.
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In the Philippines the people began a massive program of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest. In regards to the new presidency, military personnel's were attempting to shut a radio station down because of the possibility that the truth of the results would be sent through the airways. On February 22, 1986 over two million people decided to barricade the radio station in order that people would hear the truth. This form of nonviolent intervention although risked the lives of millions involved, as a result, set a revolution for change.
Robert Fisher, in his book Let the People Decide, explains that Neighborhood organizing isn't some phenomenon that came about in post-World War II, because even before industrialization, people resisted domination and oppression outside of the factories and out side of the class-conscious movement. (Fisher 219) Fisher states that organizing cuts through the political spectrum. He claims that while it is not inherently reactionary, conservative, liberal, or radical, it is neither inherently democratic and inclusive or authoritarian and parochial. (Fisher 221)
When the women of the Leiserson's garment shop in New York went on strike due to the low wages, they were not fighting because they wanted a movement of sorts to occur; they were fighting for their life. They were fighting in order that they could have enough money at the end of the week to pay their rent, feed their children and take care of the basic human needs in order to survive. After a hard days of work very few women took home more then $6.00 per week and the youngest ones made as little as $1.50. From the wages that were made, workers still had to pay for the equipment and tools that they used as well as the electricity that was providing them the energy for the tools to work. (McAllister p.63)
One woman took action by deciding to pose a walk out. Her actions caused many women to get up as well and strike against this type of injustice. Standing up as an act of courage and deciding that until circumstances get better they will no longer work, these women inspired each other to keep the fight and caused for other women at other factories to take a stand as well.
Fisher relates the idea that the interaction between neighborhood organizing efforts, national politics and nationwide social movements are very effective in contributing to the amount of response that each level of organizing receives. Whether the response is one that leaves an encouraging or repressive reaction it is nonetheless one that is connected in support.
When the women decided to stand up and organize a walk out on the job they had many supporters that were willing to make it a very efficient and effective method towards change. Union organizer Mary Dreier, president of the New York Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) served as one of the witnesses of the picketing and police brutality. Her arrest on the picket line made headlines in the newspaper and caused for a major story in the New York Times. The publicity helped the strikers gain more awareness to their case and aided in granting their rights to freedom of speech. This story led to help from major organizers such as the WTUL, Young Society Debutantes and, Bryn Mawr College students where affluent and middle class workers from New York and Philadelphia volunteered and worked hard to support the workers in New York. (McAllister p.73) These organizations were very successful at supporting workers in New York and other locations in order to establish better wages, work hours and even union recognition.
The very act of organizing a nonviolent demonstration is nothing new. Nonviolent organizing is an act that has been in existence even before the word began. The very act of refusing to do something because it is believed to be wrong, or the act of demonstrating in honor of what one may believe is right, are forms of nonviolence actions in which people engage in everyday. These brave acts of nonviolent interactions are representative of the types of actions that women all around the world subject themselves to in honor of justice and freedom. If people look beyond the history books and male oriented narratives of social justice work, they would find that women have been some of the most important supporters and practitioners of such movements.
Although many great historical timelines fail to recognize women who have fought alongside men for social justice, women continue to act. It is amazing the strength that women possess around the world. These stories of strength through struggle serve as tools of empowerment that allow people to engage with others who may be fighting in the same struggle. It is through the power of struggle that allows people to connect and reconnect from one social stratum to the next.
The fact that women and minorities have been an oppressed group since the beginning of time is nothing new. As I began to write I constantly had to question myself about what it took for these women to stand up and fight. It bothered me at first that people would risk their lives and the lives of others in order to make a statement. After critically thinking about it I was left with a feeling of disgust. Not disgust for the fact that people would be willing to put their life on the line, but disgust that I would not. Thinking about this dilemma caused me to refer to the common quote, "If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything." Until recently this quote was just another clique that people often used in the moment, but for me, it was something that I had to revert back to myself. What am I willing to stand for? What is it that I have fallen for because I refused to stand up for something else? What are the things that others have stood up for in order to allow me the freedoms that I have now? These are just some of the many questions that I have revolving in my mind. I realize that to die for something worth dying for is to understand that present conditions aren't worth living in.
Although it may be easier to play things safe, sometimes playing safe doesn't change anything and actually perpetuates the thing that is actually being fought against. Playing safe is something that I have been battling with for most of my life. I play safe when I listen because I realize it is a useful tool, but don't speak when it is necessary. I "play it safe" when people ask and I don't answer. I play it safe when I nod, even though I may totally disagree with the idea. I play it safe when I allow others to speak for me even when their words may lack any bearing in my life. Until recently I realized that playing it safe may not be safe at all. Playing it safe is something that I have forced myself to do. It allows me to satisfy everyone except myself. However, in the past few years, I have begun to take steps toward fighting for injustices in our society. I believe that every time that I speak up a little louder, follow behind even further, stomp a little louder and allow my actions to speak for my thoughts, I am one step closer to evoking much needed change in this society. After reading the stories of women who consistently placed their jobs, families, and even their lives on the line, I realized that playing it "safe" would have probably killed most of them without ever getting anything accomplished. The important thing that I took away from these stories of nonviolent organizing is that these women did not organize as mere acts of heroic performances, but rather as strategies which were imperative to their survival.
McAllister, Pam (1988) You Can't Kill the Spirit.
Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers
Fisher, Robert (1994) Let the People Decide
New York, Oxford: Twayne Publishers