Generating justice with nonviolent protests

Peaceful movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and THE General Body inspire conversation on how social movements gain momentum and whether they will actually lead to justice.

In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, one of the best-selling films of the year, heroine Katniss Everdeen and the people of her society declare the violence and injustice that the Capitol has subjected them to must end, and that the people will keeping fighting back until it does end.

"We are on the verge of a revolution and there's not much that is stopping us at this point besides our own fears and doubts.”
- Kim Powell

“If we burn, you burn with us,” she proclaims. 

The film was still enjoying much of its box office success when real-life news rang out that Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, would not be indicted. In the hours that followed, there was an eerie resemblance between the angry Ferguson citizens who set a police car ablaze and the Panem rebels who stormed the streets setting off bombs. Both cried out for a revolution fueled by injustice.

But as the Michael Brown decision turned into the Eric Garner decision, and the conversation about police brutality evolved into the conversation about whether U.S. society truly believes that black lives matter, protesters across the country got organized. The violent and much criticized unrest were replaced with nationwide, peaceful protesting with the slogan #BlackLivesMatter. Sit-ins and marches mirrored the Civil Rights Movement of the past, and the call for America to grant justice for all, despite skin color, became a call for a revolution.

As time goes on, however, the question becomes whether the movement will actually be effective and what plan of action will bring success.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, professors at the University of Denver and Georgetown University, respectively, present work that suggests the odds are in the protesters’ favor. In their 2012 book, Why Civil Resistance Works, they say that nonviolent campaigns are successful 53 percent of the time, according to their study of movements from 2000-2006.

The authors credit this to a movement’s commitment to nonviolent actions, which enhances domestic and international legitimacy. They also cite the fact many governments justify the use of violence against armed protesters, whereas violence against nonviolent movements is less likely.

Local movements like Syracuse University’s DAT Movement campaign, led by THE General Body, have adopted these ideas into their plans of action. The group hosted rallies and marches, most notably an 18-day sit-in in Crouse-Hinds Hall, demanding that the administration create a plan of action to address issues such as mental health resources and services, cuts to the Posse Program and the closing of the Advocacy Center.

Public policy and political science senior Ella Mendosa acknowledged that THE General Body doesn't face the same circumstances as the #BlackLivesMatter movement and is facing an administration as oppossed to a government. But Mendosa said that she can relate to those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement because she said that what she fights for is also a matter of life or death. Mendosa said that she spoke to students at the sit-in who had contemplated suicide who wanted better counseling services. 

She says that the movement’s members made a point of keeping their actions peaceful, as to not be characterized “irresponsible students” and detract from the issues at hand.

But with reports of tear gas and rubber bullets being used against even peaceful protesters in the past months across the country, nonviolence may not be a two-way street. Art video senior Kim Powell, another member of THE General Body, suggested that this may not be a bad thing.

“When police and law enforcers continue to [use violence] in the light of peaceful protesting, it is really just adding legitimacy to our causes,” Powell said. “We’ve got cameras documenting at all times, and we are out in numbers. We should not be afraid.

"We are on the verge of a revolution, and there's not much that is stopping us at this point besides our own fears and doubts.”

The nation’s growing support for the #BlackLivesMatter campaign suggests that this too has makings of a revolution.

But just as The Hunger Games ended leaving us wondering whether Panem citizens would ever prevail against the Capitol, only time will tell as to whether there will be any institutional change.

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