By Tania Smith
Yesterday, Freedom Rider Diane Nash gave a lecture about the basics of non-violent resistance. Nash brought up an interesting point. She said that in order to for a non-violent movement to be effective it is important to determine how the oppressed are actually contributing to their own oppression. Nash noted that every time she entered a segregated room with the sign “colored only” she felt as if she were validating the fact that she was inferior. As I listened to her words, this is what I learned. Oppressed people cannot be oppressed without their own consent.
Today as we celebrated the legacy of the Freedom Riders at Mary Washington University in Virginia and the accomplishments of James Farmer, the leader of C.O.R.E, I realized the magnitude of what the Freedom Riders had done. Fifty years ago, young college students decided to get on the bus and put an end to their oppression. They confronted the institutional injustices of the Jim Crow South and declared that they would no longer be treated as less than human. The Freedom Riders decided that they would no longer accept or validate unjust laws.
Later today when we visited Farmville, the theme was the same. In 1959, a group of brave high school students residing there protested against their poor school conditions and demanded an educational standard equal to their white counterparts. In response, Farmville decided to shut down its public schools for five years rather than desegregate. It was amazing to see that young activists took a stand and refused to contribute to the injustice that oppressed them.
These lessons can be applied today. As Americans we must ask ourselves, “How are we contributing to our own oppression?” We are by no means facing the same issues that the Freedom Riders faced 50 years ago, but this country still has much progress to make. Public education reform, healthcare reform, and immigration reform are among the plethora of other issues that need to be worked on in this nation. Instead of contributing to our own discontent, we need to be become actively engaged and informed citizens. Voting is effective but not enough, we cannot be afraid to take the “role of change” into our own hands and make a difference.