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Posts Tagged ‘ Peter Davis ’

Day 6: It’s Harder to Protest for Laws that Aren’t There Yet

Friday, May 13th, 2011

By Peter Davis

We have been asked many times throughout this trip about what the Freedom Riders can teach us about how to increase civic engagement among young people today.  The simple answer one could give is that we can appropriate the methods of civic action that the Freedom Riders had utilized.  One thinks: “they partook in non-violent direct action through dramatic confrontations with unjust systems…thus we should look for unjust systems and dramatically and directly confront them.”

It’s not that simple though.  The Freedom Riders were facing a problem that was perfectly susceptible to direct action and protest— it was a mostly binary policy choice (stay segregated or integrate; don’t allow someone to be served at a lunch counter or do, have “whites only” signs or not), and it was in need of drama and ‘urgency’ behind it to get the Federal Government to act.  Today, many of our great problems are not binary policy choices— we do not have a defined, clear system to overthrow, we cannot easily envision a world where the problem is solved.

Rather, we have a set of problems that need solving.  A majority of Americans think we need to roll back global warming, but the question is how— cap and trade or carbon tax?  A majority of Americans think we need to fix our schools, but the question is how— charter schools, more funding, more testing or more teacher training?  A majority of Americans think we need a better health care system, but the question is how— single payer, co-ops, public option, or individual mandates?  It’s hard to have non-violent, direct action to demand “a way to develop a green energy system,” because we do not know yet what to demand— should it be more wind power, more nuclear, or more ethanol?  Indeed, as my fellow rider, Francisco Diaz put it, “It’s harder to protest for laws that aren’t there yet.”

Thus, if one comes out of this experience thinking that if I could only get more people protesting like the Freedom Riders against the problems of our time, I think he or she would be misguided.  There are many strings on the harp of democratic expression: voting, running for office, writing letters to the editor, brainstorming ideas, forming publicly-interested businesses, watch-dogging, social entrepreneurship, deliberating, institution building, educating, rallying and much more.  If we only play the string of protest, we will not be able to solve the great problems of our times— problems that might just need less non-violent direct action and more civic creativity and entrepreneurialism, more institution building, and more non-violent direct legislative lobbying.

What is to be learned from the Freedom Riders, then, if not their methods? As I have said throughout this trip— we need to draw from their civic spirit, their relentless tenacity, and their understanding of what progressive struggle truly means. Indeed, the Freedom Riders understood that groups of unelected citizens committed to public action were the real movers of American government and society.  With that understanding, they organized and took action— meticulously, courageously and without violence.  I want our generation to have the same progressive, energetic civic spirit that the Freedom Riders embodied.  We may have different injustices to fight now than we did in 1961 – and we may use different tools to fight them – but the spirit of movement solidarity, of organizational creativity and of civic courage that the Freedom Rides captured is no doubt the same spirit needed by civic fighters today.  

Day 4: Peter Davis

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Day 1: Words, Storycraft and Civic Revival

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

By Peter Davis

On the first official day of our Student Freedom Ride, my fellow 39 riders and I heard three talks at the Newseum.  In the morning, it was an honor to hear Diane Nash — the legendary leader of the second wave of Freedom Riders — discuss why she participated in the Civil Rights Movement and challenge us to participate in non-violent direct action of our own.  In the afternoon, we listened to Stanley Nelson — award-winning director of the Freedom Riders documentary that inspired our trip — describe how to bring history to life through engaging filmmaking.  To end the day, we heard Jalaya Liles Dunn challenge us to find the stories that will be the ingredients of our generation’s movement: our story of self, our story of us, and our story of now.

What struck me about the three talks is that all touched on the poetic side of movements: the importance of words, of narratives, of stories in building energy to sustain a collective effort.  Nash started her talk with an insightful analogy. “When scientific inventions arise, we need new words to describe them,” she explained, citing how electricity made the words ‘volts’ and ‘charge’ arise.  “Likewise,” she continued, “when social inventions take pace, we need words to express them.”  She then went on to describe how the Civil Rights Movement needed a new word to describe the power that the movement’s fighters used to wage war on segregation.  They chose “Agapic Energy”— a phrase deriving from the agape, the Greek word for ‘brotherly love.’  Indeed, Civil Rights movers and shakers did not only use sit-ins, Freedom Rides, and marches as tools of change— they used language, too!

Later in the day, Stanley Nelson discussed how a good narrative makes a good documentary film, reminding us that you need to make viewers latch on to the stories, characters, and emotions of a piece of media if you want them to care about it.  Appropriately, Jalaya Liles Dunn echoed this emphasis on narrative in her talk about how organizing begins with engaging stories— the stories of why the individuals involved in a cause became involved, the stories of the group’s shared values, and the stories of why their cause is urgent.  As I reflected on these calls to new words, to engaging narratives, and to unifying stories with my fellow Student Riders late into the evening, it hit me: the movements of the future cannot survive solely on organizers…they might just need poets as well!

Meet Peter Davis

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The Callie Crossley Show

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Rip Patton at the WGBH studio of the Calley Crossley Show

Rip Patton on the Calley Crossley Show

Student Rider Peter Davis joined original riders Rip Patton (pictured), Bernard Lafayette and Genevieve Houghton at WGBH on April 20 for a Freedom Riders event.

After a preview screening and Q&A, the four were featured in an episode of the Calley Crossley Show.

Student Rider: Peter Davis

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Harvard College
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Hometown: Falls Church, VA

Watch the full episode. See more Freedom Riders.