Campaign Nonviolence National Conference - Closing Panel Going Forward to Build a New Movement of Nonviolence
In the final closing panel of the Campaign Nonviolence National Conference, Father John Dear began the discussion by explaining the three ways to practice nonviolence and how the imagination is pivotal in creating a nonviolent world. Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence shared her personal reflections and some challenging questions on what the practice of nonviolence looks like in our lives. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink spoke powerfully on how the United States could use the practice of peace and nonviolence to repair our relationships around the world, and also the importance of the Iran Deal. Roshi Joan Halifax of Upaya Zen Center described the strengths and challenges of moral outrage in our practice of making change. Pace e Bene Director Ken Butigan introduced the concept of the pilgrimage to describe the journey of Campaign Nonviolence for both the movement and the participants. Rev. James Lawson finished the evening with comments on his labor organizing experiences, the importance of face-to-face, one-on-one strategies of working with one’s local community, and his personal recommendations for Campaign Nonviolence as it moves forward.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once called his friend and colleague Rev. James Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”
Civil Rights leader James Lawson was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania in 1928. His father and grandfather were Methodist ministers, and Lawson received his local preacher’s license in 1947, the year he graduated from high school. While in college, he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which first exposed him to the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi and Howard Thurman.
In 1950, Lawson became a draft resister and was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison for refusing the Korean War draft. He spent fourteen months in federal prison (1951-1952). In 1953, he sailed for India where he taught at Hislop College in Nagpur, India. There he met with many of Gandhi’s colleagues, including Prime Minister Nehru. While in India, Lawson eagerly read of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the emerging nonviolent resistance movement back in the United States.
When he returned to the United States in 1956, he enrolled in Oberlin School of Theology in Ohio. He met Dr. King in 1957, and decided to move to Nashville where he served as Southern secretary of the FOR. He enrolled at Vanderbilt Divinity School and began holding seminars to train volunteers in Gandhian tactics of nonviolent direct action. Drawing on the example of Jesus’ suffering and nonviolent resistance, he taught growing numbers of black and white students how to organize sit-ins and other forms of nonviolent action to confront the immorality of segregation. His workshops led to the Nashville sit-in movement and desegregation campaign.
Initially, Lawson had to convince other African Americans that nonviolence was “deeply rooted in the spirituality of Jesus [and] the prophetic stories of the Hebrew Bible.” For Lawson, the civil rights protests were not just a political movement. “It was a moment in history when God saw fit to call America back from the depths of moral depravity and onto his path of righteousness.” John Lewis calls him “the architect of the nonviolent movement in America.”
James Lawson helped coordinate the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Meredith March in 1966, found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and served as director of nonviolent education for SCLC. While working as a pastor at the Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, he played a major role in the sanitation workers strike of 1968.
In 1974, Lawson moved to Los Angles to serve as pastor of Holman Methodist Church, his base for the next thirty years. He hosted a weekly call-in show, “Lawson Live,” where he discussed social and human rights issues affecting minority communities. For many decades, he has spoken out against racism, and challenged U.S. military involvement throughout the world. He has worked extensively with Janitors for Justice and other unions in Los Angeles, and continues to teach and offer workshops in active nonviolence to this day. He has taught at Harvard, USC, UCLA, Claremont and Vanderbilt. He is featured in the film, “A Force More Powerful.” He and his wife Dorothy live in Los Angeles, CA.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., is a minister, community activist and organizer, and one of the most influential people in Hip Hop political life. Rev. Yearwood works tirelessly to encourage the Hip Hop generation to utilize its political and social voice. He currently serves as President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national, award-winning organization that engages young people in elections, policymaking, and service. He is also a current board member of Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service.
Rev. Yearwood works with celebrities and athletes to engage them in projects that transform communities. He was a co-creator of the 2004 campaign “Vote or Die” with Sean “Diddy” Combs. He was also the Political and Grassroots Director for Russell Simmons in 2003 and 2004, and a Senior Consultant to Jay Z’s “Voice Your Choice” campaign. In 2008 he created the “Respect My Vote” voter mobilization campaign with Platinum Grammy winning recording artists T.I. and Keyshia Cole.
Rev. Yearwood is known for his activist work as the National Director of the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign, in which he organized a coalition of national and grassroots organizations to advocate for the rights of Hurricane Katrina survivors. He led the first march in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in November 2005, to protest the racial profiling of survivors in the days after the storm. The march led to convictions of officers who denied basic human rights to African-American families. The following year the Gulf Coast Renewal Campaign successfully pushed back FEMA’s preemptive temporary housing evictions of Katrina Survivors, through public mobilization, two marches in Washington, DC, testimony to Congress, and a public relations campaign. This work earned the Hip Hop Caucus the prestigious 30th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.
Rev. Yearwood is also an important leader in the peace movement as an outspoken critic of America’s wars abroad. He was an Officer and Chaplain in the U.S. Air Force Reserve when he first spoke out against the invasion of Iraq in early 2003. In 2007 he led a national “Make Hip Hop Not War” Tour, linking the issues of the wars abroad with the violence in urban communities at home.
Rev. Yearwood has taken the environmental movement by storm. Van Jones, author of the Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, has called Rev. Yearwood the Hip Hop Generation’s version of Dr. King. In 2009, the Hip Hop Caucus launched the “Green the Block” campaign from the West Wing of the White House, with partner organization Green For All. Rev. Yearwood helped climate activist and author, Bill McKibben, organize an international day of Climate Action called 350.org. They co-authored the article “People, Let’s Get Our Carbon Down”.
Rev. Yearwood, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of the District of Columbia in 1998 and was awarded a Master of Divinity from Howard University in 2002. He was elected to student government president at both schools.
Rev. Yearwood has been seen on CNN, BET, MTV, BBC, C-Span, Fox Business,PBS, Hardball with Chris Mathews, and featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Politico, VIBE, the Source, the Nation Magazine, and many other mainstream, progressive, and Hip Hop publications. He is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and can be heard often on NPR. He was named one of Utne Magazine’s “50 Visionaries”, The Source Magazine’s “Power 30”, and a top ten contemporary African-American thinker by the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine.
Medea Benjamin is a cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange. Described as "one of America’s most committed -- and most effective -- fighters for human rights" by New York Newsday, and called "one of the high profile leaders of the peace movement" by the Los Angeles Times, Medea was one of 1,000 exemplary women from 140 countries nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the millions of women who do the essential work of peace worldwide. In 2010 she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Since the September 11, 2001 tragedy, Medea has been working to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promote a U.S. foreign policy that would respect human rights and gain us allies instead of contributing to violence and undermining our international reputation. Her work for justice in Israel/Palestine includes taking numerous delegations to Gaza after the 2008 Israeli invasion and organizing the Gaza Freedom March in 2010. In 2011 she was in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising and in 2012 she was part of a human rights delegation to Bahrain in support of democracy activists when she was tear-gassed, arrested and deported by the Bahraini government.
A former economist and nutritionist with the United Nations, Benjamin is the author/editor of eight books. Her latest book is Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, and she has been campaigning to get lethal drones out of the hands of the CIA. Her articles appear in outlets such as The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, CommonDreams, Alternet and OpEd News.
Ken Butigan is Pace e Bene’s Executive Director. A peace and justice worker, workshop facilitator, and writer for two decades, Ken also teaches at DePaul University in Chicago.
Since the early 1980s, Ken has worked with numerous social movements, including movements for a nuclear-free future, an end to homelessness, and freedom for East Timor. He was the national coordinator of the Pledge of Resistance and a national organizer for the Declaration of Peace. Ken joined the Pace e Bene staff in 1990. He developed and for several years directed Pace e Bene’s From Violence To Wholeness program, and was actively involved in creating Pace e Bene’s Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living program.
Ken earned his Ph.D. in the Historical and Cultural Studies of Religions at the Graduate Theological Union in 2000. He has been a lecturer in the spirituality and practice of nonviolence at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, and directed the Spiritual Life Institute at Saint Martin’s College in Washington State for three years.
Ken has published five books, including Pilgrimage through a Burning World: Spiritual Practice and Nonviolent Protest at the Nevada Test Site.
Ken lives in Chicago with his spouse Cynthia Okayama Dopke and their daughter.