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Diane Nash: Enact Change, Don't Just Express Discontent


Civil rights icon Diane Nash spoke to the Hamilton community about her experience as a civil rights leader in the South, the nature and strength of nonviolent protest, and the current political sphere in a lecture on Feb. 27. She broadly covered recollections of fear, violence, cooperation, and success during her early days of activism and leadership.

Nash moved to Nashville, Tenn., to attend Fisk University, and there became a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and acted as organizer for the 1961 Freedom Ride from Birmingham, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi.

When she first moved to Tennessee, in the fall of 1959, the civil rights movement had not fully taken off. In fact, it took four months of training before Nash and her peers staged their first demonstration. She explained that this rigorous training is, in part, what separates protests from organized nonviolent movements.

 Specifically, Nash detailed the six different phases of a demonstration: Investigation, education, negotiation, demonstration, resistance and recurrence prevention. Understanding and committing to each of theses phases ensures that social movements enact change rather than just express discontent with policy. Without understanding these distinctions, Nash said that the young people today demonstrate in ways that they’ve seen on TV, but that “demonstrating is maybe 20% of what we did.”

Of these phases, Nash emphasized that nonviolent “resistance” can make or break a movement. This is because, she said, “Oppression always requires the participation of the oppressed in the oppressive system.” Thus when the oppressed decide to quit the oppressive system, the system crumbles. In order to secure change, then, movements must strategize so that it becomes easier to accept the new state of affairs rather than to revert back to the way things were.

Nash’s lecture was sponsored by the Days-Massolo Center, the Levitt Center, Rainbow Alliance, and the Womxn’s Center.

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