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Nonviolence comes from within

Participants consider how to apply Martin Luther Kings principles to their lives

BRATTLEBORO—Local AmeriCorps Volunteers hosted the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a community event to commemorate the slain civil rights leader, at the River Garden Monday.

Volunteers from Brattleboro Community Justice Center, In-Sight Photography Project, UVM Extension’s 4-H Youth Agricultural Project, Youth Services, and about 20 members of the public watched and discussed the 2007 documentary, Greensboro: Closer to the Truth.

Organizers hoped the film would help illustrate King’s principles of nonviolence, which were behind civil rights actions such as the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Greensboro, by Adam Zucker, follows the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission ever convened in the United States. The commission focused on the Nov. 3, 1979 “Greensboro Massacre,” where Ku Klux Klan members in the North Carolina city shot and killed five nonviolent protestors — including four members of the Communist Workers’ Party — and wounded 11 others at an anti-Klan protest.

Most of the confrontation was captured on video by TV news crews, yet 25 years after the incident, no one had ever been convicted for the murders.

The Greensboro commission, modeled on the South African panel that was formed after the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, met from 2004 until 2006 and represented the first real attempt to examine the causes and consequences of what happened that day.

On Monday, “We had good discussion and insight of what it means to live nonviolently,” said Julie Etter, Americorps VISTA volunteer with the Brattleboro Community Justice Center.

Participants discussed if nonviolence is practical today, concluding that change through nonviolence takes time and commitment and today’s immediate-gratification society often perceives nonviolent as ineffective.

In his 1957 essay, The Power of Nonviolence, King wrote, “There was always the problem of getting this method over because it didn’t make sense to most of the people in the beginning. We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.”

Joshua Cunningham, AmeriCorps volunteer with Youth Services, brought some of the young people he works with. He said the event pulled in a good mix of young and older and that the film made the youth think.

With nonviolent resistance, he said, the process brings change.

At Youth Services’ Tuesday Drop-In night this week, Cunningham said he planned show the recent film V for Vendetta, in which the main character uses violent resistance. He wants to contrast the approach to social change with the Greensboro Massacre.

Drop-In night is held every Tuesday, from 6 to 9 p.m., for 15- to 21-year-olds at the Boys & Girls Club on Flat Street.

The group also discussed how nonviolence has a spiritual aspect and comes from within a person.

One participant said that she felt disgust toward the Klansmen in the film and realized she wasn’t living nonviolently in her daily life.

King’s six principles of nonviolence — which, in turn, was inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience movement to achieve independence for India in the first half of the 20th century — “are one of the greatest gifts this country has from civil rights,” said Etter.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #84 (Wednesday, January 19, 2011).

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