A Dive into Resistance Theory by Taylor Lewis (A’21)

by tuftsigl
Jul 30

It is strange to think that the summer is already halfway over, and my time at the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) with it. Since my first meeting in early June with Jamila Raqib, the organization’s executive director, I have done more thinking about nonviolent resistance and its intricacies than I have since coming to Tufts. The strategies behind a protest movement are, unsurprisingly, as complex as they are varied. This makes sense given the power differential between government forces and citizens, often forcing protesters to get creative.

One of my assignments this month has been to track the tactics that protestors in Hong Kong have used to bypass government surveillance and to gain more support for their movement. Delving into the movement like this has been fascinating. I am struck by the resistance groups’ high level of coordination despite a lack of centralization and efficient means of communication given the government’s monitoring of social media. Protestors have taken to leaving written messages in key locations and developing hand signals to spread information across huge crowds. While I am unsure what the movement’s future holds, I am in awe of the power that peaceful assembly can have.

Not long ago, I might have told you that nothing good can come out of breaking the law. The social contract protects us, I thought, and therefore it must be upheld at all costs. But what if laws are not applied equally? What if the system itself is flawed, favoring some and disadvantaging others. What then? Changing corrupt policies is hard when you are not afforded the privilege to work within the system — near impossible even. Your only other option is to work outside the system. This is why the MIT Media Lab founded the Disobedience Award — a cash prize to someone who has exhibited courage while executing ethical and peaceful disobedience. With my boss serving on the award’s selection committee, this week I had the opportunity to research the theory and motivations behind it.

While I have learned plenty already in my time at AEI, I am even more excited about the month that lies ahead. It seems there is no shortage of research to dive into, briefs to write, and presentations to draft. Meanwhile, my curiosity for the field of political and social resistance through disobedience only grows. From Hong Kong to Puerto Rico and from Sudan to our own backyards, ordinary (or perhaps not so ordinary) people resisting injustice is everywhere if you just look.