A Study of Nonviolent Resistance: First Steps by Taylor Lewis (A’21)

by tuftsigl
Jul 07

While it is one thing to study resistance movements in a class or through one’s own personal interest, working with an organization that’s teachings have influenced nonviolent protests around the world is another experience all together. Selected as an Oslo Scholar through the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), I have an amazing opportunity to work in Boston this summer for Jamila Raqib, the Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI). As an International Relations and Economics major at Tufts with a strong interest in democracy and political trends, I count myself lucky beyond belief to even be a small part of this organization.

Three weeks ago, I arrived at the MIT Media Lab, where AEI is temporarily based. Having only known the colder extreme of Boston’s weather, I significantly underestimated the heavy blanket of humidity that coated me as I biked to my first meeting with Ms. Raqib. While of course I had researched AEI before applying and after I was selected, I was not completely sure what to expect in the coming weeks. The organization had been founded by the late Gene Sharp, the foremost expert on nonviolent resistance strategy and author of several books, including From Dictatorship to Democracy which has influenced numerous resistance movements since its publication in 1994. The aim of AEI is to support the strategic application and study of nonviolent methods of resistance in the face of oppression, dictatorship, and genocide. As I pedaled hard, I was curious how I would fit into this objective.

Since that first meeting, it quickly became apparent to me that working for AEI would not be like other internships. I would have much greater control over my experience and what I get out of it — a favorable situation for someone who enjoys setting their own pace and pursuing projects that interest them the most. There seems to be no shortage of work, all of which has fascinated me in its varied ways. One of my first projects was to familiarize myself with Gene Sharp’s writing, and I soon set off to read From Dictatorships to Democracy, a text on the strategy of nonviolent movements. I look forward to exploring more research on resistance theory later this summer, however, in the meantime, I have researched more contemporary case studies.

Working with this subject while the Hong Kong protests intensified and the Sudan crisis escalated was very eye opening for me. Though I would have certainly paid attention to both movements regardless of my work, I feel that my position prompted me to pay more attention to the intricacies of the movements — the details that sometimes get lost in common news coverage. I have also been more aware of recent protest movements that, while less addressed on social media or American news outlets, are equally critical for an understanding of the field. These range from the protests against Kazakhstan’s recent election to the current anti-corruption resistance movement in Haiti.

So far, I am beyond impressed with the work that AEI is doing, which I am able to witness first-hand. Both Ms. Raqib and Hilal, another Oslo scholar form Wellesley, have been kind and an absolute pleasure to work with. In the coming months, I am excited to learn more about the organization and help support its objective of spreading knowledge about nonviolent resistance. Here is a to a great summer ahead, one as intellectually stimulating as my first few weeks!

See his other two blogs here: blog2/blog3