A Summer in Belgrade Well Spent by Noah Zussman (A’20)

by tuftsigl
Aug 19

Though I am writing this blog post on American soil, I already wish I was back in Belgrade, eating cevapi while overlooking the Sava river. It is hard to believe that my time in Belgrade has come to an end, yet I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and experience I had.

My summer interning at CANVAS has been full of meaningful work and both personal and professional growth. I knew going in to the summer that I would be learning a lot about nonviolent social movements and the intricacies of activism and organizing, but I did not realize the extent to which working at CANVAS would impact how I view the concept of “people-power” and nonviolence. I came into the summer a believer in those principles, and I leave an advocate; CANVAS has truly shown me the power of these concepts, and how it takes just one person to ignite a revolution.

During my last week in Belgrade, CANVAS held a week-long training session for activists from all over the world. Ten activists came to Belgrade to gain CANVAS’ expertise in how to jumpstart their social movements and take them to the next level. The week was a great culmination of my experiences in Belgrade, because I was able to apply the skills in nonviolence that I learned in helping the activists organize their campaigns. It was also an incredible feeling to meet these activists in person, as I had previously been corresponding with and researching them all summer.

Though I cannot name the activists due to the sensitive nature of their work, these are activists who are fighting extremely hard for change in their countries. For example, we worked with an activist from Hong Kong who is organizing to protect the civil rights and liberties the people in Hong Kong have, an activist from Nicaragua who is trying to overcome factualism to put pressure on the Ortega regime, an activist from Venezuela who is fighting for the very survival of their country, and an activist from Eritrea who is looking to mobilize the Eritrean diaspora in order to put pressure on the Eritrean dictatorship. Each of these activists has an amazing story to tell and they are extremely passionate in their work. They were all incredibly inspiring and made me realize how much of a difference just one person can make. With the right tools and resources, they will be able to transform their already existing social movements into powerful forces of change. Their ambition and expertise rubbed off on me just by being in their presence for a week, and I am incredibly fortunate to have connected with them.

The organization of the conference itself was also eye-opening and taught me how nonviolent social movements are built and sustained. The first day focused on mapping the battlefield, which included an introduction to nonviolent movements, identifying your spectrum of allies and building unity, as well as the importance of human resources and building numbers. The second day focused on strategy, and the third day on tactics. The fourth day focused on digital activism and security, while the last day was dedicated to victory and the transition period that comes after it. While all of the activists were in various stages in their movements, each left Belgrade with an action plan on next steps and how they will tangibly and realistically achieve their goals.

My week with the activists was perhaps the most interesting experience I have had while at Tufts, and I am looking forward to continuing to support these activists even though my time at CANVAS has ended.

I am very thankful to the Institute for Global Leadership for supporting my experience this summer and would also like to thank my friends at CANVAS for giving me such a meaningful and dynamic summer. My time in Belgrade was more than well spent, and I look forward to taking all that I learned from this experience and applying it to Tufts and my future. Nonviolence is the answer and will certainly change the world.

This internship was supported through the generosity of the Cummings Foundation.