Nonviolent Protests from MLK, Jr., to the Middle East

What constitutes nonviolent protest? On May 22, the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East explored the question in the Borg Warner Room at Tompkins County Public Library.

The evening began with a talk by Riché Richardson, Cornell associate professor of Africana studies, in which she shared the human side of Martin Luther King, Jr., offering reminisces of growing up in the town where he lived. An academic scholar as well as a renowned visual artist, Richardson also discussed how she has repurposed one of her mixed-media appliqué art quilts depicting Rosa Parks, which hangs in the Rosa Parks Museum, to honor the memory of those killed by police violence.

Richardson then discussed the principles of nonviolence described in Dr. King’s first book, Stride Toward Freedom:

  1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
  2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
  3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
  4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
  5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Following Richardson’s talk, a discussion began around how to understand the recent events in Gaza. The discussion was contentious: some attendees completely rejected reports in the New York Times that protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails and rocks, set fields on fire and used guns, insisting that the protesters have been entirely nonviolent. Others noted that the events in Gaza included a mixture of violent and non-violent participants, and raised the question whether Dr. King would have said the violence is justified. One person stated his belief that Israel has no recognized borders, which meant that Israel had no right to defend its border wall against protesters. Others offered historical context for the suffering in Gaza that had sparked the protest, noting that Hamas has drained the Gazan economy dry to fund terror tunnels and rockets, rather than using the money to help the Palestinian people.

The evening ended with Richardson urging participants to listen to one another and to take to heart Dr. King’s principles.

Moderator Linda Glaser in front of an image of an art quilt by Professor Richardson.

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