George Lakey: Post Election Reflection

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Monday night, Lang Center Visiting Professor George Lakey delivered a lecture telling the packed room of Swarthmore students, faculty, and visitors, that they too were responsible for the success of Barack Obama’s presidency. The lecture entitled Post Election Reflection, included the five steps to obtaining the “Change We Need” and how past presidents have dealt with the need to make change without the country calling for it. Lakey also discussed some options for those who want to see major change in national policy on the domestic and foreign levels in justice, the environment, and peace.

The first stage to obtaining the “Change We Need” is cultural preparation. He explained that citizens have to tell the government that we want and expect change. Many politicians and potential candidates look to their constituencies to tell them the issues that they should pay attention to and work on. If citizens want Obama to work for the things that they care about, they need a vision of what they want for the future.

He provided a very relevant example of this in referencing Norway, which had a banking crisis similar to that of the United States in 1990-1993. Banks were speculating, making bad decisions, and ultimately failing. Quickly following this failure, the government took over the two largest banks and fired the executives in an attempt to turn the institutions around. Norway has not been affected by the current crisis because they had already developed a vision that people should be in charge of the economy, representing a holistic and real democracy.

The second and third stages are organization-building and direct action campaigns. He used the movement against atmospheric nuclear bomb testing to highlight these steps. A Quaker group went to Washington and spoke to John F. Kennedy about their concerns with the nuclear testing and made their demands that it stop. Kennedy told them that they should make more of a commotion, and that he had no idea that people were angry about it until they made a commotion. Lakey himself got arrested for protesting against the testing and the danger it posed to human beings and animals. Organization and the use of nonviolent direct action are key to bringing the vision of change to fruition.

Stages four and five are mass noncooperation and a power shift. If organization and nonviolent direct action do not get your demands across then mass noncooperation is the next step to obtaining the vision of change. Lakey highlighted the Birmingham bus boycotts as forms of mass noncooperation without violence that were highly effective. If mass noncooperation does not work, Lakey argued, citizens should work on a power shift by building small forms of government that they are willing to work with until they grow. Just as violence in the situation of Birmingham was not an option, it isn’t one now.

Lakey closed by reminding the audience that we must be realistic when we think about change in the coming Obama administration. Lakey received a full round of applause before opening to questions, and at the end of this period there were still lines of people who wished to speak with him. Many members of the crowd talked with one anther about the lecture. Joshua Cockroft ’12, who is currently in Lee Smithey’s Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies course, said “I was amazed. I found his five steps very interesting, and that working towards Obama’s change is just as much our responsibility, if not more, than his.”

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