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.
On February 10, activist Matt Meyer gave a talk in conjunction with Black History Month title “Redefining Revolution and Nonviolence, Re-Imagining Solidarity Across Race.”
Meyer began by identifying our problem with words and naming our world. Words have power and strength, but we don’t seem to use them in a way to cause change, he said. Meyer outlined three solutions to the problem with words: 1) we need to be literal, 2) we need to be playful, and 3) we need to be intentional to name our world the way we wish to see it. In other words, if we would like to see change then we must use effective communications to project our goals.
Some examples of strides we have made include the word “discovered.” Many people used to say that Columbus “discovered” America during his expedition. However, many of us are realizing how incorrect our use of “discovered” is. The word “discover” is defined in the dictionary as revealing something that was otherwise unknown. Therefore, saying Columbus “discovered” America privileges the European point of view, said Meyer, as there were already native people living on the land.
Two important words that are closely associated with the fight for racial equality are revolution and nonviolence. Meyer pointed out that these two words have negative connotations attached to them. When people think of revolution they think of “fighting, violence, guns, and death.” When people think of nonviolence, they think of “passivity, absolutism, non-confrontational, and sitting down and not standing up.” Meyer attempted to destroy these notions associated with revolution and non-violence. Rather than think of them negatively, we must see that revolutions bring shifts in power from the few to the many and non-violence brings justice without death.
Meyer brought up an unorthodox idea when he married revolution and non-violence to form revolutionary non-violence. He compared that to a marriage of Mahatma Gandhi (an advocate for non-violence) and Che Guevara (a revolutionary). People cannot remain pure if they are to achieve revolutionary nonviolence. Meyer believes that non-violence is not aggressive enough. There is no dichotomy between revolution and non-violence. There is no fighting vs. not fighting. We must redefine our perceptions of the words revolution and non-violence to see that they actually work together to achieve a common goal: justice for the greater good.
Meyer called for organization in order to initial social change. “We must understand solidarity to be survivor-led and centered but for the benefit of all,” said Meyer. He was saying that we must not see solidarity movements as disruptions in society as they usually portrayed on the media, but a catalyst for change for the general public.
A radical change does not happen in a day, according to Meyer. To achieve the broader goal, groups must focus on small winnable victories. These victories are something that can be achieved soon, without forgetting the broader picture, the revolution.
In Meyer’s point of view, to join different groups together, we must focus on intersectionality. There are commonalities among oppressed groups, but we must be able to identify them so more people can join the cause.
Featured image courtesy of www.swarthmore.edu.