Nonviolent Activism: Background information when reading Watch Us Rise

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Watch Us Rise

by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen X
Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson, Ellen Hagen
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 368 pages

    Feb 2020, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Nonviolent Activism

This article relates to Watch Us Rise

Print Review

Martin Luther King Jr. giving the I Have a Dream speech at the 1963 March on WashingtonIn Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan, high school juniors Chelsea and Jasmine learn that "art is never just art," so they decide to "use art to make a statement, to create change." The girls experiment with multiple forms of activism, sometimes with guidance, and even misguidance, from teachers, mentors, community leaders, family and friends. When they connect with Leidy—a guardian of the anarchist, volunteer-run book store Word Up—they engage more deeply with nonviolent activism to enact thoughtful, targeted progress.

Nonviolent activism, also known as nonviolent resistance and nonviolent action, has many definitions and interpretations. Broadly, it is a commitment to using nonviolent and inventive means to resist oppression and bring about social change. In Martin Luther King Jr.'s book Stride Toward Freedom, he defines it in abstract moral terms: "a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love."

So, what does nonviolent activism look like? There are many misconceptions about this. It is not synonymous with passivity. It is not necessarily—or often—spontaneous. It is not fruitless. It is not divisive. According to the Albert Einstein Institution for Advancing Freedom with Nonviolent Action, this type of activism falls into a few broad categories: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention. There is overlap between the three categories of action, and some instances of real-life nonviolent action do not fall cleanly into any of the categories.

The first strategy cluster of nonviolent protest and persuasion includes formal statements, communications with a wider audience (including public assemblies, symbolic public acts and drama or musical performances), group representations and applying pressure to individuals. More specifically, this includes things like walk-outs, newspaper editorials and other types of public protest or dissent. This category of nonviolent action is the kind most often portrayed in Watch Us Rise, as it is the most easily accessible, particularly for young people.

Next, strategies of social noncooperation include boycotts, strikes, embargoes and other types of protest involving a refusal to comply with or take part in something.

Finally, there are strategies of nonviolent intervention, which may be psychological, physical, social, economic and/or political. More specifically, this category would include fasts or hunger strikes, sit-ins/stand-ins/pray-ins, nonviolent obstructions or occupations and civil disobedience.

Research about activism suggests that it is most effective when it occurs in a coordinated way, within an adopted, methodological plan. With orchestration, nonviolent actions can have a staggering impact. Watch Us Rise echoes this message, both in the narrative, and in the back of the book where several pages of resources for young activists are compiled, including empowering blogs like Feminist Frequency, organizations like Spark Movement, the works of inspirational poets such as Audre Lorde, and books like Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Jamie Chornoby

This "beyond the book article" relates to Watch Us Rise. It originally ran in February 2019 and has been updated for the February 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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