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Editorial: Laying Foundations

PN co-editors Milan Rai and Emily Johns examine some of the precedents for the Campaign Nonviolence initiative

We remember the lunch counter sit-ins that electrified the civil rights movement in the US in 1960. We remember the dignity and persistence of the hundreds of young African-American who asserted their right to be served as equals, day after day, despite repeated beatings and arrests.

The direct action of these Black students achieved desegregation of many businesses within weeks, and dramatically escalated the confrontation with institutional white racism. Many of the students involved went on to form the student nonviolent co-ordinating committee (SNCC), a crucial agent of nonviolent militancy during the years that followed.

What is not so well-remembered is that the foundation stone for the lunch counter sit-ins in the epicentre of action, Nashville, was laid by weeks of study and training by local activist and academic James Lawson (who had experienced Gandhian methods first-hand in India).

Study war no more
The anti-nuclear weapons ‘Committee of 100’ of the 1960s, which pioneered the kind of mass nonviolent direct action that is now so commonplace, was the outgrowth of the Emergency Committee for Direct Action against Nuclear War, which developed from the Pacifist Youth Action Group, which came out of the tiny ‘Operation Gandhi’ group (which carried out the first actions outside the nuclear bomb factory in Aldermaston), which itself originated in the Peace Pledge Union’s Nonviolence Commission of 1949, set up to study nonviolence as a means of social change and resistance.

There has often been a close connection between studying nonviolence and militant action for change. This is a connection that Campaign Nonviolence, featured on our front page, seeks to strengthen. We believe that everyone working for social change in this country, and around the world, would benefit from taking the Campaign Nonviolence pledge.

This means studying nonviolence in a group with others, (further) developing nonviolence towards ourselves, and taking public action in our own communities.

Here in Britain, we have no need to tie ourselves to the US electoral cycle, but it is entirely sensible to be thinking in terms of studying and acting over a period of a year or 18 months.

Who knows what extraordinary projects and affinity groups and campaigns will grow out of the Campaign Nonviolence study groups that may now be forming? This is an opportunity for jaded activists and newcomers to learn together and help to create more powerful movements to push for the radical social changes we need.

(Incidentally, Peace News, which has been promoting nonviolence and social justice for 76 years, grew out of a pacifist study group set up by journalist Humphrey Moore in 1936. On such foundations....)