Inch by Inch, Film by Film: Engaging Nonviolence
by LR Berger, Pace e Bene Northeast
In New Hampshire a dedicated group of cosponsors have been supporting my facilitating a monthly film and conversation series for almost two years. Being a believer in the arts as a powerful tool for building a culture of nonviolence, I first envisioned the series as a community building opportunity. The questions I was carrying that erupted into this devotion were, “How might we use the power of film to educate ourselves about the history and need for nonviolence practices?” And, “What kind of experience would offer hospitality to those who are not already active in social justice circles and movements.”
Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service New England now cospoonsors the series with the Concord Unitarian Universalists (they faithfully offer their parlor and film equipment), the NH UCC Conference Peace with Justice Advocates, NH Peace Action, NH American Friends Service Committee, and Temple Beth Jacob. We started with nine participants for the first film and have grown now into an often all-chairs-full gathering of 40-60 participants. Of these, there are a good number of middle and high school students who, when invited to launch our conversation after the films, take breathtaking risks voicing their authentic, deeply moving questions, challenges and concerns.
One of their recurring, outraged questions is, “How come I never learned about this in any of my history classes!” Our films have featured the history of the civil rights movement, campaigns against bullying and homophobia in schools, the power of poetry and song in social justice movements, the history of racism and religious discrimination in America, nonviolent struggles for immigration justice and reform, peacebuilding movements between Israelis and Palestinians, practices of forgiveness, interviews with conscientious objectors, and more.
This last month we crossed the envisioned threshold. One of the youth, after watching, “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” shared how Bayard’s letting himself get beaten by police “seemed weak.” (Bayard had refused to move to the back of the bus long before Rosa Parks’ more famous act of resistance.) Several other young voices piped up about how this not-fighting-back might be the mark not of weakness but of moral strength. A girl across the circle said she wanted to grow up to become like Bayard: a person with indomitable dignity and courage to stand tall. A young man confessed that he didn’t feel he had the “discipline” that Bayard and other nonviolence heroes had to “not fight back,” When I asked him if he would like to learn to develop the inner discipline and practices of nonviolence, he said that one inspired word: “Yes.” Others concurred. And so here in New Hampshire, a free film and conversation series is giving birth to a nonviolence training for young people in response to their inspired yearnings for “another way.”
L.R. Berger is the New England Associate with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, a member of the NH UCC Peace with Justice Advocates, and serves on the AFSC NH Support Committee.
For more information contact LR Berger: email@example.com
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