A recent issue of Ohio University’s fashion magazine Backdrop has had a whiplash of an angry effect on the Athens community, as students all over campus are in an uproar over what they feel was a racially and culturally discriminatory fashion spread that featured only blond, thin, white women. The spread, students throughout campus have been arguing, encourages eating disorders and does not fully or accurately represent that Athens or Ohio University community.

Kudos to Ohio University students, however, for the reactions, which include well-reasoned letters to local newspapers and some even more drastic reactions.

From The Athens News website on May 21, 2010. (click to enlarge)

The most action-oriented reaction on campus, however, is one being organized on Facebook, which includes a group of students who are aiming to react to Backdrop‘s spread through the release of their own psuedo-magazine, Backlash. In this “magazine” (which will likely be a blog that featured online), Backlash will mirror Backdrop‘s original spread with the inclusion of models from different cultural backgrounds and with different physical make-ups.

The Backlash community has done a great job leading their own type of “nonviolent” reactionary campaign. Let us examine their goals, and how they are approaching them in and effective Gandhi and MLK-esque manner.

Ultimate goals

  • To spread awareness to the community about the diversity relevant at Ohio University.
  • To promote self-love.
  • To create a tangible spread entitled Backlash which successfully exemplifies the different body times and diversity relevant on the Ohio University campus.

Achievement goals (and how they have been successfully implemented)

  • Spread awareness to the community about the general disappointment with Backdrop‘s original spread — this has been successfully completed through letters written to local media, as well as through a public Facebook page which expresses the concern of numerous students.
  • Express to Backdrop the same disappointment — this disappointment has been likewise expressed via the same outlets as states above.

Process goals (and how they have been successfully implemented)

  • Inform that community that the Backlash photo shoot and spread will be created and implemented — through Facebook event pages and Facebook groups, the creator and organizer of the Backlash concept has successfully generated interest with various participants on campus, including photographers, writers, public relations representatives and models.
  • Successfully plan and organize the photo shoot — via the same Facebook and e-mail communications, the group’s leaders have communicated with individuals in order to organize a photo shoot that is scheduled for Wednesday, June 2.

It is commendable to see a group of student carryout out their own (albeit small-scale) nonviolent campaign.

The only criticism I have for this group is an altogether lack of consistency in the main mission of this project. While many people are projecting the idea of self-love, on the event’s Facebook page, there seem to be some inconsistencies with whether or not to target disappointment and criticism towards Backdrop, or to simply promote the idea of self-love. In some of the comments on the Facebook page, hateful and violently-rooted language is surfacing between Backdrop staff who feel attacked and m, which shows that somewhere along the line there is a misunderstanding or lack of guidelines in reference to how critical situations should be handled.

As I discussed in previous entries, Gandhi saw these same inconsistencies during the Himalayan Miscalcuation; a lack of guidelines and congruency between participants eventually equally a chaotic and sporadically violent campaign.

Overall, however, it is interesting and refreshing to see a group of students handle their problems in a mature and nonviolent way, expressing to the community their concerns in an organized and well-thought-out manner.


While Gandhi’s main nonviolent resistance campaigns took place in the early 20th century and Martin Luther King Jr. was primarily relevant during the Civil Rights movement of the late 20th century, both heroic figures missed out on what is considered one of the most progressive movements in history: the digital age.

As things have moved to the Internet, campaigns for peace, justice and social consciousness have been more widespread, oftentimes turning what were once politically-focused agendas into worthy trends, as the technologically-savvy jump on the bandwagon of progression and try to make an impact for change.While both Gandhi and King were overall overwhelming successful in their quests for both African American and Indian independence and freedom, both men had substantial “failures” as well. For King, Albany and Chicago were both areas of contention who could have benefited from the congruency of the modern digital age. As for Gandhi, his infamous Himalayan Miscalculation could have been saved to some extent had he had the digital options available today. Let us explore these situations, and reckon how they could have been more successful had King or Gandhi had access to modern-day social media-oriented technologies.

  • Albany, Georgia: In Albany, the main problem that King faced was a disconnect between the people, as exemplified through the contentions that existed between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP). Because the SNCC was in favor of more progressive and active movements for change (such as more marches and protests) and the NAACP wanted a more patience-oriented movement that required more lawsuits, a social cleavage was created that forced many African American to appeal to the local white power leaders, which essentially only worsened the situation for blacks in Albany.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: one of the most compelling aspects of digital and social media is the ability to be inter-connective and responsive to your audience, something that both the SNCC and NAACP could have taken advantage of had they had the opportunity. I would have suggested both the SNCC and NAACP creating Twitter accounts, which would have allowed them to voice their own opinions and perspectives. How would this have eased the social rift? The SNCC and NAACP could have implemented Twitter chats, would which have allowed supporters of both groups to participate in themed chats that would have allowed people to peaceably debate in a confined area, while helping one another understand the other point of view.
  • In the above photo, Twitter users are using hashtags (or the “#” symbol) in order to create and discuss a common topic (in this instance, the Chicago Blackhawks). Had the SNCC and NAACP had these chatting and connective capabilities, many of their problems could have been solved by outsourcing to the community and peaceable discussions.
  • The Chicago Housing Project: While there is a pile of problems that accumulated during King’s Chicago Housing Project, some of the main issues included a lack of understanding of the goals of the various Civil Rights leaders in Chicago, a lack of enthusiasm for the cause from the African Americans who lived in Chicago and King’s obligation to return to Mississipi after the attempted assassination of Civil Rights leader James Meredith. This deepened an already existing disconnect between the leaders in Chicago, and also stinted the growth and progression of the campaign.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: A hugely beneficial aspect to social media is its ability to make one’s presence noticeable without one actually being present. Had King had the ability to create and maintain a Facebook group upon his leaving, he not only would have been able to communicate effectively with other leaders remotely, but he also would have been able to see through online interactivity when problems were beginning to arise, when tensions were starting to flare and when his absence was having a too-negative effect on the campaign. King would have been able to better understand the goals of the Civil Rights leaders who had previously been working in Chicago, and through the creation of meet-ups and Facebook events, he could have simultaneously created a sense of community for the African American Chicagoans online, that would have likely translated to real life. Creating hype online often translates to excitement and enthusiasm in real life, and had King had the tools to create any kind of hype, the support he could have received in Chicago would have been amplified, and his success would have likely been exponentially more significant.
  • The Himalayan Miscalculation: Gandhi knowingly admits that the violence that broke out in major Indian cities was his “Himalayan Miscalculation.” He concedes to the fact that many of his nonviolent activists that took part in this campaign were simply not well-educated enough in civil disobedience, noncooperation and nonviolent strategies/philosophies in general. From that point forward, Gandhi tried to ensure that activists in his campaigns were well trained and well-versed in nonviolence.
  • How this could have been solved through digital media: One of social media’s oldest and most cultivated outlets could have helped solve this miscalculation on Gandhi’s part: blogs. Had Gandhi had the ability to keep an easy-accessible blog, his supporters and followers would have had the ability to see what nonviolence truly is at its core. Gandhi could have not only written about what it means to be a part of a nonviolent campaign, but if he treated his blog as a semi-diary and also allowed other to peak into the spiritual and self-suffering aspects of his life, a greater understanding of how to approach Gandhian ideals would have existed. Furthermore, by allowing interactivity through comments, Gandhi could have easily responded to those who had questions about how to approach the campaign, no matter how far away the supporters may have been. The results would have likely been activists who had a deeper understanding of both the means and the ends rather than such a drastic “miscalculation”

Now, of course, many of this may have been impossible given the socioeconomic situations of the target audiences of these campaigns (in that I mean, most impoverished African Americans and Indians may  not have been able to afford access to computers, and thus could not have partaken in the inter-connectivity that is essential in improving these situations at all). However, given that digital media did not even exist during these time periods, this is of course a hypothetical examination into how these leaders could well translate into the 21st century.

Last month National Public Radio did an excellent piece on Hampton Sides’ new book Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, a book which discusses the intricacies behind the relationship between James Earl Ray and Martin Luther King Jr.

The story in its entirety can be found here.

In the NPR story, NPR’s Scott Smith’s first question is: how can a “dimwitted fiend” bring down a genuine hero? Such is a great question; both the physical and mental implications of plotting and executing the death of such a heroic figure is baffling, especially when compared to the (drastically different) methods for change implemented by both Gandhi and King.

And yet, the similarities between Gandhi and King’s nonviolent resistance campaigns and Ray’s ultra-violent campaign for murder do exist. While I am not implying that the three men shared ideologies or ultimate goals for humanity, they did share some methodologies. For example, let us examine some of the practices implemented by James Earl Ray prior to murder Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Research: Sides discusses how one during his time in prison and afterward — before Ray began “stalking” MLK — he exerted much of his time towards studying John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In doing this, Ray shows that he had serious intentions, in that he hoped to in some way emulate one of the most effective and notorious murders of all time. MLK and Gandhi, in preparing their own nonviolent resistance campaigns, also did thorough research not only of the history of the subject matter, but of all other outlets as well. After the Himalayan Miscalculation, Gandhi learned that a lack of research (even in the participants of a nonviolence resistance campaign, which Gandhi seemed to think he could overlook) could destroy an entire campaign.
  • Going to the area of the problem: While Gandhi and MLK both understood the importance of going right to the area of the problem (Gandhi’s Salt March, MLK’s demonstrations in Washington DC), Ray also knew that in order to achieve his goal (as morbid as that goal may be), he needed to move to Atlanta, where MLK was based. Ray continued to follow MLK to various parts of the country, eventually  and in fact following him to various areas of the country, including Memphis, where MLK was eventually killed at the hands of Ray.
  • Mental preparation: Sides says that Ray was “gathering focus and concentration and energy on this idea [of killing MLK],” a channeling of energies that sounds eerily similar to the praying and meditation that Gandhi and King implement before acts of nonviolent resistance. While, of course, the drastic difference between the two nonviolent resistance leaders and Ray is that the channeling practiced by Gandhi and King were implemented in helpful and altruistic ways, the consistency between how all three men need to hone their mental focuses before acting courageously cannot be overlooked.

While there are some similarities evident in both the violent campaign of Ray and MLK / Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance campaigns, there are some poignant differences that create a definite divide between those who advocate for positive change and those who advocate for negative change. The following traits of Ray’s prepartion for murder show just how acutely different he was from Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi in implementing his “activism.”

  • Racism: In a Sydney Morning Herald article from April 6, 2002, Ronald Denton Wilson (who believes his father, Henry Clay Wilson, was responsible for MLK’s death) says that MLK’s assissination “wasn’t a racist thing; he [Henry Clay Wilson] thought Martin Luther King was connected with communism, and he wanted to get him out of the way.” Sides, however, believes differently; he not only says that Ray is responsible for MLK’s death, but he also says the murder is a resulted of deep-rooted racism. This sort of hatred and acceptance would not be tolerated under the eyes of Gandhi or King, as MLK was an (obvious) advocate for anti-racism, and Gandhi — who dedicated part of his life to ending Hindu and Muslim affairs — would did not agree with violent differences based on race or religion.
  • Cowardice: A huge element in the nonviolent resistance campaigns of both Gandhi and King is the element of bravery; in fact, Gandhi believed that one should fight violently before he should away like a coward, which shows how seriously he condemns a coward. For Ray to hide and run away from the police for months after the murder of MLK, it shows his cowardly tendencies, which differentiates him greatly from any advocate for nonviolence, or any effective activist anywhere.
  • Secrecy: while the main achievement goals in preparing for a nonviolence campaign often revolve around accumulating media attention, Ray kept his plans mostly secret. Even though Sides says Ray bragged about his plans to kill MLK while Ray was still in prison, after being released and beginning the actual stages of planning MLK’s death, Ray was ultimately quiet. To our knowledge, he did not try to garner a group of supporters to help him implement the murder, but rather connived and planned in secret. This secret planning is the exact opposite of what both Gandhi and King did, as their main objective was to draw attention to their causes, not hide away from the issues at hand.

Comparing  cold-blooded murderer to two of history’s greatest heroes is abysmal; I realize this. But in examining the three men mostly relevant in MLK’s death (MLK himself, one of MLK’s most influential figures of history, Gandhi, and the man who killed MLK), it is still interesting to examine the different tactics practiced.

Every April Ohio University students recognize “Take Back the Night” week, which, according to the Ohio University Facebook event page for Take Back the Night week, is “an annual event to raise awareness about sexual assault and feminism.”

Last month, OU celebreated TBNT week, just as they do every year, publicizing heavily the capstone event for TBTN week, which is a peaceful and nonviolent march and rally that takes place throughout the most popular uptown areas of OU’s campus on a crowded Thursday night.

This event is interesting to me because, now that I have gained the Gandian knowledge that I currently possess, I can see the significance and effectiveness of marches and rallies. Gandhi is one of the first significant public figures to have demonstrated public and nonviolent marches and rallies in order to not only draw attention to his cause, but also to help participants of his campaign feel a physical and tangible set of efforts and results being conveyed through their actions.

The march that I have spent the most prominent amount of time studying is the Salt March. The Salt March was used as a demonstration by Gandhi to prove just how ludicrous were the anti-salt making laws imposed upon the Indians. In garnering thousands of Indians to march hundreds of miles, Gandhi realized that both the physical action of marching combined with the symbolic significance of the march would be an effective tool is coercing his opponent; he was right.

Gandhi and his followers during the Salt March. Photo from virtualclassroom.org.

Even decades after the era in which Gandhi’s campaigns made front pages, nonviolent, peace-seeking groups still use Gandhian ideals and tactics throughout their campaigns for peace.

However, TBTN’s campaign was not all roses and sunshine. In fact, their main conflict mirrored some conflicts that both Gandhi and King faced in their nonviolent campaigns, and that includes the decision of whether or not certain sects of people should be discluded from the march and and rally. In Gandhi’s case, he had a hard time distinguishing between whether or not well-trained nonviolent activists from his ashram should be the only activists who thoroughly carry out his campaign, because they are the ones who will ensure the most effective campaign given their lengthy training in nonviolent resistance.

As for King, many African Americans felt betrayed by King’s decision to allow white Civil Rights supporters to march among the AFrican American majority; they felt the inclusion of whites in their rallies and campaigns was deceitful, and also undermined their entire mission. Many African Americans wanted to prove that they could fight for their freedom without the help of the white man. Likewise, King gain criticism for allowing children to march, participate and even get arrested on behalf on King’s nonviolent campaigns. MLK says he made the decision to allow children to march after he began running out of activists who were being carted away to jail, and after he realized that many children were just as impassioned about the cause as adults.

TBNT organizers had a similar conflict in deciding who they might allow to participate. Much to the chagrin of the males on OU’s campus, the original plan for TBNT week was that males were allowed to participate in all TBNT events throughout the week with the exception of the capstone march and rally, with the TBNT organizers wanted to dedicate solely for women, as the main issues of TBNT week focus around feminism and discrimination against women.

Men and women alike were outraged by this decision, demanding that men be given the same right to march as women; many claimed that by not allowing men to march, TBNT was implementing the same forms of discriminating that they continuously fight so hard against.

Eventually, OU’s sect of TNBT agreed to allow any and all people who wanted to the privilege of marching. The fact that small-scale, local organizations faced the same smorgasbord of problems as Gandhi and Martin Luther King (and even in situations that so closely mimic Gandhian events), is interesting and telling of society. Nonviolence campaigns obviously incorporate a trying process of planning, but in the end, the efforts and results of such campaigns are more than likely worth it.

Last Saturday Ohio University’s notorious Palmerfest took place once again. After the Palmerfest 2009 debacle — wherein party goers started fires and riots on the street, which ultimately forced local law enforcement to shut down the festival early — the city of Athens, OH and the majority of the Ohio University community hoped that this year things would be better.

Unfortunately, those hoping were wrong. This year’s Palmerfest ended the same as last year’s, with fires in the street, riots, beer bottles thrown at police horses and local law enforcement dowsing the crowds with mace and tear gas.

Photo credit: Alicia Fidler of The Post at Ohio University

What is most interesting about the result of this year’s Palmerfest is the fact that the city of Athens has been dangling over the heads of Ohio University students a proposed noise ordinance, which would give law enforcement more lenience and discretion in shutting down parties with outrageous amounts of noise or

loud outdoor music. Students have cried out against this ordinance, claiming that it gives too much power to local law enforcement and that it would ruin the party atmosphere so beloved at Ohio University.

As fest season approached, community members waited with tension to see if OU students would modify their party habits into more peaceable practices in order to prove that they did not, in fact, deserve to be slapped with so strict a city ordinance.

Much to the students’ chagrin, the decisions made — even in light of a strict city ordinance! — were decision of violence.
The question is… why?

While I do not study psychology and thus cannot answer this question with authority, I can base this situation around specific situations faced by that of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.

When Martin Luther King Jr. went to Birmingham, AL to start Project C (or Project Confrontation), one of his biggest rivals and threats in the city was Birmingham police official Eugene “Bull” Connor. In the nonviolent peace demonstrations practiced by MLK and his followers, Bull Connor ordered his firefighters to react violently by dowsing the protesters with hoses, sending attack dogs into the crowds of people, ordering tanks into the crowds and clubbing activists — even frail, old women. The firefighters complied with Connors’… to an extent. There came a point when even the firefighters realized that there actions were inhumane.

While the situation in Birmingham differs greatly from the one in Athens — mainly in that the actions of the firefighters were reactive to other humans — there are still a few similarities I would like to point out that may help demonstrate why Palmerfest party goers participated in actions that they knew to be destructive and violent.

  • Violence in contagious. As evidenced by the fact that the Birmingham firefighters eventually denied the requests of Bull Connor and simply refused to treat the activists inhumanely, the firefighters knew from the start that their violent reactionary treatment to the protesters was wrong. So why did they do it? Because violence is contagious; violence action and its byproduct is typically tangible, visible and very obvious (for example, large displays of hosed human beings, or fire erupting in the streets). These results — no matter how inhumane — seem effective, and therefore a small group of people feel incentive to produce them. Once that small group has convinced itself that their actions are legitimate, it is easy for others to also be convinced, as their peers feel empowered, they too feel their actions are okay.
  • Violence done in groups seems more legitimate. Bouncing off of the above idea that violence in contagious, this contagiousness often leads to group violence, which essentially leads those to induce violence to believe that their actions are okay. At Palmerfest 2010, there are videos of students chanting “OU” and “USA” in the moments before the fire is lit, showing that the surrounding students feel a sense of community with those around them. This community craves a stronger and stronger bond, and the more dramatic the events, the more strong the alleged bond. Even philosopher Reinhold Niebhur says that people are more easily capable of creating mass amounts of evil when acting in groups. Niebhur may even have a philosophy as to why the behavior of OU students did not change from Palmerfest 2009, wherein student’s previously set fire to couches in the streets; according to Niebhur, even in the face of all the ridicule that OU students received after their actions from last spring, humans are ultimately incapable of change.
  • Both the Birmingham firefighters and the Palmerfest party goers acted under the pretense of a leader. For the firefighters it was Bull Connor, and for the party goers it was likely some overly-intoxicated group of charming and convincing students. In either scenario, someone has the initial brilliant idea of inciting violence, and once that idea has been put into the discussion by someone respected in the community (or at the party), it is easy for others to help carry out that action in order to earn respect or fulfill a responsibility. Given the alleged intimidating nature of Bull Connor, the firefighters may have felt bullied into action, only later feeling confident enough to defy their leader. At Palmerfest, students were likely too intoxicated or chalk-full of adrenaline to feel any necessity to quiesce.
  • Party goers and firefighters alike have a role to play. To an extent, I am sure the Birmingham firefighters felt that, as the law enforcement of Birmingham, it was their responsibility, role and duty to carry out the violent actions that they did. Even though Bull Connor asked them to go above and beyond the role of typical firefighters by carrying out actions inhumane and unnecessary, those firefighters were still under the pretense that their actions were a part of their job description. Likewise, Palmerfest party goers mostly consisted of students, who often feel that they have a reputation to live up to that includes recklessness, irresponsibility, partying and anarchy. While outside the context of Palmerfest they may not have behaved similarly, being a part of a quintessential college party, many felt that had to act as quintessential college party animals.

As both Gandhi and MLK recognize, violence is easier to fall into than nonviolence, as violent tendencies are often and counter-intuitively more culturally acceptable than nonviolence tendencies. While both Palmerfest 2010 and the actions of the Birmingham law enforcement have been frowned upon in society, these are extreme examples that prove violence is oftentimes only condemned in extreme and highly unfortunate circumstances.

The Plot thickens over at The Post, as the opinion letter I discussed last week that compares Gandhian tactics to the Tea Party is challenged by Ohio University graduate student Ben Guenther.

Screenshot of Guenther's letter from The Post's website (click to enlarge).

Guenther claims that Brakey’s comments comparing the Tea Party’s struggle to Gandhi and King’s ideals is out of context and hypocritical, given the Tea Party’s condemnation of socialismism and Gandhi and King’s complete support of socialism.

It is true; according to Dr. Michael Nojeim in his article “A Gandhian Blueprint for Nonviolent Change,” Gandhi believed that the wealth of society should be evenly distributed. According to Nojeim:

[According to Gandhi] if someone had a personal surplus or excess wealth beyond what he or she needed for a simple life, then it must be kept in reserve for more needy people.

In contrast, the Tea Party’s main representative, Sarah Palin, has been advocating an anti-socialist viewpoint ever since the 2008 presidential campaign, claiming that Barack Obama is taking our country in a bad direction with his implementation of “socialist economic policies.” According to Palin,

Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit… Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent plans sound more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.

Indeed, it does seem strange for Brakey — an assumed Tea Party supporter — to use Gandhian and King principals, when these two men stood it strict opposition to the main platform on which the Tea Party stands.

Guenther also says that Brakey is incorrect in his claim that the Tea Party implements nonviolent resistant; while they may not exert physical violence, Guenther says that the Tea Party’s use of “violent language and rhetoric” do not make them followers of a nonviolent strategy.

The following video shows a collection of signs from various Tea Party gatherings; while not all “violent,” examples include “Obama = Hitler” and “Freeloading illegals are raping U.S. taxpayers,” language that neither Gandhi nor King would likely use or encourage and which could arguably be considered emotionally violent.

What I had not considered in writing my previous post is the use of violence towards one’s emotions or psyche, a practice that the Tea Party does seem to use. They are not alone, however, as this type of language and protest is seen throughout all outlets of politics. Sadly, this seems to be unavoidable, and it is what Gandhi and King in fact fought so hard against.

At last summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival, I added my name to a mailing list that promised I would receive a “work of art” within six weeks. About one month later, a beautifully painted box showed up on my doorstep with a large sticker stuck to its outside that read “FRAGILE: Contains Peace.”

It turns out this was the work of Franck de Las Mercedes in his Priority Box project. According to Las Mercedes’ website,

The ‘Priority Boxes’ project is a public art series that seeks to provoke thought, to make people reconsider their ability to influence change, communicate through art and make art accessible to people from all walks of life.

Each box is the canvas for a unique abstract painting and is dedicated with a “Fragile:” message. The project which started as an initiative to promote peace quickly evolved in to art movement with boxes containing a wide spectrum of emotions and abstract attributes such as Freedom, Love and Justice.

One of Franck's Priority Boxes (from his website, as linked above)

Seeing that Las Mercedes seems to have some of the same beliefs of Gandhi and King (peace, love, inciting change), I called him up and had a personal interview with him about his Priority Box Project.

Continue reading ‘Franck de Las Mercedes’ Priority Boxes’