Campaign Nonviolence Chicago held a march through downtown on Wednesday that included speakers connecting the dots between war, poverty, and climate change! Below is the speech given by Nico May, a CNV volunteer and a junior at DePaul University studying peace, justice, conflict studies and political science.
Last fall I took a class on social change taught by Campaign Nonviolence’s Ken Butigan. In that classroom I learned about the true importance of nonviolent social movements throughout history and ones that continue today. We studied Moyer’s 8 stages of a social movement as well as the discoveries of Erica Chenoweth who states: “For more than a century, from 1900 to 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance were more than twice as effective as their violent counterparts in achieving their goals.” Being enlightened to this simple fact is what ignited my interest in working with Campaign Nonviolence. I have been volunteering for the campaign for a little over a year now and feel honored to be a part of such a determined organization. In Ken’s class we also completed many exercises that gave us a space to dream; dream of what a more just world looks like as well as what nonviolent action we need to take part in to achieve it. Today I have been given the gift of living out part of my dream with all of you.
I invite everyone to take a moment to close their eyes and think about why they are here today.
I’m not sure if there is a simple answer to that question but I do believe everyone has their own unique experiences that compel them to engage in nonviolent resistance. For some, its simply turning on the news, for others, it holds a deeper meaning. I hope you were all able to channel what caused you to be here today and that you can carry that with you as your work continues.
When I closed my eyes in this reflection a variety of experiences came to mind.
When I was five years-old, my family took our first of ten yearly service trips to Tijuana, Mexico to build homes for impoverished families. These trips were my first exposure to extreme poverty; By listening to the stories of families’ daily struggles, my heart was broken. The effects of structural violence can be unrelenting and they continue to be all around the world today. This experience weighed heavily on my decision to study PAX at DePaul.
In living downtown I’ve become more aware of the harsh realities of gang violence in our very own city. This awareness, coupled with my passion for youth education led me to a placement with the DePaul Community Peacemakers at Farragut Academy on the south side. In this role, I met with high school seniors from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Every week, I facilitated activities and discussions that provided a safe space for the students to talk about their personal experiences with violence. In listening to the trauma the students endured week after week, I battled bureaucracy and legalities in effort to relieve their suffering. This is something I’m sure we have all battled at some point of our work. This lack of control and feeling of powerlessness overwhelmed me when I lost one of my students to gang violence. Through this experience, I was able to empathize with Chicago youth and authentically feel their pain.
But this pain is not unique to Chicago, last December I attended a mission trip to El Salvador. This is where I saw the utter exploitation of the Salvadoran people and their home. To start, the US financially backed the oppressive government in El Salvador’s gruesome civil war that continues to effect countless Salvadoran families today. Our government has also been involved in stripping resources of the region due to our own agricultural demand as well their involvement in the gold mining industry . Gold mining has contaminated 90% of El Salvador’s fresh water supply. For the first time in my life, I was not proud to be an American. After returning home, I took time to reflect on the injustices I encountered and used nonviolent resistance as a way to hold my own government accountable for their actions. America must realize the crime against humanity it is committing on the rest of the world. Throughout my life, I feel very fortunate to have traveled extensively throughout Europe, Central America, South Africa and even Micronesia. Though my travels may have been masked by injustice, there was one major theme in all of the amazing people I have encountered: HOPE.
I see an abundance of hope as I stand here with all of you today and for my generation. Despite the often negative reputation we tend to have, I do genuinely believe we have all the tools to be the generation that changes the world’s reality.
The generation who learns from the inspiring examples throughout history as well as the ones standing with me right now. The generation who supports the power and legitimacy of the United Nations. The generation that exercises the International Criminal Court in order to hold our leaders accountable for their actions. The ones who educate everyone around the world on their rights as a human being and continuously remind them that NO ONE can take those rights from them. But most importantly we must be the ones to make past generations proud of the seeds they planted when they had the chance. We are not alone in this fight. Together we can use our power to shape the future into our dream of a more just world. And I thank you all for living out that dream today.