<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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James Lawson and Oscar Olivera to Keynote the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism

Martin Luther King’s “Leading Strategist” and Organizer of the Bolivian “Water War” Will Speak on Civil Resistance Strategies


By Al Giordano
President, School of Authentic Journalism

December 16, 2009


The Rev. James Lawson organized and trained the participants in the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins that desegregated downtown Nashville, Tennessee.
On the April 1968 night before his assassination, Martin Luther King called James Lawson, “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”

Among Latin American strategists of civil resistance, union leader Oscar Olivera, in Bolivia, has shown, again and again, that an organized people can change the path of history.

Lawson, 81, a retired Methodist minister, draft resister and prisoner of conscience for 13 months during the Korean war, spent three years of the 1950s in Nagpur, India, studying the nonviolence strategies and tactics of the Gandhian struggle and victory in achieving independence from Great Britain. It was there that he learned, from overseas, of Dr. King’s struggles against racial segregation in the United States:

“I met Martin Luther King, Jr. around December 6, 1955 through the front page of the Nagpur Times in India where a major story in the front page was of the Negroes marching, boycotting in Montgomery, Alabama. That, of course, was a big story in India, the land of Gandhi…”


Lunch counter sit-ins, 1960, Nashville.
In 1957, Lawson met Dr. King in person, in Ohio, and after discussing their shared passion for and study of strategic nonviolence, recalled in an interview with the United Methodist Church:

“Martin, without missing a beat, said to me, ‘Come now. Don’t wait. We need you now.’ And then he went on to say that there was not a clergyperson in the south with my depth of experience in nonviolence or my study in nonviolence. So I recognized that as another moment in which I was being called from beyond myself, by eternity. And so I very quietly, though I did not know what I was saying, and though I did not know how this would happen, I said ‘I will come as soon as I can…’ So I dropped out of school in 1957. And in January of ‘58 I was in Nashville…

“Along the way it became clear to me that while the Montgomery bus boycott was a powerful and effective matter in using soul force or nonviolence that we needed to demonstrate the next stage. We needed to demonstrate the efficacy of nonviolence… And through many, many conversations and workshops we decided we would launch a nonviolent movement in Nashville to desegregate downtown Nashville, which meant that in the fall of 1959 we began workshops on nonviolence…”


Images of attacks on nonviolent sit-in participants in Nashville that awakened a national conscience.
The Nashville multi-racial lunch counter sit ins Lawson organized from February to May of 1960 succeeded in desegregating downtown businesses, and galvanizing the civil rights movement nationwide with its victory.

Olivera, 54, organized the 2000 “water war” in Cochabamba that drove the Bechtel Corporation and its privatization of the water supply out of Bolivia. Widely said to have been offered his pick of choice cabinet positions in the government of President Evo Morales after his 2005 election, Olivera chose to remain a shoe factory worker, unionist, and independent community organizer. Of the rapid-fire civil resistance movements that swept Bolivia after the “water war” victory of 2000, Olivera noted in a 2006 interview with journalist Ricardo Aricapa:

“It was a victory that awakend the national conscience and the mobilization for the defense of our common good, not just of water, but also of the coca plant, petroleum, gas. In 2002, when the government tried to penalize possession of the coca leaf due to pressure from the US Embassy, there was a popular mobilization that blocked the project. In October 2003 the government tried to deliver our gas reserves to multinational corporations, but millions of people revolted and (then president Gonzalo) Sánchez de Lozado had to go. In January 2005 the people of La Paz and El Alto mobilized and achieved the signing of an agreement to expel the Suez multinational corporation that had a monopoly on water in the region due to noncompliance with its contract. It had to be paid a high indemnization price, but, yes, it left the country. In June of 2005 another uprising won early elections and that permitted Evo Morales to come to power…”


Oscar Olivera teaches a class at the 2004 School of Authentic Journalism in Bolivia.
Throughout all those struggles, Olivera’s strategic counsel and leadership was widely sought throughout Bolivia and the world. Like Lawson, he is one who has organized difficult struggles and prevailed in them against larger and wealthier interests.

These two living legends will be coming together for the first time on February 4 on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to deliver the keynote addresses of the 2010 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, which has as its theme Journalism and Civil Resistance.

While the classes and workshops of the School of Authentic Journalism are open only to scholarship recipients, professors and Narco News staff, the Lawson-Olivera keynotes, cosponsored by the School of Economics of the Autonomous University of Yucatán, the daily Por Esto! newspaper, and The Fund for Authentic Journalism, will throw its doors open – for this session only – to the general public. J-School students and professors will videotape the assembly and make excerpts available to a global audience in Spanish and English, as well as publish written reports of this historic event.


Oscar Olivera speaks from the balcony of the Factory Workers Union on the Central Square of Cochabamba during the 2000 Water War.
The sessions will convene early in the bicentennial year of Mexico’s 1810 independence and centennial of its 1910 revolution, and at an hour when social movements stir throughout the land yearning for authentic democracy, freedom and justice.

The School of Authentic Journalism will be holding an intensive ten-day training in investigative journalism, online reporting, documentary filmmaking and viral video production. 31 scholars who are from or report in 24 countries on six continents have been chosen to receive this training, free of charge. The 2010 session will also focus on helping journalists to understand and better report the strategic dynamics of civil resistance, nonviolent conflict, community organizing and social movements. More than 40 professors with, together, hundreds of years of experience in journalism and resistance, will teach, coach and work alongside the scholars to produce written reports, online videos and at least one documentary film during the school.


Water War protest, 2000, Cochabamba.
In other School news, we are also pleased to announce that Johanna Lawrenson, who together with her late husband Abbie Hoffman organized the successful campaign to stop winter navigation on the St. Lawrence River in the 1970s, has joined the staff of the School and will be attending all its sessions.

Lawson and Olivera will likewise be sticking around to participate in other workshops, plenary sessions and conversations and strategy sessions with our students as professors of the 2010 School of Authentic Journalism, who will emerge having received a crash course in strategic thinking. As importantly, they will learn how to utilize authentic journalism to report on social movements and civil resistances from below in ways that give them international voice and that also help readers and viewers to think strategically and tactically about how to organize and win political and social battles for the years to come.

2010 Authentic Journalism Scholar Maylin Alonso Chiong recently wrote that, “another journalism is possible.” The participation of Rev. James Lawson and Oscar Olivera in the School will help bring it a giant step closer to forge from it reality.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America