This year’s West Virginia Law Review Symposium – a forum organized by West Virginia University College of Law students – has its roots in the Arab Spring, a series of successful campaigns of non-violent resistance that led to changes in the governments of Tunisia and Egypt. But the event has gained a domestic perspective with the emergence of several U.S. protest movements, including Occupy Wall Street.
The Symposium, “Civil Resistance and the Law: Nonviolent Transitions to Democracy,” is Thursday, Nov. 10 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the College of Law’s Marlyn Lugar Courtroom and features a roster of experts, including WVU professors Charles DiSalvo, who will moderate, and panelist James J. Friedberg.
The keynote speaker is Erica Chenoweth, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University. Other panelists and presenters are:
• Penelope Andrews, associate dean and professor of law at City University of New York
• Donald Kochan, professor of law at Chapman University
• Daniel Serwer a professorial lecturer and visiting scholar in conflict management and a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins
School of Advanced International Studies
The event is the first part of a collaborative lecture series between the College of Law and WVU’s P.I. Reed School of Journalism. The first part of the series, government transitions to democracy, is produced by the College of Law. The second, the role social media has played in the transition, will be produced by the School of Journalism.
The symposium will be webcast at: http://lawmediasite.wvu.edu/mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/default.aspx. For more information on the speakers see: http://law.wvu.edu/civilresistance.
The public is welcome to attend.
Jessie Reckart, a third-year law student and editor-in-chief of the Law Review, said the goal for the Symposium was to provide students and the public with international and legal perspectives on civil disobedience. The U.S. protests that developed during the planning of the event helped reinforce the lessons brought about by the Arab Spring.
In the months that followed the forum’s initial planning, law students became aware of protests closer to home, including a Wisconsin teachers’ sit-in and the March to Blair Mountain, a movement to preserve a historic battlefield in Logan County that is threatened by mountaintop removal mining. The country-wide Occupy Wall Street movement also came to the forefront of the media and public consciousness in the weeks before the Symposium was announced.
“It seems that we were quite prescient,” Reckart said. “We set out to deal with an international topic.”
“We started brainstorming this topic last February, in the midst of the civil resistance occurring in Egypt,” Law Review senior managing editor and third-year student Lara Omps said. “This topic is incredibly timely and I am certain it will continue to shape America’s role and future in the international community.”
The topic is aligned with the College of Law’s mission to include global perspectives to the students’ education. But the lessons, Reckart says, are really universal.
Although the Arab Spring is an extreme example of civil resistance, other movements like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street represent a more generalized discontent.
“Whenever a group of people feels powerless they use civil disobedience to affect change,” Reckart said. “If they’re not being heard within the recognized government structure, they have to go outside of that structure for their voice to be heard. Hopefully, they go about it in a peaceful way.”
DiSalvo, an expert in civil disobedience and the law, agrees. He says one of the fundamental lessons of civil disobedience is that “all government is dependent upon the consent of the governed.”
Although unique in its scope, DiSalvo said Arab Spring protests were modeled from lessons outlined by Gene Sharp, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth who is known for his extensive writings on nonviolent struggle.
“The young people in Egypt studied him and acted on his principles,” DiSalvo said.
The book, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The strategic logic of non violent conflict,” co-authored by Chenoweth is another essential writing on the topic, he said.
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