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Jack DuVall on the ethics of nonviolent struggle

When the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict’s week-long Fletcher Summer Insitute (FSI) at Boston’s Tufts University came to end last Friday, several members of the ICNC team traveled to Strasbourg, France for an entirely different kind of educational conference. While the focus in Boston was on empowering activists from conflict regions around the world, the meeting in Strasbourg—the seat of European Parliament—is all about government power and its responsibility to uphold democratic values.

The Summer University for Democracy (as it’s called) brings together several hundred young public sector leaders from across Europe to discuss what it describes as “the challenges of our times.” This is now the sixth such annual gathering organized by the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe, which is one of the oldest international organizations promoting human rights and democracy. The focus changes every year; this time it’s on ethics in politics, the media, and business.

ICNC president Jack DuVall took part in one of the first breakout sessions of the day on Monday, titled “Ethics in the Heart of Democratic Reforms.” Flanked by two ethics professors, whose talks dwelled mainly in the broad and theoritical realm, DuVall delivered a far more urgent message, underscoring the basic dynamics of nonviolent struggle for an audience that—unlike the participants at FSI—was less directly engaged with political action in the streets.

Here is the audio of DuVall’s speech, followed by his answers to several common questions surrounding nonviolent action:

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What makes an action nonviolent? Can’t blocking a road be considered violent if it impedes the freedom of another?

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Can a protests be over-used to the detriment of its effectiveness?

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