First civility lecture of term looks at civil disobedience and non-violent protest

Community members and Southern Oregon University students gathered Thursday in SOU’s Hannon Library to broaden their perspectives on the campus theme of civility during “Celebrating Dissent and Nonviolent Civil Protest: Exploring the Role of Nonviolent Action and Civil Disobedience in the Emergence of Civility,” a presentation and discussion headed by SOU faculty.

Prakash Chenjeri, a professor and program coordinator in the philosophy department at SOU, introduced the speakers, and spoke about the importance of civility in our community.

Steven Jessup, an associate professor of biology, was introduced as the first speaker, and gave a brief synopsis of why he was interested in the topic.

According to Jessup, a childhood spent in Maryland exposed him firsthand to the realities of the civil rights movement and those who fought with their lives for freedom, which inspired his interest in global and social change processes.

Jessup believes that the non-violent civil disobedience practiced by iconic figures such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi will gradually lead to a more “civil civilization.”

“Freedom and liberty in people doesn’t just depend on having these rights, but exercising them,” he said.

Communication Professor Jonathan Lange presented a different perspective on the theme, calling it the “radical’s paradox,” which theorizes that the protester can take one of two paths in his discourse. Either they will be considered too radical and therefore dismissed by society and law enforcement, or they will reach a compromise, and not achieving all the social change they were hoping for.

“In this country, we are blessed to have outlets for protests and dissent that are indeed civil,” he said.

Bringing a final perspective from the criminology and criminal justice department was Lee Ayers, who gave a lively and thought-provoking dialogue from the perspective of the often-overlooked law enforcement point of view.

She believes that actions of passive resistance produce difficult situations for law enforcement officers, who as part of the community may personally agree with certain aspects of protesters’ demands, but their duty requires them to put an end to such demonstrations.

Ayers went on to say that police methodology itself has drastically changed, as have the nature of protests.

“Today we see protests concerning Wall Street and the economy, and we see riot gear and higher security in law enforcement,” she said.

After hearing the three different perspectives, the remainder of the time was given to the audience for a question and answer opportunity with the professors.

A former army lieutenant said he was shocked when he heard about the violent involvement of the military in the protests in New York. In addition, the role social networking plays in the organization of social disobedience provoked much thought from the audience and professors.

The next event, “Gang-related Crime Trends in Southern Oregon and Prospects for Hope,” will be held in the Presentation Room at SOU’s Higher Education Center in Medford on Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., and will address the recent increase in gang-related crimes in Jackson County and concerns from law enforcement on how to alleviate gang activity.

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