FLR: Our catalog has a feature section “Making a Difference,” and your book After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance shows how one person or group can make a difference in the world. What inspired you to create the book?
ASO: When we started the book, Perry had recently been discharged from the Army as a conscientious objector and was becoming active in the antiwar movement. As opposition to the war was reaching its height, he became interested in the factors that created successful social movements, and began looking to historical examples.
Ultimately, the driving force behind the book was the hope that we could expose more young people to the rich, global history of nonviolent resistance and that this education would inspire a new generation of change makers.
FLR: The two of you co-authored the book, and Anne provided illustrations. Who initially proposed the topic and suggested collaboration?
ASO: Anne was part of a three-person team which initially got the contract for the book. When the other two writers had to pull out of the project for personal reasons, Anne asked Perry if he would like to collaborate on the project. We built our book on the foundation of the work that had already been done, but adapted it to make the most of what the two of us uniquely brought to the topic.
FLR: You begin in 1908 with Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance movement in South Africa, followed by profiles of other people and groups who adopted his strategy to make a difference. Was Gandhi truly the first person ever to employ nonviolent tactics to combat oppression?
ASO: As we explain in our introduction, Gandhi was by no means the first person to use nonviolent tactics. What Gandhi did was demonstrate to the world the possibilities of mass nonviolent action on a scale never before seen. He also developed a form of resistance which he called satyagraha that combined nonviolent action with reconciliation, with the goal of not just winning justice from an opponent but of actually winning them over to the cause.
FLR: Once you had Gandhi as your foundation, how did you choose which people and groups to profile next?
ASO: The list of people and movements grew and changed over a number of years as the idea for the book was formed and included many other national and world leaders who have worked for peace and justice. As Anne and Perry moved into the research for the book under contract, we made the decision to narrow our focus to acts of nonviolent resistance. For the opening scenes, we looked for specific dramatic incidents in which people took enormous risk, usually including putting their own bodies or lives on the line, to oppose violence and oppression without resorting to violence themselves. We also chose a global perspective, including at least one person or movement from each continent except Antarctica.
We hope that our book will serve as an introduction, inspiring readers to want to know more about the many other people and movements who have used and continue to use nonviolence as a path to change.
FLR: The black-and-white pastel drawings are very powerful and impressive. Why did you choose to use drawings instead of photos? Why did you choose to only use black and white colors?
ASO: From early on in the conception of the book, we wanted the illustrations to suggest the spirit, energy and emotion of nonviolent action, not document its historical facts. Twenty-first century viewers are so accustomed to the delivery of information through photographs that we tend to catalogue the details of their content rather than allow ourselves to be affected by them. Looser and less precise drawings have an expressive potential, an ability to spark a personal response, unique to each viewer.
There were many factors involved in choosing black and white images, including expressive power, strength of design and printing cost. We were drawn to the boldness of a black, white and red design, and this choice was affirmed by the preferences of our middle school advisors.
FLR: Speaking of color usage, the red background on each subjects’ quotes provides a striking juxtaposition to the neutral color in the drawings. How does the interspersion of these inspirational quotes contribute to the overall visual and reading experience?
ASO: One inspiration for the design of the book was protest posters from the 1960's. When art director Susan Sherman showed us the display font she found for the titles and pull-out quotes, we were thrilled. The strong, bold design contributes significantly to the delivery of the book's content. The quotations are concentrated gems of the wisdom and experience of people of extraordinary courage, creativity and character. Even casually paging through the book, readers absorb its message and are drawn in to learn more.
Q: Although all these movements occurred in the past (from 1908-2003), you caution that it isn’t entirely historical because nonviolence is a current and living tradition. Can you discuss some of the ways Gandhi’s approach keeps on changing the world today?
ASO: The final profile of our book focuses on the global protest against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was the single largest mass action in history. While these protests didn't prevent the war, they are significant because they show that nonviolent resistance isn't just alive, it is a constantly evolving strategy. More and more, we are seeing resistance organized on an international scale, be it opposition to Guantanamo Bay, the Burmese government, or the Olympics in Beijing. As technological innovation facilitates greater coordination and communication between organizations and movements, the tactics we discuss in the book will become even more effective and necessary methods of social change.
Q: If one of your readers were to ask you how he or she alone could make a difference in the world, what advice would you give?
ASO: Given the state of the world, it's easy for any one person to feel overwhelmed by the many problems we're facing. The same technology that keeps us informed about the struggles of people across the world can also lead to a sense of hopelessness as we begin to perceive the scale of these challenges. If our book shows anything, though, it's that the best way to start making change is to just start. So find an organization that's working on an issue you care about, get involved, and fight as hard as you can.
The research we did showed clearly that successful movements are built of many, many individual and group acts. You never know when one action will be a tipping point. Once in awhile even a single act by an individual can have an enormous impact, such as the letter ten-year-old Samantha Smith wrote to Soviet President Andropov, which resulted in an international dialogue. We hope readers will be inspired by the examples of the people we've profiled, do more research to find other models of nonviolent resistance, and take actions that will help create new models.
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