National correspondent speaks on the genius of non-violent protests in BYU forum

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Shankar Vedantam, host of the “Hidden Brain” podcast and former NPR science desk correspondent, spoke in the Jan. 25 BYU forum address. He emphasized the stories of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and how their tactics can be used to fight oppression without violence. (Melissa Collado)

National correspondent Shankar Vedantam told a BYU audience how non-violent protests can be successful in bringing awareness to injustice caused by the government. His Jan. 25 forum address focused on the tactics used by both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. during their peaceful protests.

“They were great proponents of non-violence,” Vedantamsaid.

Vedantam is a former NPR science desk correspondent and the 2009-2010 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He has won numerous journalism awards and is the host of the award-winning podcast “The Hidden Brain.”

Vedantam said Gandhi’s Salt March was meant to connect issues within the daily lives of Indians to a larger political law problem. This peaceful protest was made to put the government in a position where it had to make a tough decision.

During the civil rights movement, King kept his head up and loved his enemies despite the violence he faced, Vedantam said. King and others were fighting the oppression they were facing.

“The goal was not just to win, not just to change the law but was to get the people who are part of the group that is oppressing us to change,” Vedantam said. “Systems of oppression harm not only the victims, but they also harm the oppressors.”

He asked the audience to ponder if Gandhi and King were just outliers or lucky in the success of their individual conflicts. “Do non-violent or violent actions work more often?” Vedantam asked. “Most people would predict that violent actions are far more likely to succeed.”

But non-violent movements were more than twice as likely to succeed as violent movements, Vedantam said, noting that these types of peaceful protests allow one to see their enemies as human beings and try to understand them.

Vedantam concluded his address by emphasizing the core idea he has taken away from analyzing these movements by Gandhi and King:

“The central importance of the beloved community is not love and not kindness, but courage,” Vedantam said. “With the absence of courage, it is impossible to build the beloved community.”

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