Nonviolent Activist Speaks to Students

In the midst of University-wide angst over recent social injustices, the arrival of a professional nonviolent activist on Colgate’s campus could not have come at a more appropriate time. Last Tuesday, Canadian nonviolent strategist, trainer, writer and activist Philippe Duhamel spoke with the Sophomore Year Experience seminar class, “The Psychology of Leadership: How to Change the World.”

Duhamel unraveled tale after tale of sometimes horrific but always inspiring experiences in countries near and far where nonviolent people power movements were afoot. Arrested more times than he can count and responsible for many major nonviolent victories, Duhamel has fought for citizen power and freedom for the past 25 years.

Though Duhamel’s life mission has caused a considerable amount of trouble for some authorities, he has moved even the law enforcers to tears with his efforts.

“Cops were crying as they were dragging us,” he recalled, speaking of his march to retrieve a global trade document that the Canadian government refused to make public. Duhamel fought, along with a growing base of citizen support, for government transparency as global trade agreements were discussed. What were the fruits of his effort? “One week later,” he said, “the document was made public.”

When asked about his scariest experience in a life of rebellion and risk-taking Duhamel recalled his ten-day imprisonment in “The Hole” of a Quebec prison. He recounted the fear and humiliation he experienced when placed in solitary confinement for refusing to give the prison guards his mother’s maiden name. Remembering the bafflement evident on the guards’ faces, Duhamel let out a long laugh, which quickly sprang to the lips of the audience. Humor, he said, is one of the most powerful leadership tools.

A question surrounding how to apply Duhamel’s tactics to Colgate’s own recent fight against social injustice came up. A debate broke out between students, punctuated here and there with advice from Mr. Duhamel. Perhaps Duhamel’s most memorable response was his claim that change must start with us.

“The driving force of change,” he said, “is you, the youth, the students.”