Prominent civil rights leader encourages CSUN students to become involved

Mandi Gosling

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The Rev. James Lawson Jr. holds a Q & A session following his lecture in the Armer Theater yesterday. Photo Credit: Melissa Carr / Contributing Photographer

The Rev. James Lawson championed non-violent action for CSUN’s Civil Discourse & Social Change program Monday night in Manzanita Hall.  Held before a full house in the Armer Theater, this was the first in a series of eight lectures and workshops to be given by Lawson this semester.

A student of Ghandi’s tactics and lifelong activist, Lawson said non-violence is an emerging science for how social justice and social change can take place.  He said he hopes to give students the tools they will need to bring about that change by starting at home with their families, friends and communities, he said.

“It is up to us to do the work, but we don’t begin out there, we begin with ourselves,” Lawson said

He gave examples of groups that started small and brought about great changes such as the women’s suffrage and civil rights in which people worked towards change within the population rather than through political avenues.

Lawson said he was looking forward to his time at CSUN because of the level of activism demonstrated by the school’s students over the past several decades.  He urged students to use their university years for more than just a step towards material wealth.

“You must choose to do more than just make a sustainable living, you must make a life,” Lawson said.

He said one way to do that is for students to increase the number of people around us who value compassionate acts and human dignity.  He he said he wants to break the cycle of racism and sexism passed down through each generation that makes labeling people seem acceptable.

He also said too many religious people have been conditioned by U.S. cultural values rather than by their teachings of their religion, Lawson said.

Lawson is concerned that intolerance and fear is contributing to America’s already existing culture of violence.  He asked why a country of more than 300 million people think their safety and security depends on nearly 800 military bases in 130 different countries around the world.

“Who is it that we fear?” Lawson said.  “Are the poor countries of the world where we’ve fought our wars really a danger to us?”

CSUN Provost Harry Hellenbrend said he hopes that bringing Lawson to campus will promote an atmosphere of discussion to avoid the violence the resulted at March 4 protests.

“The experience of last year taught us people lack a vocabulary and methodology to effect change outside of the normal affairs of voting and yelling at each other,” said Hellenbrand.

Students had varying impressions of Lawson’s lecture and philosophy and how it can be applied to student activism.

“It can bring change, but to be successful our campus needs to be more united, more together in doing those acts,” said Cathie Pacheco, 19, a junior studying systems and operation management.