Student activist speaks at Civil Discourse and Social Justice lecture

Mandi Gosling

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The Rev. James Lawson discusses non-violent activism with his audience during his third lecture on campus this semester, which took place Monday at the Plaza del Sol Performance Hall. Photo Credit: Britten Fay / Staff Reporter

When Jonnae Thompson woke up on the morning of March 4, 2010, she didn’t know how, but she knew her life was about to change.

“I woke up that morning with my mind focused on educational freedom,” said the 23-year-old English major.  “At the time I did not realize that a mind set on freedom would lead to myself, along with four other (students) being arrested.”

Thompson and four other CSUN students were arrested during their participation in the Day of Action protests criticizing state budget cuts to education.

The protests were a motivating factor to the series of lectures and workshops being given throughout the fall semester by the Rev. James Lawson called “Civil Discourse and Social Justice.”

The presentations have drawn such large crowds that the third lecture Monday night took place at the Plaza del Sol Performance Hall at the University Student Union to accommodate all who wanted to attend, said Justin Weiss, coordinator of Unified We Serve.

He told the audience that campus and community interest in the series reflected the values of the CSUN community.

“Your attendance not only portrays our campus’ desire to open larger physical spaces for these types of events, but rather a desire to open larger conversational spaces to discuss the matters that are prevailing in our local campus and global community,” Weiss said.

Emphasis on the university campus as a place for civil discourse, freedom of expression and debate was also part of CSUN President Jolene Koester’s opening remarks.

“Universities are places in which ideas should run free,” Koester said, “because if universities can’t be such places, then — oh my — then we must fear for our overall civilization and our democracy.

“In the university it is our responsibility not necessarily to take a side but to assure that all of the sides are there,” Koester continued. “In the university it is our responsibility to assure that all of the voices can heard and listened to in a respectful and civil way.”

Koester’s remarks were in contrast to Thompson’s.

“I did not realize that I would hold dual tasks of fighting for quality education and fighting a court case brought upon me by the very university that I stood in protest for,” said Thompson, who introduced Lawson.

Lawson’s lecture continued to build on his previous teachings about the importance of non-violent protest as a means of bringing about change.

“Non-violence has created more change on every continent than in all the wars ever fought,” Lawson said.

Many students said they see opportunities in their lives to apply the principles Lawson is teaching.

Clara Urionabarrenechea, 26, said she is applying Lawson’s message of non-violence to conflicts that are arising at her workplace.

“His words get to me…the people at work are so corrupt and I don’t want to fight dirty like they do,” said Urionabarrenechea, a graduate student in Chicana/o Studies.  “It is reassuring to me that I am doing the right thing.”

Thompson also sees the value in Lawson’s lecture as she and others continue to fight for quality education.

“I’ve been learning so much already. Simple strategies like focus, negotiations, all those things,” Thompson said.  “I think we would have just kept running around in circles and I think now with him being here we definitely will be able to focus at least on CSUN…even if we just make a change on this campus, that is changing the world in a sense.”