Via the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program Blog
I was in the midst of protest and had never felt more disempowered. Wasn’t activism supposed to give me a voice? In that moment, it did not. I left the march feeling silenced and small. I felt as though my impact, my work, and my aspirations were meaningless in the context of “real struggle.” And still, in the course of protest I found a bit of hope. A young man read the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and gave me an alternative lens. Even as the crowd moved on, and I began to chant “no justice, no peace,” the quote echoed in my mind, brought tears to my eyes, and muffled my own voice.
“You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
As I stood in the protest chanting, crying, hoping that we somehow mattered, I kept wondering—is there a place for alternative dispute resolution (ADR) even when choosing “dialogue” feels like a shameful act of acquiescence? Is it more “righteous,” more “active,” more “powerful,” more “progressive” to be angry and adversarial? In the face of injustice, is the righteous decision one that paints the “other” as wrong and the “we” as unquestionably right? My fear, in this moment of history, is that ADR is simply another way for me remain a privileged outsider—to “partake” in the struggle but remain comfortable. The question, are ADR and activism antithetical?
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