Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stephen's More Serious Side

On January 22, Stephen Colbert welcomed Ambassador Andrew Young as a guest on "The Colbert Report." The civil rights activist and former mayor of Atlanta explained how he worked with Stephen's father to negotiate a strike at a hospital in Charleston during the Civil Rights Movement. While the comedian joked about how he could use this example to negotiate the Writers' strike, the two touched upon some important principles of nonviolence. Ambassador Young attributes his success with negotiation with the practice of "working it out so that everybody wins and nobody gets credit." He even brought up Gandhi's tactic of giving your opponent a face-saving way out.

One of the most interesting parts of the interview was when Stephen asked Young "How is going on strike the right thing to do?" Young replied simply that it is not and that it is only an option when you cannot talk. I thought this was a very interesting point to bring up. We have discussed strikes as a technique in nonviolent campaigns, but I never really considered before how they can have really serious consequences such as the case when hospital workers go on strike. What happens to all the sick people who need to be taken care of but the hospital cannot accommodate them? The fact that people's lives were at stake added to the pressure for Stephen's father and Andrew Young to work out an agreement between the hospital and the black workers on strike.

I found this episode of "The Colbert Report" to be particularly moving because it was clear that the host had a lot of respect for what his father was able to accomplish with the hospital strike. I also enjoyed how he was able to evaluate this historical demonstration of a nonviolent campaign and then compare it (although jokingly) to the Writers' strike that was going on at the time. Colbert joked that he would not be able to assist with ending the strike because he likes taking credit for things. Young ended the interview with a great punchline when he expressed that he really hoped that the Writers' strike ended soon because Colbert's show desperately needed its writers back.


Fitz Lufkin said...

It was refreshing to see Colbert less in character and more real. I liked what the ambassadodr had to say about dealing with disagreements, that everyone had to have a respectful way to save face. I think often, it's not so much disagreeing on content or policy that sets people apart, but on its delivery and how it is spun. All it takes is a little creative thinking to bring two sides together.

Brian Kesten said...

Wow! I didn't know anything about Colbert's dad. This was definitely a a new take on Colbert. I really think the concept of everyone winning is truly beautiful. In my history class today we talked about students who were beaten at the University of Wisconsin. The students were protesting nonviolently, but reacted with violence when the police officers struck them. I think that CONVERSION is the most important thing to look for in nonviolent action, and by fighting back the students legitimized the violent opposition of the policemen. And I think that finding a way for everyone to win is really the true way to break down conflict with everyone happy. I think that is really amazing. Humility is very powerful.

Nicole Pedi said...

I really liked seeing a differnt side to Colbert also. It was also really interesting to think about the consequences of non-violent actions, especially when others are effected. Like we saw we the plastic balls that were thrown down the Spanish steps in Italy, sometimes the fact that others have to clean up after your actions makes your cause look weak since it produces consequences for others.