Listening to the Voices of Resistance

If you believe the authors of the Declaration of Independence, we the people have an obligation to throw off despots, face down our oppressors and demand our freedom. The moral duty to oppose unjust power is clear, but the results are mixed when it comes to successful resistance movements. History provides a few shining examples within a long string of defeats. As boxer Mike Tyson pointed out, “Everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.”



What resistance strategies work against powerful interests? It is a complex question that has occupied the minds of the world’s great thinkers and leaders, from Socrates to Nelson Mandela … and with good reason. The stakes are enormous; nothing less than the future of civilization depends upon humanity’s ability to “get resistance right.”

This seminar will listen to the voices of resistance and hear the subtle and stark differences in approach these women and men take. We will look at the political fortunes of ancient Greece in Antigone, the westward expansion of white settlers in North America, Virginia Woolf’s classic essay A Room of One’s Own, the civil rights movement, among others. Critical questions will be explored, such as: Is violence (or proactive self-defense) against authority ever justified or effective? Is surrender to overwhelming power the wisest option? How can one tell when an oppressor will concede power? Is forgiveness of an oppressor necessary or possible?

Read more in John’s interview Writing for Their Lives.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

– Frederick Douglass


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Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, John Riley witnessed the struggles endured by leaders and participants of the civil rights movement. He has spent decades in seminar as a Great Books leader and college teacher exploring the various ways in which oppressed groups confront unjust power.

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition in order to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Introduction to Great Books, Series Three
(Great Books Foundation, 1990)
ISBN-13: 978-0945159995
(Volume includes Antigone, Crito and A Room of One's Own)

Selections from The Rainbow People of God by Desmond Tutu
(Doubleday, 1994)
ISBN-13: 978-0385483742

Selections from Freedom from Fear
by Aung San Suu Kyi
(Penguin, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0141039497

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
(Graywolf Press, 2014)
ISBN-13: 978-1555976903

And selected readings by Chief Seattle, George Orwell, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X.

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