Topol Summit brings together nonviolence scholars, practitioners and students

Participants at the Topol Summit, 2017

For the sixty scholars, practitioners, and students who recently gathered for the 2017 Topol Summit on Transforming the Research and Practice of Nonviolent Activism, the day was an opportunity to share ideas and inspiration across fields—and to strategize about how to use their individual perspectives and expertise to find new, creative approaches to conflict resolution.

“As a movement, we must get more visibility, recognition, and approval,” said Sidney Topol, a 1947 UMass Amherst alumnus whose generous philanthropy has made the summit possible. Peacemakers need to be considered heroes the way military leaders are, added Topol, a World War II veteran. “We need monuments and portraits of Mandela and Martin Luther King.”

Sidney Topol and Topol Fellows, 2017This was the fourth year of the summit, convened by faculty members from the university’s Psychology of Peace and Violence Program. Held this year at UMass Boston, the summit brought together students and faculty members from schools around the world—including Harvard, Tufts, Brandeis, Boston Latin, and Haifa University, as well as the two UMass campuses—as well as representatives from activist and non-governmental organizations working on a diverse range of issues, from finding peace in the Middle East to ending urban gang violence.  

UMass Amherst was represented by Brian Lickel, director of the Psychology of Peace and Violence Program; faculty members Linda Tropp and Stellan Vinthagen; Peace and Violence graduate students Joel Ginn, Quinnehtukqut McLamore, Hema Preya Selvanathan, and Se Min Suh; Özden Melis Uluğ, a postdoc in the program; and UMass Amherst alumni Thomas O’Brien and Kathryn Fahey.

Participants spent the day attending presentations, exercises, and discussions. Eric Stoner, editor of Waging Nonviolence, which covers peace and justice issues around the globe, spoke about how activists can engage effectively with the media. PJ Fox from the Providence-based Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence and Teny Gross, Benny Lee, and Burrell Poe of the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago talked about their shared mission of reducing violence in their cities, inspired by Martin Luther King’s philosophy of creating “beloved community.” Galia Golan and Sulaiman (Souli) Khatib talked about their work with Combatants for Peace, an organization of Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace in their region. Several presenters led sessions on nonviolent protest, including training on how to deal with law enforcement and counter-protestors.

Dr. Stellen Vinthagen, Topol Summit, 2017The summit ended with a wrap-up session, where participants identified key strategic priorities and discussed concrete ways to move their shared work forward. Priorities included working to develop a new generation of leaders and activists; identifying funding sources to support the work; strengthening collaboration among network members; improving training in nonviolence work; identifying key topics for future research on the topic; and holding more frequent, small-group meetings in addition to the annual summit.

The annual summit provides an opportunity to be better informed about the work being done by others so that there is less duplication of efforts and more opportunities for collaboration, said Jamila Raqib, executive director of the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI). "Coordination in this field, as in a political movement, means that existing resources are used in a way that make it more likely that particular objectives will be achieved,” she said. Raqib's presentation, "Observations of how we learn/teach nonviolent activism: Possible future directions," provided examples of AEI materials from its work with protest movements.

“Building solidarity is particularly important right now, because we work in places where rights are backsliding,” added Trinh Nguyen of Rhize, which offers coaching and training for organizations involved in social movements.

Kathryn Fahey, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 2011 with a bachelor’s in social thought and political economy and is now pursuing a degree in conflict resolution and coexistence at Brandeis’ Heller School of Social Policy and Management, was heartened by the broad range of organizations that gathered for the summit. “I’ve only been working in the field for five years, so it’s a good opportunity to see how multidisciplinary the peace field is,” she said. “It’s exciting for me to see a commitment to peace from a multitude of disciplines working collaboratively.”

Topol Summit Executive Summary 2017