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Activist Gives E4A Keynote Address

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It doesn't take a Harvard education to change the world, Linda Stout, a social activist and the founder of the Piedmont Peace Project, told a group of about 40 people gathered in Harvard Hall on Saturday.

Stout described her own development as a social activist and outlined her personal vision for the future in Saturday's keynote address of Education for Action's (E4A) week-long anti-violence initiative.

"If we don't make radical changes in our society we are on the verge of self-destruction," Stout said.

During a question and answer period following the speech, she said students play an important role in her efforts, noting Harvard students have worked for her in the past.

She said because of who they are, students often have access to resources not available to the grass-roots organizations themselves.

Stout described her upbringing in a small rural community as the daughter of a tenant farmer and a mill worker, where she cherished a dream of "going to college, owning a house and having running water."

Stout said that "internalized oppression" of minorities can lead to self-hatred and reinforce the silence of oppressed groups.

She supported her statements with examples from her own life.

"I know what it's like to feel poor and powerless," Stout said, describing how, while growing up in the rural South, she would often spend hours cleaning, in the hopes that "if I picked up everything enough people wouldn't call me 'white trash.'"

In her speech, Stout described her vision of a world. She said it would have strong community bonds and be free of pollution and violence, adding that "where we are currently headed is exactly the opposite of my vision."

Stout also emphasized the need for "real" democracy, citing statistics which indicate that more than half of Americans do not exercise their right to vote.

The speech was part of a week-long series of panels, workshops and speeches, which were designed to address "violence" in various incarnations, from physical to economic. The initiative was co-sponsored by eight campus and community organizations.

Carolyn M. Fast '98, an E4A board member who organized Stout's speech, said Stout was chosen as the keynote speaker in part because she developed many of the inclusive social action programs which E4A has incorporated.

Students generally approved of Stout's remarks.

"It questions the typical Harvard liberal pretension to make social change within the system through good will," said Gaston de los Reyes '96, a Crimson editor. "And shows that change does not trickle down from the top but comes from mass organization from below."

"I was very happy to hear someone...issue a challenge to people like us who will likely be in a position to effect social action and to acquaint us with our options," said Michelle C. Sullivan '96-'97.

In her speech, Stout said that socio-economic divisions can interfere with efforts to effect social action.

She recalled a speech she gave at the Law School in which a student commended her words, only to add that they might have been more effective if she had used proper grammar.

Stout's reply: "I use perfect grammar in my community."

"I have tried to understand why this nation has never created the democratic society we said we want," Stout said.

Stout described her method of teaching community empowerment as forcing citizens to commit action themselves, even when organizers might be able more quickly to achieve purposes, in order to tech self-reliance.

Stout's mentor is Septima Clark, who taught such social action luminaries as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

In 1985, Stout founded the Piedmont Peace Project, which works on voter registration and community empowerment in her native area. This fall, she will release a book, Bridging the Class Divide.

In 1995, Stout became Executive Director of the Peace Development Fund in Amherst, where she continues her efforts by providing training and advice for social action groups across the country.

Stout said she was enthusiastic about the response to her speech. She stressed the importance of "alliances with community organizations and universities," and said she wished that "every college campus had an E4A.

"I was very happy to hear someone...issue a challenge to people like us who will likely be in a position to effect social action and to acquaint us with our options," said Michelle C. Sullivan '96-'97.

In her speech, Stout said that socio-economic divisions can interfere with efforts to effect social action.

She recalled a speech she gave at the Law School in which a student commended her words, only to add that they might have been more effective if she had used proper grammar.

Stout's reply: "I use perfect grammar in my community."

"I have tried to understand why this nation has never created the democratic society we said we want," Stout said.

Stout described her method of teaching community empowerment as forcing citizens to commit action themselves, even when organizers might be able more quickly to achieve purposes, in order to tech self-reliance.

Stout's mentor is Septima Clark, who taught such social action luminaries as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

In 1985, Stout founded the Piedmont Peace Project, which works on voter registration and community empowerment in her native area. This fall, she will release a book, Bridging the Class Divide.

In 1995, Stout became Executive Director of the Peace Development Fund in Amherst, where she continues her efforts by providing training and advice for social action groups across the country.

Stout said she was enthusiastic about the response to her speech. She stressed the importance of "alliances with community organizations and universities," and said she wished that "every college campus had an E4A.

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