“This mother-and-son effort earns high marks both for adding less-celebrated names to the pantheon of peacemongers and for nothing that the nonviolent approach to civil protest doesn't always work—which makes the courage of those who engage in it all the more exemplary.”
In 1908 Mohandas Gandhi spoke to a crowd of 3,000. Together they protested against an unjust law without guns or rioting, creating change without using violence. Gandhi’s words and deeds influenced countless others to work toward freedom and justice through nonviolent resistance.
Mother-son team Anne Sibley O’Brien and Perry Edmond O’Brien highlight some of the people and events that Gandhi’s actions inspired. From Rosa Parks to the students at Tiananmen Square to Wangari Maathai's Green Belt Movement, these people have made the world sit up and take notice.
The Story Behind
In November of 2004, Perry O’Brien accomplished what most consider an impossible feat in the military: he was granted an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. Three years into a four-year enlistment in Afghanistan, Perry began having questions. "When you see a three-year-old child blown up, it forces you to ask yourself, 'What would ever justify this?'" After long discussions with his unit’s chaplain and intensive study of philosophy and Eastern religion, Perry came to the conclusion that war had never, and would never, solve conflicts. At the age of 21, Perry was one of 31 servicemen granted conscientious objector status in 2004.
Upon his return to the U.S. Perry continued to campaign for peace. His mother, renowned children’s author Anne Sibley O’Brien, suggested that they combine her artistic ability with his knowledge of philosophy and history. Their collaboration resulted in the book for young readers, After Gandhi: One Hundred Years of Nonviolent Resistance, which highlights thirteen activists and five movements who chose nonviolent resistance as the path to change.
Perry continued to promote nonviolent paths to change through his work as a labor organizer in New York City. He has been an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and was a founder of the #VetsVsHate movement. Perry received his MFA in creative writing from New York University and currently works with Beyond the Choir, a social change strategy and training group.
"The core of my activism," says Anne, "is the knowledge that across race, culture, class, and all kinds of differences, we all belong to each other."