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        El Poeta | Lesson Plan | Answering Violence with Non-Violent Action

        "It doesn't matter if we reached the tree and picked the fruit, what matters is having walked toward it."

        - Parayam Desai, Gandhi's disciple


        EL POETA tells the heartbreaking and inspiring story of renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, who ignited mass protests and an ongoing international movement after the brutal killing of his 24-year-old son Juan Francisco — collateral damage in a drug war that has left more than 100,000 dead or missing since 2006.

        After his son’s death in 2011, Sicilia called on the Mexican people to protest, bringing more than 100,000 people to the capital demanding that the government address the devastating impact of the militarized drug war. The movement, which embraced the principles of nonviolent action, launched peace caravans throughout Mexico and then crossed the border to the United States, urging American citizens and lawmakers to acknowledge that America’s appetite for drugs (the U.S. makes up 90 percent of the market for Mexican drugs) and loose gun laws have fueled the ongoing war.

        EL POETA transforms the hard news story of drugs, murder and corruption into a deeply personal examination of the impact of the ultimate loss on the human psyche – as well as the power of protest and the courage of conviction to inspire positive change.

        Description adapted from: VOCES PBS and New PBS Documentary 'El Poeta' Screening & Discussion At Logan Heights Library 


        Lesson Summary

        Filmed over three years, EL POETA follows the journey of Sicilia -- who was named one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year in 2011 -- and his “Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity” as they make their way from Mexico’s most embattled cities to the U.S.A. Meeting with victims and families across the country.

        In the 2011 interview with Time Magazine, Javier Sicilia explained, “I had never thought of starting a movement or being a spokesman for anything. I'm a poet, and poets are better known for working with more obscure intuitions. But in those moments I was reminded that the life of the soul can be powerful too. My chief intuition then was that we had to give name and form to this tragedy and somehow put that into action with real citizens as a way to tell the government, 'We need something new, especially new institutions to fight our lawlessness and corruption and impunity, not just that of the drug cartels but the state.'”*

        Through the film, we learn how Javier Sicilia’s passion for justice and his commitment to nonviolent protest were ignited by the lives and teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, as well as the Civil Rights movements of the1960’s. We also see how his poetry and his deeply held beliefs inform and shape his commitment to peaceful, collective action, the importance of bearing witness, and the power of an individual story.

        *Quote source: Tim Padgett, Why I Protest: Javier Sicilia of Mexico, Time. December 2011.


        Time Allotment

        90 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        Students will:

        • Understand the concept of Nonviolent Action and the Six Principles of Nonviolence from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
        • Examine the benefits and challenges of nonviolence as demonstrated by poet Javier Sicilia and the “Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity”
        • Create an Epistolary Poem in response to Javier Sicilia’s story that integrates research on a contemporary social justice issue



        Media Resources

        • Film Modules 
        1. EL POETA NONVIOLENCE Clip 1: “We marched together looking into each other's eyes and we gave each-other the first taste of justice, of solace.”
        2. EL POETA NONVIOLENCE Clip 2: “We all have to do our part and leave it better for the generations that are to come.”
        3. EL POETA NONVIOLENCE CLIP 3: “There's no sense in writing poetry in a world like this.” 


        Introductory Activity


        Time: 10 Minutes 

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils

        • DO NOW, THINK-PAIR-SHARE: Ask students to think about the phrase “Nonviolent Resistance.” Where have they heard this expression before? In what context? What does it mean to them?
        • Give students three minutes to write a brief definition for “Nonviolent Resistance” with at least one example that illustrates this this form of activism.
        • Have students to pair-up, share their responses, and work together to develop a collaborative definition. Ask if they can think of instances of nonviolent resistance that they have encountered in current events as well as historical examples.
        • Ask pairs to share their definitions and examples and record key words and phrases on the board or Kraft paper.
        • Have a volunteer look-up nonviolence and nonviolent action in a Dictionary and share the definitions with the class. For example: “nonviolence: noun the practice of refusing to respond to anything (such as unfair or violent acts by a government) with violence.” Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
        • Develop a collective working definition from the responses and revisit and refine the definition throughout the lesson.
        • Wrap-up the DO NOW by discussing the students' examples of Nonviolent Action:
        1. What do these examples have in common? ▪ What are some differences?
        2. What impact did these actions have? Do you think they were successful? Why or why not?
        3. Why do you think individuals and communities choose nonviolent action?
        4. Have you ever participated in a nonviolent protest or act of nonviolent resistance? Can you briefly share your experience?


        Learning Activities


        Time: 15 minutes 

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils

        Film Modules: EL POETA Trailer and EL POETA FILM CLIP #1: “We marched together looking into each other's eyes and we gave each-other the first taste of justice, of solace.”

        Student Handouts: EL POETA: THE FILM IN CONTEXT

        Summary: Students will screen and discuss FILM CLIP #1

        • Distribute STUDENT HANDOUT: THE FILM IN CONTEXT, which provides an overview and context for the film EL POETA. (Facilitator Option: Students can review this handout as a Take Home assignment in advance of the lesson).
        • View the EL POETA Trailer then screen FILM CLIP #1: “We marched together looking into each other's eyes, and we gave each-other the first taste of justice, of solace.”
        • Discuss using the prompts provided (as needed).
        • Ask student to take notes during the screenings and record quotes, characters, events, and scenes that demonstrate Nonviolent Resistance
        • Post-Screening Discussion Prompts CLIP #1:
        1. What surprised you most when you watched the clip?
        2. What quotes, characters, events, and scenes stood out for you?
        3. Had you heard about Javier Sicilia or the protest march against drug-related violence that happened in Mexico May 2011 before this screening? If so, how did you hear about it?
        4. What was Javier Sicilia’s reaction to the death of his son? How would you have reacted if you were in his shoes?
        5. How did Sicilia demonstrate the principles of nonviolent action in his response to his son’s killing? What specific examples can you give?
        6. What do you think Sicilia meant when he said in his speech, “This is Mexico ‘stepping up’?”
        7. Why was it significant that the “thousands of anonymous dead and disappeared began to have names and faces” through the victims telling their own stories?
        8. Javier Sicilia talks about the impact that the Civil Rights movement had on him and describes it as “the struggle for African American dignity in the United States.” Why do you think he used the word “dignity” instead of “rights”? The protest movement that Sicilia helps to build is called, “Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity”. How is the struggle for human dignity connected to the fight for social justice?
        9. Sicilia also talks about the 1968 student protests in Mexico City and how they “sowed a seed for freedom” in his young consciousness. Based on what you have learned, what do the Mexico City protests, the Civil Rights Movement and Sicilia’s own protest all have in common?
        10. One of the survivors says, “True peace is not just the absence of conflict. It is the presence of real justice.” Are there forms of violence that go beyond acts of physical aggression? What examples can you give?
        11. What do you think Javier Sicilia meant when he said in his speech: “We are here to say the nation can be reborn out of its ruins. To show the lords of death that we are standing up, and that we will always defend the lives of the sons and daughters of this country, that we believe it is possible to rescue and rebuild our towns, neighborhoods and cities.” What does he mean by this? 



        Time: 15 Minutes 

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, kraft paper

        Student Handouts: STUDENT HANDOUT A

        Teacher Resources: TEACHER HANDOUTS A & B

        Summary: Students will learn about Nonviolent Action, the principles of nonviolence and discuss the benefits and challenges of nonviolence through examples of nonviolent protest in action.

        Preparation: Copy and cut out the individual principals from TEACHER HANDOUT A: PRINCIPLES OF NONVIOLENCE. Make sure there at least three copies of each Principle and are enough slips for each student to have one Principle.

        • EXPLAIN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister and social activist, who helped define and lead the Civil Rights Movement in the United States from the 1950s until his assassination in 1968. Nonviolence was central to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work for racial justice. He developed his perspective on nonviolent action through his religious philosophy and the teachings and example of Mahatma Gandhi, who demonstrated the power of collective, passive resistance as the leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. King believed that any meaningful and lasting change concerning civil rights in the United States could only be reached through courageous nonviolence and he formalized his philosophy in his Six Principles of Nonviolence.
        • Cut out and distribute the slips of paper from TEACHER HANDOUT A. Each student should receive one “Principle” and there should be at least three copies of each Principle distributed.
        • Ask each student to read their Principle and think about what it means to them then re-write their Principle in their own words.
        • Have students form small groups with others who share their Principle and distribute STUDENT HANDOUT A. Groups should discuss their own responses, develop a collaborative interpretation for their Principle and provide an example (real or hypothetical) of that Principle in action.
        • Have each group present their Principle to the class and record and display all six of the Principles on the board or kraft paper to review throughout the lesson.
        • Facilitator Resources: The following resources can be used to guide your discussion and provide additional context:
        1. The Six Principles of Nonviolence from The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change:
        2. Instructor’s Guide for the 100 Days of Nonviolence, 2014



        Time: 20 Minutes (Dependent on discussion time)

        Film Module: EL POETA NONVIOLENCE CLIP #2: “We all have to do our part and leave it better for the generations that are to come.”

        You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens



        • Discuss: Now that we understand what Nonviolent Resistance is and some of the Principles of Nonviolence as practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., what are your thoughts about Nonviolence? (Students can discuss as a class or in smaller discussion groups.)
        1. Do you think Nonviolence can be effective?
        2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of Nonviolence?
        3. Are there times when violent resistance is necessary? Why or why not?
        4. When has nonviolent action brought about change? Can you give an example?
        • Discuss the impact of nonviolent action past and present using examples such as: MLK, Gandhi, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. Use the following resources to expand the discussion:
        1. Time Magazine Photo Series 10 Nonviolent Protests:,29307,1887394_1861256,00.html
        2. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict Movements and Campaigns:



        • View EL POETA FILM CLIP #2: “We all have to do our part and leave it better for the generations that are to come.”
        • Discuss using the prompts provided (as needed).
        • Ask student to take notes during the screenings and record quotes, characters, events, and scenes that demonstrate the value of Nonviolent Resistance
        • Post-Screening Discussion Prompts CLIP #2:
        1. Did you know about the Peace Caravan that Javier Sicilia lead across the United States? (How did you hear about it? –and/or—Why do you think you did not hear about it?)
        2. What was the response to Javier Sicilia’s Peace Caravan in the United States? o How was the U.S. response different than the response in Mexico?
        3. At one point, Sicilia was struggling with understanding the meaning and value of the protest Caravan because the response was so different in the U.S. than in Mexico. He talks about speaking with the Caravan participants and “this feeling of not knowing how to justify what we are doing because it's insane.” He goes on to say, “But this place takes on the spiritual level. A profound spiritual level that is difficult to speak about. But you live it, and express it through the actions and forces that drive us to overcome the pain imposed on us by life.” What do you think he meant by that? The goal of the Caravan through the U.S. was to raise awareness and change attitudes, but what impact do you think the experience had on the survivors themselves who traveled with the Sicilia?
        4. Thousands of people came out to support the Caravan throughout its journey. What did the film show us about the individuals and communities in the US who participated in the protest meetings and the impact that the Drug War has had in their lives?
        5. Why was it significant for Sicilia to meet with Congressman John Lewis? What role did he play in the Civil Rights movement?
        6. Congressman Lewis says in the film, “We all have to do our part and leave it better for the generations yet to come.” What does that mean to you? Do you agree that everyone has a part to play in this struggle? Why or why not?
        7. Do you think the movement that Javier Sicilia helped build and nonviolent protests they engaged in were successful? Why or why not? How do we measure success in movements like this?
        8. In the previous clip, Sicilia talks about how the Mexico City student Protests in 1968 “sowed a seed for freedom”. How have Javier Sicilia and all of the participants “sowed a seed for freedom” through this movement?


        Culminating Activity


        Time: 30 minutes

        Film Module: EL POETA NONVIOLENCE CLIP #3: “There's no sense in writing poetry in a world like this.”

        You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, kraft paper, white/blackboard, washable markers, pens/pencils, STUDENT HANDOUT B: A POEM FOR JANELO

        Summary: Students will learn about Javier Sicilia’s decision to cease writing poetry and read his final poem. Students will then write a response piece to the film and Javier Sicilia’s story in the form of an Epistolary Poem that will examine an injustice that they would like to raise awareness about and take action on.

        • Explain: Poetry and poets hold an important place in Mexican culture. In the film Ruben Martinez professor and journalist, explains, “’El Poeta, Javier Sicilia.’ Just the term ‘El Poeta.’ Here we say doctor, PhD. Poet is a capital P, it’s like a degree. And people listen to poets in Latin America.”
        • View EL POETA FILM CLIP #3
        • Divide the class into small discussion groups and distribute a copy of Javier Sicilia’s final poem—STUDENT HANDOUT B—to each group, and discuss the poem and Sicilia’s decision. (Facilitation tip: the poem can be read aloud to the class by a volunteer before breaking into groups.)
        • Ask the groups to share the results of their discussions and pose an additional question: Can poetry be a form of nonviolent protest?
        • Explain to the class that they will each write their own response to the film and Javier Sicilia’s story. Just as Mr. Sicilia addressed his poem to his son, the class will address their poem to Javier Sicilia in the form of an Epistolary Poem (a poem in the form of a letter). Resources for writing an Epistolary poem:
        1. Poetry Foundation – Learning the Epistolary Poem:
        2. The Epistolary Poem, Poetry International: Issue 18/19:
        • Have students brainstorm social issues that have had a personal impact in their lives and/or community and select one issue that they want to explore in their poem.
        • Facilitation Option: Poems can be structured in six stanzas incorporating each of the Six Principles of Nonviolence 
        • Poems can be completed and refined as homework and through peer feedback.
        • Completed poems should be performed, collected in a class poetry book, and/or published on your class website.



        Poetic Resistance:

        Students can examine the rich history of poets taking on social justice issues in their work and life ( Have students select a poet to research and have them explore the social issue that the artist was addressing in their work. Students can create a multimedia presentation aimed at engaging their peers in a discussion about their poet’s work and the social context in which they wrote. The presentation can be supported/enhanced by a performance of a poem by the author that resonated with them most deeply.


        Reframing the Issue:

        Ask students to read Javier Sicilia’s essay for CNN “A Father's Plea: End the War on Drugs”. In his essay, Javier Sicilia explains the caravan’s goal: “We seek to raise awareness and spur the good conscience of the people of the United States, while reframing the issues of war and peace on the bilateral [meaning: involving two parties, usually countries] agenda of Mexico and the United States.” Article Link: Discussion prompts:

        • What does Javier Sicilia mean by “reframing” the issues of war and peace?
        • Could “reframing” this issue change the policies related to illegal drug use and trade? How or why not?
        • Do you agree with Javier Sicilia? Why or why not?


        Step-Up: Six Steps for Non-Violent Direct Action:

        Students can work in groups to develop a positive response to a critical issue in their community. Groups should explore the history of nonviolent resistance and identify constructive strategies that have succeeded in bringing about positive social change and the past. Based on their research, students can consider what steps they could appropriately adopt and implement and present their ideas to the teacher and class for review.


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