marcella alvarez
Speech and debate taught me how to think quickly on my feet, but also how to prepare for pointed criticisms.

After graduating from Albuquerque Academy in 2008, Marcella Alvarez attended Colorado College, pursuing a double major in Russian language and comparative literature. At the time, Marcella was expecting a career in immigration law.

But, a chance meeting in 2012 with two Eastern European activists, changed everything.

“I met Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, directors of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) when they were conducting a seminar class there. We had multiple discussions about nonviolent resistance and we really hit it off,” she says.

Marcella, who was raised Quaker, was no stranger to human rights activism and civil disobedience. As a Quaker, she was already familiar with nonviolent resistance, but CANVAS’ approach intrigued her. “CANVAS’ branch of nonviolent resistance was not so much tied to spiritual or religious ideology, but was instead strategic,” she explains. “Nonviolent resistance engages large swaths of society–youth, elderly, women, religious, atheists–and through this process of building unity, we can help to establish a base for democratic initiatives to flourish.”

After completing her degree, Marcella accepted a position at the CANVAS headquarters in Belgrade. In May 2012, she left for Europe, traveling around the Czech Republic and Central Europe for a while, before arriving in her new home in Serbia.

“My daily duties include heading the internship program, working on published materials, and organizing workshops for civil resistors,” she says. “I have recently co-authored a textbook with Srdja Popovic entitled “Making Oppression Backfire.” The book teaches civil resistors how to strategize, plan, and organize a nonviolent movement, from the grassroots level all the way to a large scale campaign.

Marcella says she has definitely found much from her Academy experience that has helped her with her work in Serbia, particularly her involvement with the Speech and Debate team. “Often in workshops, I have to make presentations to activists that have been working in the field for years and years. Being able to articulate myself persuasively and simply has proven an invaluable skill,” she admits. “Speech and debate taught me how to think quickly on my feet, but also how to prepare for pointed criticisms. This is a very politicized line of work, and we get a constant barrage of criticism and conspiracy theories from media, bloggers, and newspapers about our work. It’s necessary not only to not take it to heart, but to be able to break down precisely what the issue is, and then respond in a sound and logical manner.”

Marcella is planning to continue her work in Serbia for at least a few more years, but she also has her eye on graduate school. “But, right now I have found some very exciting opportunities and I am happy to be here. I will likely go into some kind of international relations or development. Non-governmental organization administration also is something that very much appeals to me.”