Lesson 1: Introduction
Popular movements have battled entrenched regimes or military forces with weapons very different from guns and bullets. Strikes, boycotts or other disruptive actions were used as sanctions, as aggressive measures to constrain or punish opponents and to win concessions. Petitions, parades, walkouts and demonstrations roused public support for the resisters. Forms of noncooperation (such as boycotts, resignations, and civil disobedience) helped subvert the operations of government. And direct intervention in the form of sit-ins, nonviolent sabotage and blockades frustrated many rulers’ efforts to subjugate people.
The historical results were massive: tyrants were toppled, governments were overthrown, occupying armies were impeded and political systems that withheld human rights were shattered. Entire societies were transformed, suddenly or gradually, by nonviolent resistance that destroyed opponents’ ability to control events.
- In South Africa in 1907, Mohandas Gandhi led Indian immigrants in a nonviolent fight for rights denied them by white rulers. The power that Gandhi pioneered has been used by underdogs on every continent and in every decade of the 20th century, to fight for their rights and freedom.
- In the 1960s, Gandhi’s nonviolent weapons were taken up by black college students in Nashville, Tennessee. Disciplined and strictly nonviolent, they successfully desegregated Nashville’s downtown lunch counters in five months, becoming a model for the entire civil rights movement.
- In India in the 1930s, after Gandhi had returned from South Africa, he and his followers adopted a strategy of refusing to cooperate with British rule. Through civil disobedience and boycotts, they successfully loosened their oppressors’ grip on power and set India on the path to freedom.
- In 1985, a young South African named Mkhuseli Jack led a movement against the legalized discrimination known as apartheid. Their campaign of nonviolent mass action, most notably a devastating consumer boycott in the Eastern Cape province, awakened whites to black grievances and fatally weakened business support for apartheid.
- In April, 1940, German military forces invaded Denmark. Danish leaders adopted a strategy of “resistance disguised as collaboration”- undermining German objectives by negotiating, delaying, and obstructing Nazi demands. Underground resistance organized sabotage and strikes, and rescued all but a handful of Denmark’s seven thousand Jews.
- In 1980, striking workers in Poland demanded independent unions. Using their leverage to negotiate unprecedented rights in a system where there was no power separate from the communist party, they created a union, Solidarity. Driven underground by a government crackdown in 1981, Solidarity re-emerged in 1989 as Poland’s governing political party.
- In 1983, Chilean workers initiated a wave of non violent protests against the military dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Severe repression failed to stop the protests, and violent opposition failed to dislodge the dictatorship- until the democratic opposition organized to defeat Pinochet in a 1988 referendum.
News coverage of mass nonviolent action has left the impression that “people power” comes from the size or energy of crowds that agitate in city streets. The true rhythm of nonviolent action is less spontaneous than it is strategic. It has little to do with shouting slogans and putting flowers in gun barrels. It has everything to do with separating governments from their means of control.
The greatest misconception about conflict is that violence is the ultimate form of power, surpassing other methods of advancing a just cause or defeating injustice. But Indians, Danes, Poles, South Africans, Chileans, African Americans and many others have proved the efficacy of nonviolent action, which “is capable of wielding great power even against ruthless rulers and military regimes, because it attacks the most vulnerable characteristic of all hierarchical institutions and governments: dependence on the governed.”
Source Credits: International Center for Nonviolent Conflict