Does Non-Violence Matter? Part II

Nonviolent resistance

The Salt March on March 12, 1930

A demonstrator offers a flower to military police at a National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam-sponsored protest in Arlington, Virginia, on October 21, 1967

A “No NATO” protester in Chicago, 2012

Nonviolent resistance (NVR or nonviolent action) is the practice of achieving goals such as social change through symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation, satyagraha, or other methods, while being nonviolent. 

This type of action highlights the desires of an individual or group that feels that something needs to change to improve the current condition of the resisting person or group.

Nonviolent resistance is largely but wrongly taken as synonymous with civil disobedience. Each of these terms—nonviolent resistanceand civil disobedience—has different connotations and commitments. Berel Lang argues against the conflation of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience on the grounds that the necessary conditions for an act instancing civil disobedience are: (1) that the act violates the law, (2) that the act is performed intentionally, and (3), that the actor anticipates and willingly accepts punitive measures made on the part of the state against him in retaliation for the act.

Since acts of nonviolent political resistance need not satisfy any of these criteria, Lang argues that the two categories of action cannot be identified with one another.

Furthermore, civil disobedience is a form of political action which necessarily aims at reform, rather than revolution: its efforts are typically directed at the disputing of particular laws or group of laws, while conceding the authority of the government responsible for them.

In contrast, political acts of nonviolent resistance can have revolutionary ends. Finally, according to Lang, civil disobedience need not be nonviolent, although the extent and intensity of the violence is limited by the non-revolutionary intentions of the persons engaging in civil disobedience. For example, Lang argues, the violent resistance by citizens being forcibly relocated to detentions, short of the use of lethal violence against representatives of the state, could plausibly count as civil disobedience but could not count as nonviolent resistance.

Major nonviolent resistance advocates include Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau, Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, Leo Tolstoy, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, James Bevel, Václav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Wałęsa, Gene Sharp, Nelson Mandela, and many others.

From 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in fifty of sixty-seven transitions from authoritarianism. The Singing Revolution in Baltic states led to the Dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Recently, nonviolent resistance has led to the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.

Research shows that non-violent campaigns diffuse spatially. Information on non-violent resistance in one country could significantly affect non-violent activism in other countries. Current nonviolent resistance includes the Jeans Revolution in Belarus, the Black Lives Mattermovement in the United States initially and now internationally, the fight of the Cuban dissidents, and internationally the Extinction Rebellion and School strike for climate. Many movements which promote philosophies of nonviolence or pacifism have pragmatically adopted the methods of nonviolent action as an effective way to achieve social or politicalgoals.

They employ nonviolent resistance tactics such as: information warfare, picketing, marches, vigils, leafletting, samizdat, magnitizdat, satyagraha, protest art, protest music and poetry, community education and consciousness raising, lobbying, tax resistance, civil disobedience, boycotts or sanctions, legal/diplomatic wrestling, Underground Railroads, principled refusal of awards/honors, and general strikes. Nonviolent action differs from pacifism by potentially being proactive and interventionist.

A great deal of work has addressed the factors that lead to violent mobilization, but less attention has been paid to understanding why disputes become violent or nonviolent, comparing these two as strategic choices relative to conventional politics. Wiki

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