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Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place today, the only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less despondent spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the wrongs of his race should find them; on that separate but more free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are not with her, but against her - the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error, nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution.
A person trying to practice non-violence will refuse to retaliate violently. He merely absorbs the physical punishment. This sounds crazy to the average person, who has been taught to protect himself by retaliating when attacked, even if he does take a beating in the process. Why, then, is non-retaliation essential to the non-violent approach? From the negative standpoint, if non-violence is forsaken by the minority group it means the police can be called to arrest them. From the positive point of view, non-retaliatory action may make possible the winning of the support of the public, of the police, and of the opposition.
I am sure that Marshall is either ill-formed on the principles and techniques of nonviolence or ignorant of the process of social change.
Unjust social laws and patterns do not change because supreme courts deliver just decisions. One needs merely to observe the continued practice of Jim Crow in interstate travel, six months after the Supreme Court's decision, to see the necessity of resistance. Social progress comes from struggle; all freedom demands a price.
At times freedom will demand that its followers go into situations where even death is to be faced. Resistance on the buses would, for example, mean humiliation, mistreatment by police, arrest, and some physical violence inflicted on the participants.
But if anyone at this date in history believes that the "white problem," which is one of privilege, can be settled without some violence, he is mistaken and fails to realize the ends to which men can be driven to hold on to what they consider their privileges.
This is why Negroes and whites who participate in direct action must pledge themselves to non-violence in word and deed. For in this way alone can the inevitable violence be reduced to a minimum.
We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of nonviolence as the foundation of our purpose, the pre-supposition of our faith, and the manner of our action. Nonviolence as it grows from Judaic-Christian traditions seeks a social order of justice permeated by love. Integration of human endeavor represents the crucial first step towards such a society.
Through nonviolence, courage displaces fear; love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice; hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; faith reconciles doubt. Mutual regard cancels enmity. Justice for all overthrows injustice. The redemptive community supersedes systems of gross social immorality.
Love is the central motif of nonviolence. Love is the force by which God binds man to himself and man to man. Such love goes to the extreme; it remains loving and forgiving even in the midst of hostility. It matches the capacity of evil to inflict suffering with an even more enduring capacity to absorb evil, all the while persisting in love.
By appealing to conscience and standing on the moral nature of human existence, nonviolence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.
Privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance. Hence the basic question which confronts the world's oppressed is: How is the struggle against the forces of injustice to be waged? The alternative to violence is non-violent resistance. The non-violent resister must often express his protest through non-cooperation or boycotts, but he realizes that non-cooperation and boycotts are not ends in themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame in the opponent.
Laws serve to deter crime and protect the weak from the strong in civilized society. Where there is a breakdown of law, where is the force of deterrent? Only highly civilized and moral individuals respect the rights of others. The Southern brute respects only force. Nonviolence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized, but nonviolence is no repellent for a sadist.
I have great respect for the pacifist, that is for the pure pacifist. I am not a pacifist and I am sure I may safely say most of my people are not. Passive resistance is a powerful weapon in gaining concessions from oppressors, but I venture to say that if Mack Parker (a black man lynched in 1959) had had an automatic shotgun at his disposal, he could have served as a great deterrent against lynching.
Here one must be clear that there are three different views on the subject of violence. One is the approach of pure nonviolence, which cannot readily or easily attract large masses, for it requires extraordinary discipline and courage. The second is violence exercised in self-defense, which all societies, from the most primitive to the most cultured and civilized, accept as moral and legal.
The principle of self-defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi, who sanctioned it for those unable to master pure nonviolence. The third is the advocacy of violence as a tool of advancement, organized as in warfare, deliberately and consciously. To this tendency many Negroes are being tempted today. There are incalculable perils in this approach. It is not the danger or sacrifice of physical being which is primary, though it cannot be contemplated without a sense of deep concern for human life. The greatest danger is that it will fail to attract Negroes to a real collective struggle, and will confuse the large uncommitted middle group, which as yet has not supported either side. Further, it will mislead Negroes into the belief that this is the only path and place them as a minority in a position where they confront a far larger adversary than it is possible to defeat in this form of combat. When the Negro uses force in self-defense he does not forfeit support - he may even win it, by the courage and self-respect it reflects. When he seeks to initiate violence he provokes questions about the necessity for it, and inevitably is blamed for its consequences. It is unfortunately true that however the Negro acts, his struggle will not be free of violence initiated by his enemies, and he will need ample courage and willingness to sacrifice to defeat this manifestation of violence. But if he seeks it and organizes it, he cannot win.
The Negro people can organize socially to initiate many forms of struggle which can drive their enemies back without resort to futile and harmful violence. In the history of the movement, many creative forms have been developed - the mass boycott, sitdown protests and strikes, sit-ins - refusal to pay fines and bail for unjust arrests - mass marches - mass meetings - prayer pilgrimages, etc.
There is more power in socially organized masses on the march than there is in guns in the hands of a few desperate men. Our enemies would prefer to deal with a small armed group rather than with a huge, unarmed but resolute mass of people. However, it is necessary that the mass-action method be persistent and unyielding.
The movement started out as a movement of nonviolence and as a Christian movement, and we wanted to make that very clear to everybody, that it was a movement that was seeking justice more than anything else and not a movement to start a war. We knew that probably the most powerful and potent weapon that people have literally no defense for is love, kindness. That is, whip the enemy with something that he doesn't understand. The individual who had probably the most influence on us was Gandhi, more than any single individual.
I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist? An extremist for love, truth and goodness.
There are two types of laws: just and unjust. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal". Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over his injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
Look at the American Revolution in 1776. That revolution was for what? For land. Why did they want land? Independence. How was it carried out? Bloodshed. Number one, it was based on land, the basis of independence. And the only way they could get it was bloodshed. The French Revolution - what was it based on? The landless against the landlord. What was it for? Land. How did they get it? Bloodshed. Was no love lost, was no compromise, was no negotiation. I'm telling you - you don't know what a revolution is. Because when you find out what it is, you'll get back in the alley, you'll get out of the way.
The Russian Revolution - what was it based on? Land; the landless against the landlord. How did they bring it about? Bloodshed. You haven't got a revolution that doesn't involve bloodshed. And you're afraid to bleed. I said, you're afraid to
As long as the white man sent you to Korea, you bled. He sent you to Germany, you bled. He sent you to the South Pacific to fight the Japanese, you bled. You bleed for white people, but when it comes to seeing your own churches being bombed and little black girls murdered, you haven't got any blood. You bleed when the white man says bleed; you bite when the white man says bite; and you bark when the white man says bark. I hate to say this about us, but it's true. How are you going to be nonviolent in Mississippi, as violent as you were in Korea? How can you justify being nonviolent in Mississippi and Alabama, when your churches are being bombed, and your little girls are being murdered, and at the same time you are going to get violent with Hitler, and Tojo, and somebody else you don't even know?
If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black 'women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.
So I cite these various revolutions, brothers and sisters, to show you that you don't have a peaceful revolution. You don't have a turn-the-other-cheek revolution. There's no such thing as a nonviolent revolution. The only kind of revolution that is nonviolent is the Negro revolution. The only revolution in which the goal is loving your enemy is the Negro revolution. It's the only revolution in which the goal is a desegregated lunch counter, a desegregated theater, a desegregated park, and a desegregated public toilet; you can sit down next to white folks - on the toilet. That's no revolution. Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis of all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.
Many people thought he was out of his mind when he led an army, not armed with guns or bricks or stones, 50,000 strong in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, and said to his followers: "Love your enemies, pray for them that curse and despitefully use you." Some of us may have wondered about him when he led us without physical weapons in the battles of Albany, Georgia; St. Augustine, Florida; and Danville, Virginia. And we knew something must have been wrong with him when defenseless we stood before Bull Connor in Birmingham facing vicious and hungry dogs, fire hoses and brutal policemen.
He was the redeemer of the soul of America. He taught the nation that "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," if followed to its ultimate conclusion, would only end in a totally blind and toothless society. He discovered that the most potent force for revolution and reform in America is nonviolence. He knew, as the eminent historian Arnold Toynbee has written, that if America is saved, it will be through the black man who can inject new dimensions of non-violence into the veins of our civilization.
Nonviolent Resistance - History
An exploration of nonviolence begins in recognizing the longstanding history of it. Today we take a brief look at its practice over time.
Nonviolence can be traced back through literature to the 6th century BC in India, most notably in the writings of Mahavira and the Buddha. In the 5th century BC it is found in China in the writings of Mo Di. Another major expression appears in the 4th century BC in Greece in the writings of Aristophanes and Plato.
In all these writings, the foundational idea is ahimsa– ‘no wounding’–what we today refer to as “doing no harm.” The term ‘nonviolent resistance’ is a newer way to describe this longstanding principle in philosophy and religion to refrain from damaging another through words or deeds. The means advocated for doing no harm have varied over the centuries and also depending on the type of harm being inflicted.
Worth noting in this blog series is that John Wesley made “doing no harm” the first of the General Rules of the United Societies–the precursor to all the denominations which trace their origin to early Methodism. Wesley’s use of “do no harm” was not his invention, but rather the expression of a commitment he saw in his Anglican tradition–itself a child of Roman and Orthodox Christianity, where the same idea can be found.
More recently, Mahatma Gandhi naturally assumed the posture of nonviolence from his Hindu tradition (within which he included Jainism and Buddhism), but he also saw it in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He was particularly influenced by Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in general, but particularly in Matthew 5:38-41.
Gandhi’s influence upon Martin Luther King Jr. came through his reading of E. Stanley Jones’ book, ‘Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend,’ writing “This is it!” in the margin where Jones was describing Gandhi’s nonviolent principles. King went on later to write his ‘Six Principles’ and ‘Six Steps’, which are still taught at The King Center in Atlanta.
The idea of nonviolent resistance continues to be lived out by people like John Lewis, and by a host of women and men committed to it (e.g. the “Waging Nonviolence” movement: http://www.wagingnonviolence.org). I have also been influenced to explore it through the witness of people like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.
The point today is to show that a commitment to nonviolence is stepping into a stream which has been flowing for thousands of years. It is a legitimate and often effective means of resisting evil and achieving a greater good. And most of all, it is a way to keep the fruit of the Spirit alive in the midst of struggle and suffering.
For Further Reading
Robert Holmes & Barry Gan, ‘Nonviolence in
Theory and Practice,’ 3rd ed (Waveland
Ramin Jahanbegloo, ‘Introduction to
Nonviolence’ (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
Gene Sharp, ‘Waging Nonviolent Struggle’
(Porter Sargent Publishers, 2005)
As a theologian, Martin Luther King reflected often on his understanding of nonviolence. He described his own “pilgrimage to nonviolence” in his first book, Stride Toward Freedom, and in subsequent books and articles. “True pacifism,” or “nonviolent resistance,” King wrote, is “a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love” (King, Stride, 80). Both “morally and practically” committed to nonviolence, King believed that “the Christian doctrine of love operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom” (King, Stride, 79 Papers 5:422).
King was first introduced to the concept of nonviolence when he read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience as a freshman at Morehouse College. Having grown up in Atlanta and witnessed segregation and racism every day, King was “fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system” (King, Stride, 73).
In 1950, as a student at Crozer Theological Seminary, King heard a talk by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. Dr. Johnson, who had recently traveled to India, spoke about the life and teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi, King later wrote, was the first person to transform Christian love into a powerful force for social change. Gandhi’s stress on love and nonviolence gave King “the method for social reform that I had been seeking” (King, Stride, 79).
While intellectually committed to nonviolence, King did not experience the power of nonviolent direct action first-hand until the start of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. During the boycott, King personally enacted Gandhian principles. With guidance from black pacifist Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, King eventually decided not to use armed bodyguards despite threats on his life, and reacted to violent experiences, such as the bombing of his home, with compassion. Through the practical experience of leading nonviolent protest, King came to understand how nonviolence could become a way of life, applicable to all situations. King called the principle of nonviolent resistance the “guiding light of our movement. Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method” (Papers 5:423).
King’s notion of nonviolence had six key principles. First, one can resist evil without resorting to violence. Second, nonviolence seeks to win the “friendship and understanding” of the opponent, not to humiliate him (King, Stride, 84). Third, evil itself, not the people committing evil acts, should be opposed. Fourth, those committed to nonviolence must be willing to suffer without retaliation as suffering itself can be redemptive. Fifth, nonviolent resistance avoids “external physical violence” and “internal violence of spirit” as well: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent but he also refuses to hate him” (King, Stride, 85). The resister should be motivated by love in the sense of the Greek word agape, which means “understanding,” or “redeeming good will for all men” (King, Stride, 86). The sixth principle is that the nonviolent resister must have a “deep faith in the future,” stemming from the conviction that “The universe is on the side of justice” (King, Stride, 88).
During the years after the bus boycott, King grew increasingly committed to nonviolence. An India trip in 1959 helped him connect more intimately with Gandhi’s legacy. King began to advocate nonviolence not just in a national sphere, but internationally as well: “the potential destructiveness of modern weapons” convinced King that “the choice today is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence” (Papers 5:424).
After Black Power advocates such as Stokely Carmichael began to reject nonviolence, King lamented that some African Americans had lost hope, and reaffirmed his own commitment to nonviolence: “Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it till the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence” (King, Where, 63–64). He wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: “We maintained the hope while transforming the hate of traditional revolutions into positive nonviolent power. As long as the hope was fulfilled there was little questioning of nonviolence. But when the hopes were blasted, when people came to see that in spite of progress their conditions were still insufferable … despair began to set in” (King, Where, 45). Arguing that violent revolution was impractical in the context of a multiracial society, he concluded: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. The beauty of nonviolence is that in its own way and in its own time it seeks to break the chain reaction of evil” (King, Where, 62–63).
We the Resistance: Documenting a History of Nonviolent Protest in the United States
Book — Non-fiction. Edited by Michael G. Long, foreword by Chris Hedges, afterword by Dolores Huerta. 610 pages. 2019.
Encounter the voices of activists sharing instructive stories through narrative and primary documents.
We the Resistance (2019). Published by City Lights.
Beginning with the pre-Revolutionary War era and continuing through to the present day, readers will encounter the voices of protestors sharing instructive stories through narrative and primary documents.
Instruction and inspiration run throughout this captivating reader, generously illustrated with historic graphics and photographs of nonviolent protests throughout U.S. history. (Description from the publisher.)
This comprehensive documentary history of non-violent resisters and resistance movements is an inspiring antidote to any movement fatigue or pessimism about the value of protest. It tells us we can learn from the past as we confront the present and hope to shape the future. Read, enjoy and take courage knowing you are never alone in trying to create a more just world. Persevere and persist and win, but know that even losing is worth the fight and teaches lessons for later struggles. — Mary Frances Berry, author of History Teaches Us to Resist: How Progressive Movements Have Succeeded in Challenging Times.
We the Resistance illustrates the deeply rooted, dynamic, and multicultural history of nonviolent resistance and progressive activism in North America and the United States. With a truly comprehensive collection of primary sources, it becomes clear that dissent has always been a central feature of American political culture and that periods of quiescence and consensus are aberrant rather than the norm. Indeed, the depth and breadth of resistant and discordant voices in this collection is simply outstanding. — Leilah Danielson, author of American Gandhi: A. J. Muste and the History of American Radicalism in the Twentieth Century.
On May 28, 1963, Black students and a white professor from Tougaloo College sat peacefully at the lunch counter in the segregated Woolworth’s in downtown Jackson, Mississippi. A mob of white men doused them with ketchup, kicked one student in the face until he lost consciousness, and clubbed the teacher to the floor and poured salt in his wounds.
At a mass meeting that night, Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers vowed, “We’ll be demonstrating here until freedom comes.” Six hundred children joined the protest and were arrested and hauled in garbage trucks to a makeshift jail at the state fairgrounds.
A nationwide campaign of nonviolent civil rights protests began on February 1, 1960, at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and spread across the South and North. In October 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and fifty others were arrested for protesting segregated stores and restaurants in Atlanta. On July 7, 1964, nine Black children were beaten by white men for ordering at a whites-only lunch counter in Bessemer, Alabama.
Nonviolent activists boycotted segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama, for more than a year starting in 1955, and endured police beatings while marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to demand equal voting rights for Black citizens. By choosing means as pure as the ends they sought, the leaders and practitioners of nonviolent resistance seized the moral high ground for the civil rights movement and revolutionized the philosophy and tactics of social protest in America.
The Irish Revolution’s overlooked history of nonviolent resistance
This month marks the 100th anniversary of Dáil Éireann, Ireland’s Parliament. Amid the better-known events of a century ago that led to Ireland’s independence from its union with Britain, such as the Easter Rising or the island’s partition with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the significance of Dáil Éireann’s founding on January 21, 1919 is often underappreciated. This is unfortunate, since it played a crucial role in the Irish Revolution’s outcome and was a path-breaking event in the emergence of nonviolent civil resistance methods over the last century.
The usual story of Ireland’s independence struggle runs something like this: Revolutionary movements such as Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen in 1798 or the Fenians in 1867 staged a series of violent “risings” against British rule that, while creating romantic nationalist heroes, were easily suppressed (Google “the battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage patch” to get a sense of how they often turned out). These “physical force nationalists” were opposed by “constitutional nationalists” such as Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell who instead pursued a nonviolent reformist agenda within the British political system that gradually proved more successful.
A political cartoon from 1886 showing men kicking British Prime Minister William Gladstone and the Home Rule bill in the air. (Wikimedia Commons)
O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation movement won civil and political rights for Irish Catholics in the first half of the 19th century. Toward the end of the century, Parnell welded most of the British Parliament’s Irish representatives into the Irish Parliamentary Party, a block of votes that traded its ability to make or break majorities for concessions such as land reform that helped transfer farms from absentee British landlords to their Irish tenants. The chief goal of the constitutional nationalists was Home Rule, which would grant Ireland its own parliament and significant autonomy, though still as part of the larger British constitutional system and under some measure of British sovereignty. After a decades-long fight and several near misses, the British finally granted Home Rule in 1914, only to suspend it with the outbreak of World War I.
This is where momentum shifted back toward physical force nationalism. As majority-Protestant areas around Belfast in the north raised a militia and imported arms to resist Home Rule and keep the British union as it was, majority-Catholic areas in the rest of Ireland responded in kind. In an environment of increasing militarism, Patrick Pearse and a small group of armed rebels seized key positions in Dublin on Easter Monday in 1916 and proclaimed an Irish Republic completely independent of Britain.
The British military’s heavy-handed response — reducing the center of Dublin to ruin, executing the Rising’s leaders, imprisoning thousands not even involved, and declaring martial law — further radicalized the country. Within three years, the Irish Republican Army, or IRA, had launched a bloody insurgency campaign against British troops and local police units. The Anglo-Irish War, fought as a series of ambushes, assassinations and civilian reprisals, finally forced the British to cede Ireland its de facto independence in 1922, but only after partitioning off six counties that would remain part of the British union as Northern Ireland.
The usual story’s framing of violent versus reformist methods in Irish nationalism is true as far as it goes, but also incomplete. What it misses is a powerful third tradition of radical, extralegal, but still nonviolent resistance. In the 19th century, many rural communities, often organized by women in the Ladies’ Land League, refused to pay rent to British absentee landlords or work for their local land agents at harvest time. Indeed, our word “boycott” is named for Captain Charles Boycott, a land agent in County Mayo ostracized by his local community in 1880 during a noncooperation campaign.
An Irish Land League poster from the 1880s. (Wikimedia Commons)
Nonviolent methods grew more widespread leading up to and during the revolutionary period. In the years preceding to the Easter Rising, Dublin saw major industrial and transportation strikes activists such as Helena Molony, arrested for destroying a picture of King George V during his coronation visit to Ireland, refused to pay fines and took jail sentences instead and some Irish juries would not convict locals accused of opposing the British war effort during World War I. After the Rising, railway workers refused to carry British troops and munitions, other work-stoppages secured the release of political prisoners, and hunger strikes by Irish nationalists in British custody brought international condemnation down on the British government.
The key figure in this tide of nonviolent defiance was Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin. Griffith was not a principled pacifist, but he believed nonviolent methods would prove more effective against British rule in Ireland. His was a nationalism that advocated dissolving the political and economic ties that linked Ireland to Britain by acting as if they no longer existed, an approach signaled by the name Sinn Féin, which is Irish for “Ourselves.”
Founded a decade before the Easter Rising, Griffith’s Sinn Féin movement came into its own in the revolutionary environment of the Rising’s aftermath. When the British government, desperate to replace soldiers killed at the front during World War I, decided to extend military conscription to Ireland in early 1918, Sinn Féin joined labor unions and Catholic clergy to coordinate a massive nationwide civil disobedience campaign. Almost two million people signed an anti-conscription pledge after Sunday masses that April 21. Arresting Griffith and other movement leaders only strengthened opposition, and ultimately the British found conscription unenforceable.
The anti-conscription campaign was a springboard for Griffith’s most innovative idea: using British elections themselves to select, legitimize and seat a rival Irish government outside the British system. When elections to the British Parliament, long delayed by World War I and featuring a newly expanded franchise with the inclusion of women voters, arrived in late 1918, Sinn Féin candidates, again backed by labor activists and Catholic leaders, swept to victory everywhere except the unionist strongholds in the north. Following Griffith’s policy of “abstentionism,” they refused to take their seats in the British Parliament and instead, acting as if British authority no longer existed, gathered at Mansion House in Dublin to declare themselves Dáil Éireann, or Assembly of Ireland, establishing the independent Irish government that exists to this day.
The Sinn Fein members elected in the December 1918 election at the first Dail Eireann meeting, on January 21, 1919. (Wikipedia)
While the British outlawed the Dáil as a “terrorist organization,” it continued to operate underground in accordance with its newly drafted constitution, appointing government ministers, sending diplomats to foreign capitals, and issuing bonds to raise money hidden from British authorities in sympathetic Irish banks. Operating as a parallel government, it attracted increasing allegiance from ordinary Irish people.
Crucial to its growing legitimacy was the Dáil’s ability to extend its authority down to local communities. In early 1920, Sinn Féin again swept elections, this time at the city and county levels, gaining control of many local governments that quickly flipped their loyalty to the Dáil, refused to cooperate with British tax collection, switched their purchasing contracts to Irish-owned firms, and closed workhouses associated with the hated British poor-law system. Even more dramatic was the creation of “Dáil Courts,” a multi-tiered parallel judicial system that spread across most of Ireland. British courts formally remained in place, but they essentially ceased functioning as enforcers of British law when local people instead began taking their disputes to the new Dáil judicial system that became, in the words of one local observer, “the only authority in the County.”
The nonviolent defiance of British authority led by Dáil Éireann existed alongside and overlapped significantly with violent methods during the Anglo-Irish War. Many nationalists supported both approaches and moved back and forth between the Dáil’s political resistance and the IRA’s military operations. But while mainstream, popular historical accounts give the violence more attention and credit for the Irish Revolution’s outcome — often through romanticized accounts of leaders such as Michael Collins — they underplay or miss entirely other critically important aspects of the struggle.
The historical evidence is clear that the Dáil’s campaign of noncooperation and parallel government did just as much or more to make Ireland ungovernable and force the British into negotiations. These actions eventually led to an independent country in the 26 southern counties and the formal handover of administrative power to the Dáil as that country’s legitimate government.
Arthur Griffith. (Wikimedia Commons)
If the methods developed by Arthur Griffith and Dáil Éireann are underappreciated in the usual story of Ireland’s independence struggle, the same is true of their contributions to the history of nonviolent civil resistance more generally. Few realize the impact Griffith’s innovative techniques for withdrawing authority from an occupier had on better-known nonviolent campaigns that followed him. India’s is the most notable. After attending a Dublin Sinn Féin meeting in 1907, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote: “They do not want to fight England by arms but to ignore her, boycott her, and quietly assume the administration of Irish affairs.” Leaders of the Swadeshi movement that organized boycotts of British goods praised Griffith as a “model.” And, perhaps most significantly, Gandhi himself cited Griffith’s direct influence on his own ideas, though he decried the later turn to violence by many Sinn Féin members.
This influence shows how Griffith’s noncooperation techniques embodied by Dáil Éireann were important early contributors to one of the most significant developments of the last century: the emergence of organized civil resistance as an alternative to armed struggle. Indeed, as researchers such as Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth demonstrate, nonviolent civil resistance movements since 1900 are twice as likely as violent ones to succeed against an oppressive regime or foreign occupier.
And the case of Griffith and Dáil Éireann suggests such comparisons may actually understate the power of nonviolence. The Irish Revolution is an example of nonviolent strategies operating effectively, if more quietly, within an otherwise violent campaign, revealing how even seemingly successful violent movements may actually owe much of that success to overlooked nonviolent techniques operating behind the scenes. Dáil Éireann’s centenary, then, is a chance to celebrate this still-underappreciated revolutionary power of nonviolence.
Nonviolent Resistance - History
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Recent research suggests that nonviolent civil resistance is far more successful in creating broad-based change than violent campaigns are, a somewhat surprising finding with a story behind it.
When Erica Chenoweth started her predoctoral fellowship at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in 2006, she believed in the strategic logic of armed resistance. She had studied terrorism, civil war, and major revolutions — Russian, French, Algerian, and American — and suspected that only violent force had achieved major social and political change. But then a workshop led her to consider proving that violent resistance was more successful than the nonviolent kind. Since the question had never been addressed systematically, she and colleague Maria J. Stephan began a research project.
For the next two years, Chenoweth and Stephan collected data on all violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 that resulted in the overthrow of a government or in territorial liberation. They created a data set of 323 mass actions. Chenoweth analyzed nearly 160 variables related to success criteria, participant categories, state capacity, and more. The results turned her earlier paradigm on its head — in the aggregate, nonviolent civil resistance was far more effective in producing change.
The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) sat down with Chenoweth, a new faculty associate who returned to the Harvard Kennedy School this year as professor of public policy, and asked her to explain her findings and share her goals for future research. Chenoweth is also the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
WCFIA: In your co-authored book, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” you explain clearly why civil resistance campaigns attract more absolute numbers of people — in part it’s because there’s a much lower barrier to participation compared with picking up a weapon. Based on the cases you have studied, what are the key elements necessary for a successful nonviolent campaign?
CHENOWETH: I think it really boils down to four different things. The first is a large and diverse participation that’s sustained.
The second thing is that [the movement] needs to elicit loyalty shifts among security forces in particular, but also other elites. Security forces are important because they ultimately are the agents of repression, and their actions largely decide how violent the confrontation with — and reaction to — the nonviolent campaign is going to be in the end. But there are other security elites, economic and business elites, state media. There are lots of different pillars that support the status quo, and if they can be disrupted or coerced into noncooperation, then that’s a decisive factor.
The third thing is that the campaigns need to be able to have more than just protests there needs to be a lot of variation in the methods they use.
The fourth thing is that when campaigns are repressed — which is basically inevitable for those calling for major changes — they don’t either descend into chaos or opt for using violence themselves. If campaigns allow their repression to throw the movement into total disarray or they use it as a pretext to militarize their campaign, then they’re essentially co-signing what the regime wants — for the resisters to play on its own playing field. And they’re probably going to get totally crushed.
In 2006, Erica Chenoweth believed in the strategic logic of armed resistance. Then she was challenged to prove it.
Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
WCFIA: Is there any way to resist or protest without making yourself more vulnerable?
CHENOWETH: People have done things like bang pots and pans or go on electricity strikes or something otherwise disruptive that imposes costs on the regime even while people aren’t outside. Staying inside for an extended period equates to a general strike. Even limited strikes are very effective. There were limited and general strikes in Tunisia and Egypt during their uprisings and they were critical.
WCFIA: A general strike seems like a personally costly way to protest, especially if you just stop working or stop buying things. Why are they effective?
CHENOWETH: This is why preparation is so essential. Where campaigns have used strikes or economic noncooperation successfully, they’ve often spent months preparing by stockpiling food, coming up with strike funds, or finding ways to engage in community mutual aid while the strike is underway. One good example of that comes from South Africa. The anti-apartheid movement organized a total boycott of white businesses, which meant that black community members were still going to work and getting a paycheck from white businesses but were not buying their products. Several months of that and the white business elites were in total crisis. They demanded that the apartheid government do something to alleviate the economic strain. With the rise of the reformist Frederik Willem de Klerk within the ruling party, South African leader P.W. Botha resigned. De Klerk was installed as president in 1989, leading to negotiations with the African National Congress [ANC] and then to free elections, where the ANC won overwhelmingly. The reason I bring the case up is because organizers in the black townships had to prepare for the long term by making sure that there were plenty of food and necessities internally to get people by, and that there were provisions for things like Christmas gifts and holidays.
WCFIA: How important is the overall number of participants in a nonviolent campaign?
CHENOWETH: One of the things that isn’t in our book, but that I analyzed later and presented in a TEDx Boulder talk in 2013, is that a surprisingly small proportion of the population guarantees a successful campaign: just 3.5 percent. That sounds like a really small number, but in absolute terms it’s really an impressive number of people. In the U.S., it would be around 11.5 million people today. Could you imagine if 11.5 million people — that’s about three times the size of the 2017 Women’s March — were doing something like mass noncooperation in a sustained way for nine to 18 months? Things would be totally different in this country.
WCFIA: Is there anything about our current time that dictates the need for a change in tactics?
CHENOWETH: Mobilizing without a long-term strategy or plan seems to be happening a lot right now, and that’s not what’s worked in the past. However, there’s nothing about the age we’re in that undermines the basic principles of success. I don’t think that the factors that influence success or failure are fundamentally different. Part of the reason I say that is because they’re basically the same things we observed when Gandhi was organizing in India as we do today. There are just some characteristics of our age that complicate things a bit.
WCFIA: You make the surprising claim that even when they fail, civil resistance campaigns often lead to longer-term reforms than violent campaigns do. How does that work?
CHENOWETH: The finding is that civil resistance campaigns often lead to longer-term reforms and changes that bring about democratization compared with violent campaigns. Countries in which there were nonviolent campaigns were about 10 times likelier to transition to democracies within a five-year period compared to countries in which there were violent campaigns — whether the campaigns succeeded or failed. This is because even though they “failed” in the short term, the nonviolent campaigns tended to empower moderates or reformers within the ruling elites who gradually began to initiate changes and liberalize the polity.
One of the best examples of this is the Kefaya movement in the early 2000s in Egypt. Although it failed in the short term, the experiences of different activists during that movement surely informed the ability to effectively organize during the 2011 uprisings in Egypt. Another example is the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Myanmar, which was brutally suppressed at the time but which ultimately led to voluntary democratic reforms by the government by 2012. Of course, this doesn’t mean that nonviolent campaigns always lead to democracies — or even that democracy is a cure-all for political strife. As we know, in Myanmar, relative democratization in the country’s institutions has been accompanied by extreme violence against the Rohingya community there. But it’s important to note that such cases are the exceptions rather than the norm. And democratization processes tend to be much bumpier when they occur after large-scale armed conflict instead of civil resistance campaigns, as was the case in Myanmar.
WCFIA: What are your current projects?
CHENOWETH: I’m still collecting data on nonviolent campaigns around the world. And I’m also collecting data on the nonviolent actions that are happening every day in the United States through a project called the Crowd Counting Consortium, with Jeremy Pressman of the University of Connecticut. It began in 2017, when Jeremy and I were collecting data during the Women’s March. Someone tweeted a link to our spreadsheet, and then we got tons of emails overnight from people writing in to say, “Oh, your number in Portland is too low our protest hasn’t made the newspapers yet, but we had this many people.” There were the most incredible appeals. There was a nursing home in Encinitas, Calif., where 50 octogenarians organized an indoor women’s march with their granddaughters. Their local news had shot a video of them and they asked to be counted, and we put them in the sheet. People are very active and it’s not part of the broader public discourse about where we are as a country. I think it’s important to tell that story.
This originally appeared on the Weatherhead Center website. Part two of the series is now online.
The artwork, “Love and Revolution,” revolutionary graffiti at Saleh Selim Street on the island of Zamalek, Cairo, was photographed by Hossam el-Hamalawy on Oct. 23, 2011.
White Rose movement public memorial, Munich. Adam Jones/Wikimedia commons. Public domain. In his 2016 book Nonviolent Resistance to the Nazis George Paxton, a Trustee of the Gandhi Foundation, sets out what is effectively secret history in a culture that reveres the violent struggle against Nazi Germany – Dunkirk and Churchill being the latest films that focus on the military campaign.
Ian Sinclair (IS): What was the scale of the nonviolent resistance to the Nazis in occupied Europe? What were some of the methods used?
George Paxton (GP): The extent of nonviolent resistance used against the occupiers varied from country to country with the most active probably being Norway, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. The attitude of the Nazis to Eastern Europe, which they wanted to clear of its population in order to settle Germans, meant that the resistance was different in nature.
The size of the different campaigns of resistance ranged from a single individual to large sections of the population. In the case of the Norwegian teachers opposition to the schools’ Nazification, it was around 10,000 teachers supported by about 100,000 parents. Some strikes elsewhere involved even more than this.
The methods used in the various campaigns were very diverse such as marches, wearing symbols of resistance, private and public letters of protest, refusing to be conscripted for work, resigning from professional bodies taken over by the Nazis, hiding Jews, helping Jews escape, listening to BBC radio broadcasts, producing underground newspapers, collecting funds for resistance, deliberate slow working and many more.
IS: You include a section with a number of case studies of nonviolent resistance to the Nazis. Do you have a favourite?
GP: It is difficult to choose one but for a small scale resistance, involving just dozens of individuals, the White Rose group in Germany is one of the most impressive. Set up mainly by students at the University of Munich and including a brother and sister, Hans and Sophie Scholl, the group produced leaflets attacking the immoral nature of the Nazi regime and also the likelihood of its failure. Leaflets were printed secretly then posted out to individuals and left in public places. Groups were also started in other German towns and leaflets were transported by a resister by train in a suitcase.
But due to a careless act when Hans and Sophie were distributing leaflets at their university, they were arrested, interrogated, quickly tried and executed. This was followed by other arrests, executions and imprisonments. While their resistance was a failure in that the revolt of students they hoped to trigger did not occur, knowledge of their courageous acts spread widely in Germany and indeed abroad.
A contrasting successful resistance was the rescue of Jews, mainly children, by the villagers of Chambon-sur-Lignon on a high plateau south-west of Lyons in France. This village (and others in the region) became a hide-out for those escaping the Nazis and became a centre of safety, particularly for children. The inspiration for this action came from the Protestant pastor and his wife, André and Magda Trocmé. André was an in-comer from the north-east of France and a pacifist and his actions were a product of his Christian belief which influenced also the nature of the resistance. Thus he did not deny that Jews were hidden in the village and surrounding farms but refused to tell the police where they were hidden. André survived the occupation, although imprisoned for a time, and several thousand Jews and others hidden there survived until liberation.
There are detailed studies of these two cases published but many more have not been studied in detail and indeed no doubt some actions have been lost to history.
Although there were only about 8,000 Jews in Denmark almost all of them survived.
IS: What struck me reading your book was how Nazi Germany was not all-powerful in the countries they occupied, but was often forced to compromise and, occasionally, to back down because of nonviolent resistance. Can you talk about some of the successes those carrying out nonviolent resistance had?
GP: One of the most outstanding successes of resistance was the rescue of the Danish Jews. Denmark was treated relatively mildly by the Germans in part because the Danes were willing to supply Germany with agricultural produce. Their own government was allowed considerable independence for a while although the relationship soured eventually and the Germans took over.
The local German administration was then ordered to round up the Jews for deportation to Germany. But at the German embassy was an attaché, Georg Duckwitz, who contacted a leading Danish politician to tell him when the round-up was to take place. He, in turn, informed the Chief Rabbi who passed the word to the Jews, while non-Jewish friends hid Jews and then transported them to the coast where boats were hired to take them to neutral Sweden. Although there were only about 8,000 Jews in Denmark almost all of them survived, even the few hundred who were captured and sent to Germany were not sent to the death camps as had been promised to SS General Werner Best, the German head of government in Denmark.
In the Netherlands, an attempt to conscript former Dutch soldiers who had been disarmed by the Germans was met by the largest strike in the occupied countries. It began in mines and factories and spread until it involved half a million people who took to the streets. In response, more than 100 people were executed but far fewer former soldiers enrolled than the Germans wanted.
In Belgium, students and staff at the University of Brussels protested at the employment of Nazi staff and then organised teaching underground.
In the Netherlands and Norway the Germans failed to bring the doctors’ professional associations under their control due to non-cooperation by the doctors.
Opposition in Germany, particularly by Catholics, forced the stopping of the ‘euthanasia’ programme although many had been murdered before it was abandoned.
A recent study, Hitler’s Compromises by Nathan Stoltzfus, shows that Hitler was very careful to keep the German population ‘on side’. He was wary of dissent and compromised if it looked as if opposition to a policy was growing, e.g. the euthanasia programme and the Catholic opposition to attempted Nazification in the Catholic Church. He did the same with the effective opposition of German wives to the deportation of their Jewish husbands from Berlin.
Nonviolent resistance in Eastern Europe was different due to the more ruthless methods of the invader. In Poland, in spite of the extreme repression, the Nazis failed to destroy Polish culture due to the extensive development of underground organisations. School and university teaching continued in people’s houses with degrees being awarded and research papers published courts conducted trials political parties operated with a parliament and government departments separate military and civilian resistance groups operated money was obtained from the Polish Government-in-exile in London.
The hiding and rescuing of Jews was on a large scale throughout Europe with possibly as many as one million Jews saved (see Philip Friedman's Their Brothers' Keepers) this being done at great risk for the rescuers.
I think solidarity within the resisting group must be of great importance.
IS: Why do you think some campaigns were successful and others not?
GP: I think solidarity within the resisting group must be of great importance. The absolute numbers of resisters may not always be significant. For example, in Belgium insufficient solidarity and firmness by the higher civil servants and judges led to the Germans ultimately achieving their aims. Support from the general population was important elsewhere, e.g. funds to pay teachers on strike or working underground.
There were some quite important incidental factors such as nearness of mountains and forests for hiding and a border with a neutral country for escape.
The use of nonviolence itself is of great importance. A violent opposition will be resisted with maximum violence from the controlling power but nonviolent resistance will send different signals, e.g. we are less of a threat to you. This may give rise to a degree of sympathy among the security forces. The resisters have to be firm but not aggressive. The occupied population has the advantage of superior numbers if they choose to use their power.
IS: You contrast what you call Gandhian resistance with the pragmatic nonviolent action that people like Gene Sharp advocate. What are the main differences between the two?
GP: There isn’t a great deal dividing Sharp and Gandhi. But most of the nonviolent resistance used by resisters during the Nazi occupation was pragmatic in the sense that it was not usually underpinned by nonviolent theory in fact, it simply did not involve the use of weapons and so other writers prefer to call it civilian resistance.
Sharp developed nonviolent resistance theory which was independent of religious belief, Gandhi’s or others. In reality Gandhi’s beliefs were very inclusive although he tended to use Hindu terms which Sharp wanted to avoid as he did not want to tie nonviolence to any particular culture. Both of their approaches are grounded in ethics. Sharp’s academic work actually grew out of his interest in Gandhi’s career but Sharp put more emphasis on the use of power in considering the possible mechanism of nonviolent resistance Gandhi hoped for conversion of the opponent.
For most of the occupied populations a nonviolent resistance was simply not in their minds.
IS: How do you respond to the argument that it was ultimately violent action that ended the Third Reich, not nonviolent resistance?
GP: People in general, and governments in particular, think of defence only in terms of military action. This is still true today as it was in the 1930s. Therefore for most of the occupied populations a nonviolent resistance was simply not in their minds, except for a small number of pacifists. However, when their country was occupied and they did not have the means to resist in the conventional way the braver and more imaginative sometimes turned to non-military means.
Most people expected their countries to be liberated by military means from outside but what we need to take into consideration is the cost of violent resistance, which in WWII proved to be enormous in terms of deaths and destruction. And as Gandhi pointed out before WWII began the Allies would need to resort to the Nazis’ foul methods in order to ‘win’. When one remembers the blanket bombing of the German and Japanese cities which were largely occupied by civilians it is difficult to disagree.
The nonviolent resistance used in the occupied countries was too small in scale to defeat the invaders but I believe the potential is there, and with the knowledge we have today future conflicts could be handled by nonviolent resistance.
In HSD, we teach people to see patterns in complex situations, and to understand them in true and useful ways. The goal is to make choices and take actions that shift those patterns toward greater health and wellbeing—away from oppression.
In March of 1930, Gandhi invented the modern form of nonviolent resistance when he led a crowd across India to make salt from sea water. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King led nonviolent resistance on buses, in courthouses, and at lunch counters in the Southern US. You might consider nonviolent resistance, too, if you are dissatisfied with the patterns of tension, fear, and distrust that shape public life today. People from every camp—blue, red, and purple—are looking for a way to shift their communities away from today’s tensions and toward tomorrow’s possibilities. We do not want to give up. We hope that nonviolence is an option, but what can effective, nonviolent resistance look like in the media-rich, virtual world of contemporary citizen engagement?
Across the US and around the world, people are using many different nonviolent methods to express their concerns. For example, groups are boycotting products and events, unplugging from social media, joining marches, hosting dialogues, bringing lawsuits, and waging battles of words on Facebook and Twitter. All these activities help people connect to like-minded folks. They relieve frustration and fear, and they make us feel better for having tried. The problem is that none of these connects to the deep, underlying pattern of oppression that drives our current crisis. They are important signs of resistance, but they do not make an essential response to the modern-day instruments of oppression.
Gandhi lived in a world where the British Imperial government claimed control over the access to salt, which had been a right of the people for generations. So, Gandhi chose salt as the bedrock of his resistance movement. King fought concrete signs of racism where real people were denied real access to services because of their race. His nonviolent acts were not merely symbolic, they overcame concrete barriers that limited the quality of people’s lives. To be effective, to draw people in and make a clear and powerful statement, nonviolent resistance must be connected to differences that make a difference. They must focus attention on the cause of oppression and break through obvious and immediate barriers to freedom.
We have seen resistance movements in our recent past falter, in part because there was no clear, present, and physically immediate threat to freedom. Occupy Wall Street movements around the world rattled a sabre at the unseen world of privilege. Black Lives Matter focuses attention on painful and significant threats, but they have no choice but to focus on the last, not the next, attack on an innocent victim. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on the other hand, shifted patterns in a different way because the gesture put physical action in the moment of nonviolent resistance. Mothers Against Drunk Driving focuses on policy and practice to make social change, but their message is not physical and immediate. All these movements, and many more, have accomplished good work, and they continue to move patterns of public will. They are often derailed, however, because they do not speak to the essence of the current attacks on freedom and justice.
What would it mean to respond in a powerful, unambiguous way to the oppressive forces at work in 2017 America? In the US, many different and opposing groups are experiencing oppression. Those who stand with the liberals and those who stand with the conservatives, feel their freedoms restricted and their dreams constrained. Is there a single source of these dual oppressions? What would the essence of such an oppression be? Where can nonviolent action be taken to interrupt the actions of oppressors, whether they influence the right or the left?
In HSD, we teach people to see patterns in complex situations, and to understand them in true and useful ways. The goal is to make choices and take actions that shift those patterns toward greater health and wellbeing—away from oppression. Since November 8, 2016, we have searched for a useful way to see the patterns in the current political landscape. We seek to see what is happening to our society in a way that empowers each of us to take intentional action to make a difference. We want to see and influence the patterns of oppression that influence us.
There is no shortage of explanations for the current patterns of political distress: Income inequality lack of critical thinking in public education media echo chambers, institutional racism unregulated capitalism redistricting reality television and communist infiltration. Each of these explanations probably carries some scent of truth, but none of them is very useful. They are not useful because they give us no options for powerful action to shift toward something better. There is nothing significant that I can do, in this moment, in nonviolent response to these patterns of systemic oppression.
We continue to search for a pattern in the political landscape that is both true and useful. We are looking for at least one that explains what is happening and provides concrete, individual options for action in constructive response. At this point, we have three candidates. Each one emerges from a particular view of the current situation. Each one takes a point of view and deserves its own story. We believe all of them work across the whole spectrum of values, beliefs, and political identities. Like any good pattern, they are simple, but they are not easy. Once you see them, you cannot un-see them, and actions to counteract them become immediately obvious. Our investigations continue, of course, as we generate and test hypotheses with colleagues, opponents, and friends. Today, however, we pose three patterns to inform nonviolent resistance in 2017.
The first pattern is propaganda. We can call it “fake news” and pretend that it is unintended. But, the emergent pattern matches the rise of public conflict in troubled cultures across the world and through history. We have no difficulty recognizing propaganda for what it is, “over there,” but it is difficult to acknowledge it in our own culture. Nonviolent action in response to propaganda cannot be alternative propaganda, nor can it be truth. The one just reinforces the problem, and the second becomes indistinguishable from the first. We believe the only effective antidote to propaganda is inquiry.
The second candidate for a true and useful pattern in the political landscape is self-interest. This is not the balanced self-interest of Getting to Yes or free and fair elections. This is unadulterated self-interest that consumes everything and sacrifices nothing. Open altruism is no counter to this pattern of self-interest. In fact, radical self-interest feeds on the selflessness of others. Effective, nonviolent action in response to this pattern is a focus on fractal patterns—patterns that resonate across a complex system for the whole, the parts, and the greater whole.
Our third candidate for a pattern that creates destructive tension in our society is fatalism. We hear what we hear we know what we know and we expect what we expect. We think what we see is predetermined and inevitable. Too often, the patterns we recognize and name seem intractable. We believe they are the only possibility. If we are able to step outside of a moment and see other possibilities, we break free from an oppressive present. We may even open a door to a more fruitful future. The radical response to fatalism is imagination.
Over the coming months, we will test these patterns and possible responses to see whether they are true enough and useful enough to inspire effective nonviolent resistance. I invite you to join me in a series of Adaptive Action experiments. Over the coming months, in this space, we will explore the nature of each of these patterns. We will consider examples of and options for local, individual, nonviolent action that each pattern can inspire. And, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, we will offer specific activities you and your friends can take to shift the current painful and unproductive patterns of our political present toward better lives for all of us and all our children. Welcome to Adaptive Action as nonviolent resistance for the twenty-first century.