The section provides information on strategic nonviolence and links to organizations that provide training in nonviolent resistance, effective strategy and creative actions. For more information on a common vision and strategy that unites people into an effective national movement please see our page, about PopularResistance.org
Featured Video: The video to the right is an hour-long presentation on grand strategy given to the Fellowship Of Reconciliation in Olympia, WA. It is a reflection on how organizers can grow social movements to be impactful enough that they can effect social change, and it highlights principles and a theoretical framework that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions and tactics.
Organizations and Websites
Recent Articles in Strategy!
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, www.truth-out.org
June 13th, 2013
The fact is, United States and world histories show that an organized and mobilized populace is what has always caused transformational change. This history is not taught in our education system or emphasized in the heroes we idolize in our culture, but it is so significant that it cannot be hidden from view. The country could not operate if the people refused to participate in its corrupt systems. The ultimate power is with us, if we let go of fear and embrace it. Now that there is a history of more than 100 years of modern resistance movements, there is data to show what works and what doesn’t. As a result, we can develop a vision, a strategic plan and tactics that make success more likely than ever before.
Civil resistance – popular nonviolent struggle waged by ordinary people against dictatorship, foreign intervention, colonial occupation, corruption, or injustice with the use of diverse methods of nonviolent action – is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been practiced in a strategic manner for at least two centuries, going back as far as the American colonists’ mass boycotts and refusal to comply with the orders of the British crown that won them de-facto independence even before the American Revolution began. As the forthcoming book Why Civil Resistance Works, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan shows, both the frequency of instances in which civil resistance is waged and the knowledge of how it is effective are now accelerating. Consequently, civil resistance has a chance to overtake violent resistance as the global default method for grievance and rights-based struggles in the twenty-first century.
As Leymah Gbowee stood in front of a crowd of women at her church in Monrovia, praying for an end to the civil war that was raging in Liberia, she had no idea of the consequences that were about to unfold. A specialist in healing from trauma, Gbowee and her allies had spent months visiting mosques, markets and churches in order to mobilize a nascent peace movement. By the late summer of 2002, she had become recognized as the leader of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which held daily non-violent demonstrations and sit-ins in defiance of orders from Charles Taylor, the Liberian President at the time. Eighteen months later, in August 2003, the war was brought to an end. Gbowee’s efforts, along with those of newly-elected President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, were recognized by the award of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.
Working inside a traditional nonprofit NGO is filled with contractions for anarchists and others who want a non-hierarchical system. What to do about it? “I think there’s an alternative. I call it ‘constructive subversion.’ It lies in our ability to ‘hack’ these hierarchical reformist organisations we spend our days in, weaving networks of subversion to undermine the bureaucracy, and ‘prefiguring’ radical pockets (creating microcosms of wider change) within and around the existing structures. In other words, we bring our wider politics into our workplaces and create spaces and relationships that can operate beyond organisational control. . . What I do believe – and have seen and experienced – is that pockets of autonomy can be carved out of hierarchy, and that more radical work can be done in those spaces, once liberated.”
When I spoke to some of the key organizers behind California’s Right to Know Campaign, they said that their initial “polling showed” that voters do not respond well to “negative” ads. And that talking about health concerns like widely shared consumer worries that genetically modified food might increase the likelihood of cancer, allergies and other illnesses, was negative. Which was why they refused to allow onto the video section of the Yes on Prop 37 website a single one of the hundreds of ‘person on the street’ videos that our volunteer KnowGMO.org effort had collected in California. Most consumers told us that they wanted to label and avoid GM food because of health concerns.
Matthew Richard’s essay on Occupy was, for me, a trip back in time, to my rebel youth, nearly 50 years ago. In his voice, I heard the full range of my own ideas and feelings from those “glory days.” In the 1,000 battles I’ve been through since then, I’ve tempered, reframed and even changed some of those views. It would be easy enough for me, in commenting on the essay, to slip into the role of wise old grio. But that’s not what I want. So I offer a few remarks from a different role, that of “co-conspirator.” I made it to Zuccotti Park and a dozen other encampments, too.
Before Mandela advocated truth and reconciliation he was not a pacifist. He was not like Gandhi or Martin Luther King. He did not value non-violence for its own sake. He saw violence as a tool to be used or discarded pending the layout of the political battlefield. Nelson Mandela was never a pacifist. When the Ghandi route of non-violent civil disobedience brought only violence from the state, Mandela declared “The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices – submit or fight.That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom” He played a leading role in setting up the ANC’s guerrilla wing, and traveled abroad to gather support, even undergoing guerrilla training himself in Algeria, from the commanders of the FLN who had recently ejected the French colonials.
On Dec 3, 1999 the 1%’s plan for how to run the global economy collapsed in Seattle, amidst teargas in the streets and jails full of hundreds of people from North America’s newly emerging global justice movement. The World Trade Organizations negotiations had collapsed in failure as a result of a week of mass direct action and protest in the streets that shut down the entire first day of the WTO Ministerial on November 30 together with the refusal of Global South countries–under pressure from strong movements at home–refusal to comply with the plans of the elites in the rich countries. 14 years later, the value of looking back is to see how people power can work and to pull lessons for today. The best analysis of the week long street/info battles was written by Paul deArmand; Black Flag Over Seattle, later republished as part of Networks and Netwars by the RAND Corporation.
After five minutes of conversation with Nathan Schneider, my mind began racing down new avenues of thought. Maybe Occupy isn’t just any old horse. What if Occupy was a phenomenon of mythic proportions? What if the Occupiers were the un-prophesized horsemen of the Apocalypse . . . and the “Apocalypse” is not what we think? “An apocalypse”, translated literally from its Greek origins, is a disclosure of knowledge, a lifting of the veil, or a revelation. In his book, Nathan dives into the epistemology of the word and offers some revelations on what was happening beneath the surface of the Occupy movement. Nathan managed to jump on board the Occupy Wall Street ship before it launched into Zuccotti Park. This vantage point gave him a few observations that many of us, in our satellite occupations throughout the country, may not have seen. According to Nathan, there were a lot of artists at the helm of the early stages of the Occupy Wall Street planning process, and what emerged was designed as a massive performance, a public demonstration of democracy in action. In the aftermath of the police crackdown on the encampments, the corporatized mainstream media declared the movement a failure. Yet, Nathan, in his simple and quiet manner, debunks that whole idea. Occupy achieved exactly what it was designed to accomplish . . .
The country with plenty of higher-profile venues in which to wage a class war, the right’s interest in SeaTac may have more to do with the town’s direct relationship to a geographically captive industry – and what that relationship may portend for a shrewd form of economic populism in this new Gilded Age. Captive industries’ status means they can’t make the ultimate free market threat: to leave. Not surprisingly, captive status levels the political playing field between corporate interests and the public because it prevents those corporate interests from using the threat of relocation to cow voters and politicians. As Twitter recently proved, that threat is often politically decisive. Recall that when San Francisco threatened to pass tax laws that the company didn’t like, Twitter was able to secure exemptions by threatening to relocate outside the city. Without the possibility of such a threat, though, companies are at the mercy of the public. Captive industries can certainly try to fight local public policies they don’t like, but their captive status means they can’t make the ultimate free market threat: to leave.
Every year, the arrival of spring meant the opening of a season for hunting Indians, who provided slave labor for both the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota. First came the annual renewal of the “quota system,” which meant that the police had to arrest a certain number of Indians—usually about two hundred every week—to provide unpaid labor for the workhouse and various city projects. The cops concentrated on the Indian bars. They would bring their paddy wagons around behind a bar and open the back doors. Then they would go around to the front and chase everybody toward the rear. They rounded us up like cattle and booked us on “drunk and disorderly” charges, even if we were neither. We were sent out to clean up stadiums and the convention center, which would take two or three days. It took me a while to realize that the police raided only the Indian bars and never the white ones. For Indians, doing time in jail is almost a traditional rite of passage. About 1 percent of the Minnesota population is American Indian, but more than one third of all prison inmates in the state are Indians.
When a new political culture emerges it needs to differentiate itself from the hegemonic culture that went before it. In this case, it seems clear that the modes of struggle and organization created towards the end of the dictatorship with the formation of the CUT trade union and the Worker’s Party no longer correspond to the needs of current anti-systemic struggles. We recall that the riots of 2003 and 2004, and the foundation of the MPL in 2005, flatly rejected the traditional bureaucratic culture and instead emphasized horizontalism, which is to say, collective leadership, consensus to avoid the consolidation of majorities, and autonomy from state and party. Until now, the social organizations shaped by this political culture have maintained their distance from the mainstream sector of the labor movement but collaborate with the more militant trade union factions, as well as other social organizations with different organizational patterns and praxis. Many of the new urban groups have found inspiration in Brazil’s principle organization of resistance, the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST, known as Sem Terra), respecting their deep experience and adapting some of the MST’s forms of struggle to the urban environment. The main difference between these two political cultures is found in their form of organizing, the MST’s top-down structure contrasting with the urban movement’s horizontalism.
When Spanish mayor Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo recently led farmers on a supermarket sweep, raiding the local shops for food as part of a campaign against austerity, his political immunity as an elected assembly member protected him from arrest. He now asks other local mayors to ignore central government demands for budget cuts and refuse to implement evictions and lay-offs. In this era of austerity, such flagrant disrespect for the law ought to be encouraged. Sometimes, the greatest strength of popular movements is their capacity to disrupt. So here, for the benefit of imaginative indignados, are five examples of civil disobedience.
The Occupy tactic was a remarkably successful tactic. If I’d been asked a month before Zuccotti Park whether to do this, I would have said, you’re crazy. But it worked extremely well. It just lighted a fire all over the place. People were just waiting for something to light the spark. And it was extremely successful, but it’s a tactic, and tactics are not strategies. A tactic has a half-life; it has diminishing returns. And in particular, a tactic like this is going to arouse antagonism, because people don’t want their lives disrupted and so on. It will be easy to fan it the way you do with public workers. So it’s a tactic that had to be revised. Frankly, when the police broke the occupations up, it was harsh and brutal and didn’t have to be done like that. But in some ways, it wasn’t a bad thing, because it turned people to what they have to do next. And what they have to do next is bring it to the general population. Take up the topics that really bother people. Be there when you’re needed like Sandy. Be there for the foreclosures. Focus on debt. Focus on a financial transaction tax, which ought to be instituted. Nobody else is bringing it up. That’s what the Occupy movement ought to be doing, and not just as a national movement, but as an international movement. It’s actually striking that there are Occupy offshoots all over the world.
Here’s what Howard Zinn writes about this speech in his introduction to the full piece in his book Voices of a People’s History of the United States, written with Anthony Arnove and first published in 2004 by Seven Stories Press: “In November 1970, after my arrest along with others who had engaged in a Boston protest at an army base to block soldiers from being sent to Vietnam, I flew to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to take part in a debate with the philosopher Charles Frankel on civil disobedience. I was supposed to appear in court that day in connection with the charges resulting from the army base protest. I had a choice: show up in court and miss this opportunity to explain — and practice — my commitment to civil disobedience, or face the consequences of defying the court order by going to Baltimore. I chose to go. The next day, when I returned to Boston, I went to teach my morning class at Boston University. Two detectives were waiting outside the classroom and hauled me off to court, where I was sentenced to a few days in jail. Here is the text of my speech that night at Johns Hopkins.”
Many factors make this an opportune time to move toward greater use of nonviolent practices. The most obvious, of course, is that the United States and the planet can no longer support American Empire and its endless wars. We cannot continue to spend more than $1 trillion each year on the military and national security state while the basic needs of our population are not being met and our domestic infrastructure is crumbling. The empire economy quite literally is killing us. And our bloated military is not just killing us and others around the world, mostly innocent civilians, but it is killing the Earth, too. This report published by Project Censored calls the US Department of Defense the worst polluter on the planet. It states: “This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil.” And that does not include the private military contractors and weapons industries. The era of American Empire is coming to an end. The signs are everywhere.