In the past week, an awful lot of people have asked me how to gauge whether nonviolent popular movements are actually gaining traction. Generally speaking, a lot of folks have done work on this over the years (see these criteria drawn from Gene Sharp’s work, and Peter Ackerman and Hardy Merriman’s checklist approach). I have my own set of four criteria, which I’ve often cited when asked. It’s worth mentioning them again in one place.
- Size and diversity of participation. The success of mass movements is largely driven by their size. Because of this, an increase in the number and diversity of participants may be an indicator of a movement’s latent potential to succeed. This is particularly true if people who are not ordinarily “activists” begin to participate and if various classes, ethnicities, ages, genders, geographies, and other social distinctions are represented.
- Nonviolent discipline. Every movement that seriously challenges the status quo eventually experiences repression. How the movement responds to repression—whether it maintains its own discipline and order in spite of repression—is a key determinant of the movement’s staying power. Movements that respond to such repression with rioting or street-fighting tend to fizzle out. But movements that respond to such repression with unity, resolve, and discipline often succeed. Nonviolent discipline often requires advance coordination, training, preparation, and decentralization, which are desirable for lots of reasons regardless.
- Flexible & innovative techniques. Kurt Schock’s work tells us that movements need to consistently shift their techniques—particularly switching between concentrated methods like demonstrations and dispersed methods like strikes and stay-aways—in order to succeed. Movements that over-rely on single methods—like protests or rallies—are less likely to win in the end. What I tend to look for, then, is whether a movement seems to be using a variety of nonviolent techniques. In particular, I look to a movement’s ability to shift to lower-risk tactics, like stay-aways, when repression becomes intense.
- Loyalty shifts. If economic and business elites, civil servants, security forces, state media, and other elites continue to enthusiastically support the movement’s adversary, then the mass movement is not yet having profound and observable political effects. However, if erstwhile elite supporters begin to abandon the opponent, remain silent when they would typically defend him, refuse to follow orders to repress dissidents, or drag their feet in carrying out day-to-day orders, the incumbent is losing his grip. Although loyalty shifts from various sectors are important, defection, desertion, or noncooperation by security forces can be especially impactful.
Of course, these four trends are also instructive in terms of how movements prepare for and wage nonviolent struggle.
A few more fun facts from the historical record, drawn from recent work with Maria Stephan and Kurt Schock:
- The average nonviolent campaign takes about three years to run its course (that’s more than three times shorter than the average violent campaign, by the way). So these things do not unfold overnight.
- The average nonviolent campaign is about eleven times larger as a proportion of the overall population as the average violent campaign.
- Nonviolent resistance campaigns are ten times more likely to usher in democratic institutions than violent ones. And from 1900-2006, only 50% of democratic countries facing armed campaigns remained democratic in the aftermath. 90% of democratic countries facing nonviolent resistance campaigns remained democratic after the campaign ended.
- Mixing in a little bit of violence by the protestors does not help nonviolent campaigns succeed. Those campaigns that succeed with violent flanks tend to do so in spite of the violence rather than because of it.
- Countries that experience nonviolent resistance campaigns are about 15% less likely to experience a civil war in the aftermath than countries that experience armed resistance campaigns.
What else do you want to know? Write your questions in the comments section below.
[this post originally appeared at Political Violence @ a Glance]
Last week I had the honor of attending the 2015 Fletcher Summer Institute. I gave a couple of talks, one of which related to the topic of how violent flanks impact the success rates of otherwise nonviolent movements. The talk is up at YouTube:
(Note: During the talk, the questions and comments come from other participants at FSI, many of whom were activists, organizers, NGO types, and academics in related fields from around the world).
I blogged about this topic in 2011 with specific reference to the appearance of the Free Syrian Army that summer. The field has come a long way since then, and I reference a lot of the recent research innovations in the talk. Let me know what you think.
Do you have 5 minutes to take a survey (that includes a short film) on nonviolent and violent resistance? This is part of a research project funded by the University of Denver’s Public Good Fund, which supports collaborative research with community partners. In this case, the survey is part of a collaboration between me and Picture Alternatives, an LA-based film production nonprofit that creates films and visuals to promote alternatives to violence.
The survey is here (but it’s not a mobile-friendly link, unfortunately).
Your help would be appreciated very much! Looking forward to seeing the responses.
Dear white friends,
If you find yourself genuinely puzzled by all that’s happening related to Ferguson — and especially if you find yourself angry at the protestors — I beg you to find the willingness to question what you think you know about race.
I beg you to open your mind to the lived experience of so many people in our country, to lay aside your own reasoning, and to consider that you may have it totally wrong.
I beg you to open your ears to the pain and suffering of others, to deeply consider whether you’ve ever been part of the problem, and to consider how you might make amends going forward.
If you discover nothing, then you have lost nothing. But if you discover that you have been misguided in the past, then you will have gained something incredibly valuable.
If you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend the 90-minute documentary “The Color of Fear,” which is 20 years old but still relevant today. It might help to shed some light on all that you do not yet see.
Look at yourself.
Our human family is in desperate need of healing; I beg you to be part of the solution.
Last spring I delivered a lecture at Colgate University with an overview of various work on civil resistance, including my own stuff with Maria Stephan. The lecture video has been published, and it’s a fairly decent overview of what I think is up with nonviolent resistance these days (or, at least through last spring).
The talk begins at about 13:10.
Incidentally, Colgate University is the alma mater of some other folks who have studied nonviolent action seriously, including Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall.
Maria Stephan and I have a new piece in Foreign Affairs talking about why civil resistance still works, despite the fact that the world is looking mighty violent these days. Here it is.
Also, this week is the Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict. Last night, Kumi Naidoo (the International Executive Director of Greenpeace) gave a keynote speech on global inequality, the coming environmental crisis, and necessity of nonviolent direct action. Worth a watch.
It happens. From today’s New York Times:
Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power….The workers, who were wearing only their protective clothing and hard hats, said they were “outside politics” and were just trying to establish order. Faced with waves of steelworkers joined by the police, the pro-Russian protesters melted away, along with signs of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and its representatives. Backhoes and dump trucks from the steelworkers’ factory dismantled the barricades that separatists had erected.
It’s not clear whether this development will “restore calm” to Eastern Ukraine as the NYT suggests, but it follows a pattern of unarmed civilians re-establishing (or at least contesting) control over political space occupied by armed non-state actors during civil conflicts. Other recent examples include episodes in Nigeria, Libya, Mexico, Syria, and many others.
As I mentioned in a previous post, nonviolent action against armed non-state actors may be especially tricky because it’s often difficult to identify armed groups’ pillars of support. Moreover, in the context of widespread civil strife, where violence is often committed with total impunity, it can be difficult to determine exactly where the
It’s difficult, but not impossible. Check out recent work by Oliver Kaplan (here and here) to read more about how civilian movements have done this in several civil war contexts. And stay tuned for work by Cassy Dorff, whose dissertation-in-progress catalogues ways that civilians maintain control of their own destinies during armed conflict.