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The Anatomy of Resistance – Episode 1

5 Jun

So, Anthony Grimes and I have started a new podcast called The Anatomy of Resistance – Where We (the People) Won & Why. Check out our inaugural episode on the Women’s March, featuring Paola Mendoza and Sarah Sophie Flicker.

You can check it out on iTunes too.

Thanks to the Fellowship of Reconciliation & the University of Denver for their support. Episode 2 coming soon!

Carta abierta al pueblo de Venezuela / Open Letter to the People of Venezuela

12 May

 

 

12 de mayo de 2017

Al pueblo de Venezuela,

En los últimos años, cientos de venezolanos me han contactado, pidiendo consejos sobre la actual crisis que vive su país. He leído cada sentida nota personalmente. Debido a mis múltiples compromisos, no me es posible responder a cada una de estas desgarradoras solicitudes de ayuda de manera individual.

Siguiendo el ejemplo de mis mentores, no acostumbro ofrecer consejos o guía a personas involucradas en conflictos en curso fuera de mi país – particularmente en países en los que no tengo ningún antecedente o experticia. Y a pesar de los muchos ejemplos históricos de resistencia civil que podemos ver alrededor del mundo, debo admitir con humildad que yo no poseo las respuestas.

Si ofreciera cualquier consejo directo o asistencia, su gobierno seguramente lo utilizaría en su contra como evidencia de intromisión extranjera. Sería antiético (y tal vez contraproducente) para mí aconsejarles, particularmente dado que yo no tengo que lidiar con ninguno de los costos y riesgos asociados a cualquier consejo que pueda ofrecer.

Sin embargo, escribo esta carta abierta en mi condición personal de ciudadana del mundo, comprometida con la paz, la justicia y la dignidad para todas las personas. Deseo decirles que si están luchando de manera no violenta por una solución a la crisis actual en Venezuela, no están solos. Hay millones de personas en todo el mundo que están con ustedes en solidaridad, luchando a su lado desde donde viven. Aunque sus circunstancias varían, ellos están luchando por las mismas metas de justicia, responsabilidad, libertad, paz y dignidad. Muchos de ellos ven victorias –algunas pequeñas y algunas grandes – en sus luchas. Aunque no hay garantías, su uso de métodos de lucha no violenta significa que llevan adelante su lucha a través de una técnica que ha tenido mucho más éxito que la violencia en el último siglo.

Quiero decirles que si están lidiando con una situación aparentemente imposible, los entiendo. Leo sobre sus episodios llenos de valentía todos los días. He escuchado sobre la escasez de comida en Venezuela, la brutalidad empleada contra los manifestantes, la concentración de poder del gobierno, el miedo por la seguridad ciudadana, y el temor por el futuro del país. El hecho de que tantos venezolanos hayan respondido a estas condiciones con métodos predominantemente no violentos es notable. No puedo imaginar el coraje que hace falta para eso. Si ustedes están enfrentando la crisis actual a través del empleo de métodos pacíficos para luchar por derechos, seguridad y acceso a comida, sepan que su valentía y persistencia nos inspiran, a mí y a muchos otros que están observando.

Me gustaría poder ofrecerles más que mis ojos de testigo o mis palabras como expresiones de solidaridad. Sin embargo, hay muchos recursos para personas que buscan conectarse con otros activistas provenientes de distintos contextos. Ellos pueden compartir sus experiencias con ustedes – un compendio de recursos mucho mayor a cualquiera que pudiese yo ofrecer. También existen recursos que pueden descargar en línea, en español. Mientras tanto, por favor acepten esta humilde expresión de buena voluntad, solidaridad y gratitud por su poderosa demostración de acción no violenta en la cara de la adversidad.

Su amiga en la paz y la humanidad,

Erica Chenoweth

(Traducción por Daniel Fermín, activista y académico venezolano)

 

May 12, 2017

To the people of Venezuela –

Over the past several years, hundreds of Venezuelans have reached out to me for advice regarding the current crisis there. I have read each heartfelt note personally. Due to my many commitments, I am unable to answer each of these heartbreaking requests for help individually.

Following the examples of my mentors, it is my practice not to offer advice or guidance to people involved in ongoing conflicts outside of my own country – particularly countries in which I have no background or expertise. And despite the many historical examples of civil resistance we can look to around the world, I must admit with humility that I do not have the answers. If I did offer any direct advice or assistance, your government would likely use this against you as evidence of foreign meddling. It would be unethical (and maybe counterproductive) for me to advise you, particularly since I do not have to bear any of the costs and risks associated with any advice I could offer.

However, I write this open letter in my personal capacity as a citizen of the world who is committed to peace, justice, and dignity for all people.

I wish to tell you that if you are struggling nonviolently for a solution to the current crisis in Venezuela, you are not alone. There are millions of people around the world who are with you in solidarity, struggling alongside you where they live. Although their situations vary, they are struggling for the same goals of justice, accountability, freedom, peace, and dignity. Many of them see victories – some small and some large – in their struggles. Although there are no guarantees, their use of nonviolent methods means they are waging struggle with a technique that has succeeded far more often than violence during the past century.

I wish to tell you that if you are dealing with a seemingly impossible situation, I see you. I read about your courageous stories every day. I have heard about the lack of food in Venezuela, the brutality used against demonstrators, the concentration of power in the government, the fear for public safety, and the fear for the future of the country itself. Many people around the world know about these injustices in your country. The fact that many Venezuelans have met these conditions with predominantly nonviolent methods is remarkable. I cannot imagine the courage this takes. If you are facing the current crisis by using peaceful methods to struggle for rights, security, and access to food, know that your bravery and persistence inspire me and the countless others who are watching.

I wish that I could offer you more than my eyes as witness or my words as expressions of solidarity. However, there are many resources for people wishing to connect with other activists from many different contexts. They may be able to share their own experiences with you – a stock of resources much greater than anything I could offer. There are also resources you can download online in Spanish.

In the meantime, please accept this humble expression of goodwill, solidarity, and gratitude for your powerful demonstration of nonviolent action in the face of adversity.

Your friend in peace and humanity,

Erica Chenoweth

(translation by Daniel Fermín, Venezuelan activist and scholar)

“What Can I Do?” A Living Guide to #TheResistance in Denver & Beyond

26 Feb

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Recently I gave a talk at Lakewood Library to some fired-up folks from the metro Denver community. Here are resources I mentioned there, although I’ll update this page from time to time as I get new info.

Many of these resources direct you to the folks who have been organizing, planning, and mobilizing in our state for a long time. They are the experts. But first, a caveat. The resources / tips below aren’t exhaustive, and they don’t cover the whole landscape of groups and organizations that deserve mention here. Suggestions / additions are welcome in the comments section.

Resources: Mapping the Resistance Landscape

Groups to Follow and Support

Most of these have national or state-by-state chapters. Some are Denver-oriented.

Legal resources, advocates, legislative action, etc.

Community / grassroots groups, activism, etc.

Take Action

I was thrilled that many people at the event stood up and committed to taking at least three actions per week in support of the resistance. During most successful resistance campaigns, activists often report that they spend much more time building trust and solidarity, providing care for one another, learning, training, planning, and preparing than they do actually mobilizing in actions.

  • Host a huddle / gathering / civic meeting. Encourage those who attend to do the same, if they can.
  • Participate in the March 8 Women’s Strike. If you can’t strike, consider wearing red in solidarity and/or hosting a huddle that day.
  • Support the Denver Metro Sanctuary Coalition, with your funds, your time, food, and if needed, your physical presence. Our undocumented neighbors have urgent needs.
  • Contribute to Jeanette Vizguerra’s legal assistance fund. She’s also asking for folks to sign the petition requesting approval of her stay of removal application or for the authorities to drop her case.
  • Reach out to the people you know in marginalized communities. Ask them to tell you their story. Listen deeply. See them & hear them. Offer them all of the help, support, and solidarity you can give.
  • Join, start, or attend an Indivisible Group.
  • Be in community everywhere you can find community. Attend a town hall, a teach-in, a community meeting, civic group, etc.
  • Attend an action.
  • Bring a first-time-activist to a protest, rally, or other action.
  • Call your representatives (calling is more influential than letter-writing/emailing).
  • Support the Standing Rock Sioux.
  • Take a civil servant to lunch, coffee, or dinner. Ask them how they are doing, and what you can do to support them.
  • Attend a nonviolence and/or direct action training (or a few).
  • Begin a conversation at your church about joining the sanctuary coalition.
  • Plan a few meals a week with people you don’t normally connect with. Talk politics. Ask them how you can support them in getting involved in their community.
  • Spend some time learning about the local grassroots organizations active in your community. See how you can support their work. Show up when they ask you to show up.
  • Write an opinion article for the local paper.
  • If you’re a woman and/or a person of color, consider running for office. If you aren’t, consider lifting up and supporting women and/or people of color who are running for office.
  • Develop and share an online, crowdsourced document (e.g. googlesheet, googledoc) with resources / links to resources for others to contribute and share.
  • There is so much more. Add your ideas in the comments section below.

Some insights that came up during the discussion: Focus your energies on the things that most excite you. Own your skills, acknowledge your limitations, and focus on what brings you meaning, power, and satisfaction.

Recognize that being in a position to choose resistance is an extraordinary privilege, and that many in our community do not get to choose. We need to stand with / for everyone in our communities now. Use the freedoms you enjoy to create space for marginalized voices. Practice mutual respect. Don’t be afraid of clumsy interactions; learn from them, and when you know better, do better.

If you’re like me, then you’re in it for the long haul. But you are not alone.

Take it a day at a time, but do what you can to become informed and active as often you’re able. Despair is demobilizing; avoid it. Get help and support from your close networks when you need it, and then reciprocate when you can.

Resources: Civil Resistance Learning

Here are some slides posted at Warm Cookies of the Revolution from a presentation I gave there in January. It has a lot of visuals I referenced during the gathering. Also, check out:

Sites with Accessible & Practical Info about Effective Civil Resistance

Recently Published Short Reads (check out the linked sources in them too)

Longer Reads

Film

Possible Discussion Topics for Huddles

  • Who in our immediate community needs support right now? Are there urgent needs that we can meet? What resources do we have around the table that we can mobilize?
  • What troubles do I face every day? How are my troubles different from or the same as my neighbors’? Of others’ in our community? How can we support one another?
  • What kind of world do we want to create? How will we know when we are on our way?
  • Where should we be 5 years from now? 15 years from now? 30 years from now? How can we get there?
  • Which actions are you taking each week? How is it going? What is working well? What do you think you could do better? Where do you need further support?
  • Watch “A Force More Powerful.” What insights from these historical cases apply here and now? How can we share these insights broadly?
  • Pick 5 campaigns to read about and discuss from the Swarthmore Nonviolent Action Database. What lessons can we learn from them?

In Closing

My friends, I am glad we are all awake. May we never go back to sleep. As Rebecca Solnit often reminds me, we live in a time of wild possibilities. And to paraphrase the incomparable Rev. James Lawson, do not succumb to the myth that you were birthed into this world impotently. You were born with the power of the universe in your fingers. Use it.

–Note: This post was last updated at 10:37pm on February 28, 2017.–

Civil Resistance Blooms

1 Feb

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Recent weeks have seen the publication of some sharp articles on (or about) civil resistance. Here’s a brief roll-up of ten recent reads on the topic:

Frances Fox Piven, “Throw Sand in the Gears of Everything,” The Nation, January 18, 2017.

George Lakey, “A 10-Point Plan to Stop Trump and Make Gains in Justice and Equality,” Waging Nonviolence, January 23, 2017.

Zeynep Tukefci, “Does a Protest’s Size Matter?” New York Times, January 27, 2017.

Maria Stephan, “An inside-Outside Strategy for Defending the US Republic,” OpenDemocracy, January 27, 2017.

author anonymous, “Trump Endgame,” Daily Kos, January 30, 2017.

Francine Prose, “Forget Protest. Trump’s Actions Warrant a General Strike,” The Guardian, January 31, 2017.

Tina Rosenberg, “From Protests Past, Lessons in What Works,” New York Times, January 31, 2017.

David Solnit and George Lakey, “How Do We Stop Trump and Win Gains in Justice and Equality?” Common Dreams, January 31, 2017.

Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein, and Marc Fisher, “Resistance from Within: Federal Workers Push Back Against Trump,” The Washington Post, January 31, 2017.

Erica Chenoweth, “Worried About American Democracy? Study These Activist Techniques,” The Guardian, February 1, 2017.

Add your reading recommendations in the comments section.

How Can We Know When Popular Movements Are Winning? Look to These Four Trends

16 Nov

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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. The average nonviolent campaign is about eleven times larger as a proportion of the overall population as the average violent campaign.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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]

Why Social Movements Fail

2 Dec
The iconic image of "Tank Man" facing down the Chinese army during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989.

The iconic image of “Tank Man” facing down the Chinese army during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989.

There’s a great essay forum over at Mobilizing Ideas reviewing and discussing research on why social movements fail. It features some of my favorite researchers on this topic and is likely to be interesting to many readers of this blog. Check it out here (h/t to the ever-awesome Jay Ulfelder for pointing it out). My personal favorite is Kevan Harris’ article on the 2009 Green Movement, which critiques the view that the movement failed primarily because of state repression.

A few other reads that include analyses of why nonviolent campaigns succeed as well as why they fail:

“Cognitive Liberation” in Syria?

18 Jun

From an anonymous journalist in Syria (h/t to Will Moore):

no matter what happens now, no matter whether Assad falls this year or this decade, Syria is already irreversibly, fundamentally changed. Syrians have found their voice, and they will not surrender again into silence. Fathers in Deraa insist that they will happily die to secure the futures of their daughters and their sons, and if their children must die too for the next generation, then no sacrifice will be spared. As one Damascus activist explained, the freedom of joining a protest, of standing in the street and holding a reckless and untouchable regime accountable for the first time in generations, is a freedom no one will relinquish once they taste it.

This passage reminds me of Doug McAdam’s concept of “cognitive liberation,” which I discussed last week (see point #4). This is a process in which people suddenly and collectively decide that they are no longer afraid, that their recent fear or apathy was based on lies, and that there is no going back to the old ways of thinking. McAdam identifies this process as an important factor in getting people to mobilize–and stay mobilized–until some sort of major shift occurs.

In other words, the genie is out of the bottle, and he’s not going back in.

Now, although the above passage makes the claim that “Syrians have found their voice,” it’s hard to ascertain from the article how widely shared the cognitive process really is. But one thing we know from prior research is that the more people sense that change is inevitable, the more inevitable the change becomes. It’s circular, yes, but it’s true.

Read the full story here.