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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 lyndon_johnson_meeting_with_civil_rights_leaders

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.