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Crosspost by Maria J. Stephan: “People Power Can Boost the Afghan Peace Process”

24 Jul

Here is a guest crosspost from Maria J. Stephan, who wrote a great piece today on her experience working on Why Civil Resistance Works while stationed in Afghanistan in 2009-2010 – as well as the book’s lessons for the current peace process in Afghanistan. Maria is currently the Director of the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which conducts research, training & education, and informs policymakers on the roles played by civil resistance and people power movements in advancing human rights and sustainable peace.

People Power Can Boost the Afghan Peace Process

Maria Stephan explains how findings from a book she wrote partly while living in Afghanistan are relevant today.

by Maria J. Stephan

After nearly a decade, I recently visited Afghanistan for the first time since serving at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 2009-2011 as an officer with the State Department. When I was last there, the fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghan and international forces was intense and peace seemed far off. My days were spent working long hours at the embassy, and my nights were spent working on a book about violent and nonviolent resistance, a project which changed my life. Today, talks between the Taliban and the U.S.—and recently between the Taliban and Afghan leaders—have renewed hope for peace after decades of conflict. What role can civil resistance play amid the steady stream of violence in Afghanistan?

The book I was working on then, Why Civil Resistance Works, which I co-wrote with Erica Chenoweth, examined all major violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900-2006, with cases ranging from the Gandhi-led independence movement to the Ukrainian Orange Movement. We wanted to systematically test which form of resistance, violent or nonviolent, had been more effective at challenging the most formidable foes.

The main finding was that the nonviolent campaigns using boycotts, protests, strikes and other nonviolent tactics had been twice as effective as violent insurgencies—they achieved their goals 53 percent of the time compared to 26 percent for violent campaigns. We also found that political transitions driven by civil resistance led to democratic outcomes 57 percent of the time, versus 6 percent for transitions driven by armed insurgencies. Nonviolent resistance was much less likely to lead to civil war compared to violent insurrections, and more likely to advance social and economic development. In both the short and longer term, nonviolent resistance had the comparative advantage over violence.

How Nonviolent Action Can Reinforce Peace Efforts

It was surreal to be writing a book about nonviolence amid the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan. I lived in a shipping container (or “hootch” as they were popularly known) in the shared embassy-USAID compound. At least once a month, the duck and cover alarm would sound, alerting us to danger and forcing us to shelter in place and wait for the threat to pass. That usually meant a mortar round landing somewhere close to the embassy or a suicide bombing or complex attack happening in the vicinity.

Eight years later, the situation in Afghanistan remains highly unstable even amid the ongoing peace talks. With nearly 4,000 civilians killed last year, 2018 was the deadliest year for civilians on record. Talks between U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban, quickly gained momentum at the end of 2018 and injected some cautious hope, but they haven’t made much headway in recent months. Meanwhile, the recent intra-Afghan talks in Doha between Taliban officials and key influencers in the Afghan government and civil society yielded a basic roadmap for peace, which even skeptics are regarding with optimism.

As I returned to Kabul to join USIP colleagues in meeting with Afghan activists, students, and other civic leaders to discuss how people power can reinforce the tenuous peace process, three key findings from Why Civil Resistance Works struck me as particularly relevant for this current moment. While the peace talks take place with senior U.S., Afghan and Taliban officials, ordinary Afghans can join together to demand an end to decades of conflict. These findings explain why and how civil resistance can work—even in a place like Afghanistan.

First, we found that civil resistance has often succeeded in places where you’d think it would fail. Nonviolent campaigns achieved their goals in places where regime violence was brutal, where poverty was high, and where societies were divided. Structural conditions matter, but the strategies and tactics used by the protesters can matter more. While our research focused on campaigns targeting incumbent regimes, other studies of civil resistance to intra-state conflicts, in places like Liberia, Nepal, and Colombia, have found that broad-based nonviolent movements have successfully pressured warring parties to end civil wars.

Afghanistan’s History of Nonviolence

Afghanistan has a rich history of nonviolent resistance. In the 1930s, the Pashtun-led Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement drove a sustained campaign of nonviolent resistance against the British colonial regime. Led by Bacha Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, was the first nonviolent army in the history of the world. More recently, the Tabassum movement, launched after the killing of seven Hazaras in 2015, mobilized activists from all major ethnic groups to express frustration over the security situation. TheEnlightenment movement, led by Hazaras to protest the re-routing of a power line from Turkmenistan, organized a series of protests, including one in 2016 that was attacked by suicide bombers. The Uprising for Change, a Tajik-led movement, has led rallies accusing the Afghan government of incompetence and for discriminating against non-Pashtun ethnic groups. These youth-led protests encouraged civic action but were unable to sustain themselves.

In March 2018, a grassroots peace movement emerged in Afghanistan in the wake of a gruesome Taliban attack in Lashkar Gah, in Helmand province. The People’s Peace Movement (PPM) first erected a tent in Lashkar Gah to rally people, eventually culminating in a 300-mile march to Kabul in the scorching heat that included members of various tribes, ages, and villages. The marchers, whose slogan was “the people want peace,” demanded a cease-fire and talks between the Afghan government and Taliban and launched sit-ins outside foreign embassies. PPM members have led marches to various parts of the country, including to Taliban-controlled areas, to demand a cease-fire and peace talks.

A founding member of PPM, Iqbal Khyber, a pharmacist and journalist by training, told us that he had “read books about nonviolence” and was inspired by Bacha Khan. After the attack in Lashkar Gah, he and a small group of friends committed to building a civic movement. “We knew we needed to do something,” Khyber said, adding, “We realized that nonviolence is the most powerful voice.”

“[The] first goal is to allow people to experience nonviolence,” and the second goal of the PPM, according to Khyber, “is to smash the psychological barrier between Afghans in government and in Taliban-controlled areas.” The movement has experienced pressure by various political groups, including the Taliban’s recent detention of PPM members in Helmand. This grassroots peace movement arguably played a noteworthy, albeit unheralded role in jumpstarting the recent peace talks.

Building Broad-Based Movements

A second major finding of Why Civil Resistance Works was that a key determinant of the success of movements was their ability to attract large and diverse participation. Nonviolent movements attracted, on average, 11 times the number of participants as violent campaigns because the moral, physical, and information barriers are much lower. Whereas insurgencies rely on young, able-bodied men, in nonviolent resistance women, children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly can all join in campaigns that draw on hundreds of different tactics, ranging from the wearing of symbols to consumer boycotts.

Currently the PPM, which refuses foreign funding, is seeking to expand its presence in all provinces of the country. PPM recruits people through village mosques and by using Facebook to promote its activities. While critics accuse the movement of being dominated by people from one particular region, Khyber told us that its members have marched to the north, where other ethnic groups are concentrated, to engage these groups and encourage unity for peace. Building a truly cross-tribe, cross-ethnic movement will take time and strategic planning; if the PPM achieves this it would be a major feat.

We also know that women have been critical participants in nonviolent movements including those, like in Liberia, that helped end a civil war. Afghan women, not surprisingly, have been in the forefront of citizen-led efforts to advocate for peace. Women’s groups like the Afghan Women’s Network and women religious leaders have demanded inclusion in the peace process and are insisting that their rights be protected in any future peace agreement. While the PPM has included women, there may be opportunities for further women’s participation and leadership through the PPM’s leadership shura, provincial assemblies, local committees, and overall activities. If the PPM is able to join forces with women and youth movements across the country, it could become a truly powerful source of pressure for peace.

Skills and Strategy

Finally, our book highlighted the importance of skills and strategy to determining the outcome of nonviolent campaigns. Building strong and effective movements requires skills in conflict analysis, in dialogue and negotiation, in community organizing and coalition building, and in the strategic sequencing of nonviolent direct action tactics. The ability to develop an inclusive vision, to resolve internal disputes within a movement, and to expand participation in mass action campaigns are keys to achieving success.

In Afghanistan, the PPM and other movements have helped generate citizen participation and momentum for peace. Their efforts could be bolstered by a greater focus on strategy and strategic planning. Training in effective organizing and movement-building, as well as collective visioning and facilitated strategic planning, could support greater movement cohesion and the inclusion of more Afghans. USIP is supporting this kind of work by partnering with local Afghan universities to facilitate workshops on synergizing nonviolent action and peacebuilding across the country, building on local examples and historical experiences with nonviolent action.

After returning to Afghanistan for the first time in nearly a decade, I am reminded of one important thing: In many places where the conventional wisdom suggested that only violence could prevail, mass movements led by unarmed civilians confronted formidable odds and won. It is not strange for me to imagine that people power in Afghanistan could help escalate the pressure to end the civil war and win an inclusive peace that respects the rights of all its citizens. My recent visit revealed that even this generation who has grown up knowing nothing but war are organizing for a just and peaceful Afghanistan. There is a force more powerful than violence, and that force could one day prevail in Afghanistan.

This article was originally published on the U.S. Institute of Peace’s blog, The Olive Branch, and has been reposted here with permission.

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)

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]

Friday Quote: Freedom Is An Inside Job

6 Dec

Image

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I know if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

RIP, Nelson Mandela.

My Talk at TEDxBoulder: Civil Resistance and the “3.5% Rule”

4 Nov

I gave a talk at TEDxBoulder on September 21st. It was a great event, and I shared the stage with over a dozen terrific speakers and a number of talented musicians. We shared our ideas with a sold-out audience of about 2,200 people, and I’ve never been more nervous giving a talk!

Here’s the video:

I anticipated that people might have questions about some of the claims I make in this talk, as well as some of the specific references I make. As you can imagine, when you have 12 minutes to tell a story, present some counterintuitive information, and try to make it engaging, there’s no time to fully reference your points. So I decided to post the script and expand it with a variety of links to sources, references, and resources for those interested in pursuing the topic further. There may be a few deviations/word changes here and there because, well, I didn’t deliver the script verbatim. But you’ll get the gist.

Feel free to leave your remaining questions in the comments section. I will collect them and answer them in a follow-up post.

I’d like to ask you to imagine that you live in a very repressive country—there are elections but they are fake. The leader wins 100% of the vote each time. Security forces beat up opposition leaders with impunity, and they harass everyone else. This is a country where being in this room right now would get you on a list. Now let’s say you’ve had enough, and so have many other people that you talk to in low whispers. I’m not talking about the Hunger Games although that would be awesome. Unfortunately I’m talking about real world conditions that many people find themselves in right now.

Assuming you’ve decided to act, what would be the best way for you to challenge the system and create major change?

My own answer to this question has changed over the past five years. In 2006 I was a PhD student in political science here at CU-Boulder, and I was finishing my dissertation about how and why people use violence to seek political goals. As for the scenario I just described? Well, back then I bought into the idea that “power flows from the barrel of a gun.” I would have said that although it was tragic, it was logical in such cases for people to use violence to bring about change.

But that June, I was invited to an academic workshop put on by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. They were giving a week-long primer on nonviolent resistance to encourage people like me to teach about it in our courses. Now, my view of all this stuff was that it was well-intentioned, but dangerously naïve. The readings they sent me[1] argued that the best way for people to achieve political change was through nonviolent or civil resistance. The authors described civil resistance as an active form of conflict where unarmed civilians used tactics like protests, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and many other forms of mass noncooperation to confront oppression. They brought up cases like Serbia, where a nonviolent revolution toppled Slobodan Milosevic—the butcher of the Balkans—in October of 2000, or the Philippines where the People Power movement ousted Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

At the workshop, I said things like, “Well, for every successful case you guys mention, I can think of a failed case like Tiananmen Square. I can also think of plenty of cases where violence worked pretty well, like the Algerian, French, and Russian revolutions. Maybe nonviolent resistance works if you’re seeking labor rights, gender rights, or environmental reform, but it generally can’t work if you’re trying to overthrow a dictator or become a new country. Serbia and the Philippines–they were probably exceptions. And there’s no way nonviolent resistance can work against a ruthless opponent.”

By the end of the week, as you can imagine, I wasn’t too popular.

My soon-to-be co-authorMaria Stephan–came up to me and said something like, “If you’re right, prove it. Are you curious enough to study these questions empirically?”

Believe it or not, no one had systematically done this before.[2] Although I was still skeptical, I was curious. If they were right and I was wrong, I figured somebody had better find out. So for the next two years, I collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government or territorial liberation since 1900. The data cover the entire world and include every known campaign that consists of at least a thousand observed participants, which constitutes hundreds of cases.[3]

Then I analyzed the data, and the results blew me away. From 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies. And there’s more. This trend has been increasing over time—in the last fifty years civil resistance has become increasingly frequent and effective, whereas violent insurgencies have become increasingly rare and unsuccessful. This is true even in extremely repressive, authoritarian conditions where we might expect nonviolent resistance to fail.[4]

So why is civil resistance so much more effective than armed struggle? The answer lies in people power itself.

Researchers used to say that no government could survive if five percent of its population mobilized against it. But our data reveal that the threshold is probably lower. In fact, no campaigns failed once they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5% of the population—and lots of them succeeded with far less than that [5]. Now, 3.5% is nothing to sneeze at. In the U.S. today, this means almost 11 million people.

But get this: Every single campaign that did surpass that 3.5% threshold was a nonviolent one. In fact, campaigns that relied solely on nonviolent methods were on average four times larger than the average violent campaign. And they were often much more representative in terms of gender, age, race, political party, class, and urban-rural distinctions.

Civil resistance allows people of all different levels of physical ability to participate—including the elderly, people with disabilities, women, children, and virtually anyone else who wants to. If you think about it, everyone is born with an equal physical ability to resist nonviolently. Anyone who has kids knows how hard it is to pick up a child who simply doesn’t want to move, or to feed a child who simply doesn’t want to eat.

But for lots of people, violent resistance is much more physically demanding. You have to train to be good at it. When I was in college, I took military science classes because I wanted to go through the ROTC program and become an army officer. I liked the rappelling, the uniforms, map-reading, and shooting at the range. But I wasn’t stoked about getting up in the wee hours of the morning to run until I vomited. I quit–and chose the far less strenuous career of professor.

Not everyone wants to take the same chances in life, and many people won’t turn up unless they expect safety in numbers. The visibility of many civil resistance tactics, like protests, helps to draw these risk-averse people into the fray. Put yourself back in that repressive country for a minute. Say your neighbor comes to you and says, “We’re going to have a demonstration in the main square down the street at 8pm tonight. I hope you can make it.” Now, I don’t know about you all, but I’m not the person who is going to show up at 7:55 to see what’s up. I’m going to wait until about 8:30 or so, check out my window, and see what’s going on. If I see only 6 people assembling in the square, I’m probably going to sit this one out. But if I see 6,000 and more coming down the alleyway, I might join them.

The point here is that nonviolent campaigns can solicit more diverse and active participation from ambivalent people. And once those people get involved, it’s almost guaranteed that the movement will then have some links to security forces, the state media, business or educational elites, religious authorities, and civilian bureaucrats who start to question their allegiances. No regime loyalists in any country live entirely isolated from the population itself. They have friends, they have family, and they have existing relationships that they have to live with in the long term, regardless of whether the leader stays or goes. In the Serbian case, once it became clear that hundreds of thousands of Serbs were descending on Belgrade to demand that Milosevic leave office, policemen ignored the order to shoot on demonstrators. When asked why he did so, one of them said: “I knew my kids were in the crowd.”

I’ll bet some of you are thinking, “Is she insane? I watch the news, and I see protestors getting shot at in the streets all the time!” Sometimes crackdowns do happen. But even in these cases, nonviolent campaigns outperformed violent ones by two-to-one. When security forces beat up, arrest, or even shoot unarmed activists, there is, indeed, safety in numbers. Large and well-coordinated campaigns can switch from concentrated methods (like protests) to dispersed methods, where people stay away from places they were expected to go. They do strikes, they do stay-at-home demonstrations, they bang on pots and pans, they shut off the electricity at a coordinated time of day — these tactics are much less risky. They’re very hard or at least very costly to suppress, while the movement stays just as disruptive.

What happens in these countries once the dust settles? It turns out, the way you resist matters in the long run too. Most strikingly, nonviolent campaigns were far more likely to usher in democratic institutions than violent insurgencies. And countries where people waged nonviolent struggle were 15% less likely to relapse into civil war.

The data are clear: When people rely on civil resistance, their size grows. And when large numbers of people withdraw their cooperation from an oppressive system, the odds are ever in their favor.

So. Many people in my field[6] had largely ignored the millions of people worldwide who were skillfully using civil resistance in favor of studying things that blow up. I had a few questions about the way I used to think. Why was it so easy and comfortable for me to believe that violence works? And why did I find it acceptable to simply assume that violence happens—almost automatically—because of circumstances, or by necessity—that it’s the only way out of some situations? In a society that celebrates battlefield heroes on national holidays, I guess it was natural to grow up believing that violence and courage are one and the same—and that true victories can’t come without bloodshed on both sides.

But the evidence I’ve presented here today suggests that for people serious about seeking change, there are realistic alternatives. Imagine now what our world would look like if we allowed ourselves to develop faith in them. What if our history courses emphasized the decade of mass civil disobedience that came before the Declaration of Independence, rather than the war that came after? What if Gandhi and King were the basis of the first chapter of our social studies textbooks, rather than an afterthought? What if every child left elementary school knowing more about the Suffragist movement than they did about the Battle of Bunker Hill? And what if it became common knowledge that when protests become too dangerous, there are many nonviolent techniques of dispersion that might keep participants safe and keep movements resilient?

So here we are in 2013 in Boulder, Colorado. Maybe some of you are thinking, “OK, I get that civil resistance is the best bet, but what can I do?”

Encourage your children to learn about the nonviolent legacies of the past two hundred years and explore the potential of people power. Tell your elected representatives to stop perpetuating the misguided view that violence pays by supporting the first groups in a civil uprising to take up arms. Although nonviolent campaigns can’t be exported or imported, it’s time for our officials to embrace a different way of thinking—that in the short and long term, civil resistance tends to leave behind societies in which people are able to live more freely and more peaceably together.

Now that we know what we know about the power of nonviolent conflict, I see it as our shared responsibility to spread the word so that future generations don’t fall for the myth that violence is their only way out.

Thank you.


[1] These readings included Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy; Kurt Schock’s Unarmed Insurrections; Zunes, Asher, and Kurtz’s Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective; Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall’s A Force More Powerful; and Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler’s Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, and a handful of article-length readings. Resources like this can be found here.

[2] As note 1 suggests, many people had theorized about civil resistance and developed case studies analyzing its effectiveness, but no one had systematically compared how well it worked compared with armed struggle over time and space.

[3] Many of these are discussed in detail at the Swarthmore Global Nonviolent Action Database.

[4] For answers to questions about how we counted the campaigns, coded success and failures, etc., see here, here, and here.

[5] This figure is based on the highest number of observed participants directly confronting the opponent during the campaign. It does therefore not represent an aggregate number of participants, but rather that the maximum number of people the campaign involved in peak events.

[6] There are exceptions. See note 1.

Dispatch from Warsaw & the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

29 Oct

Last week, I was in Warsaw attending the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. A number of Nobel Laureates were in attendance, and Sharon Stone got an award for her humanitarian efforts and peace activism.

I gave a talk at a workshop organized by Jacek Kurczewski, a professor at the University of Warsaw, on Nonviolence, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding. Here were a few of my key takeaways from the whole event (academic insights first, of course).

  • James Gibson made a compelling argument that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is essentially a success. Based on more than 3,000 interviews and surveys among black, white, and South Africans of Indian origin, he says that the TRC has created more mutual trust that has allowed people to reconcile with the past. Although he argues that it’s hard to expect that these successes can be transferred to other cases because of the peculiarities of the South African case, this was a refreshingly optimistic take on the reconciliation process in a country where we’ve seen a lot of cynicism lately.
  • Jennifer Lewellyn argues that we ought to look at peacekeeping and peacebuilding as an inherently relational exercise.
  • Severine Autesserre argues that local peacebuilding is far superior to top-down approaches to peacebuilding, and that such efforts ought to get more resources and support than more traditional missions.
  • John Braithwaite argues that peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and postwar transition works better when civil society is engaged and creates networks or nodes of power that can effectively “check” concentrations of power within more formal and traditional institutions.
  • Sonja Lokar argues that when women’s civil society groups are actively engaged in peace processes and settlements and continue to remain engaged in advocacy efforts regarding women’s equity issues, they are much more likely to gain higher representation in formal political institutions (including parliament). If they don’t they will be left behind entirely. And she argues that women’s representation in government will ultimately lead the country to be less likely to relapse into civil war—a claim that has some empirical support elsewhere.
  • Among the most impressive of the Nobel Laureates was Shan Cretin, the Secretary General of the American Friends Service Committee, who called out the Summit organizers for failing to involve more people from typically underrepresented groups as well as the Global South.
  • The presentation that made the most lasting impact on me was Ira Helfand’s presentation on the continued threat of nuclear war (or a nuclear accident). Dr. Helfand is was representing the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization. Their recent study found that even a very small-scale nuclear war (involving less than .5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) between India and Pakistan would have catastrophic environmental effects that would ultimately wipe out about 1 billion people around the world—or 1/6 of the human race). Such a war could be exceedingly small and even accidental but would destroy civilization as we know it. Yikes.
  • Lech Walesa wants all politicians to have microchips so that the public can monitor their every move. (For real).
  • F.W. de Klerk is a self-proclaimed optimist and thinks that today’s troubles in South Africa are temporary.
  • None of the Laureates was willing to criticize the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to Barack Obama in 2009—despite moderator Ghida Fakhry’s repeated attempts to get them to do so.

Julia Bacha’s TED Talk

31 Aug

Julia Bacha talks about nonviolent conflict in the Palestinian Territories. A must-see (h/t to Mary King). Check out Julia’s award-winning film “Budrus” here.