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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)

Teach-In Resources

13 Feb

Today I was part of a panel at a teach-in on resistance. During my remarks I mentioned a number of resources and additional readings worth checking out. Here they are.

Reads

Stephen Haggard & Robert Kaufman. 2016. Dictators and Democrats: Masses, Elites, and Regime Change. Princeton University Press.

Rebecca Solnit. 2016. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, updated edition. Haymarket Books.

Community Groups and Resources

Lots discussed here: Joshua Holland. 2017. Your Guide to the Sprawling New Anti-Trump Resistance Movement. The Nation (February 6). 

Resistance Manual

Committee to Protect Journalists

Warm Cookies of the Revolution

NationalPopularVote.com

Black Lives Matter 5280

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Denver

International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

Campaign Nonviolence

Waging Nonviolence

Albert Einstein Institution

Nonviolent Discipline and Violent Flanks

14 Jun

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.

Take a Survey on Nonviolent & Violent Resistance

26 Apr

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.

Thanks!

A Plea to White Americans

25 Nov

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.

Be courageous.

Look at yourself.

Our human family is in desperate need of healing; I beg you to be part of the solution.

Schaehrer Lecture at Colgate University

27 Aug

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.

 

People Power against Armed (Non-State) Groups

15 May

 

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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.

Well then.

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 NigeriaLibya, MexicoSyria, 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.

The Origins of the NAVCO Data Project (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Take Nonviolent Conflict Seriously)

7 May
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“Big Data”. Source: betakit.com

In June 2006, I was a doctoral student at the University of Colorado-Boulder in the final stages of writing my dissertation on why terrorism occurs in democratic countries. I was spending my last summer teaching undergraduate courses in Boulder before heading off to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was due to take up a predoctoral fellowship at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in the fall.

Earlier that summer, I received an email from my colleague Victor Asal, forwarding an invitation he had received to a workshop called “People Power and Pedagogy.” “The other side of the coin – thought you might be interested,” Victor’s email said. Sponsored by the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and hosted at Colorado College, this workshop was meant to introduce social scientists to the literature on nonviolent or “civil” resistance—a concept with which I was not familiar. In all of my time researching social movements, political power, and organized violence, I had never come across the work of ICNC’s co-founders, Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, nor had I heard of Gene Sharp or any other academic powerhouses whose work had established the field of civil resistance studies.

Skeptical but curious—and more than a little enticed by the free food and books—I applied to the workshop. Soon thereafter, I received an acceptance letter from ICNC followed by a FedEx package full of books and papers on civil resistance, its theoretical and strategic dimensions, and the ways people power movements had accomplished in many cases what violent rebellion could not. These works made the claim—sometimes implicit, other times explicit—that civil resistance was as effective or even more effective than armed struggle in achieving major political concessions. They based these claims on cases like Serbia, where the Otpor movement had initiated the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic; Poland, where the Solidarity movement had successfully challenged the entrenched Communist Party; the Philippines, where the People Power movement had removed Ferdinand Marcos from power; and the U.S. Civil Rights movement, where lunch counter sit-ins, boycotts, and marches had initiated the desegregation of many southern cities and created the base for a broader campaign.

I must say I attended the workshop as a cynic. Although I found the various cases of successful civil resistance interesting, I thought they were exceptional. For every case like Serbia, Poland, or the Philippines, I could recall a case like Tiananmen Square, Hungary 1956, or Burma 1988. After all, even Mahatma Gandhi’s dubious victory in expelling the British from India had ushered in a period of violent turmoil, punctuated by India’s bloody partition with Pakistan. Even more persistent was my suspicion that successful cases could be explained by other factors—weak states incapable of suppressing unarmed actors, international actors willing to patronize them, moderately democratic institutions that accommodated them, social, economic, or demographic characteristics that predisposed some populations to embrace nonviolent action where others would turn to violence, or plain old government incompetence.

I voiced these concerns repeatedly throughout the workshop and expressed my desire for more and better data on the phenomenon. Maria Stephan, then academic outreach coordinator for ICNC, was receptive to my concerns but was also eager to challenge me: “Well, how would we know if civil resistance was as effective as armed struggle? How would one develop a study that tested your hypotheses about structural factors explaining the outcomes?” Maria had just completed her own doctoral thesis on the topic of “extending the nonviolent battlefield,” or how nonviolent self-determination movements could solicit third-party support to increase their leverage.

In response, I developed what I thought would be a reasonable research design that might actually assess—systematically and empirically—both the relative rates of success of nonviolent and violent mass movements as well as the underlying causes for these successes. The study, I ventured, would have to be much broader in scope that the limited number of cases examined by much extant literature on nonviolent resistance. It would have to include all known cases—both successes and failures—rather than making inferences from a relatively small number of cases. It would have to have wide geographic and temporal scope so as to increase the number of observations in a way that would provide more statistical power to the study. With Maria’s recent fieldwork, familiarity with different cases, and vast knowledge of the canonical literature, we decided to put our heads and our skill sets together and conduct a study on whether it was indeed the case that nonviolent resistance was a relatively effective form of political struggle.

To ICNC’s credit, the organization’s leadership encouraged us to do this. I remember telling Maria that we might find out the opposite—that violence was actually more effective—and asking her whether Peter Ackerman understood that this was a real possibility. She assured me that if we discovered that civil resistance was ineffective, then he and everyone else at ICNC would accept this outcome. After all, Peter had a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School and fully understood and respected the scientific process. Looking back, I can see what a gamble this was for ICNC. But Maria and I agreed that if it turned out that civil resistance was not very effective, then we had better find that out sooner rather than later.

My own reservations about the effectiveness of nonviolent action directed me to take a particularly skeptical approach to the data collection and analysis, applying a “hard test” to nonviolent action wherever possible. This is reflected somewhat in the sample population itself. I decided we would only include cases where the insurgents were seeking the removal of the incumbent regime, territorial self-determination, or the expulsion of a foreign military occupation—I saw these as “maximalist” goals that fundamentally altered the shape of the state and would therefore be more difficult to achieve. Data coverage would be global and cover the time period 1900-2006. Whether it was nonviolent or violent, we would only code a case as “successful” if it achieved the full removal of the incumbent leader, de jure and de facto secession, or the expulsion of a foreign military. The campaign had to achieved this objective within a year of its peak, and it had to have had a discernable impact on this outcome. Moreover, we could collect data on a variety of features of the campaign’s structural environment—including features of the regime, socio-economic trends, ethno-linguistic characteristics of the population, international support for the campaign or the regime, region, and time period—and we would account for these factors when identifying the correlates of success.

To obtain the cases of violent insurgency, I started by looking at all of the cases of intrastate conflict from the Correlates of War dataset, which features cases of organized armed actors using violence against one another that results in at least 1,000 battle deaths. I then turned to collecting data on analogous nonviolent campaigns. Drawing on thousands of source materials—including encyclopedias, bibliographies, case studies, historical documents, news reports, and other scholars’ published lists of popular revolutions—I began to assemble a list of cases of nonviolent mass mobilization featuring at least 1,000 observed participants seeking maximalist goals from 1900-2006. My impending dissertation defense and fellowship obligations at Harvard introduced a variety of distractions at this point, so ICNC gave me a stipend to keep the data collection process on pace. By spring of 2007, I had a preliminary list of campaigns of nonviolent resistance, which I circulated to experts of nonviolent action—including some of ICNC’s staff and academic advisors, as well as subject experts like Doug Bond—to ask for any additions and to get their sense of whether we had properly characterized the outcomes of these campaigns (e.g. successes, partial successes, or failures). At the end of this often tedious process, we had produced the Nonviolent and Violent Campaigns and Outcomes (NAVCO) data set (version 1.0)—the first dataset of 323 maximalist campaigns over 106 years with global coverage.

Then I ran the numbers. I was shocked. More than 50% of the nonviolent campaigns succeeded whereas about 26% of the violent ones did. Moreover, when I ran a variety of regression models that included features of the regime as control variables, I could find no systematic statistical association between structural features of the country and the outcomes of the campaigns. Generally speaking, nonviolent campaigns were succeeding more often than violent campaigns despite a variety of structural factors that we typically associate with predetermining such outcomes. Other studies have since reached similar conclusions.

Maria and I wrote up these preliminary results and submitted them to International Security, which published the paper in its Summer 2008 issue. At the same time, we suggested to ICNC that we ought to write a book together on this topic. Given the striking nature of our findings and their potential impact, they agreed to provide me with a stipend to work on the book manuscript the following year while a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard. In 2011, Columbia University Press published our book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. It hit the shelves during the height of the so-called Arab Spring, a series of upheavals that leant greater urgency to the need for even more systematic, empirical research on the topic.

ICNC has been ahead of the curve of this effort. In 2009, they gave me a five-year contract to further develop the NAVCO Data Project to provide greater detail on the characteristics and tactics of different campaigns. Thanks to this funding, in May 2013, Orion Lewis and I published a release of the NAVCO 2.0 data set, which contains annual data on a variety of organizational characteristics of 250 nonviolent and violent campaigns from 1946-2006. Additionally, ICNC’s support will allow me to release NAVCO 3.0, which contains data on the tactical sequences of nonviolent and violent campaigns in 30 countries from 1987-2012, in late 2015. At this point, the NAVCO data set is the signature resource on the comparative characteristics and outcomes of nonviolent and violent campaigns, and its release has catalyzed a number of new studies on civil resistance.

ICNC has also set aside funds to support anyone interested in adding to empirical understandings of civil resistance. They have developed a generous $10,000 stipend for PhD students writing promising dissertations on the topic. Their monograph award is meant to catalyze new research on this topic by established scholars, while their curriculum development award is meant to promote innovation among scholars wishing to apply their pedagogical insights to the field.

So the story of the NAVCO Data Project is one of skepticism, hypothesis-testing, and discovery—basic principles of the scientific method. I am grateful to ICNC for providing me with the intellectual provocation to begin this research as well as the support to carry it out. In this case, as it turned out, the intuitions of many advocates of nonviolent resistance were correct, and the assumptions of many cynics—including myself—were dead wrong.

—-This post has been updated to reflect the role of lunch counter sit-ins in the broader U.S. civil rights movement, rather than in desegregating Nashville alone.

Friday Quote: Issac Asimov

20 Dec

From the Foundation series (1951):

Violence … is the last refuge of the incompetent.

TheFoundationTrilogy565

Friday Quote: Freedom Is An Inside Job

6 Dec

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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.