to time governments make bad laws. One possible way to get a bad law changed
is for lots of people to deliberately disobey the law in a public way. This is
called civil disobedience.
History of Mass Nonviolent Action
of nonviolence runs throughout history. There have been numerous instances of
people courageously and nonviolently refusing cooperation with injustice.
However, the fusion of organized mass struggle and nonviolence is relatively
new. It originated largely with Mohandas Gandhi in 1906 at the onset of the
South African campaign for Indian rights. Later, the Indian struggle for
complete independence from the British Empire included a number of spectacular
nonviolent campaigns. Perhaps the most notable was the year-long Salt campaign
in which 100,000 Indians were jailed for deliberately violating the Salt Laws.
refusal to counter the violence of the repressive social system with more
violence is a tactic that has also been used by other movements. The militant
campaign for women's suffrage in Britain included a variety of nonviolent
tactics such as boycotts, non-cooperation, limited property destruction, civil
disobedience, mass marches and demonstrations, filling the jails, and
disruption of public ceremonies.
Salvadorian people have used nonviolence as one powerful and necessary element
of their struggle. Particularly during the 1960s and 70s, Christian based
communities, labor unions, compassion organizations, and student groups held
occupations and sit-ins at universities, government offices, and places of
work such as factories and haciendas.
rich tradition of nonviolent protest in this country as well, including
Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad during the civil war and Henry David
Thoreau's refusal to pay war taxes. Nonviolent civil disobedience was a
critical factor in gaining women the right to vote in the United States, as
labor movement has also used nonviolence with striking effectiveness in a
number of instances, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) free
speech confrontations, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) sit down
strikes from 1935-1937 in auto plants, and the UFW grape and lettuce boycotts.
mass nonviolent action, the civil rights movement changed the face of the
South. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) initiated modern nonviolent
action for civil rights with sit-ins and a freedom ride in the 1940s. The
successful Montgomery bus boycott electrified the nation. Then, the early
1960s exploded with nonviolent actions: sit-ins at lunch counters and other
facilities, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC);
Freedom Rides to the South organized by CORE; the nonviolent battles against
segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, by the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference (SCLC); and the 1963 March on Washington, which drew 250,000
mid-70s, we have seen increasing nonviolent activity against the nuclear arms
race and nuclear power industry. Nonviolent civil disobedience actions have
taken place at dozens of nuclear weapons research installations, storage
areas, missile silos, test sites, military bases, corporate and government
offices and nuclear power plants. In the late 1970s mass civil disobedience
actions took place at nuclear power plants from Seabrook, New Hampshire to the
Diablo Canyon reactor in California and most states in between in this country
and in other countries around the world. In 1982, 1750 people were arrested at
the U.N. missions of the five major nuclear powers. Mass actions took place at
the Livermore Laboratories in California and SAC bases in the Midwest. In the
late 80s a series of actions took place at the Nevada test site. International
disarmament actions changed world opinion about nuclear weapons.
saw civil disobedience being incorporated as a key tactic in the movement
against intervention in Central America. Beginning in 1983, national actions
at the White House and State Department as well as local actions began to
spread. In November 1984, the Pledge of Resistance was formed. Since then,
over 5,000 people have been arrested at military installations, congressional
offices, federal buildings, and CIA offices. Many people have also broken the
law by providing sanctuary for Central American refugees and through the
Lenten Witness, major denomination representatives have participated in weekly
nonviolent civil disobedience actions at the Capitol.
itself is not derived through violence, though in governmental form it is
usually violent in nature. Governmental power is often maintained through
oppression and the tacit compliance of the majority of the governed. Any
significant withdrawal of that compliance will restrict or dissolve
governmental control. Apathy in the face of injustice is a form of violence.
Struggle and conflict are often necessary to correct injustice.
struggle is not easy, and we must not think of nonviolence as a "safe" way to
fight oppression. The strength of nonviolence comes from our willingness to
take personal risk without threatening other people.
Nonviolent Response to Personal Violence
Nonviolence focuses on communication:
Your objectives must be reasonable. You
must believe you are fair and you must be able to communicate this to your
Maintain as much eye contact as possible.
Make no abrupt gestures. Move slowly. When
practical, tell your opponent what you are going to do before you do it. Don't
say anything threatening, critical, or hostile.
Don't be afraid of stating the obvious;
say simply, "You're shouting at me," or "You're hurting my arm."
Someone in the process of committing an
act of violence has strong expectations as to how his/her victim will behave.
If you manage to behave differently - in a non-threatening manner you can
interrupt the flow of events that would have culminated in an act of violence.
You must create a scenario new to your opponent.
Seek to befriend your opponent's better
nature; even the most brutal and brutalized among us have some spark of
decency which the nonviolent defender can reach.
Don't shut down in response to physical
violence; you have to play it by ear. The best rule is to resist as firmly as
you can without escalating the anger or the violence. Try varying approaches
and keep trying to alter your opponent's picture of the situation.
Get your opponent talking and listen to
what she/he says. Encourage him/her to talk about what she/he believes,
wishes, and fears. Don't argue but at the same time don't give the impression
you agree with assertions that are cruel or immoral. The listening is more
important than what you say- keep the talk going and keep it calm.
a direct action expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, is meaningless." -
is a key word in understanding nonviolence. A nonviolent approach assumes that
people take active roles, making choices and commitments and building on their
experience. It also presents a constant challenge: to weave together the
diversity of individual experiences into an ever-changing vision. There is no
fixed, static "definition" of nonviolence.
Nonviolence is active. Although to some the word nonviolence implies
passivity, nonviolence is actually an active form of resistance. It analyzes
the sources of institutional violence and intervenes on a philosophical and
political level through direct and persistent actions.
vision of nonviolence is translated as "clinging to truth" or sometimes "truth
force", which includes both determination to speak out even when one's truth
is unpopular, and willingness to hear the truth of other people's experience.
He also defined two other components of nonviolence: the refusal to harm
others and willingness to suffer for one's beliefs. Many activists who adopt
nonviolent tactics are reluctant to accept these aspects philosophically, or
to prescribe them to others. For example, Third World people in the U.S. and
other countries are often pressed to use violent action to defend their lives.
Some feminists point out that since our society pressures women to be
self-sacrificing, the decision to accept suffering is often reinforcement of
women's oppression rather than a free choice.
Vellacott, in her essay "Women, Peace and Power", speaks of violence as
"remorselessness" -seeing few options, feeling like one's self or small group
is alone against a hostile or at best indifferent universe. Many societal
institutions and conventions, despite their original intention to benefit at
least some people, perpetuate this violence by depriving people of their
lives, health, self-respect or hope. Nonviolence then becomes resourcefulness
- seeing the possibilities for change in one and in others, and having the
power to act on those possibilities. Much of the task of becoming effectively
nonviolent lies in removing the preconceptions that keep us from seeing those
resources. Undoing the violence within us involves challenging myths that we
are not good enough, not smart enough or not skilled enough to act. The best
way to do this is to try it, working with friends or in small groups at first,
and starting with role plays or less intimidating activities like leafleting.
As confidence in our own resourcefulness grows, we become more able to support
each other in maintaining our nonviolent actions.
and emotional violence.
rid of the patterns of violence that societal conditioning has placed in us is
not always a polite process; it involves releasing despair, anger, and other
emotions that haven't been allowed to surface before. The myth that emotions
are destructive and unreliable prevents us from trusting our own experience
and forces us to rely on rigid formulas and people we perceive as authorities
for guidance. Most of us have been taught that expressing anger especially
provokes disapproval, invalidation and physical attack, or else will hurt
others and make us suffer guilt. This conditioning serves to make us both
repress our own anger and also respond repressively to each other's anger.
a sign of life. It arises with recognition that injustice exists and contains
the hope that things can be different, it is often hard to see this clearly
because, as Barbara Deming says,
anger is in great part hidden -from others and even from ourselves -and when
it is finally allowed to emerge into the open - this pride - it is shaking,
unsure of itself, and so quick to be violent. For now it believes and yet it
doesn't quite dare to believe that it can claim its rights at last."
room for a healthy expression of and response to this anger, it helps to
create a general attitude of respect and support. Verbal violence ~ snide or
vicious tones, interrupting, shouting down or misrepresenting what people say
~ is the antithesis of respect and communication. When people sense this
happening, they should pause and consider their feelings and objectives.
Clearing the air is especially important when people are feeling defensive or
threatened; developing a sense of safety and acceptance of our anger with each
other helps us concentrate all our emotional energies towards constructive,
"Non-violence is the constant awareness of the dignity and humanity of oneself
and others; it seeks truth and justice; it renounces violence both in method
and in attitude; it is a courageous acceptance of active love and goodwill as
the instrument with which to overcome evil and transform both one and others.
It is the willingness to undergo suffering rather than inflict it. It excludes
retaliation and flight."
Nelson, conscientious objector, civil rights activist, and tax resister.
11A, school 63