Strategy & Tactics

Nonviolent Defence: Robert Burrowes’ Approach

by Brian Martin

Dustwrapper art courtesy sunypress.edu

Military establishments spend a vast amount of effort preparing to resist or wage aggression. They have operational plans, for example to launch attacks on enemy troops or facilities. They make preparations to provide supplies of all sorts to their forces. They ensure that industry has the capacity to produce military and related goods. And they invest in powerful weapons systems to provide a technological edge. All this contributes to military strategy, commonly called “defence strategy.”

But defence can also be based on nonviolent means. Compared to military preparations and investments, the amount of effort devoted to nonviolent defence is almost nonexistent. There have been numerous nonviolent actions, to be sure, some of them quite spectacular, such as the Czechoslovak resistance to the 1968 Soviet invasion, the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines in 1986, the First Palestinian Intifada from 1987-1993 and the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989. But these uses of nonviolence were largely spontaneous. Unlike military operations, most nonviolent action so far has involved relatively little planning of operations, logistics, social infrastructure and technology.

Perhaps this is only to be expected, given that the idea of nonviolent defence is fairly new. The first full-fledged expositions date from the late 1950s, and since then a small number of researchers have dealt with the topic. (1) But just as the practice of nonviolence receives little funding or support compared to the military, there have been few incentives for research into nonviolence, which has continued at a fairly low level.

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Why Nonviolent Campaigns, Not Protests, Succeed

by George Lakey

Banner art courtesy Peace & Justice Center; pjcvt.org

How do we figure out how to amplify our power and maximize the chance of winning victories? We can start by freeing up the energy devoted to one-off protests, rallies, and demonstrations. When I look back on the one-off protests I’ve joined over the years, I don’t remember a single one that changed anything. The really spectacular failure was the biggest protest in history, in February 2003. I joined millions of people around the world on the eve of George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. We did get a huge front-page headline in the New York Times, but Bush only needed to wait until we went home.

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The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions

by Robert J. Burrowes

Poster art courtesy War Resisters League; warresisters.org

All nonviolent struggles are conducted simultaneously in the political and strategic spheres, and these spheres, which are distinct, interact throughout. I have discussed this at length elsewhere. (1) Despite this, only rarely have nonviolent struggles been conducted with a conscious awareness of this vitally important relationship. Gandhi’s campaigns were very effective partly because he understood the distinction and relationship between politics and strategy in nonviolent struggle. And the failure of many campaigns can be attributed, in part, to the fact that most activists do not.  To illustrate the distinction and the relationship between these two spheres, and to highlight their vital importance, this article discusses them within the simpler context of nonviolent actions.

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The Resurgence of Strategic Nonviolent Organizing in Palestine

by Jim Haber

Israel-Palestine peace poster, courtesy Centre for European Reform; cer.eu

A new project in the rural hills of the West Bank, called Sumud Freedom Camp, is the latest sign of a resurgence of strategic, nonviolent organizing in Palestine; it is creating strong bonds between Palestinians and Jewish activists from Israel and around the world.

I traveled to Palestine this May (2017) with a delegation organized by the Center for Jewish Nonviolence (CJNV), to help build the Sumud Camp (the name means steadfastness), following a call for assistance by Palestinian communities. Using the hashtag #WeAreSumud, the camp was organized by a unique coalition of Palestinians, Israelis, non-Israeli Jews, and international justice seekers standing in solidarity with the village of Sarura, in the South Hebron Hills of the occupied West Bank.

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How to Start a Nonviolent Direct Action Group to Make MLK Proud

by George Lakey

Martin Luther King poster courtesy fabiusmaximus.com

Some people feel inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. to do service projects. But the U.S. civil rights movement that he led was not about days of service; it was about days of confrontational action. Think about the hundreds of action groups that sprang up in the North as well as the South, many winning campaigns against racial discrimination. They mobilized and radicalized people; that movement gave me my first experience of civil disobedience.

Some of those early groups, of course, flourished, and some fell apart quickly. Since then we’ve learned a lot about how to start action groups in a way that increases their chance to thrive, wage a campaign, learn from it and grow, often through trial and error.

The steps for beginning a group are not really as simple as a food recipe, but I’ll take the risk of writing this in a recipe-kind-of-way. Remember that every situation is always unique. You’ll need to think with friends through each step, adapting to your circumstances.

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The Suffragettes and the Effectiveness of Property Destruction

by George Lakey 

Cover of program for the 1913 National American Women's Suffrage Association march; courtesy Wikipedia.com

Suffragette is a 2015 British film directed by Sarah Gavron. It tells a gripping story drawn from the direct action wing of Britain’s woman suffrage movement. Because it spotlights one tactic — property destruction — the film raises the question of effectiveness. Leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s (1858–1928) argument for escalating with arson and explosions was to hasten their win. Did it?

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Nonviolent Founding Myths of the United States

by Benjamin Naimark-Rowse

The Stamp Act repeal depicted as a 1765 funeral procession; courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

On the Fourth of July, cities and towns from coast-to-coast across the United States host fireworks, concerts, and parades to celebrate our independence from Britain. Those celebrations will invariably highlight the colonial soldiers who overcame the British. But the lessons we learn of a democracy forged in the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world (1) shaped the founding of the United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation of our democracy.

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Mobilizing for a Culture of Nonviolence: A National Call from Campaign Nonviolence

by Pace e Bene

Banner illustration courtesy paceebene.org

Editor’s Preface: Pace e Bene is the organizer of Campaign Nonviolence (CNV). We post here their call to mobilize as another in our series of statements of purpose by nonviolent organizations. CNV aims to build a broad coalition united in its efforts to hold the Trump administration accountable through nonviolent action and protest. Please note that we have also posted a series of articles tracing the history of US nonviolence to its roots in Quaker, pre-Revolution Pennsylvania. CNV can, therefore, be seen in an historical context as a quintessentially American movement. Above all, the Campaign demonstrates how vibrant and hopeful nonviolent resistance is today in a divided America. JG

The Call for a Culture of Nonviolence

In the face of the Trump Administration’s priorities—demonizing immigrants, dismantling social programs, destroying environmental safeguards, diminishing civil rights, and dramatically increasing the prospect of war—we call on you, and your loved ones, and your friends—and all people everywhere—to be part of an unprecedented movement-of-movements for a culture of nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism and environmental catastrophe.

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Campaign Nonviolence’s Call to Mobilize the Nation

by John Dear

Banner illustration courtesy paceebene.org

While the media and the nation sit transfixed over the Trump scandals and attacks on democracy, those of us who work for justice and peace know that we have to keep working, resisting, and mobilizing people across the country if we are going to have the social, economic and political transformation we need for our survival.

In other words, we’ve only just begun. Instead of giving up, giving in, or throwing in the towel, instead of sitting glued to the tube, we’re going forward. The campaign for a new culture of nonviolence is on!

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Martin Luther King’s Lessons on Negotiation

by Brandon Jacobsen

African American children attacked by police in Birmingham, AL; May 3, 1963; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

The anti-Trump resistance movement has been effective in its nascent stage, utilizing public protests to signal opposition to the president’s plans. In taking to the streets, airports and congressional town hall meetings, the resistance has had a decisive impact on blocking the discriminatory travel ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries, and on rendering the first iteration of the Republican health care replacement plan dead in the water.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi