Allegations of election-rigging in Iran in June and a coup d’etat in Honduras in July – after a brief scan of the newspapers over the last two months a person could be forgiven for thinking that it is business as usual for state-society relations in many parts of the world. However if we look a little closer (see below for two excellent articles on Iran and Honduras) a new and exciting phenomenon comes into view. In both cases, each of which has arisen in wholly disparate circumstances, the primary response of citizens to the state, or to those who would usurp the state, has been to engage in nonviolent protest and resistance. In Iran we have witnessed peaceful protest and limited use of the hunger strike, in Honduras the peaceful blockading of major arterial roads essential to the smooth function of the Honduran economy. These responses are indeed inspiring and hopeful and deserve our support. To make the most of these events however, we should use the opportunity to open up a broader discussion, debate and creative engagement with both the principles and practices of nonviolent resistance. If it is our wish for nonviolent techniques of resistance and conflict resolution to come to prevail over those that rely on violence, and indeed this is our fervent wish, then we must be willing to devote the same amount of time, energy and resources that are presently sacrificed to perfecting technologies of violence to developing and perfecting technologies of nonviolence. 

In 1973, Gene Sharp published The Methods of Nonviolent Action and was able to list no less than 198 methods. The full list has been published by the Peace Magazine and can be viewed at http://www.peacemagazine.org/198.htm. As methods of political non-cooperation available for citizens Sharp lists,

 

REJECTION OF AUTHORITY

120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance

121. Refusal of public support

122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

 

CITIZENS’ NONCOOPERATION WITH GOVERNMENT

123. Boycott of legislative bodies

124. Boycott of elections

125. Boycott of government employment and positions

126. Boycott of government departments, agencies, and other bodies

127. Withdrawal from governmental educational institutions

128. Boycott of government-supported institutions

129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents

130. Removal of own signs and placemarks

131. Refusal to accept appointed officials

132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

 

CITIZENS’ ALTERNATIVES TO OBEDIENCE

133. Reluctant and slow compliance

134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision

135. Popular nonobedience

136. Disguised disobedience

137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse

138. Sitdown

139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation

140. Hiding, escape, and false identities

141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

 

Even the simple act of perusing and acknowledging lists such as this has certain salutary effects for the nonviolent activist. First of all, it reminds us that the possibilities for effective nonviolent action and resistance are limited only by our imaginations. If Sharp was able to arrive at 198 actions in 1973, how many are we capable of devising now, over three and a half decades later? A technological revolution has wrought drastic changes in national and international societies and we are far more informed and aware of social structures and the psychologies of both groups and individuals, to mention just a few advances in humankind’s ability to understand itself. What kinds of new ‘technologies of nonviolence’ can we envisage now?

The second thing that lists like Sharp’s remind us of is that effective nonviolent resistance relies absolutely upon human solidarity. None of the methods mentioned by Sharp can be effective in any way if individuals act as isolated agents unsupported by others. At the very least, nonviolent activists require publicity and moral and psychological support. In tandem with this insight we can see that the greater the number supporting the action, the greater the chances of success. One gun shot may scatter a crowd, but in the Iranian revolution of 1979 it took one million peaceful marchers to make soldiers refuse to shoot. Solidarity, with both a cause and with our fellow man, is essential to the success of nonviolent action.

Finally, this list brings it consciously to our minds that we are part of the same ‘system’ that is opposed through nonviolent action. Words such as ‘refusal’, ‘non-cooperation’ and ‘disobedience’ remind us that it is our actions (or inactions) in the course of any ordinary day that contribute to the maintenance of the ‘status quo’ (whatever that may mean for any individual at any time). At all times, consciously or not, we are agents of the present and responsible for the generation and regeneration of the world we live in. However, if we choose to engage in nonviolent resistance in solidarity with our fellow man we are not simply ‘refusing’, we are, through our concerted action, creating a new reality based upon different principles and values to that which we presently oppose. Resistance, without violence, in solidarity with all of humankind, is a fundamentally creative act that paves the way for a fundamentally transformed future.

In every crisis is an opportunity. The crises in Iran and Honduras should be grasped as opportunities for us to learn more, think more and imagine more about how we can practice and refine technologies of nonviolence and thereby transform the world we live in.

 

Dr Gene Sharp is the founder (1983) and senior scholar of The Albert Einstein Institution. The Institution is dedicated to advancing the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world. It is committed to the defence of freedom, democracy, and the reduction of political violence through the use of nonviolent action. Further information about the Institution, in addition to further studies by Dr Sharp, can be found at http://www.aeinstein.org/

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