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  • Cary Donham

NONVIOLENCE CAN WORK (Successful Non-violence Campaigns)

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

Nonviolence is not for the weak. Nor are nonviolent movements doomed to failure. History taught in high schools, most undergraduate history classes and portrayed in popular culture is often the story of wars, costly, deadly and in the end indecisive. However, some of the most profound political changes have resulted not from armed conflict, but from organized, nonviolent movements.

This is the first of a series of blogs that will describe successful nonviolent movements that have led to political and cultural change. These include the women’s suffragette movement in the United States; the 1930 Salt March in India led by Mahatma Gandhi, a key event in the struggle for India’s independence from Great Britain; the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States’ south, including the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott; the end of apartheid in South Africa; and nonviolent resistance from 1989 to 1991 in Eastern Europe that resulted in the end of Communist dictatorships and Soviet Union domination.

But aren’t these isolated incidents? Isn’t armed conflict, despite its costs, a more surefire way to obtain political change? In a groundbreaking study, then Denver College Professor Erica Chenoweth and her colleague Maria Stephan collected data on all violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 that resulted in a government overthrow or in territorial liberation, creating a data set of 323 such campaigns. Chenoweth analyzed nearly 160 variables related to measuring the campaigns’ success. To her surprise, she found that nonviolent campaigns were more effective than armed conflict in producing change.

Professor Chenoweth identifies four elements common to successful campaigns. First, there needs to be diverse and large sustained participation. Second, the movement needs to induce elites and security forces to join or sympathize with the movement. Third, the movement should use a variety of means, not just protests. Finally, when a movement is almost inevitably repressed, it does not itself resort to violence. file:///Users/carydonham/Downloads/Why%20nonviolent%20resistance%20beats%20violent%20force%20in%20effecting%20social,%20political%20change%20–%20Harvard%20Gazett.html.

Perhaps comparing these successful campaigns can provide guidance for those today seeking political change in an increasingly violent environment.

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