Another useful summary from Tom Atlee:
Subject: Nonviolence and the USA
It always amazes me how few people know about the work of Gene Sharp, the Harvard history professor who is perhaps the world’s leading authority on the tactics and strategy of nonviolence. During the Cold War he even wrote a book called MAKING EUROPE UNCONQUERABLE in which he described how to defend entire countries using nonviolent civilian-based defense. Of course few governments paid attention to his book because he recommended training thousands or millions of people in nonviolent resistance. Trained populations could use those techniques to deal with ANY governing party that was oppressing them.
In early July my partner Karen Mercer and I were investigating the nonviolence used by eighteenth century American colonists. Sharp’s classic and highly readable trilogy THE POLITICS OF NONVIOLENT ACTION was especially valuable to us. We found considerable evidence that the colonists were close to getting their demands met through nonviolent tactics like
– street demonstrations
– noncooperation with authorities (including tax resistance)
– citizen diplomacy with Britain and France
– creating and using parallel governance structures
– creative group discipline and peer pressure
– street theater (e.g., the Boston Tea Party)
– public relations, stressing the reasonableness of their demands and their fellowship with the British, despite their strong disagreements with the actions of King George, Parliament and certain colonial authorities
– subversion of colonial bureaucracies (e.g., Sam Adams was a tax collector who fudged his job in ways that supported the colonists)
– powerful pamphleteering and speech-making
– organized networking and information sharing
– careful collective strategizing, progressing to ever-more potent actions
– developing and spreading inspiring ideas (especially about liberty)
– dedicated nonviolence — even when the British soldiers shot colonial demonstrators
This nonviolent process went on for a decade with increasing intensity and numerous successes. The impact on the British — especially the powerful British merchant class, whose trade was devastated by colonial boycotts — was profound. By early 1775 it looked like full success was around the corner.
But like so many other people throughout history who have used random nonviolence, the American colonists didn’t have the kind of sophisticated understanding that we have available today — thanks to people like Gandhi, King and Sharp. Furthermore, among them — as among us — there were people strongly drawn to the shallow but very real and infectious power of violence.
So, in the end, the colonists lacked that last vital bit of patience required for victory. Under great provocation from the British, the militia at Lexington and Concord “fired the shot heard round the world”, killing British soldiers. The tide of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic shifted and war fever took over. The chance for the first successful nonviolent revolution in history was lost, leaving it to Gandhi over a century later.
Few US schools teach American history that way. If they did, knowledge of the power of nonviolence would be widespread and used often to further the common good and popular aspirations. Perhaps even more importantly, the United States of America might today be living out a very different story on the world stage.*
That brings us to the provocative article below, sent to me by Randy Schutt, in which two experts in nonviolence suggest that the US should support a truly nonviolent popular revolution in Iran. As opposed as I am in general to US interventionism, it would certainly be an interesting change to see the US sponsoring trainings around the world to help populations NONVIOLENTLY resist and replace governments they don’t like.
I imagine it would be a big improvement over the status quo — selling armaments to repressive governments, training their armies and police in torture methods, creating death, disorder and devastation through military invasions, and so on. Furthermore, I like to think that training the AMERICAN people in nonviolent, creative resistance might come in handy right at home someday. (This is one of Randy Shutt’s dreams.
In the meantime, we can watch great videos about nonviolence (like the two movies referenced at the end of the article below) and read and spread the word about Gene Sharp and other articulate advocates of nonviolence. I think we’ll need this knowledge down the road…
* This is an interesting example of the power of story to make meaning out of facts (mentioned in an earlier mailing). In July Karen and I encountered books in which the facts of the American Revolution were selected and presented to show how it was
– a brilliant war for freedom
– a childish and unfair reaction to legitimate British concerns,
– a showcase of strengths and pitfalls of nonviolent revolution and
– one more means for ruling classes to oppress ordinary people.
It makes one wonder — like the chicken and the egg — which comes first, the facts or the story?
Christian Science Monitor
July 22, 2003 edition
The nonviolent script for Iran
By Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall
Peter Ackerman is executive producer of the Peabody award-winning documentary, ‘Bringing Down a Dictator’ and chairman of the board of overseers of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Jack DuVall is coauthor of ‘A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict’ and director of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.
Another useful summary from Tom Atlee: