I have been thinking about non-violent resistance and the best paths to social change since I was old enough to know I was interested, which must have been around age 13 or so. On Thursday, I heard a story on NPR that explored why social justice movements succeed or fail. It was such a compelling story that I read the article.
The 2 researchers looked at more than 300 cases of resistance to explore whether violent or nonviolent instances of resistance are more likely to lead to social change.
The article in Foreign Affairs primarily focuses on the recent uprisings in the Middle East as it ponders whether or not armed or unarmed uprisings are more effective. The answer? Unarmed uprisings are more likely to affect social change: "Civil resistance does not succeed because it melts the hearts of dictators and secret police. It succeeds because it is more likely than armed struggle to attract a larger and more diverse base of participants and impose unsustainable costs on a regime. No single civil resistance campaign is the same, but the ones that work all have three things in common: they enjoy mass participation, they produce regime defections, and they employ flexible tactics."
The article doesn't address the spiritual aspect. I've wondered if social justice movements that are rooted in a spiritual discipline are more likely to succeed. The spiritual discipline gives people the courage to keep going long after others have quit--at least, that's my theory that I would seek to prove, if I had more time. The spiritual discipline reminds people that this life is not all there is, and that protecting one's own life may not be the greater good.
This article in The Nation, a discussion between Jonathan Schell and Taylor Branch, explores the idea of non-violent protest rooted in spirituality. Jonathan Schell says, "So there really is a counter-story to the dominant narrative of the twentieth century--the shocking and unbelievable expansion of the use of violence. But this sort of subterranean stream of nonviolence was also present. The fall of the British Empire, the fall of the Soviet Empire--these are not the small change of history. These are serious events."
Taylor Branch goes on to talk about the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. South: "The people suffering segregation in the South had no other weapons. They had no money. They didn't have much education. They were a tiny minority of the population, and only a tiny minority of that minority was involved in a nonviolent revolution. And yet they believed there was much power in it. It came out of the refuge of the church. The mass meetings there substituted for all the institutions that they really didn't have. They didn't have a newspaper. They didn't have a theater. They didn't have any deliberative structure whatsoever. They developed nonviolence at a very special moment in history. "
I suspect more work is out there that explores the idea of successful social justice movements rooted in spirituality. I'll keep my eyes open.
feeling the feelings…
1 year ago