Saturday, August 23, 2014

Effectiveness Measured: Armed or Nonviolent Uprisings

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.

1 comment:

John Flanagan said...

Man is prone to violent passions, and the mob mentality and tribalism drives social movements when passive resistance and words fail to effect change. Our own American Revolution was hardly non-violent, and we must admit that intractability and arrogance on the part of tyrants will always generate a quick passing from mild opposition and passive resistance to bloodshed. Remember if you are old enough how student demonstrations of the 60's against the Vietnam War changed from sit-ins and passive resistance to the take over of college offices, deliberate confrontations with the police, and probably would have intensified had Nixon not pulled us out of the war. As a Marine Sgt and a Vietnam vet 1967-68, I was in counterintelligence and accompanied the infantry and small teams into the rural areas. I spoke to hundreds of villagers, VC combatants, North Vietnamese communist captives, and saw the scourge of the communist system close up....something the students back home could never comprehend. I was only 22 years old...and grew up quickly. When communists "liberated" a village, they often shot the existing Village Chief, usually just an old man, often liked by the people, but the VC, he was an "imperialist puppet" and then....the village needed to be re-educated, parental authority undermined, children put to work for the revolution, indoctrination began, purges common, executions done against detractors. I have seen it all. And meanwhile back in the USA, the leftists and liberals, the Jane Fonda traitors, the enlightened academics.....never looked at communism's ruthless face...but America was the villain. Those South Vietnamese who wanted a free country and worked with us were abandoned to the communists in 1975, and were either shot, went to years of hard labor and re-education, or the lucky ones might have made it to the USA with the boat people. I see demonstrations in America, except for the law abiding Tea Party, or pro-life groups, as mostly formented by America hating leftists, ignorant progressives, and thugs looking to loot and cause mayhem and the destruction of property. Look at excuse to destroy. That is my take on the subject, and the way I see it, with a media always behind throwing gasoline on the social issues they can use to get attention.