Introduction

Mary King Gandhi’s shrewd insight that conflict offers an opportunity to rearrange the ingredients that produced it in the first place has yet to be fully appreciated. Yet as more and more groups and societies across the world are able to know of the successful use of nonviolent tools to achieve political goals, it is possible that universal recognition of the worth and practicality of settling conflict without the insertion of violence may also grow. If anything, the inclination is toward greater use of the technique of collective nonviolent action in the twenty-first century. This Web site is about the power and limits of nonviolent civil resistance through the eyes of one of its practitioner scholars.



The Latest from Mary

Global human-rights leaders defend Voting Rights Act in US Supreme Court

February 27, 2013 | Blog Posts

First page of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Wikipedia)

First page of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Wikipedia)

Distinguished human-rights advocates from across the world have released an open letter to the Supreme Court today in which they express concern and chagrin at the possible watering down of legislation that was one of the most important, tangible outcomes of the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement. From Africa, the Americas, Europe, India and elsewhere, the signatories include South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Britain’s leading human-rights advocate Baroness Helena Kennedy, Spanish justice Baltazar Garzón Real, and Sofía Macher, a Peruvian representing Amnesty International. These people have in many instances been decisively inspired by U.S. protection of human rights. Now they say to the justices in Washington, “Beyond your borders, the global march toward justice will suffer grievous harm should you surrender to those who seek to disenfranchise American citizens.”

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One Billion Rising, and more

February 21, 2013 | Blog Posts

One Billion Rising event in New York City on February 14. (Flickr/Marnie Joyce)

One Billion Rising event in New York City on February 14. (Flickr/Marnie Joyce)

On Valentine’s Day, demonstrators across the world reached beyond borders to protest persisting violence against women in an event called One Billion Rising. Prompted by the December 2012 gang rape of a 23-year-old Indian woman who was studying to become a physiotherapist, and the Taliban shooting earlier in the year of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who wanted to be educated, women’s rights activists are turning to sweeping nonviolent action to pierce global lethargy. A United Nations evaluation has shown that one in three women worldwide, or approximately one billion women, endure some type of violence at the hands of men in the course of their lifetimes.

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Mary King Delivers the 2012 Olivier Memorial Peace Lecture

January 8, 2013 | Events

On December 5th, 2012, Mary gave a public lecture in Ludlow, England, about new developments related to building peace. She was invited to give the 2012 Olivier Memorial Peace Lecture.

The following day, Mary spoke to students at Ludlow College about the U.S. civil rights movement.

You can read more about the event on The Ludlow Quaker Meeting House’s website. You can also download an abridged version of Mary’s lecture here.

Al Jazeera coverage strengthens wave of Iraqi protest

January 2, 2013 | Blog Posts

Screenshot from AlJazeera.com.

Screenshot from AlJazeera.com.

As 2012 came to a close, massive nonviolent demonstrations took place in Iraq, with thousands of Sunni demonstrators in Anbar province marching in protest of the allegedly sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Al Jazeera English (AJE) has carried live reports this past week showing tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly self-declared Sunnis, as they demonstrated along a main highway leading to Syria and Jordan. Local councils called for civil disobedience because, they said, Sunnis are being sidelined in Iraqi politics, and pronouncements asserted that sit-ins would not end until protesters’ demands were met. AJE’s reporter commented that the challengers had a stated commitment to nonviolent action, and that local clergy had joined in the call to such action.

Marchers in Iraq repeated a slogan heard elsewhere in the Arab Awakening — “The people want the downfall of the regime” — calling to mind the period two years ago when AJE acquired increased international legitimacy for its reportage as the Arab world stirred with popular defiance, notwithstanding the network’s limited reach in the United States. With correspondents throughout the Middle East, including Israel, AJE has become the primary source for coverage of the region. The recent protests in Iraq are yet another example of what political analysts now speak of as the “Al Jazeera effect” — the network’s ability to influence global affairs by circumventing the official, governmentally-controlled news organs in the region.

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Teaching and learning civil resistance in West Africa

December 19, 2012 | Blog Posts

Oumar Ndongo and Mary Elizabeth King. (WNV/courtesy of author)

The real-life experience of African nonviolent struggles was important for Martin Luther King, Jr., who drew knowledge and encouragement from the civil resistance of Africans in Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and elsewhere in their quests for independence from colonial rule. In 1957 he visited the Gold Coast (soon to be renamed Ghana), with Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., U.N. official Ralph Bunche and A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. All were to participate in the independence celebrations of Ghana as a new nation, where protracted nonviolent struggle had been pursued in seeking free elections. African nonviolent campaigns, significant in the early and mid-20th century, remain equally so in the 21st century. The rest of the world has a great deal to learn from such campaigns, especially thanks to the central roles of women in resistance and peacemaking.

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The significance of defections in Syria

August 20, 2012 | Blog Posts

From the Al Jazeera interaction feature “Tracking Syria’s defections.”

After Tunisia’s nonviolent revolution, on March 15, 2011, citizens of the small southern Syrian city of Duraa organized to challenge the government’s severe torture of 20 children, who had posted graffiti criticizing the government. As news spread of the authorities’ crushing of the civil resisters who objected to torturing children, sympathetic demonstrations swelled in solidarity across much of Syria. Local pro-democracy movements dropped ping-pong balls with “Freedom” and “Democracy” written on them from hillsides into towns below. Fountains sprayed red-tinted water, in allusion to gratuitous killings. The increasing brutality raised the voices of Syrians, who minimally asked for protection of civilians. Person by person, family by family, community by community, Syrians turned against the government of Bashar al-Assad. They changed sides.

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Palestinian hunger strikes, past and future

June 24, 2012 | Blog Posts

Khader Adnan stencil on a wall by Manara square, Ramallah. By Friends123, via Wikimedia Commons.

The 25-year-old Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak ate a piece of chocolate last Monday, ending the longest hunger strike of any Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody — more than three months long. The previous record-holder, Khader Adnan, ended his strike just four months earlier. What began as an isolated incident in Adnan’s fast has been growing into a wave of effective resistance. Both men concluded their strikes upon the announcement that they had secured their freedom.

Hunger strikes by Palestinians are not new; what may be different in contrast to historical antecedents is that they have been attracting global attention in news reports. It may be thanks to the growing comprehension of civil resistance around the world since last year’s Arab Awakening. Meanwhile, inside the Occupied Territories, the potency of nonviolent struggle is acquiring momentum as a wide range of Palestinian actors — with diverse priorities and preferences — is increasingly turning to strategic nonviolent action to press for resolution of their grievances.

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Czechoslovakia’s two-hour general strike

April 30, 2012 | Blog Posts

A general strike can be one of the most potent noncooperation methods in the repertoire of nonviolent resistance. It is a widespread cessation of labor in an effort to bring all economic activity to a total standstill. Although it is easy to broadcast the call for a general strike, it is exceedingly difficult to implement for the maximal impact that it potentially exerts. What’s more, a general strike must be called prudently, because it loses its effectiveness if weakly executed.

The Occupy movement’s calls for a general strike in the United States on May 1 make me think of an instance in which a general strike was brilliantly carried out and with great effect, in Czechoslovakia in 1989 — for only two hours.

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Why we need Sharp’s Dictionary

April 9, 2012 | Blog Posts

Anyone who has researched, taught, written or published on the subject of nonviolent struggle appreciates the headaches of vocabulary. Gandhi himself suffered the pains and perplexities of language, as in this passage from Satyagraha in South Africa:

None of us knew what name to give to our movement. I then used the term “passive resistance” in describing it. I did not then quite understand the implications of “passive resistance” as I called it. … As the struggle advanced, the phrase “passive resistance” gave rise to confusion and it appeared shameful to permit this great struggle to be known only by an English name.

The English word nonviolence is not much better. It is ambiguous and multifaceted. My students, for whom English is often a second, third or fourth language, frequently complain that the word “nonviolence” says what it is not but does not tell us what it is. The ability of average people to study this subject with linguistic precision, however, has lately taken a quantum leap with Oxford University Press’s publication of Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Language of Civil Resistance in Conflicts, by the scholar of nonviolent struggle (and Waging Nonviolence contributor) Gene Sharp.

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What ‘KONY 2012’ is — and is not

March 19, 2012 | Blog Posts

Still from "KONY 2012" representing an inverted pyramid of people-power acting on elites.

A student recently asked me about the now-famous online video “KONY 2012.” The man its name refers to, of course, is Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group alleged to have forced more than 60,000 children into fighting in armed conflicts in central Africa. As of this writing, the video has been watched more than 100 million times; its makers hope it will “raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.” My student wrote:

Can a nonviolent movement be virtual, or does it require feet on the ground? The concept of “KONY 2012” appears to be about awareness targeted to North American supporters, not the people of Uganda or Congo where Kony calls home. If “KONY 2012” seeks only to raise awareness, but does not result in organized protest or the arrest of Kony, is it still an effective campaign?

I thought it was a great question, coming at the beginning of an online course at the University for Peace (UPEACE) with 30 mid-career students from literally all over the world, and in regard to a phenomenon that is spreading just as far and wide. My response, however, is that the “KONY 2012” video and what it calls for, whatever its ultimate effectiveness, would not qualify as a true nonviolent resistance campaign, movement or mobilization.

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