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 website is about the power and limits of nonviolent civil resistance through the eyes of one of its practitioner scholars.

The Latest from Mary

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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Lecture: Behind the Arab Awakening: Dynamics of Civil Resistance

March 1, 2012 | Videos and Radio

Mary King delivered this lecture, “Behind the Arab Awakening: Dynamics of Civil Resistance”, on Monday, January 23, 2012 at Green Templeton College, Oxford in conjunction the Centre for International Studies at Oxford. Mary is a Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford.

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Syrians map their future, post-Assad

February 27, 2012 | Blog Posts

Discussion about changes to a Syrian street name, via The Highest Monkey.

The opposition in Syria is not waiting for Bashar al-Assad to depart before drawing up new maps of their country. According to a recent Washington Post report, activists have been using a Google crowdsourcing program, Map Maker, to rename major streets, bridges and thoroughfares after their own heroes. The purpose has been to erase the remnants of the Assad family’s 40-year rule and to memorialize nonviolent challengers who have died during the course of Syria’s almost year-long uprising. Stefan Geens, author of the Ogle Earth blog, which tracks Google Maps, told the Post that Syria’s is the first rebellion of which he knows where activists have used online mapping programs to rewrite history.

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Anticipating fear

February 19, 2012 | Blog Posts

Ku Klux Klan rally on the Louisiana State Capitol steps in Baton Rouge in the 1960s. State Library of Louisiana Historic Photograph Collection.

Black History Month has many meanings. For me, it is a time to remember the tremendous contribution African Americans have made to the building of the United States—as much as any group, and possibly more. I mean this literally, as in constructing so much of the nation’s material infrastructure, but I also am speaking of another realm.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported 4,733 lynchings between 1882 and 1962, nationwide. Of these, three-quarters of the victims were black, mostly in the Deep South, and we may assume that the incidents were underreported. Among the greatest contributions of the civil rights movement to the United States was its participants’ willingness to confront a culture beset by violent racism and pervasive fear. Random acts of violence could occur at any moment, with no expectation that police would intervene. It is easy to overlook today, especially considering the ways in which insidious racism continues, how great a distance has been traversed.

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Egypt’s revolution began long before 2011

February 6, 2012 | Blog Posts

Egyptian protesters participating in a silent stand on June 6, 2011, at Kasr Al Nil bridge. By Zeinab Mohamed, via Flickr.

The starting point for a movement of mass action usually cannot be pinpointed to a single moment or person. This is true of the 2011 Arab Awakening, despite the temptation to credit Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia or Wael Ghonim’s prowess on Facebook in Egypt; such struggles defy simplistic explanations of origin.

“I don’t want to take much credit; the revolution was leaderless,” Wael told 2.8 million listeners on BBC’s Radio 4 recently. Encircled in a tight studio in London’s Portman Place BBC headquarters, along with Paul Mason, economics editor for the BBC program Newsnight, newscaster Andrew Marr had convened the three of us to discuss the topic of “Revolution.” Egypt’s revolution, our conversation made clear, was far from spontaneous. For years, Egyptian activists were sharing knowledge, organizing and learning to think strategically.

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BBC Start the Week Podcast – Revolution with Wael Ghonim, Paul Mason and Mary King 30th Jan 2012

January 30, 2012 | Videos and Radio

Andrew Marr discusses “revolution” with the Egyptian writer and blogger, Wael Ghonim; Paul Mason, economics journalist and author; and Mary King, Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University for Peace (an affiliate of the UN)and Rothermere American Institute Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Link to podcast audio file (right click and choose “save as”)