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      • Memories of My Eldest Brother
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      • Wangari Maathai
      • Zhou Enlai
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      • Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
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      • Educational Proposal
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      • Education for Sustainable Development Proposal (2002)
    • Essays on Education
      • The Dawn of a Century of Humanistic Education
      • The Tradition of Soka University
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      • Makiguchi’s Philosophy of Education
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The Courage of Nonviolence

[From the book One by One , by Daisaku Ikeda]

“I don’t want toys or chocolate. All I want is peace and freedom. People of Europe, people of the world, please find the humanity in your hearts to put an end to this war!”

–A young girl of the former Yugoslavia

I was visiting Raj Ghat, where Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian independence, had been cremated.

Somewhere a bird sang. A forest was nearby, and squirrels ran through its lush green thickets.

The area was a spacious, well-tended shrine to nonviolence.

As I offered flowers before the black stone platform that constitutes Gandhi’s memorial, I bowed my head.

I pondered Gandhi’s brilliant spirit. I thought of his ceaseless struggles to douse the fires of hatred with water drawn from the pure springs of love for humanity.

And I thought of how alone he was in his quest.

“Whose Side Are You On?”

“Gandhi tells us not to retaliate against the Muslims! How can he take their side? There’s no way! They killed my family, including my five-year-old son!”

“Is he telling us just to endure the attacks of the Hindus? Ridiculous! Doesn’t he know what we Muslims have been through all these years? After all, Gandhi’s a Hindu himself, isn’t he?”

The elderly sage went everywhere, wherever Hindus and Muslims were mired in blood-stained cycles of conflict and reprisal. He called for the killing to end. But people, crazed by hate, did not listen. They told him to leave, calling his attempts at reconciliation hypocritical or worse. They demanded to know whose side he was on.

But he wasn’t on either side. And at the same time, he was on both sides. To him, people are brothers and sisters. How could he stand by, a silent witness to mutual slaughter?

Gandhi declared that he was willing to be cut in two if that was what people wanted, but not for India to be cut in two. What good, he demanded to know, could ever come of hatred? If hate was returned with hate, it would only become more deeply rooted and widespread.

Suppose someone sets fire to your home and you retaliate by setting fire to theirs, soon the whole town will be in flames! Burning down the attacker’s house won’t bring yours back. Violence solves nothing. By engaging in reprisals, you only hurt yourself.

But no matter how urgently Gandhi called on people to listen to reason, the fires of hatred raged on. Against the lone Gandhi there were far too many people fanning the flames.

Fire Cannot Extinguish Fire

On January 20, 1948–10 days, in fact, before he was assassinated–a handmade bomb was hurled at Gandhi as he attended a gathering. This act of terrorism was carried out by a Hindu youth. Fortunately, the bomb missed the mark and Gandhi survived.

The youth was arrested.

The next day, several adherents of the Sikh faith called on Gandhi and assured him that the culprit was not a Sikh.

Gandhi rebuked them, saying that it mattered nothing at all to him whether the assailant was a Sikh, a Hindu or a Muslim.

Whoever the perpetrator might be, he said, he wished him well.

Gandhi explained that the youth had been taught to think of him as an enemy of the Hindu cause, that hatred had been implanted in his heart. The youth believed what he was taught and was so desperate, so devoid of all hope, that violence seemed the only alternative.

Gandhi felt only pity for the young man. He even told the outraged chief of police to not harass his assailant but make an effort to convert him to right thoughts and actions.

This was always his approach. No one abhorred violence more than Gandhi. At the same time no one knew more deeply that violence can only be countered by nonviolence.

Just as fire is extinguished by water, hatred can only be defeated by love and compassion. Some criticized Gandhi for coddling the terrorist. Others scorned his conviction, calling it sentimental and unrealistic, an empty vision.

Gandhi was alone.

Many revered his name, but few truly shared his beliefs. For Gandhi, nonviolence meant an overflowing love for all humanity, a way of life that emanated from the very marrow of his being. It made life possible; without it, he could not have lived even a moment. But for many of his followers, nonviolence was simply a political strategy, a tactic for winning India’s independence from Britain.

Gandhi was alone.

The more earnestly he pursued his religious beliefs, the deeper his love for humanity grew. This love made it all the more impossible for him to ignore the political realities that shaped people’s lives. At the same time, contact with these political realities strengthened his conviction that nothing is more essential than the love for humanity that religious faith can inspire.

This placed him, however, in the position of being denounced by both religious figures, who saw his involvement in the sullied realm of politics as driven by personal ambition, and political leaders, who called him ignorant and naïve.

Because he walked the middle way, the true path of humanity that seeks to reconcile apparent contradictions, his beliefs and actions appeared biased to those at the extremes.

Putting an End to Terrorism

The September 11 attacks against the United States were savage beyond words. Our fellow SGI members and friends were among the victims. The attacks provoked universal revulsion and the heartfelt desire that such slaughter never be repeated.

For what crime were these innocent people killed? There is no reason, nothing that could possibly justify such an act. Even if, as has been reported, the perpetrators believed they were acting based on their religious faith, their acts in no way merit the name of martyrdom. Martyrdom means offering up one’s own life, not taking the lives of others. True self-sacrifice is made to save others from suffering, to offer them happiness. Any act that involves killing others is reprehensible and purely destructive.

The time has come for humankind to join together to put an end to terrorism. The question is, how can this be achieved? Will military retaliation serve that end? Isn’t it likely only to incite more hatred?

Even if, for argument’s sake, the immediate “enemy” could be subdued, would that bring true peace? Long-simmering hatreds would only be driven further underground, making it impossible to predict where next in the world they might burst forth. Our world would be tormented with ever greater fear and unease.

Here I am reminded of the simple wisdom of the Aesop fable “The North Wind and the Sun.” The North Wind tried to make a traveler remove his coat by assailing him with icy gusts, but the harder the North Wind blew, the tighter the traveler pulled his coat around him.

Peace that is based on the forceful suppression of people’s voices and concerns, whether it be in your own or other countries, is a dead peace–the peace of the grave. Surely that is not the peace for which humanity yearns.

Violence vs. Nonviolence: The Struggle of the Twenty-first Century

I am also reminded of a moving episode that Leo Tolstoy related in a letter written two months before his death. The letter, dated September 7, 1910, was addressed to Mahatma Gandhi.

The episode went something like this. There was a test on the subject of religion in a certain girls’ school in Moscow. A bishop had come to the school and was quizzing the girls one by one about the Ten Commandments. When he came to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” the bishop asked: “Does God forbid us to kill under all circumstances?”

The girls each answered as they had been taught. “No,” they said, “not under all circumstances. We may kill in war or as legal punishment.”

“Yes, that’s right! You’ve answered correctly!” said the bishop.

Then one of the girls, her face flushed with indignation, spoke up: “Killing is wrong under all circumstances!”

The bishop was flustered and marshaled all his rhetorical skills to convince the girl that there were exceptions to the commandment against killing, but to no avail.

“No,” she declared. “Killing is a sin under all circumstances. It says so in the Old Testament. Moreover, Jesus not only forbade killing but taught that we must do no harm to our neighbors.”

In the face of truth in the girl’s assertion, the bishop’s authority and verbal skills were of no use whatsoever. In the end, he could only fall silent. The young girl, Tolstoy wrote with evident satisfaction, had proven victorious.

Let us amplify the words of that young girl–“It is wrong to kill, even in war!” And let us broadcast them to the world!

The twentieth century was a century of war, a century in which hundreds of millions of people died violent deaths. Have we learned anything from those horrific tragedies? In the new era of the twenty-first century, humanity must be guided by the overriding principle that killing is never acceptable or justified–under any circumstance. Unless we realize this, unless we widely promote and deeply implant the understanding that violence can never be used to advocate one’s beliefs, we will have learned nothing from the bitter lessons of the twentieth century.

The real struggle of the twenty-first century will not be between civilizations, nor between religions. It will be between violence and nonviolence. It will be between barbarity and civilization in the truest sense of the word.

Extinguish the Flames of Hatred with a Flood of Dialogue

More than half a century ago, Gandhi sought to break the cycles of violence and reprisal. What distinguishes us from brute beasts, he said, is our continuous striving for moral self-improvement. Humanity is at a crossroads and must choose, he asserted, violence (the law of the jungle) or nonviolence (the law of humanity).

The world today, in fact, has an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. We have the chance to open a new page in human history. Now is the time to make the following declaration:

We regard terrorist attacks to be a challenge to the law of humanity. It is for just this reason that we refuse to follow the law of the jungle upon which the attacks were based. We declare our determination to find a solution not by military means but through extensive dialogue. Rather than further fuel the flames of hatred, we choose to douse them with a great “flood of dialogue” that will enrich and benefit all humanity.

This is the best, the only means to assure that such horrors are never repeated, and we believe it is the most fitting way to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks.

Such a declaration, put into action, would certainly be met with the unstinting praise of future historians.

Great good can come of great evil. But this will not happen on its own. Courage is always required to transform evil into good. Now is the time for each of us to bring forth such courage: the courage of nonviolence, the courage of dialogue, the courage to listen to what we would rather not hear, the courage to restrain the desire for vengeance and be guided by reason.

Peace Is Born from a Willingness to Listen

In conversations with Mrs. Veena Sikri, director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), we discussed Indian philosophy and the tradition of nonviolence. And I spoke of my desire to bring the light of India, with its immense spiritual heritage, to the people of Japan. This wish was eventually realized in the form of an exhibition entitled “King Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nehru–Healing Touch” that was held in Japan in 1994.

King Ashoka was a wise and virtuous monarch of ancient India (around the third century BCE). After witnessing firsthand the cruel realities of war, he converted to Buddhism, deciding that he would base his rule not on military force but on the Dharma, the principles of Buddhism. When Gandhi was asked whether a nonviolent state was possible, he replied that indeed it was. He pointed to Ashoka’s reign as an example, and asserted that it must be possible to reproduce the ancient king’s achievement.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India, was Gandhi’s direct disciple. When he visited Japan in 1957, he voiced his profound concern over the escalating violence in the world. In one of his addresses he stated that the only truly effective response to the hydrogen bomb was not a bomb of even bigger destructive capacity but a spiritual “bomb” of compassion. This was just one month after Josei Toda, the second president of the Soka Gakkai, made his own declaration calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Some of the Japanese involved in preparing for the “King Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nehru” exhibition at first had difficulty appreciating the “healing touch” theme proposed by our Indian partners. This may have been partly because “healing” in the broader sense was not as familiar a term in Japan as it has since become. But no theme goes more to the very heart of nonviolence. For violence is born from a wounded spirit: a spirit burned and blistered by the fire of arrogance; a spirit splintered and frayed by the frustration of powerlessness; a spirit parched with an unquenched thirst for meaning in life; a spirit shriveled and shrunk by feelings of inferiority. The rage that results from injured self-respect, from humiliation, erupts as violence. A culture of violence, which delights in crushing and beating others into submission, spreads throughout society, often amplified by the media.

The American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a student of Gandhi’s philosophy. He declared that a person whose spirit is in turmoil cannot truly practice nonviolence. It was my hope that the light of India–a country known in the East since ancient times as “the land of moonlight”–would help spread the spirit of peace, much as the cool beams of the moon bring soothing relief from the maddening heat of the day. From a healed, peaceful heart, humility is born; from humility, a willingness to listen to others is born; from a willingness to listen to others, mutual understanding is born; and from mutual understanding, a peaceful society will be born.

Nonviolence is the highest form of humility; it is supreme courage. Prime Minister Nehru said that the essence of Gandhi’s teachings was fearlessness. The Mahatma taught that “the strong are never vindictive” and that dialogue can only be engaged in by the brave.


Works Consulted

Fischer, Louis. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Harper & Row,
Publishers, 1950.

Gandhi, M. K. Gandhi on Non-Violence–A Selection from the Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Ed. by Thomas Merton. New York: New Directions
Publishing Corp., 1965.

Gandhi, M. K. My Religion. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan Trust, 1955.

Kytle, Calvin. Gandhi, Soldier of Nonviolence. Washington, D.C.:
Seven Locks Press, 1982.

Tolstoy, Leo. Tolstoy’s Letters, Vol. 2 (1880-1910). Ed. and trans.
by R. F. Christian. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1978.

Yamazaki, Kayoko. Aru hi mura wa senjo ni natta–Bachuga kara todoita
kodomotachi no messeji
(One Day Our Village Became a
Battlefield–Messages from the Children of Bachuga [in the former
Yugoslavia]). Tokyo: Shueisha, 1995.

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Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action

 

By
Máire A. Dugan

September 2003
 

“The means are the ends in embryo.” — Mohandas K. Gandhi

“Not peace at any price, but love at all costs.” — Dick Sheppard

If asked for an example of nonviolent action, one is likely to mention Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, Jr., and maybe Rosa Parks. Strong and courageous people whose effective movements resulted, respectively, in Indian independence from decades of British rule, and the initial steps toward freeing African-Americans from decades of discrimination.

Such well-known cases notwithstanding, most of us tend to think of nonviolence as ineffectual, the weapon of the weak. We stand with Mao in presuming that “power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

The source of the problem lies partly in the way the words are structured — defining the concepts in terms of what they are not. Nonviolence and nonviolent action, by their appearance, simply mean “not violence” and “not violent action.” It is a short mental jump to presume that they are everything violence and violent action are not. And, since the latter are associated with force , power , and strength, the former must be the absence of these attributes.

The situation is further complicated by a confusion of like-sounding terms — nonviolence (as a philosophy or lifestyle) and nonviolent action. Before discussing the potential contribution of nonviolent action to the constructive termination of intractable conflict, it seems helpful to clarify our central terms and their relationship to one another.

Nonviolence as Philosophy and Lifestyle


Additional insights into nonviolence are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

Pacifism is a philosophy which, in its absolutist form, proposes that “all forms of violence, war, and/or killing are unconditionally wrong. The proposed ideal is that social intercourse should be completely nonviolent and peaceful…”[1] In conditional pacifism, nonviolence is still the ideal, but violence may be justified under certain, typically extreme, circumstances. Self-defense in the face of attack may be justified, but one should nonetheless do what one can to minimize the harm inflicted on the perpetrator.

While pacifism may simply be part of a broader humanist philosophy, it is most often associated with a large number of religious traditions. The Christian peace denominations such as the Quakers and the Mennonites have a rejection of violence as a core component, as do a number of non-Christian traditions such as the Jains. The Great Peace of the Iroquois is based on values of caring, citizenship, co-existence, fairness, integrity, reasoning, and respect.[2] Additionally, there are significant pacifist traditions in more mainstream religions such as Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe the pacifist traditions of the world’s religions individually, let alone in detail. But they share a key central value — that life is precious and that it is not the right of any person to take the life of another. Some extend this mandate beyond human life to all animal life forms. This results in a range of behavior from vegetarianism to soft-spokenness, from withdrawal from society to active involvement against war and the death penalty.

The focus of religious nonviolence is not necessarily directed at the broader society. The main concern is often with one’s own spiritual wellbeing. This may simply require one to avoid engaging in violent behavior oneself, maybe even at the extreme of not defending oneself from attack. On the other hand, many pacifist traditions encourage believers to work to end war and other forms of violence.

Indeed, the directive to “Love thine enemy” is often married to a hope of affecting the opponent. “If through love for your enemy you can create in him respect or admiration for you, this provides the best possible means by which your new idea or suggestion to him will become an auto-suggestion within him, and it will also help nourish that auto-suggestion.”[3] For Gregg, the goal of nonviolence is to convert the enemy.

The opponent, caught off guard by one’s refusal to initiate violence or even to reciprocate violence, may come to question his/her own behavior or stance. Gregg calls this “moral jiu jitsu.” While it may seem fanciful to think that one’s commitment to nonviolence can have this impact, many case studies have shown that this is sometimes the case, particularly when the commitment is constant over time.

One such case concerns Vykom in Travancore Province , India.[4] Under India’s caste system, Brahmins (the upper caste) and Untouchables (the lowest caste) were kept apart in a variety of ways. In this case, Untouchables were not allowed to walk on a road that passed in front of a Brahmin temple, but had to walk a lengthier route to their own homes. At its outset, Hindu reformers walked with Untouchables down the road and stood in front of the temple. Protestors were beaten, arrested, and jailed. The Maharajah ordered the police to prevent reformers and Untouchables from entering the road. They shifted their tactics to standing prayerfully in front of police, seeking entry, but not attempting to disobey the directive. Participants stood on the road in shifts of several hours each, weathering the monsoon season during which the water level reached their shoulders. After 16 months, centuries of segregation came to an end as the Brahmins announced simply, “We cannot any longer resist the prayers that have been made to us and we are ready to receive the Untouchables.”

A less-cited case, which demonstrates moral jiu jitsu on a personal level, involved a young man named Eddie Dickerson. Dickerson joined a group of other young men in attacking a group of CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) protestors who were attempting to integrate lunch counters in a nearby town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Returning home after the beating, he found himself haunted by the nonviolent response of those whom he had beaten. He left his friends and walked several miles to the church at which the CORE volunteers were staying to pose the question, “Why didn’t you hit back?”

Their behavior and their answers to his question caused him to begin to question both his violent behavior and even segregation itself. His family kicked him out of the house, but he continued his exploration, ending up working for CORE himself. “I don’t have any doubts no more. I feel pretty strong that everyone — no matter what color skin he has — should have equal opportunities. God meant it that way. And it don’t make sense to beat them up so they’ll believe it. It has to be done by nonviolence if it’s going to work…”[5]

In some faith traditions, nonviolent action becomes a moral imperative in the face of rampant social injustice. Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff discusses the need to resist that form of violence, which he labels “originating violence.”

  • Originating violence has its roots in the elite institutions of power, in a social structure that protects the interests of the dominant groups, and in the extreme right, which will not tolerate any social change out of fear of losing its privileged status. As a result many countries of the Third World are in the grips of state terrorism.[6]

Such structural violence demands a response; it is morally imperative to strike against it. Rather than retaliatory violence or even revolutionary violence, however, Boff suggests nonviolent action. Through it, we avoid becoming accomplices of injustice by refusing the status quo; yet retain our own human dignity by refraining from violence. He propounds a mistica underlying nonviolent struggle:

  • The mistica of active nonviolence implies changing ourselves as well as working to change the world. We must live the truth. We must be just, our integrity transparent. We must be peacemakers. It is not enough simply to confront external violence. We must also dig out the roots of violence in our own hearts, in our personal agendas, and in our life projects. In both a personal and a political sense we must seek to live today in miniature what we are seeking for tomorrow.[7]

Gandhian Nonviolent Action

Gandhian nonviolence is based on religious principles drawn from a diversity of scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, and the Koran. Gandhi looked toward higher authority for absolute truth. His central concept, Satyagraha, translated both as “truth seeking” and “soul force,” presupposed that the activist could learn from the opponent and vice versa. Truth could neither be achieved nor disseminated by force. Therefore, the concept of ahimsa was also key to the satyagrahi (the person engaged in truth seeking). While ahimsa is typically translated “nonviolence,” it is not encumbered in the original transcript by the negative construction and connotation of the English word.

The Indian independence movement lasted over a period of almost three decades, and involved thousands of Indians from all walks of life. Despite its size and duration, it remained almost uniformly nonviolent. Even when law enforcement agents resorted to violence, even when protestors were beaten and/or imprisoned, they themselves eschewed violence.

According to Paul Wehr, Gandhi was able to keep the Indian independence movement from lurching out of control (and possibly becoming violent) through a number of strategies:

  • A “step-wise”[8] process. Gandhian campaigns began with negotiation and arbitration , during which he worked not only on the issues in dispute, but also on developing a cooperative relationship with the British officials involved. If the conflict was not resolved at this state, the satyagrahis prepared for nonviolent action including “agitation, ultimatum, economic boycott and strikes, noncooperation, civil disobedience, usurpation of governmental functions and the creation of parallel government.”[9]
  • Commitment to nonviolence. Each participant in a Gandhian campaign had to make a personal and absolute commitment to nonviolence. According to Wehr, “[i]t was primarily because of this personalized self-control that such a massive movement developed with surprisingly little violence.”[10]
  • Controlling the dynamics of escalation . Gandhi avoided common precipitators of escalation. For example, he tied each campaign to a single issue and thus avoided proliferation of issues or parties. He put an emphasis on developing personal relationships with opponents, and thus refrained from the tendency to move from confrontation to antagonism. By announcing all intended moves, he minimized the possibility of information becoming distorted.

Looking at the Indian independence movement from the vantage of the 21stcentury, it may not seem to be as significant an achievement as it was at the time.Colonial governance is an anachronism in our time, scorned for its non-recognition of peoples’ rights to self-governance. Things were must different in the early 20th century, however. Half of the world’s peoples lived in territories controlled by other powers. In the 1940s, Britain took great pride in its empire, the result of almost three centuries of conquest, acquisition, and effective colonial administration.

King’s Nonviolent Action

It is not surprising that, like Gandhi’s, Martin Luther King Jr.’s decision to utilize nonviolence was based on religious principles. In fact, King discovered the use of nonviolent action as a political tool through learning about Gandhi’s success in India.

King’s approach was specifically Christian in orientation, drawing on his own status as a minister and the centrality of the Church in the lives of the Montgomery, Alabama, African-Americans who were the first protestors he led. His speeches utilized the inspirational crescendo structure of African-American sermonizing and he typically used biblical themes in them. This provided a deeper source of unity than the specific issue at hand and his able lieutenants were drawn from the rolls of black preachers.

Like Gandhi’s, King’s methods were also “step-wise.” The King Center lists six:

  • Step One. Information gathering
  • Step Two. Education
  • Step Three. Personal commitment
  • Step Four. Negotiations
  • Step Five. Direct action
  • Step Six. Reconciliation[11]

As with Gandhi, the process is step-wise, creating opportunities for resolution without confrontation and ensuring that both proponents and adversaries have sufficiently accurate information to make decisions both about the issue and the process.

Nonviolent Action as a Political Strategy

While faith- or philosophy-based nonviolence often leads to political change, one can also look at nonviolence from a purely strategic vantage point.This is the view of Gene Sharp, the preeminent cataloguer of nonviolent action. As described above, moral jiu jitsu operates by generating questions within the adversary who comes to a change of heart in the course of this process. Sharp, on the other hand, refers to “political jiu jitsu.”

By combining nonviolent discipline with solidarity and persistence in struggle, the nonviolent actionists cause the violence of the opponent’s repression to be exposed in the worst possible light.[12]

According to Sharp, non-violent action acts in three ways to change opponents’ behavior:

  • Conversion
  • Accommodation
  • Coercion

Conversion involves a change of heart in the opponent to the point where the goals of the protestors are now her/his own. At the other extreme, in coercion , the opponent has had no change of heart or mind, but acquiesces to the demands of the protestors because s/he feels there is no choice. In between is accommodation, probably the most frequent mechanism through which nonviolent action is effective.

In the mechanism of accommodation the opponent resolves to grant the demands of the nonviolent actionists without having changed his mind fundamentally about the issues involved. Some other factor has come to be considered more important than the issue at stake in the conflict, and the opponent is therefore willing to yield on the issue rather than to risk or to experience some other condition or result regarded as still more unsatisfactory.[13]

A Gandhian approach suggests that conversion is the appropriate goal of nonviolence. Not all nonviolent action proponents, however, adhere to this standard. On the other extreme there are those whose only concern is achieving the desired goal and the most effective and/or expeditious way of getting there. In between are those who prefer conversion where possible, but not at the cost of significantly prolonging the struggle or participants’ suffering.

Sharp defines three major categories of nonviolent action:

  • Protest and Persuasion . These are actions that highlight the issue in contention and/or a desired strategy for responding to the situation. Specific methods include petitions, leafleting, picketing, vigils, marches, and teach-ins.
  • Noncooperation. Protestors may refuse to participate in the behavior to which they object socially, economically, and/or politically. Specific methods include sanctuary, boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience.
  • Nonviolent intervention. This category includes techniques in which protestors actively interfere with the activity to which they are objecting. Specific methods include sit-ins, fasts, overloading of facilities, and parallel government.

In general, the level of disruption and confrontation increases as one moves from protest and persuasion to intervention. If the protestors’ goal is to convert, “protest and persuasion” is likely to be the most appropriate category from which to choose. If the protestors wish to force their opponents to change their behavior, they will probably need to include nonviolent intervention methods in their overall strategy. Those who are seeking accommodation might best mix protest and persuasion tactics with noncooperation if the former are not having the desired impact.

When arranging nonviolent action, it is particularly important to consider the audience. A rally may serve to inspire the already committed (sometimes it is important to “speak to the choir”), but is not likely to change minds; a boycott of a service provided by someone who has not been educated about the issues in question is likely to produce an unnecessary level of resentment.George Lakey and Martin Oppenheimer offer a particularly helpful way of looking at this issue. They point out that any person or group can be categorized according to where she, he or it stands in regard to the issues:

  • Active proponents
  • Active supporters
  • Passive supporters
  • Neutral
  • Passive opponents
  • Active supporters of the opposition
  • Active opponents[14]

They then make the point that one’s aim in any action should be to move the target population up one notch.

Whatever criteria are chosen to assess possible tactics before embarking on them, nonviolent actionists would do well to imitate their military counterparts at least in the following categories: careful planning and discipline of participants. With that, nonviolence may be just as likely to be successful in a conflict as violence, and it is much less likely to cause much increased hostility, escalation , and backlash .


[1] Moseley, Alex. “Pacifism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/p/pacifism.htm . Accessed 10/15/02.

[2] http://www.greatpeace.org/ ; http://www.peacemagazine.org/archive/v04n6p06.htm .

[3] Gregg, Richard B. The Power of Nonviolence. The Rev. Ed. Nyack, NY: Fellowship Publications, 1959, p. 50.

[4] http://www.progress.org/archive/vv12.htm ; Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973.

[5] Robbins, Jhan and Rune Robbins. “Why Didn’t They Hit Back?” in A. Paul Hare and Herbert H. Blumberg, eds., Nonviolent Direct Action; American Cases: Social and Political Analyses, Washington, D.C.: Corpus Books, 1968, pp. 107-127, p. 126.

[6] Boff, Leonardo. “Active Nonviolence: The Political and Moral Power of the Poor. Forward to Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America. Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach, eds., Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers, 1991, pp. vii-xi, p. vii

[7] Ibid., p. ix

[8] Wehr, p. 57

[9] Wehr, p. 58

[10] Wehr, p. 59

[11] http://www.thekingcenter.com/prog/non/6steps.html , accessed Oct. 30, 2002.

[12] Sharp, Gene. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973, p. 657.

[13] Ibid., p. 733

[14] list modified from Oppenheimer, Martin and George Lakey. A Manual for Direct Action. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965. A similar (though somewhat different) list is presented in the ICKB essay Intra-Party Differences


Use the following to cite this article:
Dugan, Máire A.. “Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 < http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/nonviolent-direct-action >.


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