Tag Archives: nonviolent civil resistance

Webinar on the Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements

On November 15, 2018, Prof. Lee Smithey joined his co-editor and colleague, Prof. Lester Kurtz (George Mason University) to talk about their new edited book, The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements (Syracuse University Press). The webinar was recorded, and you are welcome to view it here. The Communications Office, also published a piece on the College’s website that you may also read below. You can learn more about the book at http://paradox.swarthmore.edu


Professor Lee Smithey
Associate Professor Lee Smithey

Lee Smithey, associate professor of peace & conflict studies and sociology, is a co-editor and contributor to a new book, The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements (Syracuse University Press, 2018), that offers an in-depth exploration of the use of repression in political arenas and its unintended effect of sometimes fanning the flames of nonviolent resistance.

“The concept of backfire, or the paradox of repression, is widely understood to be fundamental to strategic nonviolent action, but it has not been fully investigated. It was work that needed to be done,” says Smithey, who in addition to writing and teaching about nonviolent resistance has also participated in peaceful protests. “Power is not only about repression but also about building public support.”

The book, edited by Smithey and Lester Kurtz, a George Mason University sociology professor, is meant as a tool for scholars and activists to understand how repression works, as well as to study significant incidents when nonviolent activists took measures to help make repression a defining moment. For example: “When authorities are seen as attacking or disrespecting widely shared symbols, they may mobilize people in defense of shared collective identities,” write Smithey and Kurtz.

The editors first wrote about the topic in 1999, but organizing for the new book began in 2009—bringing together diverse, global contributors to study how repression can energize nonviolent movements and how nonviolent activists have worked to manage repression in their favor. It includes the grassroots efforts of nonviolent resistance such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise, who bravely joined forces as “mothers of the nation” to stand against dictator Robert Mugabe.

As they planned the book, Smithey and Kurtz organized a two-day writing retreat for the contributors to help build an integrated approach to the project. “It was intellectually exciting,” Smithey says. “We were committed early on to making this book a collaboration between academics and practitioners.”

One practice the book’s authors explore is called repression management—enacted by withstanding or avoiding repression or by creating scenarios in which repression against nonviolent activists would more likely elicit a sense of public outrage (and ultimately support).

One example, Smithey says, is the now-iconic photo of Ieshia Evans, who stood stoically in a flowing dress and faced a line of law enforcement officers in riot gear as she protested the shooting death of Alton Sterling. The photo, taken in downtown Baton Rouge, La., on July 9, 2016, quickly became a cultural touchstone.

The Paradox of Repression and Nonviolent Movements also examines the psychological costs for agents of repression, elites’ attempts to avoid triggering the paradox of repression, repression of online activism, and the work of overcoming fear.

“Repression is an attempt to demobilize nonviolent movements by sowing fear,” Smithey says, “but activists can work together to overcome fear and continue to mobilize.”

The International Center on Nonviolent Conflict will host a webinar by Smithey and Kurtz Nov. 15 from noon to 1 PM. Smithey will also offer an Alumni Council webinar on the book on Nov. 28. 

Pipelines and Nonviolent Civil Resistance

Lancaster Against Pipelines Pequa Creek

On Wednesday November 7, Malinda Clatterbuck, a co-founder of Lancaster Against Pipelines and a staff member at the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund will speak in our “Climate Disruption, Conflict, and Peacemaking” course in Science Center room 183 at 10:30-11:20.  You are welcome to attend to hear more about the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline and local resistance.  (An RSVP to lsmithe1 would be welcome but not necessary.)

Last year, our class toured part of the route of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, including property owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a Catholic order that is fighting the seizure of their land through eminent domain.

After class on November 7, anyone is invited to join us at noon for a brown-bag conversation over lunch in the new Sproul Hall kitchen (Room 205 in the Hormel/Nguyen Intercultural Center). Brown bag means you bring your own lunch. Drop by Essie Mae’s next door to grab some food if you wish, and then come join us.  No need to RSVP.

You can read more about Lancaster Against Pipelines and their partners, the Sisters of the order Adorers of the Blood of Christ at http://www.wearelancastercounty.org/
The new documentary film, Half-Mile, Upwind, On Foot, features clips of interviews with Malinda and the sisters. See  https://vimeo.com/283257412

Half-Mile, Upwind, On Foot trailer from Brian McDermott on Vimeo.

Gene Sharp has died and the world has lost a global educator

We join with so many scholars and activists around the world who appreciate the life and work of Gene Sharp, who died on January 28, 2018 at the age of 90. His impact on our work is hard to express. We are so grateful.

Jørgen Johansen has offered a beautiful and informative orbituary that we would like to share here.

Gene Sharp


 

Gene Sharp has died and the world has lost a global educator

by Jørgen Johansen

Just a week after his 90th birthday Gene Sharp passed away.
The journal New Statesman once described Gene Sharp as the “Machiavelli of Nonviolence” and Thomas Weber labelled him “the Clausewitz of Nonviolent Action.” Who was this man and what is his contribution to our understanding of the possibilities to use nonviolent actions in large scale societal conflicts?
Gene Sharp completed his baccalaureate in 1949, just a few scant years after the close of World War II, and quickly turned his attention to the study of nonviolence. After serving nine months in prison for being a conscientious objector to the Korean War, Sharp secretaried for A.J. Muste. He next joined the editorial team of Peace News in London before accepting an invitation from Arne Næss to join him in Oslo with Johan Galtung and others to study the philosophy and practice of Mohandas Gandhi. Throughout this time, Sharp exchanged letters with Albert Einstein, deepening his understanding of and commitment to nonviolence.

While in Oslo, Sharp devoted much time to interviewing teachers who resisted the Quisling government during the Nazi occupation of Norway. Through these interviews, Sharp began to formulate the ideas that would come to constitute his major contribution to nonviolence theory. Moving away from a strictly philosophical, moral, or spiritual nonviolence in the vein of Gandhi, Sharp turned instead to a pragmatic nonviolence. The rest of his life would be spent delineating and analyzing the practical tools of effective nonviolent action.

After his years in Oslo, Sharp pursued his PhD at Oxford University. In 1968 he defended his thesis, The Politics of Nonviolent Action: A study in the control of political power. He continued to develop his thesis work and five years later Porter Sargent published his monumental The Politics of Nonviolent Action, from which “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” is taken. This book from 1973 has been called “the bible for nonviolent activists” and is still in print nearly 50 years later. Through this and myriad other writings, Sharp contended against a normative approach to nonviolence, where the practice of nonviolence is formulated as a spiritual directive. Nonviolent action need have no moral impetus to be effective; nonviolent actions may be pursued on a purely practical basis on the ground that they are simply the most effective tools available to social and political movements. Indeed, much research by Sharp and others has shown that in the long term nonviolent revolutionary achievements are far more permanent than those fought with kalashnikovs and guerrilla warfare.

Taking this a step further, Sharp maintained that nonviolence could not only resist and overthrow dictatorships or occupations, but could effectively replace all militaries. By thoroughly training the civilian populace in nonviolent strategies and tactics, a nation could make itself ungovernable at will. If such a nation were to be invaded, it could never be subjugated. Those in powerful positions can punish but not force individuals to follow their orders without a certain level of cooperation. As history has shown, people practicing total noncooperation will only serve to drag down their oppressor. The burden of an inoperative state outweighs the benefits of its occupation.

This part of the heritage from Sharp is less known and accepted than his works on nonviolent actions by actors outside the state. Sharp worked hard to convince politicians around the world of his position. Despite some positive feedback from Sweden, Norway and the Baltic states, however, the discussions never moved from the fringe to the central political agenda in any country. The main argument against a national, civilian-based defense might be that such an “army” could also be used against its own state. Does the government trust its own people enough to enable their use of nonviolent actions on a massive scale? Many doubt that they could! We may hope, however, that these ideas came at the wrong time in history and that future discussions will give them the credit they deserve.

The revitalization of research on nonviolent actions after the so-called “Arab Spring” might make such discussions possible.
Though he may not have convinced governments to adopt nonviolent training, it is clear that grassroots political and social movements have taken up Sharp’s writings with a passion. The last fifty years has seen the steady spread of Sharp’s fingerprint in movements around the world. When Gandhi and his movement liberated India from the British colonizers in 1947, their use of nonviolent actions was an exception among revolutionary groups. An important shift in strategy took place in the late seventies and early eighties, however. When the Shah was forced to leave Iran in 1979 and Solidarity organized the workers in Poland in 1980, we saw some exiting examples of movements that based their struggle on nonviolent strategies and tactics. To what degree these movements were familiar with the works of Gene Sharp we do not know. What is clear, however, is that revolutionary movements in the next four decades adopted a broad and ever-broadening range of nonviolent actions and strategies—those same strategies Sharp had been elucidating.

Later, when several of Sharp’s key works were translated into dozens of languages, his ideas indisputibly inspired thousands of suppressed people searching for ways to fight for their freedom, rights, and for democracy. The removal of president Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, the liberation of Eastern Europe and dismantling of the Soviet Union after 1989, the first Intifada in Palestine in 1990-91, the Colored Revolutions following the fall of Milosevic in Serbia in 2000, and the uprising in the MENA region from 2011 onwards all evidenced deep understanding of practical nonviolent revolution. Journalists, activists, academics, and politicians then found a new interest in these fascinating regime changes and their theoretical sources. For each and all of them the works of Gene Sharp now became obligatory—and enlightening—reading.

When Sharp began his study, peace research was a small, odd branch on the academic oak. A hardly visible twig on that branch focused on nonviolence. Seventy years later the field has expanded to be a significant part of several academic disciplines. It has also moved beyond the university campus, reaching suppressed people around the world and turning theoretical ideas into practical tools for social movements. Sharp’s lifelong research and voluminous writings have played a crucial role in this development.

When, at the age of 84, Sharp received the 2012 Right Livelihood Award, he humbly played-down his role as a source of inspiration for the twentieth century’s swell—and the twenty-first century’s tsunami—of unarmed revolutions and social movements. He did note, however, that for the first time in his entire life he found himself interviewed by journalists who at least understood what is was that he was talking about.
His contribution to the field of nonviolent actions will for ever be seen as the equivalent to the first humans landing on the moon. A majority of present researchers in the field of nonviolence have benefited enormously by building on the works and theories published by Gene. Many of us have now lost a friend and many more lost an important source of inspiration.

Redefining Revolution & Nonviolence: Re-imagining Solidarity Across Race

As part of Black History Month activities, Matt Meyer, organizer, author, and editor of We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism (PM Press) discussed revolutionary nonviolence, privilege, solidarity, and alliance building in higher education.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016
7:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Scheuer Room in Kohlberg Hall at Swarthmore College
This event was free and open to the public.
Download a flyer at http://bit.ly/meyerflyer
Matt Meyer flyer
photo credit: Consuelo Kanaga

Video of the event is now available.

Audio of the event is now available.

 

A native New York City-based educator, activist, and author, Matt Meyer is coordinator of the War Resisters International Africa Support Network, and a United Nations/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. The founding Chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and former Chair of the Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development (COPRED), Meyer has long worked to bring together academics and activists for lasting social change.
Matt Meyer at Swarthmore College
Matt Meyer spoke in the Scheuer Room on February 10, 2016

Meyer’s work in K-12 public education and teacher training included ten years of service as Multicultural Coordinator for the NYC Board of Education’s Alternative High Schools & Programs, as well as a stint as Union Leader of a local section of the United Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. He helped found and direct a mini-school in collaboration with St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital’s Child and Family Institute (CFI), and led a psycho-educational CFI research delegation on re-integration and treatment of child soldiers in West and Central Africa and related work in “inner-city” USA; he also helped in the early development of the Harvey Milk High School, the first US “safe space” school for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth. Twice-decorated as “teacher of the year” by two Community School District Superintendents, Meyer’s continuous efforts as a high school-based historian and peace educator have spanned over 30 years.

Matt is an outstanding scholar-practitioner and leader in the field of peace and justice studies and is an accomplished Africanist scholar and educator, and has done much to bring critical race theory into dialogue with peace and conflict studies. You may read his recent co-authored piece “Refusing to Choose Between Martin and Malcolm: Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and a New Nonviolent Revolution” at Counterpunch.org.

We Have Not Been Moved

Co-sponsors: Peace and Conflict Studies, President’s Office, Black Cultural Center, Black Studies Program, Intercultural Center, History Department, Educational Studies Department, Sociology and Anthropology Department

This event builds on a theme the Peace and Conflict Studies program initiated last semester with the American Friends Service Committee poster exhibit in McCabe Library, “All of Us or None: Responses & Resistance to Militarism.”

AFSC Exhibit Fall 2015

New cases added to the Global Nonviolent Action Database

Seventy-six new cases have been added to the Global Nonviolent Action Database by students in the spring semester Strategy and Nonviolent Struggle course at Swarthmore College.

The Global Nonviolent Action Database presents cases of nonviolent civil resistance from around the world, spanning decades and even hundreds of years. Data is provided in a narrative format, and each case is classified across a number of criteria to allow for comparisons and advanced searches.

A selection of the new cases include:

Glasgow rent strike 1915 BBC CC
Glasgow Rent Strike during World War I (BBC)

To view more than one thousand cases of nonviolent civil resistance in the database, visit http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

 

For Fall 2015! Research Seminar: Strategy and Nonviolent Struggle

PEAC 071B. Research Seminar: Strategy and Nonviolent Struggle (Cross-listed as POLS 081 / SOCI 071B) will be offered during the Spring Semester 2015.

Global Nonviolent Action Database banner

 

This one-credit research seminar involves working and updating the Global Nonviolent Action Database which can be accessed by activists and scholars worldwide at http://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu. The database was built at Swarthmore College and includes cases of “people power” drawn from dozens of countries. The database contains crucial information on campaigns for human rights, democracy, environmental sustainability, economic justice, national/ethnic identity, and peace.

Students will be expected to research a series of cases and write them up in two ways: within a template of fields (the database proper) and also as a 2-3 page narrative that describes the unfolding struggle.  In addition to research/writing methods, students will also draw on theories in the field.  Strategic implications for today will be drawn from theory and from what the group learns from the documented cases of wins and losses experienced by people’s struggles.

This writing (W) course has a limited enrollment of 12 students.

You can learn more by visiting a collection of posts about the database in the Peace and Conflict Studies blog.

In this video, Professor Lakey introduced the launch of the database in 2011.

 

Challenging the Cold War Warriors: Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles, 1983-1988

Dr. Wendy ChmielewskiOn November 5th, 2013, Dr. Wendy Chmielewski, Curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection will present a paper at West Chester University during a conference on the Cold War.

Dr. Chmielewski’s paper is titled:  “Challenging the Cold War Warriors: Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles, 1983-1988”  Greenham Women Against Cruise Missiles was a group of women from Britain, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Congressmen Ron Dellums and Ted Weiss who attempted to sue the Reagan administration in US federal court for human rights and US constitutional violations.

Identity Formation in Nonviolent Struggle

book cover

Professor Smithey has contributed a chapter on “Identity Formation in Nonviolent Struggle” to a new book edited by Maciej BartkowskiRecovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles. (Lynne Rienner Publishers)

Smithey’s chapter serves as a theoretical primer on the social movement literature on collective identities and the under-explored connections with strategic action.  Other chapters cover a range of global, and often forgotten, cases of nonviolent liberation struggles where national identities have played important roles.

As other chapters in this volume illustrate, nonviolent resistance has often played an important role in nationalist movements for independence. These cases offer important opportunities to study the power potentials of strategic nonviolent action, and the prominence of nationalism in them compels us to ask how identity and tactical choice influence one another. This chapter draws on the sociological study of social movements to theorize ways of thinking about relationships between the nonviolent tactics that many nationalist movements have employed in conflict and their collective national identities. The relationships are probably much closer and more important than either sociologists or scholars of nonviolent resistance have realized. Identities can be publicly displayed for strategic ends. Tactical repertoires, including nonviolent ones, reflect collective identities or resisters’ cultural predispositions. Conversely, choosing certain tactics can influence the construction of collective identities as people adapt their national identity to incorporate new tactical rationales and justifications.

Here is the book description:

This unique book brings to light the little-known, but powerful roles that civil resistance has played in national liberation struggles throughout history. Ranging from the American Revolution to Kosovo in the 1990s, from Egypt under colonial rule to present-day West Papua and Palestine, the authors of Recovering Nonviolent History consider several key questions: What kinds of civilian-based nonviolent strategy and tactics have been used in liberation struggles? What accounts for their successes and failures? Not least, how did nonviolent resistance influence national identities and socioeconomic and political institutions both prior to and after liberation, and why has this history been so often ignored? The story that emerges is a compelling one of the agency of thousands and even millions of ordinary people as they used nonviolent force in the course of struggles against foreign subjugation.

For those interested in exploring the intersection of nationalism and nonviolence further, you might be interested in exploring Manfred Steger’s book, Gandhi’s Dilemma: Nonviolent Principles and Nationalist Power in which Steger examines the tension between Gandhi’s deployment of Indian nationalism and his universal philosophy of nonviolence.