"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peter Ackerman on Syria

Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall are co-authors of A Force More Powerful, case studies (stories) of how people power prevails over violence and oppression.

excerpts from A Tyrant's Worst Nightmare: People Power

. . . . Conventional wisdom has said that oppressed people have two choices: either accept the status quo or mount a violent insurrection. My dream is that the day will come when people in all parts of the world will turn to civil resistance rather than rely on armed revolt. . .

The Syrian example

As an example, just consider the effects of the two phases of the Syrian conflict: First, a campaign of civil resistance was waged from March to September 2011, during which the Assad regime was weakened more than at any other time over the previous 40 years - and fewer than 3,000 people died from its repression.

That campaign's success emboldened a large part of the Syrian military to defect, joining impatient activists to form the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Tragically, in the next phase of the conflict, civil resistance was marginalized because many falsely believed that "nonviolence doesn't work," and violence against the regime intensified.

Now, with 70,000 more fatalities and no end in sight to a war of mutual destruction, Assad's opponents have proved just the opposite - that violent insurrection doesn't work. . .

. . .  Armed struggles aim to kill anyone in power without discrimination, but effective civil resistance distinguishes between the relatively few power-holders in a society and the larger coterie (bureaucrats, military, business) who obey those in power.

With tactics such as strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations, civil resistance spurs defections among those supporters and can force changes at the top. This strategy of dissolving an oppressor's capacity to use power is more likely to work against a well-armed dictatorship than a strategy of mutual annihilation.  Civil resistance is also more likely to produce a democratic outcome. . .

Most analysts argue that certain structural conditions which a movement can't control - such as a ruler's willingness to use repression, the degree of digital freedom, or whether the society has a middle class - determine the outcome.

My research and that of others have found that there is no correlation between such conditions and the outcomes of nonviolent conflicts. Just the opposite: a movement's choices - its strategy, messages, discipline, tactics, coalition-building, and other actions - are far more influential than the perceived initial impediments. . . .

Since I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject 35 years ago, I've witnessed dozens of breakthroughs by home-grown, nonviolent movements organized by people who refused to tolerate repression any longer. Many times I've seen how an organized, disciplined movement can develop strategies of mass resistance to put intolerable pressure on brutal power-holders and dissolve their legitimacy.

The international community must stop being mesmerized by the false choice of accommodating or attacking tyrants and should pay attention to history's verdict:

The very people who are oppressed, if they know how to use civil resistance, can win their rights through their own initiative. The violence they have feared does not require violence to end it. The freedom they crave, they can have - if we help them obtain the knowledge of how to do so.

1 comment:

Bruce Hartford said...

Well said and so true.

But as we all know, reality is what we see on TV, in the movies, and to a much smaller extent in the cultural stories passed down through the generations. And so far as TV and film are concerned, evil is always (and only) defeated through some form of violence. That is why blogs like this one are so important.