by Brian MartinJanuary 21, 2022
This blog post is also available in Thai here.
In my first post, I described the shades of grey that many police and security forces encounter when they show up to police a protest. I would like to follow up on that post here to provide some insight on what you can do. The first step is quite simple: You need to find out what’s actually happening.
Military commanders and police chiefs sometimes incorrectly assume that protesters are following orders or perhaps are being manipulated by hidden paymasters. However, usually no one has formal responsibility for giving orders because participation in nonviolent movements is voluntary and unpaid. Coordination without formal leaders is very different from the way official forces are organized, yet movements still get things done. Those attending voluntarily take up tasks such as helping the sick and injured, providing food and clothing, and setting up a rest area for breaks.
Although some nonviolent movements have had prominent leaders (Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States come to mind), many movements favor a non-hierarchical structure. They want to organize their activities so that everyone has a chance to participate, to maximize inclusiveness—the main advantage that nonviolent movements have against, say, militias, which typically exclude women, children, and the elderly. To make decisions, nonviolent movements tend to use consensus processes that enable everyone, or nearly everyone, to agree.
You should assume that most protesters are there because they believe in a cause, not because they are being commanded to act.
Government and military leaders may be running their own agendas, serving their own interests and not the interests of the people. Government and military leaders may also be misinformed about what is actually going on, or deliberately attempt to mislead you about the nature of nonviolent action and the motives of people who are protesting.
So what’s really happening?
If you think your orders are reasonable, that’s fine. But what should you do if you think you’ve been ordered to do something illegal or unethical like harming peaceful protesters?
What if you sympathize with the protesters and their goals? What can you do? There are various options, each with strengths and weaknesses.
Nonviolent protesters seek to advance their cause without causing physical harm to anyone.
Nonviolent movements have internal disagreements. Among protesters, sometimes there are some who use violence, even though most oppose this. In other cases, those who use violence are opportunists who show up at the protest for their own purposes, or provocateurs who are trying to deliberately sabotage the movement.
If you attack peaceful protesters, you might actually strengthen the movement, because many people think it’s unfair to use violence against civilians.
If you want to support the movement, there are various options, depending on your circumstance and risk level.
Brian Martin is Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia. He has been researching nonviolent action since the late 1970s, with a special interest in strategies for social movements and tactics against injustice. He is the author of 21 books and over 200 articles on nonviolence, dissent, scientific controversies, democracy, education and other topics.Read More