Civil Resistance Methods in the 21st Century
Nonviolent civil resistance occurs daily across many societies. This phenomenon ranges from indigenous blockades against resource extraction in the Amazon, anti-corruption hunger strikes in India, street protests against dictators in the Middle East and North Africa, illegal same-sex wedding ceremonies, and whale protection by Greenpeace boat interventions in the Antarctic Ocean.
Extensive coverage of civil resistance is widely available in many countries. Books and movies recount the stories of nonviolent heroes, including Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Leymah Gbowee, Lech Wałęsa, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The A Force More Powerful documentary film, which documents historical civil resistance episodes in India, South Africa, Chile, Denmark, the United States, and Poland, as well as documentaries of Ukraine, Serbia, Liberia, and Egypt have reached tens of millions of viewers. Recent English works by Hallward and Norman (2015) and Schock (2015a, b) provide overviews of nonviolent civil resistance, including documentation of campaigns, tactical narratives, movement and political analysis, and studies of the dynamics of nonviolent conflict.
However, despite widespread interest in the subject, efforts to catalog the wide array of nonviolent methods are limited to Gene Sharp’s 198 nonviolent methods, an extensive list complete with descriptions, examples, and categories published in 1973. However, there have been only minor efforts to significantly update this acclaimed list. Nonviolent methods (used synonymously with actions and tactics in this monograph), can be thought of as nonviolent weapons or tools that are typically utilized as alternatives to violent (or armed) resistance. As with weapons of violence, the weapons of nonviolent conflict are numerous, diverse, and ever-evolving. A few examples include boycotts, strikes, teach-ins, parallel governments, blockades, and marches.
Since 2016, Nonviolence International has been collecting and identifying new methods of nonviolent civil resistance in a Nonviolent Methods Database. This monograph emerged out of this cataloging process and answers three questions:
1) What methods did Gene Sharp omit and what new methods of civil resistance have emerged since 1973?
2) What new categorization of methods can be helpful in documenting this enormous area of human activity?
3) How can this new knowledge—methods and classification—be helpful for practitioners and scholars of civil resistance as well as those who would like to assist nonviolent movements?
Groups including New Tactics in Human Rights, Beautiful Trouble, Gadjah Mada University’s database on nonviolent methods, Şiddetsizlik Eğitim ve Araştırma Dernegi, and the Global Nonviolent Action Database are collecting and cataloguing methods and examples, many of which are now collated into the Nonviolent Methods Database and introduced in this monograph
1. Flash mob
2. Growing hair
CR Tactics Descriptions
- Flash Mob
A flash mob is an unrehearsed, spontaneous, contagious, and dispersed mass action. Flash mobs first emerged in 2003 as a form of participatory performance art, with groups of people using email, blogs, text messages, and Twitter to arrange to meet and perform some kind of playful activity in a public location. More recently, activists have begun to harness the political potential of flash mobs for organizing spontaneous mass actions on short notice.Flash mobs have recently become a powerful tactic for political protest, particularly under repressive conditions. In the midst of a harsh crackdown on protests in Belarus in 2011, for instance, dissidents calling themselves “Revolution through the Social Network” began organizing impromptu demonstrations where protesters would simply gather in public spaces and clap their hands in unison. The result was the bewildering sight of secret police brutally arresting people for the simple act of clapping their hands — a powerful challenge to the legitimacy of an increasingly irrational regime. [Credit: Beautiful Trouble’s article on Flash Mobs]
- Growing hair
Growing hair was a cultural action in many Western nations in the 1960s and 70s that was part of a generational effort to challenge societal assumptions and norms. Growing hair was about making a “back to the land” and “natural” statement and was associated around the world with anti-war movements. Feminists have stopped shaving arm and leg hair in efforts to challenge different gender grooming standards in society. Growing beards, too, is intended as a form of protest. Among recent examples of nonviolent actions in which growing hair was used are protesting the election of Donald Trump; protesting discrimination against Muslims; and protests in Belgium for lack of a government.
- Cacerolazo (protest)
Invented in the 1970s, cacerolazo is a much louder form of protesting than most. Participants bring metal cookware into the streets to clang and bang. In a poignant 2016 example, Venezuelan protesters reintroduced cacerolazos as a way to express their frustrations with Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s successor. They protested the state of the economy, which for many meant lack of food, making clanking pots all that more meaningful. Women have historically participated in cacerolazos in large numbers. To sustain noise levels and to prevent headaches, earplugs are commonly used.