Debra Smith


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What does it take for nonviolent movements to succeed? Is there really power in nonviolent actions? Can nonviolence succeed?

I am encountering a lot of sceptism about the effectiveness of nonviolent protests and movements.
What does it take for nonviolent movements to succeed?

Here is an article about nonviolent movements in the Middle East to get us started:

An excerpt from the above article:

"Even if a government has a monopoly of military force and the support of the world’s one remaining superpower, it is still ultimately powerless if the people refuse to recognize its authority. Through general strikes, filling the streets, mass refusal to obey official orders, and other forms of nonviolent resistance, even the most autocratic regime cannot survive.

Freedom House, in its 2005 study “How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy,” observed that, of the nearly 70 countries that had made the transition from dictatorship to varying degrees of democracy in the previous 30 years, only a small minority did so through armed struggle from below or reform instigated from above. Hardly any new democracies resulted from foreign invasion. In nearly three-quarters of the transitions, change was rooted in democratic civil-society organizations that employed nonviolent methods."

Please share your thoughts, reflections, examples and ideas.
Share examples of nonviolent successes even if you believe that others might know about them.

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    Dec 3 2011: if the majority supports something, violence is not needed. even the kings relied on consent of the people, though of course they backed that up with soldiers.

    the main problem with any movements is that majority of people just does not care. they are ignorant, and they are careless enough to accept things as is.

    so the success of a nonviolent movement relies on how successfully it motivates people.
  • Dec 4 2011: Debra
    I think back on real change I have seen from peaceful movements and two things stand out. One is having a well defined cause. I think back here both on the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement of the 60's. There was a singularity there that helped people keep focussed. The other is actually the will to see it through. I think of some of the change in Easten Europe and people just decided to see things change. I think we saw that in Egypt and Tunisia too.

    Peaceful does have its cost though. The non-violence was answered so many times with violence. I think that non-violent change means that people seeking it have to stay with a non-violent approach in the facee of violence. That I think is really one of the keys to success. Resistancee in a cause means being willing to face the consequences, but also show the injustice of the opression of violence. In places like Syria this has become very difficult to do.

    Non-violent action can change things. It is my hope that somehow, maybe through attention to the arrests, the displacement and even the pepper spraying of the Occupy people many will start to say this is the right thing to do, the movement is correct and real change will take place.
  • Dec 4 2011: Estonia did it with singing! A very non-violent way to protest & they finally won, but many did die over the course of a few years.
    In the United States there has been no true leadership in the protest sit ins. Nor any real issue that stands out and so all these protests are doomed to fail.
    Peace comes with a huge price and so does change in any country. Those in power flex their muscles and the outcome is people getting hurt or dying.
    In the 60s I was young & got evolved in a peace movement. Was I hurt? No! But friends were. We did our best to keep it peaceful but there were always a few who stepped across the line. That was all the police needed to show force.
    This may sound strange but it seems that petitions seem to be making headway if enough names are collected & news media gets involved.
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    Dec 4 2011: Great subject Debra !!
    What I feel , violence in most of the movements is brought in by power centers against whom the movement started both in local and global scale.
    Success depends on the Leadership. The mass will end no where if the competent leadership is not there. For non violent movement the strength of leadership needed in even at a greater exetent.

    How long one can keep her/his follweres to remain non-violent while they face violent repressive measure from the power centre. If you look in to the history it's not mass who were violent rather after facing violent repression they fought back in violent way.

    Gandhi, Mandela & my country's founding father Sheikh Mujib can be example though during their movement at different phases violence came in , but those were not initiated by them or their follower huge mass.
  • Dec 3 2011: Debra you pose an interesting question there. I would think that the answer will be determined by what your measure of success is. Take the Tea Party movement as an example. Has this been a successful movement? The answer depending on the measurement of success can be seen as both yes and no. Undoubtedly it is having an influence on decision making within US politics but some would argue that it may be infact only be leading to a situation of non decisions rather than actually achieving a positive clear successful result based on the goals of the movement. In essence if success is measured by the negative accomplishment of preventing others enacting their goals, then the movement is successful. However if the movement is brought about as a result of wanting to change the status quo then you could argue that it has failed as that status quo probably remains.

    Now all the above is obviously in a situation where, "in theory", democracy reigns. The ability to organise movements in jurisdictions where dictators rule has been the biggest reason in the past why violence was always required to bring about change. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next 10 years as social networking spreads further into areas outside the Western world. China will be facinating to follow and IMHO will be the poster boy of how non violent movements can work - well that's what my crystal ball is predicting anyway!
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    Dec 3 2011: Debra, good question !!

    IMHO, most people focus on making the transition, which is good. As we could have seen recently in north african countries, one of that reason for that focus is that disrupting from the current tyranny is very difficult and has medium to low chance to succeed.

    This is good to add chance of success, but far from being enough, for the following reasons: if the transition has been done with violence, unethical facts, ..., then it will be mostly impossible to transition to a peaceful democratic regime, because people will have reasons to hate each other.

    So I don't know if nonviolence can succeed, but my point is : if you want to move to some situation which is worth the move, for that situation to have value, be stable and welcome, the move must be nonviolent.

    If you move from an oppressing regime with violence, all you will do is to move to another oppressing regime, just switching who are those who take advantage of the country.
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    Dec 4 2011: I originally set this conversation to run for 2 weeks and I have no idea why it is closing so quickly but I do wish to thank everyone for their interesting contributions.
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      Dec 4 2011: Hi Debra !

      I had a conversation completely deleted awhile ago...and I made an inquiry to the TED conversation team... that was three days ago... who knows?!... haven't heard back from them...maybe a technical problem.