Nonviolent Action Campaigns by Peter Klotz-Chamberlin

The purpose of a nonviolent action campaign is usually to achieve a change in institutional policy, or a change in institutions, or win power for a disenfranchised group.  The dynamic of the campaign is to withdraw belief and support from the status quo, often by helping people identify with victims of injustice, helping people see the nature of institutional oppression, and then to develop allegiance among people and institutions for just solutions, finally resulting in implementing social improvements for justice.  Nonviolent action uses the power of popular consent and political solidarity by withdrawing conformity and obedience to an unjust status quo, and by mobilizing all parties to build new social arrangements, creating a democratic renewal of society.

Sometimes the nature of nonviolent action is more modest– to name the injustice, advocate the need for change, and witness to the possibility for justice– in hopes of sparking a movement which may mobilize more significant social change.  A nonviolent campaign seeks to engage many people in a variety of actions that are accessible to those willing to take on different levels of risk, mobilizing a lively constituency for justice, which elections, legislation, and social policy will ratify.

Nonviolent action seeks to move bystanders to active participation for a better situation.  A nonviolent action campaign seeks to create public drama moving toward a crisis in which institutions must change because active popular support will no longer cooperate with the injustice.  While a social or political movement seeks long range goals, such as human rights, or cessation of corporate power over the political system, a nonviolent action campaign is a set of actions over months or years aiming to achieve measurable goals consistent with long range goals of a movement.

A.  Decide to act

  1. Moral Basis. What is the injustice?  What widely-held principles or values can many people identify in the conflict?  What values and principles do we share with opponents?
  2. Research and Analyze. What are key forces in the situation—who has stake in the status quo? Who are likely allies? Who may be won to our position?  Who may be moved from passsive support to active support? Define the problem and assess achievable goals and objectives.
  3. Are we prepared and able, with enough resources to sustain the effort?

B.    Goals

  1. Can the goals of the campaign be achieved within an acceptable duration (1 to 5 years)?
  2. Can we identify practical demands which are in the power of our campaign to achieve, and of our opponent to accommodate?
  3. Is the purpose of our campaign to achieve political goals, or to express a truth or principle regardless of results?
  4. Are the goals consistent with our deeply held values and long range visions?
  5. How will our campaign express respect for all participants and everyone engaged on all sides?
  6. How do the “means” of our campaign begin to create the “ends” we seek?
  7. Does our campaign include alternatives, a “constructive program,” efforts to establish solutions with our own resources (ends embodied in our means)?
  8. Does our direct action symbolize the injustice and the hope for justice in a way that others may identify with the victims of the conflict and be motivated to get involved?

C.     Exhaust All Normal Channels.

Many people take for granted the legitimacy of government and corporate institutions, and believe these will do the right thing if given the opportunity.  Use all available channels of redress within the system.  Document and publicize responses to appeals.

D.    Communicate With All Parties.

Prior to waging a nonviolent action campaign, and continually during the campaign, make every effort to open communication with opponents and involved officials.  Communication may enable parties to understand each other and their intentions, and helps opponents recognize each other as human beings rather than simply adversaries.  Communication helps build the trust needed for a new, just situation.

E.    Educate and Mobilize

Nonviolent action requires that many people, who begin with implicit obedience to the status quo, be moved to understand the nature of an injustice, then come to believe that the injustice can be righted, come to believe that the goals of the campaign will help right the injustice, and then actively join in the campaign.  Education via public speaking, media coverage, public meetings, street theater, social media, leaflets, publications, conversations are all a constant component of the campaign, which seeks to mobilize broad and deep allegiance to new social arrangements.

F.    Train

Persons interested in participating in direct action which may risk arrest or violent reprisals by authorities or other people, should be trained for nonviolent action.  Training prepares people for risk and suffering, builds community among actors, develops nonviolent discipline, spreads knowledge throughout the organization, nurtures safety, enables persons to freely decide whether to take risks, enables the campaign to determine who is prepared for direct action, and organizes people.

G.    Sacrifice

Standing in public, taking time from work and relationships, giving up special privileges, risking jail, fasting from unjustly made products, continuing to suffer the injustice, are means in which the campaigners sacrifice in creating social change, at least as much as we will impose change on others.

H.   Appeal

The campaign should invite leaders and organizations to support the goals and the campaign:  political, religious, community, economic leaders and organizations which may be tacit supporters, neutral, or even opponents should be expected to contribute to the solution of the injustice.

I.      Objectives

Determine measurable, widely perceptible objectives that will be clear steps toward the goals of the campaign.  Define objectives for our movement as we build power, objectives for opponents as they may respond in favor of the goals, and objectives to win from power structures.

J.     Determine Direct Actions

  1. Who/what are the targets?
  2. Be sure all participants know details of the location, time, communications with police and other authorities, purpose of the action, and the campaign.
  3. Identify a variety of creative actions building the campaign, enabling persons of varying commitments and abilities to engage in active support.
  4. Choose tactics that support the strategy, and that build popular power.
  5. Choose tactics that create dilemmas for opponents—give in, we win; repress activists, we win
  6. Require an agreement among all activists to commit to nonviolent guidelines for action, such as:
    • Refrain from physical or verbal violence or abuse
    • Maintain discipline and communication with all fellow activists
    • Use no alcohol, drugs in preparation or during the action
    • Carry no weapons
    • Respect all persons, authorities, and opponents
    • Reserve the people who are the victims of the injustice
    • Willingly accept punishment by authorities. This guideline deserves discussion.

K.     Conduct the Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign

  1. Appeal for broad participation in some public aspect of the campaign.
  2. Provide support for those suffering arrest or violence
  3. Determine people resources, and avoid depleting strengths before achieving goals.
  4. Build pressure and drama.  Start with achievable targets.  End with the highest authority.  Or plan actions to build in numbers of people and other strengths.
  5. Negotiate with agents of power once direct action and popular mobilization have created popular power that pressures institutions to respond.
  6. Do not depend on media to tell the truth about the campaign.   Document and publicize the campaign ourselves.
  7. Evaluate and reflect along with way.  Are the actions helping reach the goals? Are forces changing in support of the campaign?  Are the actions expressing our values?  Are those marginalized or suffering the oppression in leadership? What do we learn from our opponents?  Do our goals change from the experience of the campaign ?  Can we keep the campaign going to a beneficial resolution?  Is nonviolence discipline being maintained?  Are we respecting all persons within our movement, in the situation, including opponents? Do the arrests or violence or hard work we suffer deplete the energies of our campaign, or are we able to sustain the effort? Are we personally engaging and meeting with the opponents as often as possible?  Are we mobilizing more and more participation?
  8. Celebrate  Music, poetry, parties join people together to express our love for life and justice, help us recharge our energies and renew our inspiration, and appreciate our companions and our sacrifices and common humanity.


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