Sunday, 29 October 2017

Book Review: Why Civil Resistance Works - Chenoweth & Stephan

Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict

Erica Chenoweth & Maria J. Stephan

Opening with the dramatic experience of East Timor where, under the Falintil, a guerrilla-based violent campaign against Indonesia had been waged for years without success and subsequent nonviolent campaign successfully won independence for the region, this book endeavours to analyze 232 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006, their successes or failures and resulting governance structures.

The conclusions? Nonviolent resistance campaigns are twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts. This is true in spite of the degree of repression, its capabilities or type of governance (democratic or autocratic). The degree of success varied:
1.     The exception: in anti-succession campaigns, no non-violent campaigns worked but it is not clear how many were tried; of the forty violent campaigns, only 4 worked.
2.    In anti-regime resistance campaigns, the use of nonviolent strategies greatly enhanced the probability of success,
3.    In campaigns with territorial objectives (anti-occupation or self-determination), nonviolent campaigns have a slight advantage,
4.    In resistance campaigns with specific human rights objectives (anti-apartheid), nonviolent resistance has the monopoly on success.

Violent guerrilla movements may provide the (usually) youthful male participants with initial personal satisfaction but they usually fail to attract wide-spread support among the very citizens that they purport to represent. Older men, women and children[1] are generally barred from direct participation; many within the age demographic are not attracted to violence, to the required training or the usually spare lifestyle. The movement tends to become dependent upon foreign support for weapons, a support that can be withdrawn at any time. It may also find itself with unsavoury “partners (the international drug trade). Members tend to be unable to participate in public discourse, being “underground”. Finally, violent campaigns are always met with violence and usually the state has greater resources than the combatants.

Violent resistance does work in 1:4 campaigns. What of the result? None of those within the study cut-off time period of five years following their success resulted in democratic regimes. The same lack of trust, fear of dissent within the ranks, military-like hierarchy and male hegemony that ensured their success ensures failure to achieve the stated goals of freedom and citizen participation.

Non-violent campaigns succeed 3:4 times. Non-violent campaigns require some of the same commitment to “lay one’s life on the line” as violent campaigns but the barriers to participation are lower on moral, physical, informational and level of commitment fronts (one can withdraw without penalty at practically any time). Higher numbers of involvement and diversity means enhanced resiliency, more tactical innovation, expanded civic disruption (raising costs to the regime of maintaining the status quo), greater opportunities for loyalty shifts among the opposition[2] and more international sympathy and support. Non-violent campaigns can make use of a multitude of civil actions from boycotts to lobbying, sit-ins, walks, and marches, limited only to the imagination of the participants.

Success depends largely upon the numbers of people converted to the cause, the patience and resilience of the participants and the timing of the campaign. While success does not require a philosophical commitment to non-violence, it does require strategic commitment and recruitment to that common principle. It succeeds as a strategy. Provocateurs must be expected; defense requires pro-active plans for dealing with them[3].

Result after the campaign? The same skills inherent in waging a nonviolent campaign tend to extend to the governments that form after it. The immediate result following a successful non-violent campaign is more likely to be more democratic and participatory than those formed following violent successful actions.

Given the greater likelihood of success with non-violent campaigns, why choose violence? My speculations are:
1.     Lack of knowledge and imagination about alternatives – education levels are lower in those who choose violence.
2.    Pressure from those who benefit from violence – corporate arms sales, leaders who stand to gain by inter-sectoral distraction from real issues.
3.    Emotional response overcomes intellectual analysis – in spite of the greater knowledge and resources of the state, violence becomes the fallback response[4]
4.    Numbers – non-violent campaigns usually need a lot of support[5] and impatience with change often doesn’t wait. Participants have initiated violence to which they adre now committed.

The kick-shins and knock-heads response to injustice, rape, and seemingly impenetrable bureaucracies probably exists in all of us (I certainly count myself as most likely to feel a violent response) but most of us through education, a sense of responsibility for our actions and vague expressions of ethics and morals around killing other humans inhibit violence.

Should we then allow ourselves to become overcome with helplessness and impotence? Let us not be drawn into a false belief that non-violence means doing nothing.[6] Studies have shown that “activists” (the people actively trying to make a difference) of any political stripe are healthier than those who accept the status quo.

This book has been a challenging read – because it is a scholarly enterprise. Still I would recommend it to anyone who has the patience. (I also recommend Gene Sharp’s exhaustive trilogy on non-violence dand “A Force More Powerful” available in video/CD and book form.) From this book, there are questions for further research especially analysis of winning strategies, whether violent or non-violent (what are the hallmarks of a successful violent campaigns? What are the best set-ups for winning a non-violent campaign?). Can the conclusions in this book find application on accomplishing systematic organizational change when dealing with international or corporate regimes?

More readers would result in more fruitful discussions…..

[1] An relatively recent exception is the recruitment of individuals to participate in suicide actions.
[2] A non-violent campaign can be considered to be “winning” when security personnel “switch sides” and refuse to level violence against protesters.
[3] Dakota Access Pipeline protests are an excellent recent example of pro-active attention to the presence of provocateurs.
[4] Many violent campaigns claim to have resorted to violence because “non-violence didn’t work”. Further analysis suggests that attempts to use non-violence were very limited (voting, a single march or sit-in, etc.) or failed to recruit sufficient support to the cause. This latter reason spells failure of either violence or non-violence.
[5] The Rosenstra├če protests are an exception where a small number of women successfully embarrassed the Nazis into releasing their Jewish husbands.
[6] Unless “doing nothing” is part of the strategy for change.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Visiting Washington, DC

Things we learned and some suggestions about the US national capital:

1. A bus tour helps to get orientated: the red bus tour was our choice because we liked the open top - it was very good, if a little grid-locked on Friday. Monday was better. There are two other touring companies; they all seem to overlap - be ready for glorification of wars and lots of statues of dead white men. Martin Luther King is given a token location - his feet are still encased in stone, unsculpted, because "his work was unfinished".  (Alert: segregation in tourism can be seen here as the whites went to Roosevelt and Moslem/black tourists could be found at MLK.)

2. The city is clean - perhaps the cleanest city that I've ever visited. There are re-cycling bins everywhere but it is not clear whether people understand the purpose of separating garbage.

3. Food is expensive. We bought groceries for our breakfasts and snacks - cheese, crackers, fruit, cereal, milk, tea and coffee. $2.90 for two quarts of milk, $1.20 for a banana - US funds. 

4. Public bus and metro service is excellent! The drivers and metro service managers were very pleasant and helpful. For seniors, $1 a ride practically anywhere; everyone else $2. If we went back, we would purchase a "smartride" card which is needed for transfers - over two hours. Eating out? Expect a minimum of $15 for a salad or a sandwich. Our best deal was the American University cafeteria where that same $15 got an all-you-can-eat buffet. The menu at the German restaurant around the corner from our Airbnb listed meals at $48.

5. Smithsonian museums and galleries are free - we went to the National Arboretum (and rose garden), the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Cathedral (not free), the National Art Gallery and especially the National Museum of African American History. (Tickets for the last one are on line about four months in advance of the visit, daily tickets go up at 6:30 am - our choice - or you can stand in line at 1:00 pm.) (It was warm outside and the air conditioning was fierce - we carried extra clothes.)

6. There are lots of demonstrations and a few vigils. We went to the demonstration for health care; an experience in sharing just a little in the US underbelly with lots and lots of police presence. We saw the vigil against torture (and Guantanamo) from the bus. Probably best to leave before arrests start unless you are rich or famous enough to get media attention.

We were blessed with fantastic weather and would easily go again!

Thursday, 6 July 2017


My truck has big doors that swing wide when they are opened. At the one-third point, there is a spot that “pauses” the door. The parking spaces in public places are a challenge – do I leave the passenger side threatened by the door of a random parked car or do I leave room on that side and slide out under a 1/3 opened door? I parked in Northgate shopping mall and carefully opened the door to its “pause” spot but as I turned, my elbow pushed it further and the door struck the door of the vehicle beside us. I slid out, wet my finger and leaned over to assess the damage. The dirt on his car clearly marked the strike but under that, there was a nick, through one layer of paint only but an undeniable spot of damaged finish.

A twenty-something man suddenly appeared in front of me demanding to know why I had deliberately thrust my truck door into his car – “what the f**k are you doing?” “I saw you throw your door at my car” – there was figurative smoke coming out of his ears. His nose was turning red and his face was snarly. He went on to describe himself as a leader in a very important organization and in a hurry to get to a meeting. He had two small dogs in the car.

My first reaction was to deny that I had tried to hit his car which of course was a ridiculous accusation but all he did was repeat his impression calling me a “stupid bitch” and deriding my lack of brains. He threatened me with SGI. His tirade gave me a moment to think about what I needed –

What I needed was to get my letter mailed. I didn’t need to waste time on this scratch. I didn’t need to be yelled at in a parking lot. I also didn’t need any more points off my license. How was I going to get my needs met?

Finding a way to calm him down was the first item on the agenda. It would be decidedly useless to engage in a discussion of whether or not I had intended to damage his car door. I realized that I had to calm myself, find that quiet space within myself and view the dilemma from that quietness.

I really didn’t know what he wanted. Did he want to sue me? Did he want money?

I started, “Look, I’m really sorry that this happened…..” He was not interested. “What do I need to do for you to make this right?” He continued ranting. I repeated the question. He was getting off on his poor damaged car and how much I was to blame! I yelled at him, “LISTEN TO ME” That got his attention, “what do I need to do to make this right? Do you want it fixed? What do you want to do?”

He mumbled – he hadn’t thought about what he wanted. “Well, I’ll have to get it fixed and that is going to take money. You should pay for this. How much are you going to give me? I should report it to SGI.”

“How much will it cost?” I asked more specifically.

Since he didn’t seem to have any ready suggestions, I described a ridiculously cheap option. A can of paint and some careful work. That might be $20? On the other hand, I think it would be a $75 job at Blackjack’s. He didn’t have a counter-proposal. So, in the interest of speed, I offered him $100 and told him I’d pay the rest when he submitted a receipt to me for work-done. I had him take pics of my license plate, registration and my email address. I also reminded him that if he had it assessed for more than $200, he should take it to SGI.

He was flabbergasted. He started apologizing. It was clear that he had not expected any solution and certainly not one that put money in his hand. As I walked away, he was still apologizing for flying off the handle. I’ll be surprised if I hear from him.

But I did see him again. He was working a hot dog stand at Victoria Park – I bought a smoky and, by common nonverbal consent, we made no reference to our earlier altercation (his “important-person-going-to-a-meeting” story was blown). I recalled that the passenger side of his car looked as though he slept in it and pitied him.