Cross-posted from Transition Vermont
By Robert Riversong
What is most surprising, perhaps, to many about the myriad uprisings unfolding around us, from Tunisia to Madison, is that they are overwhelmingly non-violent and increasingly successful.
But an academic study, “Why Civil Resistance Works”, by Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth and published in International Security, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Summer 2008), which investigated 323 resistance campaigns that occurred from 1900 to 2006, began:
“Implicit in recent scholarly debates about the efficacy of methods of warfare is the assumption that the most effective means of waging political struggle entails violence. Among political scientists, the prevailing view is that opposition movements select violent methods because such means are more effective than nonviolent strategies at achieving policy goals. Despite these assumptions, from 2000 to 2006 organized civilian populations successfully employed nonviolent methods including boycotts, strikes, protests, and organized non-cooperation to challenge entrenched power and exact political concessions in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004-05), Lebanon (2005), and Nepal (2006).”
And it concluded that ”major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.” Further, the two authors explain why this is true.
And, in another 2008 article by Stephen Zunes, “Nonviolent Action and Pro-Democracy Struggles” (February 16, 2008), similar findings were shared:
“Recent years have witnessed the emergence of a series of broadly based nonviolent social movements that have succeeded in toppling dictatorships and forcing democratic reforms in such diverse countries as the Philippines, Chile, Bolivia, Madagascar, Nepal, Czechoslovakia, Indonesia, Serbia, Mali, and Ukraine. Even the relatively conservative Washington-based Freedom House, after examining the 67 countries that have moved from authoritarianism to varying degrees of democratic governance over the past few decades, published a study concluding that these transitions did not come as a result of foreign intervention and only rarely through armed revolt or voluntary elite-driven reforms. In the overwhelming majority of cases, according to this report, change came through democratic civil society organizations engaging in massive nonviolent demonstrations and other forms of civil resistance, such as strikes, boycotts, tax refusal, occupations of public space, and other forms of non-cooperation.”
“Right-wing autocrats toppled by such “people power” movements have included Marcos in the Philippines, Suharto in Indonesia, the Shah of Iran, Duvalier in Haiti, Pinochet in Chile, Chun in South Korea, and Numeiry in Sudan, to name only a few.”
And now, in an essay of remarkable beauty and depth, Rebecca Solnit offers insight into the whole spectrum of insurrection, from the storming of the Bastille to the occupation of the Madison statehouse.
The Butterfly and the Boiling Point
Sunday 20 March 2011
by: Rebecca Solnit http://www.truth-out.org/the-butterfly-and-boiling-point68631
Here are some excerpts (but I would encourage you to read the whole thing):
Revolution is as unpredictable as an earthquake and as beautiful as spring. Its coming is always a surprise, but its nature should not be.
Revolution is a phase, a mood, like spring, and just as spring has its buds and showers, so revolution has its ebullience, its bravery, its hope, and its solidarity. Some of these things pass.
The voice of the street has been a bugle cry this year. You heard it. Everyone did…Why now?
…when exactly do the abuses that have been tolerated for so long become intolerable? When does the fear evaporate and the rage generate action that produces joy?
…many people have fasted, prayed, protested, gone to prison, and died to call attention to cruel regimes, with little or no measurable consequence…Causes are Russian dolls. You can keep opening each one up and find another one behind it.
That the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can shape the weather in Texas is a summation of chaos theory that is now an oft-repeated cliché. But there are billions of butterflies on earth, all flapping their wings. Why does one gesture matter more than another?
Even to try to answer this you’d have to say that the butterfly is born aloft by a particular breeze that was shaped by the flap of the wing of, say, a sparrow, and so behind causes are causes, behind small agents are other small agents, inspirations, and role models, as well as outrages to react against. The point is not that causation is unpredictable and erratic. The point is that butterflies and sparrows and young women in veils and an unknown 20-year-old rapping in Arabic and you yourself, if you wanted it, sometimes have tremendous power, enough to bring down a dictator, enough to change the world.
…what changes in revolution is largely spirit, emotion, belief – intangible things, as delicate as butterfly wings, but our world is made of such things. They matter.
The governors govern by the consent of the governed. When they lose that consent, they resort to violence, which can stop some people directly, but aims to stop most of us through the power of fear…Those who are not afraid are ungovernable…
When a revolution is made, people suddenly find themselves in a changed state — of mind and of nation. The ordinary rules are suspended, and people become engaged with each other in new ways, and develop a new sense of power and possibility. People behave with generosity and altruism; they find they can govern themselves; and, in many ways, the government simply ceases to exist.
This state often arises in disasters as well, when the government is overwhelmed, shut down, or irrelevant for people intent on survival and then on putting society back together. If it rarely lasts, in the process it does change individuals and societies, leaving a legacy. To my mind, the best government is one that most resembles this moment when civil society reigns in a spirit of hope, inclusiveness, and improvisational genius.
The butterflies are out there, but when their flight stirs the winds of insurrection no one knows beforehand. So remember to expect the unexpected, but not just to wait for it. Sometimes you have to become the unexpected.