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A succinct introduction to civil resistance

This short video, called Civil Resistance: A First Look, which I first saw at the Fletcher Summer Institute at Tufts in June, is a solid introduction to the concept of civil resistance for anyone unfamiliar with it. The narrator answers a series of basic questions that many people new to the idea might have and briefly goes into some of the strategic and tactical concerns that activists face in developing a movement.

For example, there is a good explanation of the risks involved in public action against repressive regimes and the pros and cons of having a charismatic leader.

My only major issue with the film is with the response to the question, “What if my adversary can’t be persuaded?” The narrator replies definitively that civil resistance is not about persuasion, and that it is not an effort to reach the conscience of the opponents, but to remove their power by using ridicule and humor, imposing economic costs and disrupting business as usual.

While those are all important ways to affect the balance of power, to argue that persuasion is not part of the equation is misleading. It has in fact been a feature of most nonviolent movements. Reaching out to the conscience of the opponent was central to the struggles that Gandhi and Martin Luther King led, and to their understanding of how nonviolence works.

Being able to convert your adversaries – while perhaps rare, especially for those with the most at stake in preserving the status quo – can be a deciding factor in the outcome of the struggle. I would argue, for example, that persuasion of the opponent is an instrumental part of any nonviolent success story where defections by the police or security forces play a central role in the overthrow of a repressive regime. This was the case with the movements that brought down Marcos in the Philippines, the Shah in Iran and Milosevic in Serbia, to name just a few.

The film can be downloaded in several different languages on its accompanying website, which also has a good collection of other resources on the subject.