Understanding Nonviolence

“Understanding Nonviolence” edited by Maia Carter Hallward and Julie M Norman

THIS collection of extended essays, gathered internationally from academics and activists, is a textbook primarily and unashamedly aimed at those engaged with peace and nonviolence studies.

But its relevance to the rest of us should not be under-estimated in an environment where the mass media continually misrepresents the value and successes of nonviolent political strategies. It’s a hugely informative and thought-provoking publication, providing numerous case studies and a general examination of the theory, practise, challenges and opportunities afforded by the nonviolent action which usually takes place outside traditional campaigning channels.

In attempting to outflank those in power — and in the  belief that a natural majority support social justice — the contributors question the apparent consent and obedience in everyday society. Nonviolence is not a passive or pacifist form of political resistance and it is clearly distinct from reconciliation, negotiation and mediation, although it does not preclude using these tactics too.

Conventional voting, marches, rallies and lobbying are not commonly regarded as nonviolent action, which instead is regularly based on boycotts, strikes, sit-ins, non-co-operation, blockades and creating organisations and institutions that run parallell to the state.

In Britain, small-scale contemporary nonviolent action is everywhere — think South Yorkshire’s very own Freedom Riders or the Focus E15 Mothers to get a glimpse of its potential power.

Criticism of its usefulness, especially in societies where violence has become normalised, is forcefully rebuffed. While recognising the likelihood of a physically abusive response from those who do not share a commitment to nonviolence, and accepting that few struggles are purely nonviolent, the authors consistently emphasise that such action has proved more successful than armed resistance throughout history.

Empirical evidence shows that nonviolent methodology is more likely to result in more peaceful transitions, sustainable changes and democratic conclusions. It can also lay foundations for the empowerment of an engaged and politicised citizenry and, unlike armed uprisings, cannot succeed without broad coalitions and mass support.

From undermining racist lunch counter segregation in Nashville to supporting the worldwide food sovereignty movements, this book demonstrates that nonviolent action continues to play a vital role in creating social justice and real change.

Originally published in the Morning Star.


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