Nonviolent Resistance in 2016: It Still Works

Protester faces robocops in Baton Rouge

In the last 36 hours, this great photo spread all over the world. The central figure is Ieshia Evans, a mother and nurse in Baton Rouge, where citizens are protesting a recent police killing of an innocent black man. The message is pretty clear: an unarmed woman stands with pride and dignity as a couple of overprotected Robocop gladiators threaten her, backed by a phalanx of drones. The entire world has now seen this photo, and the entire world is deeply concerned.

How do we fight for what's right? There is always one good answer: nonviolent resistance. It's the method that worked for Gandhi, and for Martin Luther King. (It worked for Jesus too.) It's working today in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. From generation to generation, from suffragettes to Occupy, from labor strikes to Tianimen Square, the spirit of satyagraha remains a cornerstone of every good protest movement. In 2016 America, angry college students and Black Lives Matter activists understand the power of the method intuitively, and when they are confronted and threatened they keep their cool and hold their courage close to their hearts. The results can be miraculous. It's debatable whether or not peacebuilders need a weapon — it often seems that we do — but there's no question that nonviolent resistance is always the most powerful weapon we've got.

We see the power of nonviolent resistance in the United States Congress this year too. Congressman John Lewis led a heroic protest by sitting in the middle of the chamber, refusing to let Paul Ryan's kangaroo congress get on with its regular business of investigating Benghazi for the 20th time. John Lewis and Elizabeth Warren and several other legislators risked their standing by breaking the law inside the Capitol building in order to make the point that Congress needs to do something about gun violence. We haven't seen change yet, but we are seeing momentum in the weeks since John Lewis and his proud cohorts delivered this message to their peers.

I was at a United National Antiwar Coalition protest in Times Square this weekend. We were protesting NATO's aggressive moves in Europe. Alice Slater of CodePink wrote an article about it.

Sometimes when I tell people I'm a pacifist they ask me how peacebuilders can possibly prevail over violent elements in society. "There's a proven method," I tell them. "It's called nonviolent resistance." It's surprising how many people fail to see the obvious truth that this is a method of proven effectiveness in nearly any situation ...

If you're interested in statistics, Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth wrote an excellent book that uses extensive real-world data to prove that nonviolent resistance is the most successful strategy of all time for defeating an oppressive government or regime. The book is called Why Civil Resistance Works.

And if you're interested in reading more about the varieties of nonviolent protest and peacebuilding methodology, check out our Taxonomy of Pacifism.

Or please just go out to the street and get something started. We don't have to sit back and complain that the world's going to hell. We just need to make our voices heard.