Lutheran Peace Fellowship

The Global Spread of Active Nonviolence
(by Richard Deats)

In the last century Victor Hugo wrote, "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come." Looking back over the twentieth century, especially since the movements Gandhi and King led, we see the growing influence and impact of nonviolence all over the world.
Mohandas Gandhi pioneered in developing the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. On the vast subcontinent of India, he led a colonial people to freedom through ‘satyagraha’ or ‘soul force,’ defeating what was at the time the greatest empire on earth, the British Raj. Not long after Gandhi's death, Martin Luther King, Jr. found in the Mahatma's philosophy the key he was searching for to move individualistic religion to a socially dynamic religious philosophy that propelled the civil rights movement into a nonviolent revolution that changed the course of U.S. history.
The Gandhian and Kingian movements have provided a seed bed for social ferment and revolutionary change across the planet, providing a mighty impetus for human and ecological transformation. Many, perhaps most, still do not recognize the significance of this development and persist in thinking that in the final analysis it is lethal force, or the threat of it, that is the decisive arbiter of human affairs. Why else would the United States continue to pour hundreds of billions into weapons even as nonmilitary foreign aid is cut, United Nations dues are not paid for years, and US armed forces are sent abroad on peacekeeping missions without being given the kind of training that would creatively prepare them for the work of peace?
Public awareness of the nonviolent breakthroughs that have been occurring is still quite minimal. This alternative paradigm to the ancient belief in marching armies and bloody warfare has made great headway "on the ground" but it is still little understood and scarcely found in our history books or in the media.
While "nonviolence is as old as the hills," as Gandhi said, it is in our century in which the philosophy and practice of nonviolence have grasped the human imagination. In an amazing and unexpected manner, as individuals, groups, and movements have developed creative, life-affirming ways to resolve conflict, overcome oppression, establish justice, protect the earth, and build democracy.
More and more, active nonviolence is taking the center stage in the struggle for liberation among oppressed peoples across the world. This is an alternative history, one that most people are scarcely aware of. What follows, in necessarily broad strokes, are some of the highlights of this alternative history.

In 1986 millions of unarmed Filipinos surprised the world by nonviolently overthrowing the brutal dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who was known at the time as "the Hitler of Southeast Asia." The movement they called "people power" demonstrated in an astounding way the power of active nonviolence.
Beginning with the assassination in 1983 of the popular opposition leader, Senator Benigno Aquino, the movement against Marcos grew rapidly. Inspired by Aquino's strong advocacy of nonviolence, the people were opened to the realization that armed rebellion was not the only way to overthrow a dictator. Numerous workshops in active nonviolence, especially in the churches, helped build a solid core of activists - including many key leaders - ready for a showdown with the dictatorship.
In late 1985, when Marcos called a snap election, the divided opposition united behind Corazon Aquino, the widow of the slain senator. Despite fraud, intimidation and violence employed by Marcos, the Aquino forces brilliantly used a nonviolent strategy with marches, petitions, trained poll watchers and an independent polling commission. When Marcos tried to steal the election and thwart the people's will, the country came to the brink of civil war. Cardinal Sin, head of the Catholic Church in the islands, went on the radio and called the country to prayer and nonviolent resistance; he instructed the contemplative orders of nuns to pray and fast for the country's deliverance from tyranny. Thirty computer operators tabulating the election results, at risk to their very lives, walked out when they saw Marcos being falsely reported as winning. After first going into hiding, they called on the international press and publicly denounced the official counting, exposing the fraud to the world. Corazon ("Cory") Aquino called for a nonviolent struggle of rallies, vigils and civil disobedience to undermine the fraudulent claim of Marcos that he had won the election.
Church leaders fully backed her call; in fact, the Catholic bishops made a historic decision to call upon the people to nonviolently oppose the Marcos government. Crucial defections from the government by two key leaders and a few hundred troops became the occasion for hundreds of thousands of unarmed Filipinos to pour into the streets of Manila to protect the defectors and demand the resignation of the discredited government. They gathered along the circumferential highway around Manila which ran alongside the camps where the rebel troops had gathered. The highway, Epifanio de los Santos - the Epiphany of the Saints! - was popularly referred to as EDSA. Troops sent to attack the rebels were met by citizens massed in the streets, singing and praying, telling on the soldiers to join them in what has since been called the EDSA Revolution. Clandestine radio broadcasts gave instructions in nonviolent resistance. When fighter planes were sent to bomb the rebel camp, the pilots saw it surrounded by the people and defected. A military man said, "This is something new. Soldiers are supposed to protect the civilians. In this particular case, you have civilians protecting the soldiers." Facing the collapse of his support, Marcos and his family fled the country. The dictatorship fell in four days.
Ending the dictatorship was only the first step in the long struggle for freedom. Widespread poverty, unjust distribution of the land, and an unreformed military remained, undercutting the completion of the revolution, Challenges to the further development of an effective people power movement have continued with a determined grassroots movement working to transform Philippine society.

The dictatorships that characterized Latin America in the 1980s were ended for the most part by the unarmed power of the people. Consider Chile, for example. The Chileans, who like the Filipinos suffered under a brutal dictatorship, gained inspiration from the people power movement of the Philippines as they built their own movement of nonviolent resistance to General Pinochet. To describe their efforts, they used the powerful image of drops of water wearing away the stone of oppression.
In 1986 leftist guerillas killed five bodyguards of Pinochet in an assassination attempt on the general. In retaliation the military decided to take revenge by arresting five critics of the regime. A human rights lawyer alerted his neighbors to the danger of his being abducted and they made plans to protect him. That night cars arrived in the early morning hours carrying hooded men who tried to enter the house. Unable to break down reinforced doors and locks, they tried the barred windows. The lawyer's family turned on all the lights and banged pots and blew whistles, awakening the neighbors who then did the same. The attackers, unexpectedly flustered by the prepared and determined neighbors, fled the scene.
Other groups carefully studied where the government tortured people and then, after prayer and reflection, found ways to expose the evil. For example, they would padlock themselves to iron railings near the targeted building; others would proceed to such a site during rush hour, then unfurl a banner saying, "Here they torture people." Sometimes they would disappear into the crowd; on other occasions they would wait until they were arrested.
In October of 1988, the government called on the people to vote "si" or "no" on continued military rule. Despite widespread intimidation against Pinochet's critics, the people were determined. Workshops were held to help them overcome their fear and to work to influence the election. Inspired and instructed by Filipino opposition to Marcos, voter registration drives and the training of poll watchers proceeded all over the country. The results exceeded their fondest expectations: 91% of all eligible voters registered and the opposition won 54.7% of all votes cast. Afterwards over a million people gathered in a Santiago park to celebrate their victory.
In the late 1980s throughout Latin America dictatorships fell like dominos, not through armed uprisings but through the determination of unarmed people - students, mothers, workers, religious groups - persisting in their witness against oppression and injustice, even in the face of torture and death. In Brazil such nonviolent efforts for justice were called firmeza permamente - relentless persistence. Base communities in the Brazilian countryside, for example, became organizing centers of the landless struggling to regain their land. In Argentina "mothers of the disappeared" were unceasing in their vigils and agitation for an accounting of the desaparacidos - the disappeared - of the military regime. In Montevideo, a fast in the tiny office of Serpaj (Service for Justice & Peace) brought to the fore the first public opposition to Uruguay's rapacious junta and elicited widespread sympathy that turned the tide toward democracy.

Nowhere has the struggle for democracy been more difficult than in Haiti, yet even there the people developed courageous and determined nonviolent resistance against all odds. The people's movement is called lavalas, the flood washing away oppression. Defying governmental prohibitions and military abuse, the people demonstrated and marched and prayed. In 1986, Fr. Jean Bertrand Aristide was silenced by his religious order and directed by the hierarchy to leave his parish and go to a church in a dangerous area dominated by the military. However, students from his church in the slums occupied the front rows of the national cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Seven students fasted at the altar, persisting for six days until the bishops backed down and allowed Aristide to continue working in his parish. Then, in December 1990, Aristide was elected to the presidency. Driven from office and exiled abroad, he returned only after US troops went into Haiti.
The long term building of a democratic society there faces enormous odds. Even though the Haitian army has been abolished, a culture of violence remains.
It will require time and persistence and the strengthening of the grassroots movement from which a civil society will emerge, as happened in Costa Rica where the abolition of the army was part of a larger effort to improve education, health care, work and living conditions. Costa Rica, without a military, remained at peace during the 1980s while much of Central America was in turmoil.

Stunning developments took place in China in the spring of 1989. What began as a memorial march for a deceased leader quickly led into a mass expression of the pent-up longings of the Chinese people. With slogans such as "people power" and "we shall overcome," students - later joined by workers - called for democracy, an end to corruption, a free press, and other democratic reforms. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese joined the protesters in Tienanmen Square. Day after day, week after week, they peacefully called on their government to accede to their demands. First a few, then hundreds, joined in a fast. Growing numbers of citizens, including police, soldiers, even many generals, expressed sympathy for the movement. The first soldiers sent to stop the demonstrators were disarmed with gifts and goodwill, just as the Filipinos had done in Manila. The top leaders of the government, in an important concession, met in a televised session with the students. The movement spread, beyond control it seemed, to other cities. Finally, however, a confused and divided government replaced the troops in the capital with soldiers from North China who could be counted on to follow orders and use brute force. Thus, on June 4 the massacre of Tienanmen Square occurred, setting back for years the democracy movement in China.
This great tragedy was not necessarily the end of people power in China, however, any more than the Amritsar massacre of unarmed Indians by the British was the end of the Indian revolution nor the assassination of Benigno Aquino was the end of the people power movement in the Philippines. Both of those tragedies in fact, proved to be beginnings rather than endings. Martin Luther King reminded us that "unearned suffering is redemptive." This can be true for a people as well as for an individual, though years, even decades may be required to rekindle such a movement.
China has also brutally sought to destroy the democratic rights of the people of Tibet. The Tibetans' exiled leader and 1989 Nobel Prize aureate, the Dalai Lama, bravely persists in calling his people not to flag in their nonviolent efforts to gain their freedom. He believes that these efforts will resonate with China's democracy movement which was so brutally setback at Tienanmen Square. The Dalai Lama maintains that following the course of nonviolent resistance will in time bring political concessions from China that seem unimaginable at present.

Events remarkably parallel to China's occurred in Burma 1998. In Rangoon, the capital, a students' nonviolent movement was launched in the summer of 1988 against the harshly repressive military rulers. Students began mass marches that in- creased week by week as professionals, middle-class, and working people joined in.
During this tumultuous period Aung San Suu Kyi quickly rose to prominence. The daughter of Aung San, the father of modern Burma, she married an Oxford professor and moved to England. She had returned to Rangoon from abroad because of her mother's illness. Suu Kyi was drawn into the democracy movement and fearlessly spoke at mass rallies, once walking through a contingent of soldiers ready to fire on her.
Finally, as would occur in China a year later, the threatened leaders ordered a bloody crackdown. Thousands of unarmed demonstrators were killed, with thousands more fleeing into the jungle. Nonetheless in the May 1990 national elections, the people voted overwhelmingly for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, even though she and the other NLD leaders had been placed under house arrest months earlier. The government refused to recognize the results of the election and continued to govern, keeping Suu Kyi under house arrest five years. Meanwhile she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 199l. In one of her essays, she wrote, "The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles, combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement." Her quiet determination and courage continues as a tower of strength to the Burmese in their quest for freedom.

"Engaged Buddhism" as articulated by the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Cambodian monk Maha Gosananda, and the Thai activist/intellectual Sulak Sivaraksa, has contributed to nonviolent struggles in many places in Asia. Thailand has evidenced ongoing nonviolent efforts against its military, including a successful student-led movement in 1973 that brought down the dictatorship. Recurring pro-democracy movements in the 1980s and 1990s have continued this long-term struggle. In the 1990s yearly Buddhist peace marches across the killing fields of a devastated Cambodia have promoted healing and there building of trust and hope among a war-weary people.
In Taiwan and South Korea pro-democracy efforts have won out over authoritarian regimes. The twentieth century ends with South Korea under the presidency of Kim Dae Jung, a human rights crusader who finally triumphed over those who tried repeatedly to kill him. His daunting effort to bring reconciliation between bitterly divided North and South Korea has been a hallmark of his presidency.
Pro-democracy students in Indonesia have been unrelenting in their struggle against dictatorship, corruption, and military involvement in politics. Unceasing rallies and protests - a democracy in the streets - finally brought down the authoritarian Suharto in May 1998,leading to a duly elected president in October 1999.
At the same time, however, agitation for independence by East Timor, the former Portuguese colony taken over by Indonesia in 1975 was brutally crushed by Indonesian-backed paramilitaries in 1999. In 1996 Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta received the Nobel Peace Prize for their nonviolent leadership in the East Timor freedom movement. The situation demonstrates the tragic inability of central states such as Indonesia, China, Yugoslavia and Russia to deal fairly with challenges to their authority and the weakness of the UN and the world community in fostering just and peaceful resolution of such conflicts.

Prior to the start of the Peace Process in the Middle East, the predominant impression of the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict, fed by media images, was one of rock-throwing Palestinian young men fighting the Israeli soldiers. But beginning in 1967 there were two parts of the Palestinian resistance movement, the paramilitary and the civil. The Intifada (Arabic for "to shake off") was from its inception a multidimensional movement containing many nonviolent aspects such as: ¨ strikes by schools and businesses called to protest specific policies and actions of the occupying authorities; ¨ agricultural projects, e.g. the planting of victory gardens and trees planted on disputed lands; ¨ committees for visiting prisoners and families of those who have been killed; ¨ boycotts of Israeli-made products; ¨ tax refusal, as in the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour where the VAT (value added tax) and income taxes were not paid; ¨ when villagers were unjustly arrested, other residents went to police stations asking to be arrested as a way of showing their solidarity; and ¨ the establishment of alternative institutions to build Palestinian self-sufficiency
Commenting on such developments, Labor Party leader and writer Schlomo Avineri observed, "An army can beat an army, but an army cannot beat a people... Iron can smash iron, it cannot smash an unarmed fist." Nonetheless, the Palestinian resistance was met with brute force, from deliberately breaking the bones of demonstrators to demolishing the homes of suspects' families, from smashing the moveable goods of tax protesters to sealing off areas for months at a time, preventing people from going to their jobs or even going to the hospital.
The just demands and nonviolent actions of the Intifada strengthened the voices of Israelis working to find a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict. And, despite grave legal risks, covert meetings between Palestinians and Israelis slowly built growing areas of understanding. In March 1989 the chairman of the Palestine National Council's political committee told a New York audience how secret friendships with Jewish leaders helped Palestinian leaders to publicly adopt a two-state solution. In the fall of 1992 Norway began hosting 14 secret meetings between Palestinians and Israelis out of which the Declaration of Principles was forged that provided the basis of the Israeli-PLO Accord signed on the White House lawn on September l3, 1993.
The Accord was only a beginning on the long road to peace. Palestinian land was still being seized, settlements expanded and arbitrary policies imposed upon the Palestinian people. Israelis still lived in fear of terrorist attacks. Extremists on both sides were unrelenting in their efforts to undermine the Peace Process. The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and the electoral defeat of his government were immense setbacks to the cause of peace. Time will tell if both sides can once again build on the foundation that showed so much promise and yet face such enormous obstacles. To those who say this is impossible, Gandhi reminds us, "Think of all the things that were thought impossible until they happened."

Decades of resistance to apartheid and witness for a multiracial, democratic society slowly but surely wore away the stone of oppression in South Africa. The brutal policies of the government convinced many the apartheid would only end in a violent showdown and to that end the African National Congress had an active military wing. Nonetheless, the heart of the resistance movement was classic nonviolent resistance: education, vigils, rallies, marches, petitions, boycotts. prayers, fasts and civil disobedience Governmental attempts to stop this resistance with massive detentions, bannings of organizations and individuals, intimidation and murder, as well as emergency rule could not, in the end, stop the movement.
In 1989, the churches responded to the draconian measures of emergency rule with a nationwide effort called "effective nonviolent action" that trained citizens for grassroots campaigns to break racial barriers in housing and transportation, defend conscientious objectors, visit prisoners across racial lines, etc. Emergency rule, rather than strengthening the government, exposed its desperation and moral bankruptcy.
An unexpected breakthrough came when President de Klerk began instituting reforms. He eventually legalized the African National Congress and released Nelson Mandela who had been in prison 29 years. The dramatic changes demonstrate a concept from the civil rights movement in the U. S., "top down/bottom up," i. e., pressure for change from the grassroots is met by reforms accepted by or initiated from the top, creating a dynamic tension that fosters change.
In the midst of these developments the government still carried out brutal policies. But the force for change was not to be denied. The first open elections in South Africa's history were held in an amazing manifestation of a whole nation peacefully voting for revolutionary change, moving from a white racist regime to multiracial democratic rule under the presidency of Nelson Mandela. His passion for freedom and justice for all was expressed in a greatness of spirit that reached out to his former enemies Though he never forswore the ANC's recourse to violence, his approach has been remarkably nonviolent and reconciling. In his inaugural address, he held before the people a unifying vision "in which all South Africans . . will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, sure of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."

The same "top down/bottom up" process occurred in the unraveling of the Soviet bloc that followed the policies of glasnost, perestroika and democratsatsiya (openness, restructuring and democracy) instituted by President Mikhail Gorbachev. Pressure from below - relentless persistence- helped to create a climate ripe for change. This ferment was long in building. On the one hand there was a small but determined band of human rights advocates such as Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner who were unrelenting in their demand for the observance of universally accepted standards of human rights. Others - religious, peace and environmental groups, artists and poets - refused in varying ways to submit to totalitarian rule.
The crushing of Czechoslovakia's 1968 experiment to create "socialism with a human face" strengthened the widely held assumption that communism was incapable of peaceful change and democratic openness, that nonviolence might "work" in India or the US but never with the communist regimes. This added fuel to the Cold War and the nuclear arms race and the belief that World War III was a virtual certainty. Not many paid attention to those aspects of the Czech experiment that contained hints of the 'people power' revolutions that were to flower in the 1980s, but they were highly significant.
The 1968 invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies had been expected to crush all resistance in a few days. It took eight months. Czechoslovakia's large and well-trained army was ordered to stay in its barracks while the populace responded in unexpectedly creative, nonviolent ways. The Czech news agency refused to report the disinformation that said Czech leaders had requested the invasion. Highway and street signs were turned around to confuse the invading forces. Students sat in the path of incoming tanks; other climbed on the tanks and talked to the crews. While they did not physically fight the invaders, the people refused to cooperate with them. Clandestine radio messages kept up the morale of the people, passing on vital information and instructions, such as the calling of one hour general strikes. The Czech leaders were able to hold on to their offices and continue some of the reforms until the resistance finally began to erode, quite possibly through the work of agents provocateurs.
Twelve years later, in August, 1980, neighboring Poland took up the fallen nonviolent banner as the Gdansk shipyard workers went on strike and, with prayers and rallies, Solidarity was born. Using strikes, sit-ins and demonstrations, Solidarity gave laborers an independent voice and began a grassroots movement for change that spread rapidly across Poland.
The government responded with swift imposition of martial law in December, 1981. But instead of its destroying Solidarity, the people began the creation of an alternative society at the base, choosing to live "as if they were free." A new society was born in the shell of the old. When, finally, in 1989, open elections were held, Solidarity won by a landslide.
The Polish elections were aided by the breathtaking changes occurring in the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's reforms, beginning in 1985,opened the floodgates of pent-up longings for change that were eventually to sweep away even Gorbachev and the Soviet system. One by one totalitarian rule in the nations of Eastern Europe was overturned by people armed with truth and courage. A critical mass had been reached through the power of growing numbers of people emboldened by such things as the writings of Vaclav Havel from a Czech prison and prayer meetings and discussion groups in Leipzig, East Germany. The symbol of the vast change was the peaceful breaching of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, as the old order collapsed and its discredited regimes were swept aside with remarkably little violence or loss of life (the main exception to this being Romania).
The widespread assumption that totalitarian regimes could not be overturned by unarmed struggle was decisively shown to be wrong. Governments ultimately derive their strength from the consent - either passive or active - of the governed. Once that consent disappears and resistance spreads, governments find their power to rule weakened and, under the right circumstances, destroyed.
What happened in Eastern Europe happened in the USSR as well. There forms speeded up the stirrings for change, as thousands of grassroots groups sprang up to deal with a whole spectrum of social, economic, political, environmental, and cultural issues. In July, 1990, 100,000 coal miners went out on a strike in Siberia that spread westward to Ukraine. Strongly disciplined, the miners policed themselves, closed down mining-town liquor stores, and gathered for massive rallies.
From the local to the national level, elections became more democratic, bringing about the election of reform candidates. In the spring of 1989, two thousand persons, including Andrei Sakharov, were elected to the Congress of Peoples' Deputies in the freest election since their evolution. Popularly elected legislatures came into office throughout the USSR, breaking the monopoly of the Communist Party. The lead for these changes came from popular fronts established in republic after republic, beginning with Latvia (October 1988), Ukraine (September 1989) and in Lithuania where Sajudis won multiparty elections (February 1990). Respect for the language, history, and traditions of the various nationalities challenged the Russification that had undergirded Soviet power and control.
On March 11, 1990, the Baltic state of Lithuania became the first of the Soviet republics to proclaim outright independence. This most repressed of the republics started a 'singing revolution," defying decades of cultural repression by reviving Lithuanian folk songs, festivals, religious practices, and traditions. The movie "Gandhi" was shown nationwide on television, enhancing the nonviolent resistance of the people. Trying to halt the dissolution of the Union, Moscow retaliated with a crippling blockade. The following January crack Red Army troops moved on the capital of Vilnius, killing fourteen unarmed demonstrators protecting the nation's TV tower. Instead of surrendering or issuing a call to arms, Lithuania called on the citizenry to "hold to principles of nonviolent insubordinate resistance and political and social non cooperation." The Lithuanians did just that, continuing their nonviolent and independent course. They protected their parliament with unarmed citizens and had nonviolence training for the volunteer militia they had established.
Then in August 1991, elements of the Communist Party, the KGB, and the Army tried to stage a coup in Moscow. Despite the arrest of Gorbachev and his family, resistance was widespread. People poured into the streets to protect the Russian parliament. Women and students called on the soldiers to join the people. Religious people knelt in the streets in prayer. People trained in nonviolence passed out writings on the methods of nonviolent struggle. Closed newspapers and radio stations quickly set up alternative media. The Mayor of Leningrad told the military there not to follow the orders of the plotters and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church threatened excommunication to those who followed the coup. Even some members of the KGB refused orders, risking death for their defiance. Eventually the coup attempt collapsed, opening the way for Lithuania and the other republics to begin an independent course.
The breakup of the Soviet empire will doubtless be followed by years of upheaval as its constituent parts find their place in a world reaching for democracy but often lacking the experience, patience, and vision to implement the hope. The collapse of Soviet-style communism was followed by a predatory capitalism that in many places left the people with the worst of both systems. At this point in history we have learned a great deal about nonviolent resistance to evil and bringing down oppressors. We still have far to go in knowing how to take the next steps in fostering the democratic evolution of society that includes justice and peace, freedom and order.
Democracy is the institutionalization of nonviolent problem-solving in society. Education, conflict resolution, the struggle for justice, organizing for special needs, voting on issues, adjudicating differences, framing laws for change and reform - these are all nonviolent in essence and help build what Martin Luther King, Jr. called "the beloved community." Democratic nations are truest to their values when they deal with other nation states nonviolently, through diplomacy, treaties, mutual respect and fairness.
The tragic warfare and ethnic cleansing that plagued the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia brought immense suffering to the region. Nonetheless a stubborn and substantial nonviolent movement in Serbia has continued to struggle against the autocratic rule of Slobodan Milosevic. Through most of the 1990s a powerful nonviolent movement in Kosova resisted Serbia's oppression of the majority Albanian population. Tragically Kosova was ignored until armed resistance started there against ethnic cleansing; then in 1999 NATO came in with a heavy bombing campaign against the Serbs. Violent assistance to armed fighters seemed natural; nonviolent assistance to a nonviolent movement was not even attempted by nations schooled in the ways of war.

Nonviolent movements in the United States have a long and significant history, from the abolitionist struggle against slavery; the women's movement; the labor movement; the environmental movement; the peace movement; the movements for the rights of African-Americans, gays and lesbians, as well as other minorities and oppressed groups. Peace studies in colleges, conflict resolution in schools and communities and similar developments in many areas of life give hope for the building of a culture of peace. Nonetheless, there is still far to go when one considers the degree of violence in the national life and in the foreign and domestic policies of the United States.

At the time of the Philippine overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship, a Filipino writer said that whereas the past one hundred years were dominated by Karl Marx and the armed revolutionary, the next hundred years would be shaped by Gandhi and the unarmed satyagrahi, the votary of Truth. Gandhi said that 'Truth is God' and that the Truth expressed in the unarmed struggle for justice, peace, and freedom is the greatest power in the world.
During Gandhi's lifetime, many looked on him with contempt. Churchill dismissed him as a "half-naked fakir." Communists and other advocates of violent revolution branded his nonviolence as bourgeois and reactionary. King was arrested twenty-nine times; he was despised by many who were infuriated by his witness for justice and peace. Yet most advances in the human race have faced long years of ridicule and opposition. New insights of truth are often considered heresy. Prophets are driven out, their followers persecuted. But the influence of Gandhi and King, the martyred prophets, continues to grow as nonviolent movements spread around the world.
If a global, democratic civilization is to come into being and endure, our challenge is to continue developing nonviolent alternatives to war and all forms of oppression, from individuals to groups, from nation-states to the peoples of the world. We must continue to challenge the age-old assumptions about the necessity of violence in overcoming injustice, resisting oppression and establishing social well- being. In November, 1998, the UN General Assembly unanimously proclaimed the first decade of the twenty-first century to be a Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, a prescient recognition of the future that must be built if humanity is to endure.
What if in 1980 someone would have predicted that unarmed Filipinos would overthrow the Marcos dictatorship in a four day uprising? That military regimes across Latin America would be toppled by the relentless persistence of their unarmed opponents? That apartheid would end peacefully and that in a massive and peaceful plebiscite all races of South Africa would elect Nelson Mandela to the presidency? That the Berlin Wall would be nonviolently brought down?
Such a person would probably have been thought ridiculously naive and dismissed out of hand. And yet these things happened! Why do we so resist the potential of the not yet stirring in the present moment? The sociologist Elise Boulding reminds us how deadly pessimism can be, for it can undermine our determination to work for a better tomorrow. Hope, on the other hand, infused in an apparently hopeless situation can create an unexpected potential for change. This is the faith that sings, in the face of police dogs and water cannons, "We Shall Overcome." Or as Joan of Arc muses in Shaw's St. Joan, "Some people see things as they are and ask 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, 'Why not?'"

Richard Deats was for many years editor of Fellowship magazine where this article originally appeared (July/August 1996). It was updated for the book, Peace Is The Way   (Walter Wink, editor; Orbis Press, 2000). Deats has led workshops in Active Nonviolence in many countries, including the Philippines, South Korea, Haiti, Israel, India, Hong Kong, Kenya, Thailand and South Africa. He is the author of two superb biographies, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, of National-ism and Christianity in the Philippines, as well as editor of Ambassador of Reconciliation: A Muriel Lester Reader.
For further resources on nonviolence see:,,,,  and Materials on “The Path of Hope”  exhibit and list are available on the latter two sites.

Read more about Nonviolence

Top Ten List (pdf, html)
If you like this resource, please consider supporting LPF

LPF contact info -


Contact LPF and make a gift Contact LPF and make a gift LPF´s email -