Civil Resistance and the New Global Ferment: read on

15 November 2010

Jack DuVall, writer and international civil society leader based in Washington, D.C., is presently President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, a private nonprofit educational foundation. He describes himself as a radical democrat opposed to all forms of human oppression. As openDemocracy's first guest editor, in the week starting November 15, 2010, he chose as his editorial theme: "Civil Resistance and the New Global Ferment".

DuVall, is the co-author of A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, St. Martin's Press (2000) which has become  the leading text and trade book on the history of nonviolent struggle in the 20th century; he was also executive producer of a documentary film series of the same name. From the Green Movement in Iran to the Mapuche people's struggle in Chile, from West Papuans struggling for independence from Indonesia to Egyptian students and bloggers campaigning for wider political rights, societies and governments in the world today are being rocked far more by civil resistance than by armed insurrection or terrorism (notwithstanding the media's mesmerism by violent conflict). As a strategic instrument of political and social change rather than merely the exhibition of rage, civil resistance - using nonviolent tactics such as strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience - has a surprisingly effective record, as this week's articles on civil resistance discussed.

Jack introduced his front pages as follows:

"The author of the week's lead article, Dr. Stellan Vinthagen, is a Swedish scholar and activist who is one of the most recognizable and popular figures in international resistance work. Also featured on Monday was a sparkling article on the successful nonviolent struggle of the Anishinabe native Americans, in the 1980s - one of the hundreds of less well-known civil resistance campaigns of recent decades. Its author, Tom Hastings, has taught and inspired generations of university students and antiwar and other activists, from his base in Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday’s lead article was on the paradox of repression, i.e. the more repression a government uses to control dissidence, the greater the cost to its legitimacy, both inside and outside the country. Those using civil resistance can exploit this by mobilizing more people in a movement and enlisting more global support for its cause. Dr. Lester Kurtz of George Mason University, and the co-editor of Nonviolent Social Movements, takes stock of the paradox as it affects China today, in the midst of its effort to discredit the Nobel Peace Prize given to a leading Chinese dissident. The second featured article on Tuesday was by Dr. Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco, bringing us up to date on new events in Western Sahara, where the Sahrawi people are under Moroccan occupation. Dr. Zunes is the author of a new book on this struggle, Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution.

Wednesday's lead article by Dr. Cynthia Boaz examines a host of largely unacknowledged and only faintly visible 'frames' through which news media see, describe and report on civil resistance movements. Citing numerous examples from Burma to Iran to the U.S. civil rights movement, she explains how assumptions about power, violence and repression are embedded in media attitudes and, in various ways, underestimate the leverage that nonviolent movements can wield in their struggles for rights.  The second featured article on Wednesday, by Olena Tregub and Oksana Shulyar, assesses the political withdrawal of many Ukrainians in civil society who were part of the Orange Revolution, but it also notes how they’ve translated their passion for change into social and economic work that is keeping civil society on its toes, ready for perhaps another engagement should democratic freedoms badly deteriorate.

Thursday's lead article by Al Giordano of Narco News offers a radical new view of the future of the media and its relationship to civil resistance: that institutionalized media will surrender further ground to alternative and digital media, as citizen or authentic journalism expands to cover popular movements and campaigns from the bottom up, which are the authentic source of social and political change.  Our second featured article on Thursday was by the acknowledged world expert on how civil resistance can propel campaigns against corruption, Shaazka Beyerle, and she gives us accounts of how clever, passionate campaigns in Indonesia and Kenya have added to our understanding of how the people can force rulers to stop stealing from the people.

Finally this week, our lead article is by myself, and it's a commentary on the nature of the political language used by leaders and key figures in movements and campaigns of civil resistance, noting that to be effective, language that summons mass participation in pre-democratic or democratic societies must rouse an existential commitment on the basis of a substantive vision. The article accompanying it, by Hardy Merriman, explores the "trifecta" of key factors in organizing movements: unity, planning and nonviolent discipline. Lastly, Jason MacLeod shows us how, inspired by the US civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the movement for democratic self-determination in West Papua has deployed new tactics of nonviolent action to advance its cause."

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