What is Nonviolent Direct Action

  • It is active, not passive
    • Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of 'battle,' requires wise strategy and tactics and demands of its 'soldiers' courage, discipline and sacrifice.-Gene Sharp
  • It is a 'weapon' available to all,
    • Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon . . . which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals..- Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968)
  • It is least likely to alienate opponents and third parties,
  • It breaks the cycle of violence and counter-violence.
  • It leaves open the possibility of conversion,
  • It ensures that the media focus on the issue at hand rather than some tangential act of violence and it is the surest way of achieving public sympathy.
  • Further, it is more likely to produce a constructive rather than a destructive outcome,


Practical vs Philosophical

For many people nonviolence is a pragmatic choice.

Pragmatic exponents use nonviolent action because they believe it to be the most effective method available in the circumstances. their goal is to defeat the opponent.

In 1989, thirteen nations comprising 1,695,000 people experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations . . . If we add all the countries touched by major non-violent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa . . . the independence movement in India...) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that nonviolence doesn't work in the 'real' world. Walter Wink

For others nonviolence is a philosophical choice or a way of life

Ideological exponents choose nonviolent action for ethical reasons and believe in the unity of means and ends. They view the opponent as a partner in the struggle to satisfy the needs of all.

  • King said, just a few weeks before he was assassinated, “I plan to stand by nonviolence because I have found it to be a philosophy of life that regulates not only my dealings in the struggle for racial justice, but also my dealings with people, with my own self.”
  • King taught us that nonviolence first transforms the person who embraces it. Nonviolence is radical in the deepest sense of the word because it changes the spirit behind attitudes. Once the spirit of nonviolence is internalized, goals like domination, conquest or retaliation no longer drive behavior. When this happens the stage is set for a dramatic transformation of the relationship
  • “It is the acid test of nonviolence that in a nonviolent conflict there is no bitterness left behind and in the end the enemies are converted into friends (Gandhi)

While others see it as both

Without a direct action expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, is meaningless.-Mahatma Gandhi


Nonviolent protest and persuasion

  • Mainly symbolic acts of peaceful opposition or of attempted persuasion
  • Usually in the form of marches, vigils, pickets, posters, street theatre, painting and protest meetings
  • This is the one that is most common and where most people try to voice their opinion
  • When this fails a lot of people give up
  • Traditionally a lot of ‘action’ stops here


  • Most common form of nonviolent action
  • Deliberate withdrawal of cooperation with the person, activity, institution or regime that the activists are in conflict with
  • These can take place on a social, economic and political level
  • Through strikes, boycotts, refusal to vote etc.
  • Political noncooperation also includes acts of civil disobedience – the deliberate and open violation of laws which are believed to be unjust for some reason


Nonviolent Intervention

  • Involve the disruption of established behaviour patterns, policies, relationships or institutions which are considered objectionable
  • This may even be the creation of new behaviour patterns, policies, relationships or institutions which are considered just
  • The disruption may be done through nonviolent occupations, blockades, fasting (as Gandhi did), seeking imprisonment etc
  • Or creativity may be shown through setting up alternative political, economical and social institutions such as markets, cooperatives, alternative schools, as well as parallel media, communication and transport networks

When Do We Use Nonviolence (Social Change)

Every campaign of nonviolence usually undergoes these basic stages toward justice, and they are worth our consideration:

  • Information gathering.
    • We need to do our homework and learn everything we can about the issue, problem or injustice so we become experts on the topic.
    • Then we do our best to inform everyone, including the opposition, about the issue and use every form of media to educate the population.
  • Personal commitment.
    • As we engage in the public struggle for nonviolent social change, we renew ourselves every day in the way of nonviolence. As we learn that nonviolent struggles take time, we commit ourselves to the long haul and do the hard inner work necessary to center ourselves in love and wisdom and prepare ourselves for the possibility of rejection, arrest, jail or suffering for the cause.
    • We try to engage our opponents, point out their injustice, propose a way out and resolve the situation, using win-win strategies.
  • Direct action.
    • If necessary, we take nonviolent direct action to force the opponent to deal with the issue and resolve the injustice, using nonviolent means such as boycotts, marches, rallies, petitions, voting campaigns and civil disobedience.
    • In the end, we try to reconcile with our opponents, even to become their friends (as Nelson Mandela demonstrated in South Africa), so that we all can begin to heal and move closer to the vision of the "beloved community."