Agents of Change and Nonviolent Action*
Nonviolent action is a way for ordinary people to fight for their rights, freedom, and justice. It is frequently associated with moral or ethical nonviolence, but I will address it here as a distinct phenomenon, separate from any moral or ethical underpinnings, to expand on how it works as a pragmatic way to exert leverage in a conflict. Nonviolent action is based on the insight that power in a society is ultimately derived from people’s consent and obedience. In contrast, the prevailing view is that power in a society is inherently based on whoever has concentrated wealth and the greatest capacity for violence. But just as the economy is a subsystem of the biosphere— and therefore is ultimately governed by the laws of the biosphere—so too, systems of power that are seemingly based on violence and money are actually subsystems of thousands or millions of people’s broader behavior and obedience patterns. If those people shift their loyalties, behavior, and obedience, the balance of power in a society, and in the world, shifts. Simply put, if people do not obey, then rulers or corporations cannot rule. Nonviolent action, therefore, wields power by creating shifts in people’s loyalties, behavior and obedience patterns at a collective level. This can happen dramatically, for example as it did at moments during the Indian Independence Struggle, the US Civil Rights Movement, various labor struggles (i.e. the United Farm Workers movement in the mid-late 1960s), and the downfall of Ferdinand Marcos (1986), Augusto Pinochet (1988), Apartheid in South Africa (1980s-90s), Slobodan Milosevic (2000), and the authoritarian system in Ukraine (2004). Or, shifts can happen more subtly, as when people choose to shop at locally owned businesses, boycott a product, or work to develop alternative institutions and economies. Regardless of its myriad of methods and manifestations, all acts of nonviolent action fall into one of three categories:...
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