Power of Peaceful Protest

Can nonviolent protest really make a difference?

Throughout history, peaceful public stances against unequal civil rights have successfully brought about systemic change worldwide.

Since the 1900s, several nonviolent resistance campaigns have brought changes. The Salt March led by Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi, the 1913 Suffrage Parade, the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Rosa Parks are but a few instances of nonviolent resistance that made lasting changes. From 1966 to 1999, nonviolent civic resistance played a critical role in fifty of sixty-seven transitions from authoritarianism.

The philosophy of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to name a few, demonstrate the power of peaceful protest

Nonviolent resistance comes in many forms. It can be peaceful protests, boycotts, or an individual stance.

What is peaceful activism?

The right to protest signifies functioning democratic system.

Nonviolent resistance (NVR), or nonviolent action, is the practice of achieving goals such as social change through protests, civil disobedience, economic or political non-cooperation (e.g. boycotts) or other methods in a nonviolent manner.

Nonviolent Resistance and Civil Disobedience are not the same.

An act of civil disobedience requires act of violating law intentionally. The person violating is willingly accepts any legal consequences in response of the violation.

Civil disobedience is a form of political action. It’s typically used to draw attention of the government against specific laws for reformation. Nonviolent resistance, on the other hand, can have revolutionary goals.

There is always a chance for violence when laws are violated. Civil disobedience isn’t always nonviolent. It depends on how it will be performed. For example, violent resistance by citizens being forcibly relocated to detention, short of lethal violence against representatives of the state, could plausibly count as civil disobedience but could not count as nonviolent resistance.

Nonviolence is not silence

“Nonviolence is an intensely active force when properly understood and used.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Nonviolent action differs from pacifism as it has the potential of being proactive and interventionist. Even in the most oppressive state protesters can tailor their nonviolent campaigns to address issues peacefully.

Even the most brutal of regimes are unable to strife the voices of large nonviolent groups and are forced to address the issues.

In light of the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests last year, the debate that has broken out in the United States of America over whether violence is ever acceptable in the fight for change is not a new one.

Nonviolent resistance is about both morality and tactics. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr recognized that they needed to create demonstrations of strong will and moral superiority if they wanted to change people’s minds. They argue that choosing violence instead would only justify — in the oppressors’ minds — further repression.

Dr. King famously said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” But, in that same speech, he also talked of “militant, powerful, massive nonviolence” as the most effective agent of change. He also spoke of how violence “merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt.”

Morally and tactically, nonviolent resistance forces the perpetrators of violence — particularly state-backed “legitimate” violence — onto the defensive. Any act of aggression on the part of the perpetrator to create conflict delegitimizes them. So, when faced with the threat of “legitimate” violence, nonviolent resistance is key.

Civil Rights through Satyagraha

Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are two leaders almost synonymous with the philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Dr. King heavily drew on the Gandhian principles of nonviolence. He famously wrote that “while the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

Gandhi referred to his form of nonviolence as satyagraha, meaning “truth-force” or “love-force.” Practicing satyagraha means a person aspires to truth and compassion at all times while refusing, through nonviolent resistance, to participate in something they believe is wrong. This principle guided Gandhi’s activism against the British Empire, helping India win independence in 1947.

Dr. King first connected Mahatma Gandhi’s concepts to the Christian doctrine of “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In 1959, Dr. King took a one-month trip to India to understand Gandhian principles better. On his return, he incorporated and popularized Gandhi’s ideals in the United States and worldwide.

Power in inclusivity

Peaceful protest is not only powerful in its impact; it is inclusive and offers even the most marginalized voices a chance to be heard.

Nonviolent resistance is voluntary and allows a space for anyone who wants to participate. It is inclusive across gender, race, age and class divide. This leads to a better representation of people in society.

Ensuring that all voices are heard no matter the cause is the only way to ensure a truly civil society.