I am posting Srdja Popović’s Ted Talk in Kracow, November 2011, on people power and regime change, as I am trying to grapple with the question as to how non-violence can achieve results. As you watch this now, the picture is quite bleak, as apparent success stories, such as Occupy Wall Street, or the Arab spring seem to have come and gone.
But before we get there, what are some of the key success elements of non-violent movements according to Popović? Develop skills, keep discipline, pick tactics appropriate for a situation, choose the battles you can win. Humour is a powerful weapon. In the end, every revolution is a physical confrontation, you have to be be out in the streets to win a struggle.
See also his book, “Blueprint for Revolution – How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other
Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or
Simply Change the World” (2015), co-written with Matthew Miller.
So does non-violence work? The answer seems to be only to some extent and under specific circumstances. The strategy of non-violence relies at minima on the existence of a functioning state, with at least the kernels of a civil society in operation. You need to be able to make a credible appeal for a joint better future, which can draw in people from “the other side of the fence.” You also need someone to negotiate with, an authority that will implement the changes you have fought for non-violently. But even in places that are deeply authoritarian, non-violence is not totally futile, as practicing it might just bring about said civil society. And in any case, to achieve any lasting change – Persist. Persist. Persist.