Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence
by G. William Domhoff
One of the distinctive features of left activists is their willingness to go to the streets to win people to their causes and create the political pressures necessary for the social changes they advocate. Studies in social psychology and sociology support this strategy by showing there has to be a non-routine dimension to any effort toward change. It doesn't make any sense to people to say that things are terrible, but they just should vote and write letters to their elected representatives. If things are going to change, then people have to get out of their routines one way or another. There has to be social disruption. There has to be a "getting in the way of power" as one author-activist puts it. There has to be a social movement that has a shared political identity.
But case studies also show that these movements go nowhere without an electoral component, as seen with the women's suffrage movement, the industrial union movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the feminist movement, and the environmental movement. Changes in government were the end result in every case. They usually don't go far enough, but that just means the next cycle of movement activism is necessary.
Studies of social movements in the United States also show that the necessary social disruption has to be created through the principled use of strategic nonviolence. Any form of violence, whether property damage or physical battles with opponents and police, will turn off the great majority of Americans and bring down overwhelming police and military repression.
For the past 10-15 years the usefulness of an exclusive focus on nonviolence has been questioned by new activists. They do not see much use in the carefully orchestrated acts of civil disobedience to which it is often reduced, where the time and place of arrest have been negotiated beforehand with the police. They have come to see nonviolence as primarily a philosophy, a religious sentiment, or a moral renunciation of violence, or even as a New Age belief in a way to create win-win situations for all concerned if there is enough love and understanding.
However, the strategic nonviolence I am talking about is far more than that. It is a strategy for winning in conflicts where there are real differences between the adversaries, including class antagonisms. As a form of conflict, nonviolent direct action is best understood in terms of the same basic concepts that are used to understand violent (military) conflicts, because the underlying reality in both cases is the engagement in conflict over opposing perspectives and interests. Thus the phrase "strategic nonviolence," which is in fact what trade union organizers practice through strikes and what civil rights leaders employed through sit-ins, freedom rides, and boycotts. It is a form of struggle that is focused on prevailing despite the fact that the opponents -- usually a government or power elite -- have superior resources and are likely to use one or another form of violence if they think it can succeed.
Although nonviolence is a strategic choice, it has to be employed within the context of a larger and more encompassing value system to help members refrain from violence in the face of delays, provocations, and violent acts by the opponents. Encasement within a value system is also so that opponents slowly can become convinced that the challengers will not suddenly resort to violence when they think it will be to their advantage. A sudden shift to property destruction or armed struggle is not an option.
For the Civil Rights Movement, this normative sense and necessary value system were provided first of all by the deep religious faith of the key participants. Strategic nonviolence was practiced within the context of the African-American Christian churches, with their deeply moving spirituals like "We Shall Overcome," and it was taught in black schools of theology. However, strategic nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement also was based in a strong belief in American democracy, a belief that was surprising to outsiders because of the despicable way in which African-Americans have been treated throughout American history. Given the overwhelming violence that Southern whites could employ with impunity, African-Americans in the South of course fully understood that nonviolence was their only choice as a strategy, but it was their faith in Christianity and democracy that made their chosen strategy possible and sustainable.
For current-day egalitarians, a commitment to the freedoms and democratic procedures won by past egalitarians can provide the primary foundation for the practice of nonviolence, although some of them also draw upon their religious values as well. This democratic commitment has the added virtue of narrowing the gap between egalitarians and mainstream liberals. In addition, a nonviolence orientation can be sustained by the knowledge that it helps to keep the egalitarian movement itself more democratic; it ensures that violence-prone dominators will not take over the movement and subvert its democratic aims. As many historical cases suggest, the most violent people soon rise to the top once the possibility of violence is introduced, and they often use their loyal followers to intimidate or kill rivals.
Most of the people who advocate strategic nonviolence are aware that it cannot work outside of what are at least quasi-democratic contexts. It is hard to imagine that strategic nonviolence would work for slaves in ancient empires, Jews in Nazi Germany, or critics in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It did, however, play a role in the abolition of slavery in England and the United States, and the courageous activists did have a hand in the transformation of the Soviet Union. Still, dictatorships of any kind usually only fall when there are disagreements among those at or near the top, or if external challenges to the power structure give the oppressed some new openings. There are few instances where dictatorships have been overcome internally by the oppressed majority.
But given the freedoms, civil liberties, and voting rights achieved by a long line of American egalitarians and liberals, there is no end that could be justified by violence, property destruction, or armed struggle in this country. Such actions undercut the democratic rights won by past egalitarians and play into the hands of the government, which has the power to isolate and defeat any violent movement. Furthermore, property damage and armed struggle of any kind are overwhelmingly rejected by the vast majority of the American people. Due to their appreciation of the freedoms they do enjoy, and despite the economic unfairness they recognize and experience, average Americans are repelled by violent political acts, whether by right wingers or left wingers. If the goal is to build a larger movement that connects to a strategy to take over and transform the Democratic Party, not just to force the authorities to react to one or another provocation with slight reforms, then violence makes no sense. It is therefore both immoral and counterproductive for American egalitarians to employ violent strategies. Or, as Cesar Chavez used to say about violence when he was leading the farm worker's movement, it's wrong and it's stupid.
Violence-prone activists sometimes like to claim they are merely retaliating against violence by the police, which they think people will understand and even applaud as justifiable self-protection. Some activists also believe that standing up to the police will inspire others to join them because they have shown they are serious about challenging the system. However, as polls taken after such incidents show, most people do not accept these rationales. They do not like to hear of extreme reactions by the police, but they tend to blame the demonstrators, even when the police are the primary instigators. Thus, it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, or about which side started it. It is a matter of whether physical confrontations are effective in gaining adherents, and it seems clear that they are not.
To be effective, nonviolence must be maintained in the face of great provocations, even beatings and murders by the opponents. If there is no retaliation, the perpetrators may be prosecuted, or public sentiment may switch to the side of the challengers. This is in fact in part what happened when police and vigilantes attacked civil rights demonstrators in the 1960s. Those unprovoked actions swung whites outside the South against police violence despite their continuing feelings of racial superiority, and forced the president and leaders in Congress to condemn elected officials and law enforcement personnel in the South.
Once nonviolence is taken seriously as the only and ideal strategy for egalitarians in a democratic society, it quickly leads to new ways of thinking about issues of social change. Although advocates of strategic nonviolence have published catalogues of successful tactics, they stress that each movement invents new methods within the context of their situation. Since outsiders do not know this context, they cannot offer many suggestions or make predictions in advance of what will work.
The successful tactics of the Civil Rights Movement are well known through dozens of books and stunning documentaries like Eyes on the Prize, but they are always worth recalling as evidence for what strategic nonviolence can accomplish in the hands of a value-based movement with clear objectives. Each of its victories is a textbook example of how nonviolent tactics can create the necessary form of social disruption to force authorities to change specific unjust customs and laws. Bus boycotts, for example, caused financial crises for municipal bus systems and put white drivers out of work. Downtown boycotts and marches in many Southern cities kept African-American dollars out of the coffers of white merchants and scared away white shoppers, forcing business leaders and politicians to negotiate changes.
Sit-ins jolted people out of their routines, caused managers to close lunch counters to avoid serving African-Americans, filled overcrowded jails, and exhausted the limited resources of local police forces. Freedom rides upset racist whites who enjoyed exercising their small rituals of racial superiority. The ensuing white violence forced the federal government to intervene on the side of the freedom riders, who soon included many Northern whites drawn into the struggle by the courage and determination of the nonviolent activists. Giant marches to state capitols did not merely register the size and resolve of movement support, which is the main thing most current-day marches accomplish, but forced the police to protect African-Americans from violent white racists.
Thanks to demonstrations in Northern cities controlled by Democrats, and events like the March on Washington in 1963, the movement was able to disrupt the normal routines of the national-level Democratic Party. It drove a bigger wedge between Northern and Southern Democrats, forcing machine Democrats to choose between their public image as liberals and their backroom power deals with Southern Democrats.
Although this thought may come as a surprise to some readers, the gay-lesbian movement is the best recent example of how new and powerful tactics arise unexpectedly in the context of a movement. "Coming out" and "outing" may not seem like strategic nonviolence at first glance, but they can be seen in hindsight as the ideal nonviolent tactics to deal with the problems facing a group that is small in number but widely distributed by class, race, and gender. Coming out succeeds because it breaks the taboos that keep gays and lesbians closeted, and because it forces family members, friends, classmates, teammates, and co-workers to face the fact that their prejudices are affecting people close to them, not just an abstract group called "homosexuals" that is readily demonized due to cultural and religious traditions. Coming out also destroys stereotypes about gays and lesbians by showing they are successful as lawyers, doctors, business executives, and scholars.
It personalized the issue in just the right way when the sister of the right-wing ideologue Newt Gingrich announced that she is a lesbian and went on the campaign circuit, in effect dogging her brother wherever he went. It restrains an extreme rightist like Vice President Richard Cheney when his campaign has to deal with the fact that his daughter is an out lesbian, albeit one who shilled for corporations. Coming out also emboldened the most hesitant of gays, gay Republicans, to form their own club within the party in the late 1970s. These Log Cabin Republicans had 5,000 members in 14 states by the early 1990s.
But it is outing that may put the final nail in the coffin as far as the Republican use of homophobia as a ploy to attract middle-income fundamentalist Christian voters. It is effective because it has an element of surprise, forces people out of their routine thought patterns, draws media attention, generates sympathy by exposing hypocrisy, and discredits those corporate-conservative political operatives who use homophobia to further the Republican Party even while being homosexuals themselves. Moreover, it did not take many outings for the fear of being outed to have a strong effect on the statements and votes of right-wing gays and lesbians. The tactic was first used in Washington with the outing of Pete Williams, the spokesperson for the Department of Defense in the first Bush Administration. Williams, who became a familiar face on television due to the Gulf War, was outed because gay activists were frustrated by the Republican resistance to facing the AIDS epidemic. They were also tired of seeing the Pentagon discharge gay and lesbian military personnel when most of the brass, and many other people in Washington, knew that Williams was gay. This exposure of gross hypocrisy left the Bush Administration in a difficult position. Extreme rightists might be upset if he did not fire Williams, but Bush would look very bad to moderate voters if he summarily fired an otherwise acceptable Republican for his sexual orientation. Williams stayed.
When the right wing chauvinist Patrick Buchanan gave his infamous speech about a new "culture war" to the 1992 Republican National Convention, in which he signaled that gays and lesbians would replace Communists as the new hate/fear object for the right, it led to further outings, and a very large increase in the membership in the Log Cabin Republicans. The gay male who wrote Bush's acceptance speech for the convention was outed, along with a Louisiana Republican in the House who often supported the opponents of gay and lesbian rights. Gay activists also delivered a stern lesson in 1996 when they outed a Republican congressman from Arizona via e-mail messages after he voted to deny federal recognition of same-sex marriages. He survived in the electoral arena and went on to give one of the addresses at the Republican National Convention in 2000, suggesting that the Republicans may be getting the message.
Much of the coming out and outing of the late 1980s and early 1990s was due to a new organization that used many forms of nonviolent direct action to create the necessary atmosphere of crisis for dealing with the AIDS epidemic. ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, was soon described as rude, rash, and effective as it disrupted staid governmental, research, and cultural meetings, often causing unpleasant confrontations that went too far for some members of the gay-lesbian movement. It also closed down Wall Street over drug costs, put a giant condom over Senator Jesse Helms's home in North Carolina to protest his opposition to funds for AIDS prevention, and threw the ashes of AIDS victims on the lawn of the White House. However, it never went over the line as far as physical violence or property destruction, and it adjusted and adapted its strategies to suit the new conditions it helped bring about.
Despite the effectiveness of strategic nonviolence, complete adherence to it has been abandoned by some of the most visible and influential activists since the mid-1960s. This move toward the inclusion of violent acts in the repertoire of movement tactics began when Black Power advocates became increasingly impatient with the lack of responsiveness to plans for increasing political and economic integration after the Civil Rights Movement achieved its primary goals through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They were first deeply disappointed by the failure of the 1964 Democratic National Convention to seat the integrated delegation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. That delegation was rejected, at the insistence of President Lyndon B. Johnson, except for two tokens, in favor of a racist delegation of tradition Southern Democrats who would not even pledge to support the Democratic nominee. It was truly a defining moment, a great divide between egalitarians and liberals within the Democratic Party on how to confront Southern white racists .
Militant black activists also watched in despair as the conservative voting bloc continued to limit those kinds of government spending that might give African-Americans a chance to improve their economic position. Moreover, there was foot dragging and outright refusal by trade unions to integrate their apprenticeship programs. This situation suggested that the unionized white working class was not prepared to share good jobs with African-Americans, belying the support for civil rights by many union leaders. Nor was there any sign of a loosening in residential segregation, which meant among other things that African-Americans would not have access to the best public schools.
For understandable but lamentable reasons, then, several top leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee gave up on nonviolence and working with whites, creating conflict within the organization with those who wanted to continue as a nonviolent and integrated movement. Soon after, Black Power advocates won out in this argument, turning to inflammatory rhetoric about "taking up the gun" that threatened many whites and validated their worst fears. Black Power advocates then found allies in the North with the creation of the Black Panther Party, a self-identified revolutionary Marxist group, whose goals and armed confrontations with the police led to shoot outs and deaths in several cities. The Black Power stance of the Black Panthers and what remained of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee gave the movement for African-American equality and opportunity a violent and frightening image that alienated most whites.
Feeling blocked on all sides, and doubting that whites would become any less prejudiced, many African-American communities exploded on their own, starting in south central Los Angeles in 1965, often in response to policy brutality, and with little or no prompting from Black Power advocates. These upheavals reached a peak in the extensive protests and property destruction in reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Contrary to claims that they were aimless riots, they turned out to be more purposeful and targeted at specific businesses than was originally thought. Furthermore, there is reason to believe that jobs were created in response to these eruptions, and funding for existing government programs targeted at ghetto areas was increased. In the first few years after these long hot summers, it seemed like the uprisings had a pay-off, and therefore made some political sense.
However, with the help of hindsight, a bigger fact needs to be faced: the long-term effects of the violence were negative. The outbursts were an understandable reaction to pent-up frustration and anger, and they had specific messages to deliver, but they were nonetheless a political mistake. The fact that they occurred shows the need for any future egalitarian movement to have its principles clear and in place before becoming involved in highly emotional events that are not easily understood or controlled as they unfold. It is not possible to spread the word about why violent disorders are not a good idea while they are happening. A new egalitarian movement would have to explain why they are unproductive well before they are on the horizon, not sit back and let them happen.
For example, the gulf between blacks and whites expanded as the disruptions continued over several summers. Suspicion and anger were increased on both sides. Cities like Newark and Detroit still had not recovered from the withdrawal of investment 35 years later. "Law and order" became a code word for the enlargement of a criminal justice system that was used to control black communities. Some white voters in the North expressed their approval of a hard-line government approach by voting against the Democratic candidates for president in 1968 and 1972, helping to destroy the New Deal coalition in the process.
Polls are also quite telling on the negative consequences of violence. While American public opinion gradually liberalized from the 1960s to the 1980s on a wide range of issues championed by egalitarian movements, such as women's rights, it went the other way on anything to do with violence and disorder. For example, from 1965 to 1969 there was a 26 percent rise in the percentage of people saying that courts were not harsh enough, bringing the total to 83 percent. Support for the death penalty declined from 73 percent in 1953 to 47 percent in 1965, but then jumped back up to 50 percent in 1966 and to 80 percent by 1980.
Some of the college-based New Leftists in Students for a Democratic Society, originally inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, also lost patience and turned to violent social disruption when they became anti-war activists. In this case, several key leaders began to talk about revolution and the possible use of violence well before anti-war frustration reached a high pitch in 1967 and 1968. In their anger and self-isolation from mainstream America, many of them seriously thought that a revolution might well occur. A small number, including some of the most visible and influential leaders, withdrew into "families" and cells, learned to shoot guns, and practiced self-defense for possible hand-to-hand combat. The tragedy is that they were being more effective as nonviolent activists than they realized. They had put the government on the defensive, as secret documents from the time now reveal, and mainstream people were slowly changing their minds on the war. Then the combination of Viet Cong success in key battles and protest at home led top American leaders to draw back in early 1968, just as the anti-war movement was talking openly about the alleged need for violence, and taking more and more violent actions.
Despite their considerable accomplishments in leading the anti-war movement, and their original distancing from Marxism, by 1969 all of the factions in Students for a Democratic Society considered themselves to be revolutionary Marxists of one variety or another, but most often influenced by the Maoist and Trotskyist versions. However, the increasingly fragmented movement had less success for the next several years, as seen by the fact that the war dragged on until 1975, and despite a new outpouring of liberal anti-war protest over the American invasion of Cambodia in 1970. By the late 1960s, public opinion polls showed that a majority of Americans intensely disliked the anti-war movement even though they also opposed the war.
The anti-war movement suffered this decline because violence made the movement itself the issue. Its opponents could portray it as an attack on American values and the American government, thereby making it harder for the movement to gain new adherents. For example, these actions deeply alienated many white American workers, who stated their feelings by putting American flags on their hard hats. Most trade union leaders remained steadfast in their support of the war and criticized the student-based movement. With each anti-war bombing attack on university buildings and government facilities, which caused one death and several injuries, more and more students drew away from the anti-war leftists as well.
The emergence of violent actions also has limited the potential of the best-known non-electoral effort of recent years, the global justice movement that burst into public consciousness due to its opposition to the World Trade Organization. The first American anti-WTO gathering, in Seattle in 1999, was impressive for the size of the turnout -- 40,000 to 50,000 -- and the breadth of the coalition, including union members and environmentalists. It had the virtue of warning multinational corporations and government officials that they would face a backlash in their drive to globalization if they did not change their tune on a wide range of issues. It helped create a context in which the third-world countries could reject the terms the developed countries were offering them at that meeting, although their concerns on environmental and labor issues were more nearly the opposite to those of the demonstrators. As a result of these efforts, the globalizers have expressed their concerns about the issues they previously ignored and tried to initiate a dialogue with at least some organizations in the global justice movement.
The left press celebrated the large turnout and the failure of the meetings to lead to a new trade agreement as heralding a revival of the left, but the Battle of Seattle was actually the beginning of another end, because the nonviolent groups were not able to control the trashing of stores and the battles with police by many dozens of property-destruction activists at the height of the demonstrations. Earlier in the year, many of these same people had used sledgehammers and crowbars to attack restaurants and stores in Eugene, Oregon. John Zerzan, a former 1960s activist turned anti-technology anarchist, said that "Eugene anarchists have engaged in property damage for over a year, forcing public discussion of anarchy as the only real alternative to a cancerous, all-destroying global system." He spoke as a critic of the "productionist/workerist/syndicalist perspectives of, say, Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky."
The Eugene anarchists had also posted messages on the Internet and distributed leaflets making known some of their intentions for Seattle, so there was fair warning of what could happen. Indeed, many of the nonviolent activists thought they had negotiated an agreement that there would be no destruction of property, at least not on the same day that they were successfully denying access to buildings by means of nonviolent direction action.
Measured by the necessities of strategic nonviolence, it is not good enough to say that most groups involved in the anti-WTO demonstrations did not approve of violent actions, or that they were carried out by only a minute percentage of demonstrators. As always, the destructive acts became the main issue for many local citizens and bitterly divided those who participated in the marches and nonviolent direct actions, forcing them to takes sides in an argument over something they didn't think should have happened.
Instead of criticizing the damage to property as a major mistake, many of the leading names on the American left apologized for it. For example, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickled and Dimed, a movement activist for several decades, and a supporter of Nader in 2000, first expressed her frustration with choreographed nonviolent resistance, then criticized the Seattle organizers who opposed the anarchist attacks. Writing in the Progressive in June, 2000, she complained: "Instead of treating the young rock-throwers like sisters and brothers in the struggle -- wrongheaded, perhaps, but undeniably enthusiastic -- protest organizers swept up the broken glass." She also called the organizers "hypocrites" because the French farmer who had set fire to a McDonalds in his village was their guest. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, the editors of Counterpunch, wrote that street warriors and anarchists were among the "true heroes" of the Seattle protests, and chastised those leftists who thought they had undercut the protest and called for their arrest.
One prominent anarchist from Seattle didn't see it that way. He felt that the attacks on property "snatched away" a "historic victory," playing into the hands of the media and the police. He thought that "the black bloc" should "have looked around the streets of downtown Seattle and realized, with the cops hopelessly outnumbered and the meetings of one of the world's most powerful groups obviously paralyzed, that this was no time to upstage the 'pathological pacifists'." As longtime activist L.A. Kauffman reported, "It was no secret that people were planning to destroy property on the day set aside for blockading the trade talks," and that some activists were "angered that property destruction was prohibited under the guidelines." According to Kauffman, they held discussions of a book by Ward Churchill, Pacifism as Pathology, and went into action.
What was called "a few broken windows" in The Nation added up to at least a few hundred thousand dollars in damages and lost sales, and maybe a few million, although the exact amount is disputed. There was also much negative press, as is always the case for any kind of destruction or violence, whether political or not. In addition, the hopes for the new coalition that was supposed to grow out of this demonstration turned out to be in large part illusory. The dream of a Teamsters and Turtles coalition soon faded as the Teamsters, the United Mine Workers, and some building trade unions curried favor with the Republicans and supported environmentally unsound government initiatives in the name of job creation. Other unions withdrew their support, too, partly because of the fallout from the violence, which was generally criticized by the 25,000 union members taking part in the marches.
Moreover, the relatively minor property destruction and clashes with the police in Seattle were only the beginning because they were in good part the product of believers in a form of direct action that sees property damage as a method of empowerment. The confrontations therefore escalated at the anti-WTO demonstration in Québec City, Canada, in 2000, where some of the marchers left the route of the nonviolent march to throw rocks and bottles at the police, who were deployed behind a high wire fence. Then the fence was torn down by some demonstrators to create a direct confrontation.
A pro-destruction leader named Howl, who trained students in these tactics at Bard and Vassar, justified such attacks in an interview with the correspondent for In These Times by saying that the people she knew were impatient and want "action," not mere demonstrations. When asked about an anarchist text that argued for nonviolent direct action, she replied that "the statement bugs me because it makes a huge assumption about time. For most people [the social crisis is] really urgent and really immediate. I think that's the kind of attitude that turns off people of color and working-class folks, because of the perceived wishy-washy nature of anarchism. As much as some of us would like to process shit forever, we need to take action." This is a formulation that is sure to alienate the overwhelming majority of Americans, turning the movement into a permanent minority that would become increasingly isolated from other social movements and any form of electoral politics.
Anarchist Cindy Milstein later wrote that the fence had to be attacked for what it symbolized, and that those "hiding behind the fence were the real source of violence," meaning the police. She credited two Canadian anarchist groups for organizing the actions that dismantled the fence.
By the next year in Genoa, Italy, the anti-WTO demonstrations were essentially street battles, and a demonstrator was killed by the police when they felt under attack. Some of the property-destruction activists also suffered brutal beatings at the hands of the police. As one participant described the scene, the death occurred after militants had broken through police boundaries, burned a stalled armored police struck, and were heading toward another stalled police vehicle:
"Hundreds strong, they poured into the expansive Piazza Alimondo. Two police vehicles drive recklessly into the crowd; one drives away, the other stalls; people rush toward the vehicle. Shots ring out. Rubber bullets? No, the ominous thud of live ammunition. The air heaved. The protesters stopped, reeled around, and fled. Carl Guiliani was twenty-three years old. A rebel. The papers belittled him, calling him a "ne'er do well," a squatter. But we know him as a comrade and a revolutionary. He fought the paramilitary police bravely, fearlessly, pitting the little streets against the great."
Even after Genoa, there was a desire for increasing tactical militancy at the same time that more and more nonviolent groups were expressing an interest in supporting the global justice movement. According to L.A. Kauffman, the idea of a "diversity of tactics" emerged as a way to reconcile these two tendencies. As she saw it, there was sophistication to the compromise:
"Some people took the phrase simply as a synonym for property destruction. But the idea behind it was more complex. It was a way for all wings of the movement to work together, without flattening out their differences in the name of some false 'unity.' Those who were going to engage in direct action of whatever kind would agree to make sure that their tactical choices did not endanger other people, especially those who wanted to engage in safe and legal forms of protest. Those who were organizing safe and legal forms of protest would agree not to publicly denounce others for their tactical choices, especially in the media."
The new approach was set to be tried on September 30th, 2001, at protests in Washington, DC, against the joint meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Kauffman recalled that "there were going to be very large numbers of people who were going to be engaging in quite militant tactics with the hope of shutting the meetings down." When an interviewer asked her if she meant people locking down, blocking streets, and "occasionally" breaking a window, she added "and fighting with cops." The interviewer wondered if it would have been like the "days of rage" carried out by the Weather Underground in 1969. She thought it would have been "on a far bigger scale" than that. But the Al Qeada attacks intervened, and the demonstrations were cancelled.
When 50,000 members of the global justice movement met in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in January, 2002, in the aftermath of the death in Genoa and the terrorist attack of September 11th, there were some second thoughts about the productiveness of property damage and confrontations with police, but by then it was too late. A reporter from The Nation wrote that the movement was at a low ebb once again due to the violence:
"It would be disingenuous to deny that the US movement faces serious roadblocks. The blue-green coalition has frayed, and tension between much of organized labor and the rest of the movement is real. 'The biggest problem inside the Seattle coalition isn't the [anti-terrorist] war,' said one key US activist. 'The problem is around those who want to use violence.'"
The correspondent also quoted a European environmentalist to make the same point: "Too often we get dragged into a swamp debating what is euphemistically called 'diversity of tactics.' Now we need to speak up and say clearly that violence, as a political tactic, just doesn't work either in the United States or in Europe."
The shocking terrorist attacks of September 11th, coming just six weeks after Genoa, add to the likelihood that any type of property destruction or confrontations with police at future demonstrations will be highly counterproductive. Such attacks would anger the overwhelming majority of Americans and meet with strong repression on the part of the government. Reassessment therefore becomes a necessity, providing an opportunity for a new start based on the realization that the property destruction and physical attacks on the police of the previous few years led the movement into a dead end. In democratic countries, social movements need to be based on a commitment to the strategic, nonviolent forms of direct action discussed throughout this document. Such a commitment leaves plenty of room to disrupt routines and get in the way of power without dividing the movement and alienating potential supporters, and it is far more effective in the long run.
This commitment should include the principles put forth by advocates of strategic nonviolence for dealing with pro-violence groups. Nonviolent groups should distance themselves from violent groups and strongly condemn their philosophies and actions. Only groups that specifically state that they are completely committed to strategic nonviolence should be allowed to be co-sponsors of marches and participate in their planning.
The thought of openly criticizing and then excluding some activists will make most leftists cringe, not only because their basic values are inclusionary, but because such a step would call to mind past battles over excluding Communists. Those who are excluded will say that the nonviolent activists are the equivalent of "red baiters." They will say that the nonviolent activists have violated their inclusionary principles, and are therefore hypocrites. They will say that those who would exclude them are only reformers and liberals.
Most leftists thus prefer to deal with those who favor property damage or armed struggle by ignoring them or making deals with them within the privacy of the movement. That's what the nonviolent activists tried at Seattle. That's what the compromise called "diversity of tactics" is all about. But it won't work. At the same time, it is likely that most future activists would accept strategic nonviolence as their only option if they were socialized into a movement that truly believed in and understand this commitment.
Next: Planning Through the Market: More Equality Through the Market System
For a creative synthesis of the literature on the social psychology of social movements, based in part on his own original work, see Stephen C. Wright, "Strategic collective action: Social psychology and social change," pp. 406-430, in Rupert Brown and Samuel L. Gaertner, Eds., Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. 4.: Intergroup processes, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.
For the sentiment about "getting in the way of power" in a history of left activism from 1970 to 2000 by a longtime activist who describes herself as a "shut-it-down radical," see L A. Kauffman, "Direct action: Radicalism in our time," Free Radical, No. 8, July, 2000, at http://www.free-radical.org.
For good accounts of strategic nonviolence, see Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler , Strategic nonviolent conflict: The dynamics of people power in the twentieth century. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994; Ronald M. McCarthy and Gene Sharp, Nonviolent action: A research guide, New York: Garland Publishing, 1997; and George Lakey, Powerful peacemaking: A strategy for a living revolution, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1987.
For the importance of African-American churches in the Civil Rights Movement, see Aldon Morris, The origins of the civil rights movement: Black communities organizing for change, New York: Free Press, 1984.
Jerome Cohen, a lawyer for the United Farm Workers from 1967 to 1982, told me that Chavez repeatedly said violence is wrong and stupid.
For an analysis of how violence contributed to the changes in American politics after 1965, see Thomas Byrne Edsall with Mary D. Edsall, Chain reaction: The impact of race, rights, and taxes on American politics, New York : Norton, 1991. For systematic information from polls, see Benjamin Page and Robert Y. Shapiro, The Rational Public: Fifty years of trends in Americans' policy preferences, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 90-94.
The most famous example of the point concerning the public's reaction to violence toward the police concerns the police riot in Chicago at the time of the Democratic National Convention in 1968. As the police attacked, the demonstrators chanted "the whole world is watching" because they thought people would now see that the police were at fault. Instead, polls showed that a majority of people sided with the police. See Todd Gitlin, The whole world is watching: Mass media in the making & unmaking of the New Left, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.
For an analysis of the politics of the Civil Rights Movement, see Doug McAdam, Political process and the development of Black insurgency, 1930-1970, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. For an outstanding book on the strategy of outing and how it developed, see Larry Gross, Contested closets: The politics and ethics of outing, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. The book makes several comparisons with the Civil Rights Movement. For the outing of Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, see David W. Dunlap, "A Republican congressman discloses he is a homosexual," New York Times, August 3, 1996, page 1. For a journalistic account of ACT UP and its successes, see Jason DePerle, "Rude, rash, and effective" New York Times, January 3, 1990, page A12. For an excellent scholarly analysis, see Joshua Gamson, "Silence, death, and the invisible enemy: AIDS activism and social movement 'newness'." Social Problems, 38, 1989, pp. 351-367. For documents relating to the history of ACT UP, see http://www.actupny.org/documents/documents.html.
For a good descriptive account of left activism between 1964 and 1969, based in large part on interviews with key participants, see Lawrence Lader, Power on the left: American radical movements since 1946, New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1979, Chapters 12-18. For a moving account of events from 1964 through 1966 by a young white liberal who became very disenchanted with the United States, see Paul Cowan, The making of an un-American: A dialogue with experience, New York: Viking Press, 1970. For an excellent discussion of how the focus on nonviolence was lost, see Nigel Young, An infantile disorder? The crisis and decline of the New Left, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977, Chapter 12.
For one fine account of the evolution of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, see Clayborne Carson, In struggle: SNCC and the Black awakening of the 1960s; with a new introduction and epilogue by the author. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1995. For the perspective of an activist who wanted to stay with nonviolence, see John Lewis, Walking with the wind, op. cit. For the perspective of one of those who opposed the continuation of nonviolence and thought of himself as a revolutionary, see James Forman, The making of Black revolutionaries, 2nd ed., Washington: Open Hand Publishing, 1985. For an excellent overview of the black uprisings as a whole, see James A. Geschwender, Ed., The Black revolt: The civil rights movement, ghetto uprisings, and separatism, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
For evidence of poll changes after violence, see again Page and Shapiro, The Rational Public, op. cit., pp. 90-94. For an account of the anti-war movement from the point of view of the young activists in Students for a Democratic Society, see James Miller, Democracy is in the streets: From Port Huron to the siege of Chicago, with a new preface by the author. Paperback edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. For an earlier account of Students for a Democratic Society, see Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS: Ten years toward a revolution, New York: Random House, 1973. For one former SDS leader's reflections on the left wing of the anti-war movement and how it slid into violence, isolating itself from non-violent liberals and moderates, see Todd Gitlin, The sixties: Years of hope, days of rage, New York: Bantam Books, 1987. For the surprising fact that "as the war steadily lost popularity in the late Sixties, so did the anti-war movement," see page 262 of Gitlin's book. For the deepest and most sobering analysis of how SDS moved toward violence, see Ellis, The dark side of the Left, op. cit., Chapters 4-5.
For the comments by Zerzan, Ehrenreich, Cockburn, and St. Clair, see their chapters in Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, and Daniel Burton Rose, editors, The battle of Seattle: The new challenge to capitalist globalization, New York: Soft Skull Press, 2001. The critique of the attacks on property by Seattle anarchist Geov Parrish also can be found in The battle of Seattle, as can a useful account of the property attacks by L.A. Kauffman. For an excellent overall account of the global justice movement by one of its leading journalists-activists, see the 19 columns by L.A. Kauffman, Free Radical, at http://www.free-radical.org. See especially her history of the movement since 1994, "Back story," Free Radical, No. 10, September, 2000.
For the story of the demonstrations in Québec City in May, 2000, I relied first on David Moberg, "Tear down the walls," In these Times, May 28, 2001, pp. 11-14; Abby Scher, "A diversity of tactics?" In These Times, May 28, 201, pp. 16-17; and David Graeber, "Wall done," In These Times, May 28, 2001, page 17. The quotes from Howl are in the article by Scher.
A more recent article that is highly detailed and revealing on the actions in Québec City is by Cindy Milstein, "Something did start in Québec City," as published in Eddie Yuen, Daniel Burton Rose, and George Katsiaficas, Confronting capitalism: Dispatches from a global movement, Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2004. The quotes on the death in Genoa come from Ramor Ryan, "And balanced with this life, this death," which can be read in either of the books edited by Yuen, Rose, and Katsiaficas. The quotes on the full meaning of "diversity of tactics" and on what was planned for the demonstrations in Washington, DC, on September 29-30, 2001, can be found in L.A. Kauffman, " A short personal history of the global justice movement," in Yuen, Rose, and Katsiaficas, Confronting Capitalism, op. cit.
For the second thoughts about property destruction and battling with the police, see Marc Cooper, "From protest to politics: A report from Porto Alegre," The Nation, March 11, 2002, pp. 11-15.
For how those who advocate strategic nonviolence would maintain nonviolent discipline and deal with those who foment violence, see Ackerman and Kruegler, Strategic nonviolent conflict, op. cit., pp. 42-45.
For the sentiment by movement activists that violent tactics are no longer appropriate for the global justice movement in the light of the attacks of September 11th, see the introduction by Eddie Yuen to The battle of Seattle, op. cit., and the column by longtime activist and movement historian L.A. Kauffman, "All has changed," Free Radical, No. 19, September 17, 2001, at http://www.free-radical.org/.