Nonviolence Social Change, A Panel Discussion

Cliff DuRand
The Center for Global Justice
Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nonviolent Social Change

There are alternatives to the violence of war. On February 22, 2012 the Center for Global Justice presented a panel discussion of “Nonviolent Social Change” featuring Vic Bremson (a trained facilitator of Awakening The Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposia), Patricia Scott (Occupy Wall Street San Miguel de Allende), and Cliff DuRand (social philosopher and co-founder of the Center). There are many historical examples from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to the present Occupy Wall Street movement where nonviolent protest has contributed to significant social change. While the powers that be often respond with violence, this has not always been able to repress peaceful protest. The panel explored the theory and practice of nonviolence as a method for social change. View a 20 minute video of Vic Bremson’s talk at . The video of the talk by Patricia Scott on Nonviolence is here and here (the last 8 minutes) and the text of her talk is below. The video of the talk by Cliff DuRand is here (19 minutes).


Talk on Nonviolence for Global Justice in San Miguel de Allende Wednesday Feb 22, 2012

Patricia L. Scott

Once upon a time there lived a cruel King who ruled with an iron fist. He was the most powerful King in the world, with a powerful army and an abundance of gold. One day the General of his army came to him with some rather bad news.“Your Lordship,” said the General, “my men are tired of war. They are tired of bad food and mud and blood and they wish to come home. We have already conquered half the world and the royal treasury is bursting with gold. The men think enough is enough.”“The men think?” screamed the King. “What do I care what the men think? The men do not rule this kingdom—I do. Hang the men who will not fight.”“I have, your Highness. I’ve executed hundreds. But they still will not fight anymore. Now the executioners are refusing to hang any more soldiers.”“Then hang the hangmen,” ordered the King.“Me personally? I’m afraid I couldn’t do that. They are all close personal friends.”“Then I’ll have you hung. Guards! Seize him!”But try as he might, the King could not find anyone willing to arrest the General.“I’ll kill you myself then,” screamed the furious King.Just then a palace guard came in and announced that hundreds of women and children were gathering outside the palace gates and demanding that their men be allowed to come home from the wars.“Tell them to go home,” said the King.“We have,” said the guard. “But they won’t leave.”“Have them hung then.”“We don’t have enough rope.”“Arrest them.”“We don’t have enough dungeon space.”“Then let them stay there until hell freezes over,” shrieked the King.“How will we get supplies into the palace, your Highness?” asked the guard.“We have plenty of supplies for now. All this disobedience has made me hungry. Where’s my lunch?”“The cook has joined the people outside,” said the guard.“Well I still have my gold,” said the King. “Have the palace treasurer give a gold coin to everyone who will obey me.”“The palace treasurer has joined the people outside as well,” said the guard. “And the rest of the staff is packing their bags.”So the hapless King was forced to cook his own meals, wash his own clothes, dress himself and make his own bed. As time went by, the people surrounding the palace began to go home and resume their lives, and the soldiers straggled home from the wars. The King was forced to take all his gold and move into a small cottage that didn’t require so much upkeep.

But still no one would obey him—not the neighborhood children when he told them to get out of his garden, not even his own dog. Day after day, the King would sit and count his gold that no one would accept. Sometimes one of his old subjects would come by and they would enjoy a game of chess, but unlike the old days, they wouldn’t let the King win.

Meanwhile, the people in the Kingdom prospered in peace and lived happily ever after.

October 2005 issue of Global Bits, a newsletter from New Zealand.The moral of this story is that by using non-cooperation we create change and get our power back. Non-cooperation is an example of one of the Nonviolence Strategic Tactics. We as the 99% need to start thinking about how do get back our power? Gene Sharp in his seminal books From Dictatorship to Democracy, The Power of Nonviolent Action and one his latest books Waging Nonviolent Struggletalks about Strategic Nonviolence. I will briefly explain some of his theories. I will also be quoting from Mark Shepard who is expert on Gandhi and has written a book called Gandhi and Nonviolence.

Gene Sharp explains:

Some of us think that to resolve conflicts in society we have two choices either passive surrender or violence. Although much effort has gone into increasing the efficiency of violent conflict, no comparable efforts have yet gone into making nonviolent action more effective and hence more likely to be substituted for violence. There is a long history of the use of nonviolence but there has so little awareness of the tradition and history of nonviolence that activist have by and large improvised their responses independently of past practice but this is beginning to change.

Mark Shepard in his book Gandhi and his Myths clarifies this further by saying

I suspect, though, that most of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Gandhi have to do with nonviolence. For instance, it’s surprising how many people still have the idea that nonviolent action is passive.

It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

I’m afraid Gandhi himself helped create this confusion by referring to his method at first as “passive resistance,” because it was in some ways like techniques bearing that label. But he soon changed his mind and rejected the term.

Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.

But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.

Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.

The difference was that the nonviolent activist, while willing to die, was never willing to kill.

Gandhi pointed out three possible responses to oppression and injustice. One he described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it. The second option was to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away.

But the third way, he said, was best of all and required the most courage: to stand and fight solely by nonviolent means.

There are two views of the nature of power.

The “monolith theory of power”-a strong, independent, durable ( if not destructible) self reinforcing and self –perpetuating force. This view sees people as dependent upon the good will, the decisions and the support of their government or any other hierarchical system. It sees power as not easily destroyed or controlled. War is based on this view of the nature of political power.

The second view , the” non violent view” see that government or systems are dependent on the people’s good will, decisions and support. It views power as fragile, always dependent for its strength and existence upon replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people-cooperation which may or may not continue.

Since the ” monolith theory of power” is not true and all governments depend on the society they rule, even a regime which believes itself to be a monolith and appears to be one can be weakened and shattered by the undermining and severance of its sources of power when people act upon the theory of non violence.Nonviolent action is based on the view that political power can most efficiently be controlledat its sources.

Power is not intrinsic to rulers-the political power that rulers have comes from the society which they govern. A ruler’s power is dependent on the degree to which the society grants that power

Mark Shepard states:

Noncooperation meant refusing to cooperate with the opponent, refusing to submit to the injustice being fought. It took such forms as strikes, economic boycotts, and tax refusals.

Of course, noncooperation and civil disobedience overlapped. Noncooperation too was to be carried out in a “civil” manner. Here too, Gandhi’s followers had to cheerfully face beating, imprisonment, confiscation of their property—and it was hoped that this willing suffering would cause a “change of heart.”

But Noncooperation also had a dynamic of its own, a dynamic that didn’t at all depend on converting the opponent or even molding public opinion. It was a dynamic based not on appeals but on the power of the people themselves.

Gandhi saw that the power of any tyrant depends entirely on people being willing to obey. The tyrant may get people to obey by threatening to throw them in prison, or by holding guns to their heads. But the power still resides in the obedience, not in the prison or the guns.

Now, what happens if those people begin to say, “We’re not afraid of prison. We’re even willing to die. But we’re not willing to obey you any longer.”

It’s very simple. The tyrant has no power. He may rant and scream and hurt and destroy—but if the people hold to it, he’s finished.

Gandhi said, “I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.”

Gene Sharp explains the Sources of powerif political power is not intrinsic to the power –holder, it follows that it must have outside sources.


  1. Authority-is the right to command and direct to be heard or obeyed-may not actually be superior may only be perceived and accepted as superior. Authority is a main source of power.
  2. Human Resources-A ruler’s power is affected by the number of persons who obey, cooperate or provide him /her with special assistance, as well as by the proportion of such persons in the general population, and the extent and forms of their organization.
  3. Skills and knowledge –the ruler’s power is also affected by the skills, knowledge, and abilities of such persons, and the relation of their skills, knowledge and abilities to her/his needs.
  4. Psychological and Ideological factors –Psychological and ideological factors such as habits and attitudes towards obedience and submission, and the presence or absence of common faith, ideology, or sense of mission, all affect the power of the ruler in relation to the people.
  5. Material Resources– The degree to which the ruler controls property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, means of communication and transportation helps to determine the limits of her/his power.
  6. Sanctions– An enforcement of obedience used by rulers against their subjects to supplement voluntary acceptance of their authority and to increase the degree of obedience to their commands.

Sharp goes on to explain

Why do we obey

The most important single quality of any government, without which it would not exist, must be obedience and submission to power. Obedience is at the heart of political power. Some assume political power is an entirely one –way relationship. When a command is issued it must be obeyed. Actually political obedience is a mutually determined action between the ruler and it’s subjects. Subordinates must cooperate.

Why do the many obey the few? How is it that a ruler is able to obtain and maintain political domination over a multitude of his subjects.

Why do they in such large numbers submit to him and obey him even when it is clearly not in their interest to do so? The problem of political power rest in understanding the origin, constitution and maintainence of voluntary obedience.

Why do we obey?

Habit-we just never think of straying from that path

Fear of Sanctions-the threat of some form of physical violence

Moral Obligation-this is distinct from a legal obligation-more that the individual absorbs the custom, the ways and beliefs and partly the result of deliberate indoctrination. This may come not come from the ruler but instead from general views about the welfare of the society or from religious principles. Because of the limited effectiveness of the use of fear in using Sanctions, the ruler may try to influence or propaganda, the indispensable adjunct to the police.

4 Considerations of Moral Obligation

The common good of society-belief that constraint by government is for the common good is always an element in political obedience. Obedience makes protection from antisocial persons possible and promotes the good of all.

Suprahuman factors subjects give the ruler has suprahuman qualities. In our society we assume that handsome leaders will save us.

Legitimacy of the command –commands are obeyed because they are considered legitimate -someone in an accepted official position who has obtained his position through an established procedure.

Conformity the law is obeyed because of general sense of what is equitable and necessary

Self interest-people who dislike the system may nevertheless continue to not only obey passively, but serve actively in what they consider to be their own positive self interest. Positive self interest is most important if the system is to obtain the various types of assistants and helpers they need to run the government and to rule. Once the system is established they are able to encourage the expectation of rewards in prestige, relative power position and direct or indirect financial gain.

Psychological identification with the ruler or system-subjects may also obey and cooperate because they have a close emotional identification with the ruler/system-the triumphs or defeats of the system are felt as a personal triumph

Zones of indifference- there is always a margin of indifference and a margin of tolerance

Absence of self-confidence-many people do not have sufficient confidence in themselves, their judgment and their capacities to make them capable of disobedience and resistance. The subjects may be disillusioned, exhausted, apathetic or possessed of inertia, or they may lack a belief system which makes it possible to evaluate when one ought to obey and disobey and also to give confidence in one’s right and ability to make such a decision. They may think the ruler/system is more qualified to make decisions and carry them out. This attitude may be based on a perceived greater competence, social customs and class distinctions or conscious indoctrination. Another consequence of the lack of self confidence is a tendency to avoid responsibility to seek to delegate it upward and to attribute greater authority to superiors in the hierarchy than is in fact merited.

Every ruler/system uses the obedience and cooperation they receive frompart of the society to rule the whole. There is a veritable army of underlings who help in the domination- and to some tyranny is profitable to them.

Obedience is usual but not inevitable-it follows that under certain conditions we may be willing to put up with inconveniences, suffering and disruption of our lives rather than continue to submit passively or to obey policies we can no longer tolerate.

The role of consent

When someone is threatened by a physical sanction, a distinction needs to made between obedience and coercion. If for example, a woman is ordered to go to prison refuses to do so and is physically dragged there (that is, if she is coerced by direct physical violation she can not be said to obey. But if she walks to a prison under a command backed by threats of a sanction, then- she- in fact -obeys and consents to the act, although she did not approve of the command. Obedience thus exist only when one has complied with or submitted to thecommand.

Sharp cites three ways that nonviolent actionists can prevail. The first is conversion. Gandhians and many religious groups insist that converting the opponent to their point of view—winning their hearts and minds—is the only true victory. Accommodation, on the other hand, occurs when the opponent doesn’t agree with the resisters, but decides it is too costly to continue the fight. Accommodation is probably the most common path to victory. The third way that success can be achieved is through what Sharp calls nonviolent coercion. This occurs when the opposition is forced to make concessions against its will because its power base has been dissolved. Thus, even when a nonviolent campaign is unable to change its adversary’s way of thinking, it can still wield power and influence the course of events.

Some wonderful stories about Nonviolence

Forbearance does not consist in acquiescing to the whims of others or in meekly allowing ourselves to be bullied. We need to see that our silence is not mistaken for weakness. Sri Ramakrishna did not encourage weakness masquerading as forbearance.

He taught this lesson through the parable of the snake that would not even hiss to protect itself from harm. The snake had stopped biting anyone after a brahmachari gave it a mantra and told it to repeat the sacred word and do no harm to anybody. The venomous snake became gentle and did not even protest in self-defense when a group of boys caught it by the tail, and slammed it hard against the ground again and again, bruising it badly. When the brahmachari returned after some time to see how the snake was faring he was surprised to see that it had been reduced to mere skin and bones. On coming to know the cause, he told the snake, “What a shame! You are such a fool! You don’t know how to protect yourself. I asked you not to bite, but I didn’t forbid you to hiss. Why didn’t you scare them by hissing?” Sri Ramakrishna said: “So you must hiss at wicked people. You must frighten them lest they should do you harm. But never inject your venom into them. One must not injure others.”

This story, originally titled “Rule by Tricks” is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji (1311-1375)

and has been translated by Sidney Tai, all rights reserved. Yu-li-zi is also the pseudonym

of Liu Ji. The translation was originally published in Nonviolent Sanctions:

News from the Albert Einstein Institution (Cambridge, Mass.), Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter

1992-1993), p. 3.


One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?” Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.”