Posted 10 months ago on June 14, 2013, 7:52 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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History Teaches That We Have the Power to Transform the Nation
Wednesday, 12 June 2013 16:24 By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers , Truthout | News Analysis
We live in a time of great crises on many fronts. As the economy continues to fail and extraction methods for energy become more radical and harmful to people and the planet, momentum is building for a mass uprising. Turkey is the most recent illustration that the event which sparks popular unrest cannot be predicted. We can only suspect that it is coming. So, we must be prepared.
Times of crisis also offer opportunities for real change. We can create an economy and society that are more just and sustainable. Alternatively, we can continue down the same destructive path. What type of society emerges from this unrest will be determined in large part by our actions.
The question we hear frequently is: How do people build power and ultimately transform the nation and the world in a way that is lasting and based on our values? Many people in the United States feel the task is futile, the power structure too strong, so that working for real, transformational change of the economic and political system is unrealistic.
The fact is, United States and world histories show that an organized and mobilized populace is what has always caused transformational change. This history is not taught in our education system or emphasized in the heroes we idolize in our culture, but it is so significant that it cannot be hidden from view. The country could not operate if the people refused to participate in its corrupt systems. The ultimate power is with us, if we let go of fear and embrace it. Now that there is a history of more than 100 years of modern resistance movements, there is data to show what works and what doesn't. As a result, we can develop a vision, a strategic plan and tactics that make success more likely than ever before.
100 Years of Resistance Shows What Works
On September 11, 1906, Mahatma Gandhi proposed a campaign of nonviolent resistance to stop discrimination against Muslim Indians working in South Africa. After a seven- year struggle using a range of tactics of noncooperation and resistance, the South African government was forced to change its policies. This was the beginning of Gandhi's methodology of Satyagraha (devotion to truth) for overcoming an ingrained power structure supported by overwhelming military or police power with strategic resistance, civil disobedience and noncooperation.
Since then, there have been hundreds of resistance campaigns in the United States and around the globe from which we can learn and develop our own strategy, for our own times. There have been a variety of resistance actions including guerilla wars, insurgencies, terrorist campaigns and a wide range of nonviolent movements in which unarmed activists challenged violent governments.
There are enough lessons from this wide variety of strategies that we have a good idea of what works and what doesn't, and we can develop a recipe with a good chance of success. In Why Civil Resistance Works, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan publish an empirical study analyzing 323 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006. Among these, 100 were major nonviolent resistance campaigns which they found have increased in frequency and success in recent times. They find what a Dutch revolutionary found decades ago: "The more violence, the less revolution."
The most striking finding of their research was that nonviolent resistance campaigns were twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as were violent campaigns. They define violent campaigns as armed resistance campaigns like guerrilla movements and insurrections. They looked at three broad categories of campaigns: anti-regime, territorial (that is, those waged for anti-occupation or self-determination) and others which did not fit these categories, like antiapartheid campaigns. Only in the second category did the success rate of violent resistance come even close to nonviolent. In the other two categories, nonviolent campaigns had much higher levels of success; in the third category, nonviolent campaigns had a monopoly on success.
The authors also looked at why some nonviolent campaigns succeed and some fail. The key factor was whether the campaign became a mass movement or remained a fringe movement. Mass participation seems to succeed because people joining the campaign from diverse segments of society gradually erode the government's sources of power.
The Albert Einstein Institute, which has been examining resistance movements over the last 50 years, writes about the need to build a mass movement made up of key sectors of society. The nine sectors they focus on are youth, labor, religious and nonprofit groups, civil servants, media, business, police and military. These are the pillars that make up the power structure which holds the government in place. Strategy and tactics should be developed with the goal of dividing people within these groups and pulling them to the movement so the movement grows into a mass movement and the power structure is gradually weakened.
When we discuss "mass movements" we do not mean that a majority of the population needs to be active in the movement, but we do mean that, one, the long-term vision of the movement needs to be one that has widespread support, and two, enough of the population is involved that it cannot be ignored - indeed, that it may reach a tipping point that cannot be stopped. For example, the long-term vision of our project, PopularResistance.org, is to end the rule of money so that the needs of the people and protection of the planet come before profits. This is a broad vision that encompasses many issues and has widespread support among people in the United States.
In the fall of 2011, the Occupy movement may have had several hundred thousand people actively involved in it. Some were only able to attend single events such as marches and were not involved on a regular basis. This represented only 0.1 percent of the population. It is evident that this number scared the power structure from reports on how the Obama administration, Homeland Security and the FBI worked with police and mayors across the country to infiltrate, arrest and destroy the movement. If 0.1 percent of the population can have that kind of effect, what will 1 percent or 10 percent be able to accomplish? Occupy demonstrates that an organized and mobilized people can change the direction of the country.
Indeed, Mark Lichbach, a professor of government and politics, has written in The Rebel's Dilemma, that when more than 5 percent of the population engages in sustained, coordinated civil disobedience, few governments can remain in power whether they are a dictatorship or a democracy. The path to reaching this 5 percent begins when people who are already active in resistance build solidarity and draw more people to the movement. As more people see the movement growing and that there is a strategy to win, they will have the confidence to join it. Achieving the 5 percent tipping point with a diverse cross-section of society then becomes well within reach.
Chenoweth and Stephan point out the most important parts of the power structure to divide are the police and the military. Their review shows that the odds of success increase by 60 percent when security forces join the resistance movement. This demonstrates one reason why nonviolent movements are more successful than violent movements. The police and military unify against a movement when they are under attack, but not when the movement is openly and strategically sympathetic to the ways in which members of the police and military forces are ill-affected by the status quo.
This was demonstrated by Occupy Wall Street, in a scene almost everyone remembers during the second weekend of Occupy, when it was still struggling to get its footing. There was a protest in which the police divided the protesters and arrested many of them. Some women were being held under arrest behind an orange mesh fence when Officer Tony Bologna, wearing a white commander's shirt, walked over to them and sprayed them in the face with pepper spray. A blue-collar officer standing nearby can be heard on video saying "I can't believe he just pepper sprayed them." That night, Lawrence O'Donnell, whose father was a police officer, discussed the incident on MSNBC supporting the protesters and criticizing the pepper spraying.
In that incident, we can see how nonviolent movements grow and weaken the power structure. The white-collar police commander was divided from the blue-collar police officer, the media came to the defense of the protesters and the public heard positive comments about the movement. Now, how different would it have been if the women were shouting "Kill the police!" or throwing apples or batteries at the police? The blue-collar cop would have said, "Thank goodness he pepper sprayed them!" and O'Donnell would have either ignored the event or criticized the protesters. We would have seen united opposition against us, rather than succeeded in dividing the power structure and bringing people to our side.