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Notes on Nonviolence Strategy: Part 1

Michael Nagler Posted by Michael Nagler.

Michael is founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence and the author of Our Spiritual Crisis and The Search for a Nonviolent Future, which received a 2002 American Book Award and has been translated into several languages.


Notes on Nonviolence Strategy: Part 1

This first post looks at the outward aspects of strategy: creating a proactive, long-term nonviolent movement. The second part considers the inner aspects of strategy: exploring who we are as human beings and building meaningful lives.


It has been heartwarming to see the passion with which many Americans have said their “No!” to the policies of hatred and intolerance put forward by this extremely unfortunate administration. We are not and never will be a land of hate.

At the same time, passion must be harnessed. Nonviolence advocates and scholars are very aware of the limitations of what we call “the effervescence of the crowd.” As Erica Chenoweth, George Lakey, and others are pointing out, to prevail against the current barrage of attacks on our democracy – and moral character as a nation – we must be sure to develop the resurgent movement, with the following guidelines:

  • Switch to, or at least add a proactive component to our actions. We can rapidly become burned out by “resistance fatigue” if all we are doing is reacting to the atrocities which are so easy for the administration to do. We must not let them pull the strings. We must not stay only on the defensive.
  • In order to create a proactive, and long term movement it is essential to come up with a strategy. Many successful movements have begun as a spontaneous outburst of “no” but gone on to dedicate themselves to an answering “yes.” As Gandhi pointed out, a merely negative movement will not long endure, whether it fails or succeeds; and endurance is the key to our success. As King said, we must be prepared to “wear down” the opposition by matching their brutality with our endurance and refusal to hate. Metta is committed to facilitate strategic thinking along the lines of Roadmap or anything else: we have begun to promote more actively our arc of restorative justice, from schools to prisons to the international arena. And of course:
  • In all this we must maintain our nonviolent discipline. The post-inaugural women’s marches around the country were exemplary in this respect, and that’s highly encouraging. The exploding interest in training is again extremely encouraging in this regard: cf. the nonviolence training hub for opportunities.

In addition to the way nonviolence has been growing in several dimensions other than just size – the collaboration of many communities, the expansion of research and education, etc. – we have noted with great appreciation the signs of greater sophistication here and there across the growing movement. These include recognizing the need for all the points just listed, the relaxation of the rigidity of certain ideologies, for example that against any kind of leadership, and doubtless others that will manifest in the coming months.

We would never have wished things to come to this pass in this country or around the world; but we will not let these circumstances defeat us. As Valerie Kaur said in an extremely passionate statement the other day, may this not be the “darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb” – the womb of love and justice.

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