The Power of Non-Violent Protest and How It Topples Tyrants
Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament has provoked an unprecedented push back from politicians and the public. This move has been justified by Boris Johnson’s cabinet, as a normal political move that we see every year in the Autumn before the Queen’s speech. He has also justified it by saying that he wants to focus on funding the NHS and other domestic issues but has made no comment about its extraordinary length of time.
Parliament will be suspended for five weeks and will re-open on 14th October. This leaves very little time for MPs to debate how we leave the EU on 31st October. Critics of this move have cited Dominic Raab’s comments in June, that suspending Parliament would be one way to leave the EU without an agreement. Boris Johnson had also refused to rule this out as an option.
It’s certainly convenient timing. Even during World War II, both Houses of Parliament continued to assemble in Church House despite Westminster having been bombed.
This blog post isn’t about the pros and cons of how we leave the EU. It’s about how we can oppose politicians that abuse our freedoms and rights. It’s about the real meaning of democracy, who really is in power and how we can exercise our freedom to object, without violence. Peaceful conflict in society often leads to change and this blog explains how.
What is Non-Violent Protest?
Gene Sharp’s theory of power and protest revolves around consent. Our political leaders are able to rule because we have consented through elections, for them to have this power. Consent is also expressed when we obey their laws.
Non-violent action is the withdrawal of our consent. It sends a clear message to our government that we will not obey those laws, practices or initiatives that threaten our rights.
It’s a simple concept and one which must take into consideration how conditioned we are to obey people in authority. We learn to respect and obey those in power as children and several experiments have demonstrated that even when we believe laws and orders are immoral, when given by somebody in authority, we usually obey them. This has nothing to do with our background or education. Power and obedience are crucially linked.
Examples of Non-Violent Protest
There are countless examples of people disobeying laws in non-violent ways. Here are just a few of the most inspiring.
Rosa Parks, an African American civil rights activist, was arrested after she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Alabama during segregation. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days. African Americans refused to use the buses and the boycott ended with a Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregated buses. Those who had coordinated the boycott, formed The Montgomery Improvement Association under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.
In Guatemala, a group of seven friends organised a protest in 2015 against President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. In response to a UN report documenting political corruption and links to organised crimes, a protest was arranged on Facebook and drew support from tens of thousands of people across the country. The invitation to attend the protest was spread using the twitter hashtag #RenunciaYa. This non-violent protest led to the imprisonment of Baldetti and Molina and the fall of the government.
Estonia achieved independence from Soviet rule by uniting through nationalist singing. In 1988, a song festival led to open calls for independence. Gatherings of Estonians usually involved singing folk and nationalist songs, in defiance of a Soviet ban. Petitions were signed declaring the illegality of Soviet rule and the commitment to non-violence was strong enough to withstand violent provocation by Soviet troops.
Apartheid was dismantled using non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Although violence had featured in the early years of opposition, Nelson Mandela realised that this reinforced stereotypical ideas of the violent, savage African. More importantly, it could not win against the South African authorities. To oppose this and to win international support, they needed to gain the moral high ground. Non-violent protests, strikes and civil disobedience were often quashed by the might of the South African army and security forces. However, the international exposure of the brutal repression of non-violent protest led to economic sanctions and international disapproval of the regime, and eventually its downfall in 1993.
Most recently, Boris’ Government spent £57,000 on boxes used to serve fried chicken, which were printed with anti-violent messages aimed at solving the problem of knife crime in London. Campaigners viewed this as a racist and class based attempt to wade into an issue that Boris had done little to understand. Organisations protesting this initiative, publicly displayed the boxes with positive stories of people who had left behind their violent lifestyles. Others delivered the boxes back to the Home Office with responses from Londoners and suggestions about how to resolve the problem. The Home Office has since invited organisers in for talks about possible solutions.
The Led By Donkeys campaign has been active in exposing contradictions by Brexit supporting campaigners and MPs. Their tactics include playing television clips of Conservative MPs in their own constituencies, contradicting themselves over Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament. They have also hired billboards in cities all over England, comparing the tweets of MPs, members of the Leave Campaign and ministers prior to and after the Brexit referendum.
These are only a few examples of success but there are countless others.
For it to succeed, non-violent protest must be structured, organised and focused. It needs to be strategic and employ tactics as if it were a war. It doesn’t have to take the form of public marches (although, there is power in this). The great thing about it is that everyone can get involved in one way or another.
If you are feeling powerless in the face of a suspended Parliament, here are a few things you can do:
- Write to you local MP to tell them to oppose Boris’ suspension of Parliament under the guise of constitutionality (find out who your MP is here).
- Write to the Conservative Party to encourage Tory MPs to oppose Brexit without a deal and prorogation.
- Tweet your opposition.
- Join a Facebook group to find out about local protests events.
- Sign a petition to revoke the prorogation.
- Start a blog, comment on this post to show your support and share ideas online about non-violent protest.
- Get creative! Dance, sing, paint your protest!
- Tweet me your ideas for non-violent protest @conflictexpert .
We are the power, not our politicians. They are there because we have elected them. Hopefully, these ideas will help you feel more empowered and able to express yourself peacefully and constructively.
If you have any other ideas, feel free to leave a comment!