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What is advocacy? Part 2: Advocacy and Non Violent Action

Non violent action is any technique of action used to apply pressure or using power without resorting to violence. Non violence is hardly passive, inaction or submission. It is simply any action that does not involve violence. Non violent action many involve:

Acts of omission—that is, people may refuse to perform acts that they usually perform, are expected by custom to perform, or are required by law or regulation to perform;

Acts of commission—that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to perform; or

A combination of the two — The actions of Claudette Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin, Jackie Robinson, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks were both acts of omission and commission. They were expected to respect segregation laws, sit at the back of buses and give up their seats if the bus was full and a white passenger wanted to sit. They did not usually get arrested or break the law.

The Albert Einstein Institute has a link to 198 methods of non violent action that not only shows how diverse non violent action can be but also demonstrates how an individual or a collective can be assertive and proactive without resorting to violence. Some of these include letter writing, boycotts, sit-ins, hunger strikes, mass imprisonment to overload bureaucratic structures, soft pickets, guerrilla theatre, general strikes, marches, music, producing informational material for the general public and media appearances. Non-violent action can be and often are radical, socially disruptive (blocking traffic, picketing, etc...) and challenge the way things are very assertively.

Non violent action as well as advocacy has been used to: gain independence; challenge unjust social and economic systems; develop, preserve and extend democratic practices, human rights, civil liberties and other freedoms. History offers many examples of how effective advocacy has often been coupled with concrete non-violent actions have advanced the battle for civil and human rights globally: The Hungarian resistance to Austrian rule from 1850-1867 included “passive resistance” actions like refusing to pay taxes, and refusing to serve in the military or in the Austrian government; The women’s suffrage movement in the United States from 1913 to 1919 made use of cross-country processions of horse-drawn carriages,, public burnings of presidential speeches, hunger strikes and disruptions of congress events; The 1944 change of regime in Ecuador, where the army refused to use repression to defend the interests of the oligarchic government and where in the absence of a functioning police force, the ‘Guardias Cívicas Urbanas’ (Urban Civic Guards), comprised of students, patrolled the streets to maintain social order; Dutch, Norwegian and Danish resistance to Nazi occupation included boycotts of German cultural events, the singing of national songs, protracted and dragged out negotiation cessions with the occupying Nazi forces, strikes, work stoppages, and non-compliance with Nazi policies. Some of the most well known examples of non-violent action and advocacy are: the 1950s and 60s American civil rights movements (the actions of Claudette Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Jackie Robinson, Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks), key aspects in the movement to end South African Apartheid and the Indian independence movement from the 1920s to 1947 and in particular, Mohandas Gandhi’s involvement in both these movements.

Like Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States, Gandhi was a huge proponent of non violent action. Both saw violence as a crude way of achieving goals, particularly because violence detracts from the goal itself and in may make the goal unachievable. While violent action and the power that comes from it has nothing to do with conviction or legitimacy, non violence demands much more from the people using the latter method of action rather than the former. Gandhi was definitely right when he said: “There is no bravery greater than a resolute refusal to bend the knee to an earthly power, no matter how great, and that without bitterness of spirit, and in the fullness of faith that the spirit alone lives, nothing else does.”

Tactically speaking, non violent action is much more effective than violence for several reasons. Firstly, the successful execution of non violent action, from the perspective of the activist, does not depend on material resources or weapons. The success of non violent action depends on courage, conviction, assertiveness and tenacity. These qualities cannot be bought or sold and thus are available to the most disenfranchised and marginal groups. Secondly, violent action causes the focus to be on the illegal nature of the action, taking the focus off the message behind the action or the goal of the action itself. Thirdly, violent actions, even if successful in achieving a goal, make reconciliation with opponents difficult and breeds mistrust. This is especially true when people not targeted are on the receiving end of violent actions. Violence makes cooperation and trust very difficult. Both these things are needed if EVERYONE is to benefit from a more just and equitable society.

What is advocacy?
Part 1: Introduction
Part 3: Gandhi: Advocacy and Non-violence
Part 4: Advocacy, Non-Violence and You