Nonviolence and Civil Rights

Nonviolence and Civil Rights

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If people and groups are ignored, that is oftentimes a calculated attempt to downplay on groups statuses in social, economic and political life. As practical experiences made us aware, in societies where differences between groups are very sharp, the mere refusal to acknowledge the existence of other groups seems ineffective. To this, the dominant group makes efforts to dehumanize the contending group. And if this does not achieve the desired results, the dominant group results to physical means- to fight the rival group. But if someone ignores you, laugh at you, fight you, and you win means that you adopted different strategies altogether, different from the tactics adopted by the one who ignores, laugh at you, fight you, which makes you to win.
Gandhi is referring to nonviolent actions as bargaining chips, and as an alternative to political violence. Gandhi might have said this during his nonviolent approach to challenge the legitimacy and the status quo of the British rule of India subcontinent. Gandhi’s nonviolent movement, from the onset, was ignored and mocked. But when the British realized that Gandhi’s message was piercing the heart and mind of the larger Indian population, the British ultimately realized the threat Gandhi’s nonviolent movement posed. Realizing that they cannot continue to ignore Gandhi and his movement anymore, the British resorted to violence, this made Gandhi’s self-rule move materialized faster than anticipated. Gandhi’s use of nonviolence and the British use of violence to clamp down on the nonviolent demonstrators created loopholes, leading to victory for Gandhi and his movement.
The Relevance of Nonviolence; Case Study of Martin Luther King
Since King became active in the civil rights struggle movement, he honestly believed in peaceful mode of challenging the status quo at the time. Dr. Martin Luther King vehemently believed that violent would not solve the black problem. He was conversant of the fact that to challenge an established authority needs much strategy and planning. That for the black movement to alter the social and political landscape of America, the blacks needed to appeal to the sympathy and the empathy of the whites.

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King was aware that a resort to violence could only deepen the mistrust and hatred harbored towards the black man, that compromise might be reached through dialogue, compassion and through appealing to the heart and minds of the Americans and the outside world.
King should have been conscious of the writings of Holly Hewitt Ulbrich; which highlighted that, “non-violence is not seeking revenge, not an eye for eye or tooth for tooth” Non-violence according to Hewitt, begins in attitude, Hewett quoting Mahatma Gandhi opined that “it takes a fairly strenuous courage of training to attain a mental state of non-violence, that nonviolence is a tool of the strong and weapon of the courageous. King leant through Gandhi’s teachings which is captured in Ramanairane’s work (p.5) that (a) non-violence resistance towards the oppressor no matter what [how] he is doing it (b) separate the person who is beating you from the reason why he is beating you (c) love and forgiveness towards the oppressor (d) no intent to humiliate or harm him rather aim to convert him to your course (e) be willing to endure punishment for beliefs even if you have to die for it. King’s astute and courage in countering the system, inciting the blacks to embark on sit-inns, boycott of public transports when authorities insisted blacks and whites should occupy separate segments of public transports among many others changed the anti-black laws in the United States.
The Relevance of Nonviolence Resistance for Communities Experiencing Violence
King’s policies of nonviolence resistance can be categorized as follows; the first principle is that non-violence is the path chattered only by the courageous people. That only the bold could successfully resort to non-violent means as a tool to challenge the existing status quo or to alter the disequilibrium that permeates the social and the political fabrics of human endeavors. Writing on nonviolence resistance, Ravinda Kumar asserts that nonviolent noncooperation is a “powerful, noble, exemplary and effective method or means to accord equal justice and freedom” To Kumar, the Gandhian method of nonviolent action concerns itself with all people, valuable, effective and benevolent. Kumar argues that nonviolent actions are incorporated in them with “imbibed morality and ethics”. That a resort to nonviolent processes to resolve conflicts in society demonstrates excessive nobility by the one who practices it, and thus it also highlights practicability and genuineness. Quoting Martin Luther King in his work, Kumar wrote that “the methods of nonviolent resistance are the most potent weapon available to the people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe. These principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation”. Also Kokila Shan argues that since “every living being wants to live, sorrow, and killings are not liked by any living being. All beings love their life” Kokila quoting Bleiker (2002) considers civil disobedience as a mode of public address. He writes that if an act is violent, then the duty of civility within human endeavor is contradicted. Aside this, Jakopovich ’s critique on Hannah Ardendt, states that violence has the capacity to destruction, but the mere destruction has the incapability to construct power. He affirms further in his work that avoidance of violence is not only critical for defense and it does not increase authority’s power, but it is also very paramount for the internal cohesion, inspiration, and resolve of dissident as well. It has been dully established that excessive recourse to violence erodes authorities’ legitimacy and public empathy towards authorities who adopt violence to suppress peaceful civil disobediences. “In the longer run, violence diminishes the power of those who use it” Jakopovich (pg. 11). The article Nonviolent Resistance and Conflict Transformation in Power Asymmetries, Dudouet opined “…it has proven to be a very strategic tool in the hands of marginalized communities to redress structural imbalances and claim rights to justice or self-determination”
Thus, the relevance of nonviolent resistance in violent situations weakens the aggressor and emboldens the oppressed. This was highlighted in Gandhi’s nonviolent independent movement and King’s peaceful civil right movements in the United States. The bottom line is that, the British possessed enormous military, economic and political power to trash any local resistance in Indian decisively and quickly. Victory for the British in the India subcontinent during the independence struggle would be certain, taking the asymmetrical relations between the British and Gandhi’s civil resistance movements. The same circumstances apply to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil movements. As Gandhi’s programs made perorations within the English policies in India, so do United States policies towards its black population also expose them to international public condemnation. This made King to draw support across the world, the strongest support coming from African countries and countries in the Caribbean. Wary of its public image, and its international relations with foreign states, the United States had to accommodate some of the demands the civil right movement asked for. The same applies in India when Britain became wary about its image abroad concerning how she responds to the Gandhi led nonviolent Independence movements. Gandhi and King had used nonviolent tactics to achieve objectives that would never be achieved by violent gorilla warfare’s. The inhumane treatment of the America blacks and the unjust economic programs and laws in Indian, which King and Gandhi fought against through nonviolent means helped exposed both US and Britain and subject their policies to international abhorrence.

The Relevance of Nonviolence in Peace Processes
There are dozens of peace processes across the world. However majority of peace processes fail as soon as they come into existence. Scholars, researchers and practitioners attempt to provide answer to why many peace processes fall apart. There abound countless theories that propose why peace processes and agreements fail. In the middle of scholastic confusion pertaining to why peace processes fail, nonviolent resistance in conflict situations has potentials to make peace processes and agreements work.
Majority of conflicts end with enormous loss of lives, excessive destruction of property and acute erosion of society. The sharp hatreds between conflicting parties lead to sharp divisions within societies where conflicts are witnessed. Can a Tutsi or Hutu ever trust each other; would a rebel group that inflicted irreparable damages on government troupes be sincerely trusted by the government? What about governments who asymmetrically killed rebels, destroy them and deny them their right to existence? Kokila in his support to nonviolence movements, argues that “man has known much about the atoms but not about the values needed for the meaning and peaceful life”. Kokila sheds interesting light on how to sustain durable peace by saying that “[peace] cannot be accomplished by governments or by external agency. It cannot be imposed from outside, it must grow from within. In further defense of his relevance of nonviolent in the modern world, he state that the rational that lay the creation of UNESCO was that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed”. Subuddhi also writes “…for Gandhi, the means used in settling the disputes between the Indian people and the British Government would determine the type of government Indian would evolve” Quoting Gandhi, he asserts that “Gandhi used to say very often that if the rights means are used, the end would take care of themselves”. By the right means, Gandhi is referring to adoption of acceptable methods in conflict situations. Thus when conflict are fought on principled grounds with restricted use of violence, limited destruction of physical and controlled loss of human life; it would then be easier to resolve such conflict through negotiations and peace processes. To this end, it would be difficult to tell people or groups who lost dear ones and property during violent conflict to sincerely adhere to peace processes. In such situations, even if there is some level of adherence to the peace agreements, occasions and events intermittently remind such groups of their past experiences- to lose something you consider very dear, once in a while, memory will constantly remind you about how dear the item was to you. This arouses sentiments and emotions. This sentimentality and emotionality; the inclination for people to forever remember the past lost abstruse post conflict peace negotiations and peace processes.
In addition there is no real peace process without forgiveness. Unless the parties involved in the conflict offer forgiveness, especially the side that incurs the most lost, the outcome of peace processes will result to no real achievement. In this regards, Jakopovich posit that “forgiveness serves as a social corrective, for it keeps human destructive and self-destructive impulses in check”. In addition Kumar supports the use of nonviolence in violent situations by saying that, when a group uses nonviolent, it saves oppressed people from unwarranted brutality, and extreme atrocities, that the use of nonviolence increases love, unison and mutual collaboration in post conflict situations. Jakopovich again asserts that “the method of non-cooperation [nonviolence] has been responsible for victory over negative tendencies and destructive elements and many times it has played a central role in resolving disputes and problems, and transforming conflicts into cooperation” the “power of the powerless „as Dudouet called it, possess enormous capability which present opportunity for the unprivileged to challenge the existing power structures. Many who have faith in in the Gandhian and King’s use of nonviolent believe that it’s “far easier to covert someone to do good by doing yourself”. By doing good, which comes through the use of nonviolent noncooperation, one’s opponents begin to embrace the positions with more open mindset that nonviolent coercion oftentimes leads to nonviolent conversion of the antagonist.
Furthermore the use of nonviolent in conflict situations has built-in procedure that is likely to limit the scale of atrocities committed in conflict. This is because one side adopts violence and other side resorts to nonviolence. That even if the party that resorts to nonviolence registers some lost, the fact that there were no direct clashes means the scale of the conflict will be checked. The Indian independence movements and the civil right movements in America, both occasion would have led to serious loss of human lives and property, taking the unbalanced power relations between both sides. However, the adoption of Nonviolent in both situations limits the lost and mitigated the conflict and finally leads to de-escalation. Duduoet quoting Randle (1994) writes that “[nonviolent noncooperation] softens feelings of humiliation, hatred and desires for revenge, which may be seeds for future conflicts”. Also the use of nonviolent resistance separates the people from the problem, and the sin from the sinners (Dudouet). During most conflict, there is little or no separation between the rationales for which they fight and the people who represent the purposes. The conflict in Liberia, Sera Leone, Sudan, Ugandan, and in many other societies where conflict has becomes chronic, hardly draw defining lines between people and problems. This unfortunate circumstances leads to circumstances where group of people become the direct targets of conflicts. Majority of contemporary conflicts have people and group of people as their targets. Because conflicts are shifting from purpose-oriented to people oriented, loss of human lives and property are on the ascendancy. Thus most conflict becomes irreversible processes. Duduoet thus highlights that “the principles of reversibility presents in most nonviolent techniques of action also means that they inflict costs can be withdrawn, when a settlement is reached without leaving permanent damage” the permanency; wounds and scares left behind by violent conflict constantly reminds those involved. It can never go away, he emphasized.
The major tenet of peace processes, transforming violent post conflict societies, building confidence relationships through dialogue with contending parties is more engaging and involves structures that support such processes. Dudouet writes that nonviolent resistance movements have “capacity for simultaneously transforming power relations and human relationships makes it unique as a method of political action, through its dual process of dialogue and resistance –dialogue with the people on the other side in order to persuade them, and resistance to the structures in order to compel change “Dudouet thus claimed that, despite the fact adoption of nonviolent in conflict situations calls for promotion of one’s point of view, that it is also ready to accommodate and make concessions.
The means used in conflicts ultimately determines its end. The applicability of this is omnipresent in many past conflicts. That, if one part or both parties used excessive force to kill, maim and to destroy physical property, because the means is not just, resolving those conflicts (peace processes) become extremely difficult, with majority of the peace processes leading to stalemates. One side or both sides have registered unprecedented losses and they will permanently remember their losses. The inclination to permanently remember the lost during violent conflicts, serves the foundation where groups who lost heavily in violent conflict finds it difficult to adhere to peace processes. The use of nonviolence to challenge the status quo presents a far better option and fits well for peace processes.
Also the principle of nonviolence adopted by Gandhi and King were all strategies to seek negotiations from the Americans and the British government. Both Gandhi and King knew that they cannot win the British and the Americans, even through nonviolent actions; all they seek is to negotiate, for some of their demands to be accommodated. This makes nonviolent actions important for peace processes because they create accommodative atmosphere upon which peace processes can be based. One of the fundamental principles of nonviolent non-cooperative strategies is to get the dominant figure to the negotiation table. This draws a link between nonviolent actions and peace processes-because their central theme is to renegotiate the existing status quo, to embark upon a win-win situation.
Aside, nonviolent actions separates the people from the purpose, draws a line between the sins and the sinners. This is very paramount because a clear distinction between the people who perpetrate the violence and the reason why they perpetrate such violence helps in formulation of a clear and cogent argument in nonviolent movements. It also portrays such movements as morally upright, call leaders of such nonviolent movements as noblemen. However, on the contrary, violent conflicts hardly separate the people from the purpose. Civilian casualties in violent conflicts are on sharp increase. Unarmed civilians have gradually become direct targets of governments and rebel groups. This leads to unprecedented loss of human lives and destruction of property. The Rwanda conflict, almost every Tutsi and Hutu families were affected, almost each family lost someone during the conflict. If violent conflicts could minimize excessive destruction, unnecessary loss of human lives, adoption of some level of civility to reduce unwarranted hostility and loss of human lives and property, such conflicts could be easier to resolve through peace processes and peace negotiations. If post conflict peace building and peace processes are to work, then there must be frantic efforts to minimize destruction and human lost during violent conflicts.

Works Cited

Allison Calhoun-Brown (July 2000). Upon This Rock; the Black Church, Nonviolence and the Civil Rights Movement. Published in Political Science and Politics, Vol.33. Page 168-174

Cecil C. Ramanaraine. A Brief Introduction to the History of Nonviolence. Retrieved from

Dan Jakopovich (September 2009) Hannah Ardent and Nonviolence Peace Studies Journal. VOL.2. Issue

Ed Hedemann. Active Nonviolence League Organizers’ Manual. Published in Turning The Tide. Nonviolence for Social Change
Kurunamay Subuddhi ( ) Peace Process and Democracy; Principled Approaches towards a Non-violent Culture. Retrieved from
Kokila Shan (2008) Relevance of Non-violence in the Modern World with Special Reference to Jainism. Joshi-Bedekar College, Thane. Website-
Holly Hewitt Ulbrich. Martin Luther King Jr.; Prophet of Nonviolence. Strom Institute
A Cultures of Peace – The Hidden Side of History by Elise Boulding ©2000 by Syracuse University Press
David Kilgour JD. (2008) Justice, Dignity, and Nonviolence versus Dehumanized Politics-Annual Dinner of the World Sikh Organization in Canada, Ottawa
John Howard Youder (1995). Just War and “Nonviolence; Disjunction or Dialogue a Paper presented at World Conference on Violence and Coexistence, Montreal. Published in Cauchy (Ed) Proceedings International Association for Scientific Exchange on Violence and Human Coexistence, Second World Conference July 13-17, 1992. Vol. II, 171-178, Montreal Editions Montgomorency, 1995
Veronique Dudouet (September 2008) Nonviolent Resistance and Conflict Transformation in Power Asymmetries. Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management. Source;

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