But nonviolent struggle fights the state on a battlefield where it is weak - and oddly enough, the more oppressive the state, the weaker it is on the battlefield of nonviolent resistance. There are four reasons for this which have been identified by Chenoweth and Stephan in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. These reasons are:
- Much lower physical barriers. Participation in nonviolent resistance does not require people to be elite wanna-be "Crossfitters". Therefore, it is open to women of all ages, children, elderly men, and young men who are smart enough to avoid violence.
- Much lower informational barriers. Those in violent struggles must keep most of their activities secret, whereas those in nonviolent struggles can be much more open - thus much more easily attracting others to join in the struggle.
- Much, much lower moral barriers. A person who commits himself to participate in a violent struggle is basically making a commitment to kill people and break things. Most people, myself included, think that such activities are immoral, and we are thus not likely to participate. But the tactics of nonviolent struggle are not immoral; therefore, they don't require people to violate their consciences to participate.
- Much lower commitment barriers. Once a person has involved himself in a violent campaign, he can never entirely return to his old way of life. He may need to spend the rest of his days on the run, in hiding, living a life that is physically very difficult. But those who participate in nonviolent campaigns can do so while leading lives that feel relatively normal.
In view of the above points, I want to comment on the protest marches which took place on Friday and Saturday. The protests that took place on Friday were focused on opposing the inauguration of Donald Trump. That is an admirable goal, and I entirely agree with the protesters. However, the protesters are guilty of failing to plan and prepare adequately for their activities on Friday. This allowed people who call themselves "anarchists" to infiltrate the protests and cause violence and property damage. The actions of these "anarchists" almost certainly helped the Trump presidency by giving it a legitimate excuse for repressing future protests. Their actions also caused revulsion and disgust even among populations who fear a Trump presidency, such as Christians who belong to immigrant churches. It is quite possible that these "anarchists" were paid by the supporters of Donald Trump to cause trouble in order to de-legitimize the protests. Allowing these people to infiltrate a peaceful protest was a bad tactical mistake.
The women's marches that took place yesterday, were, by contrast, entirely nonviolent. They also attracted hundreds of thousands of participants. The key to their success was the extensive preparation and teaching of nonviolent discipline which preceded the marches. (See this and this also.) To me, this shows that the women who organized and participated in these marches were wiser, more skillful, more strategically savvy and more level-headed than the marchers on Friday. Certainly they were sharper and more on the ball than a bunch of hot-headed young male "anarchists." Perhaps we should learn something from them. And maybe they should be relied on to teach the rest of us the right way to do protest.
I am sure that more protests against Trump are planned. I would just say two things. First, any participants who resort to violence during any of the protests should be regarded as agents provocateurs, troublemakers hired by the supporters of Donald Trump in order to give him and the police an excuse for violent repression of protest. Such people should be avoided like the plague. Secondly, should it become impossible to conduct a mass protest without fear of infiltration by paid troublemakers, the nonviolent struggle should switch to tactics of dispersion, such as the strike, the boycott, and the stay-away.
One big target for a potential stay-away or boycott is the Super Bowl which will take place in two weeks. What if, instead of watching - either in person, on TV in your home, or at a sports bar - you spent that time doing something more useful with your life? Don't feed the beast that bites you.