About Civil Resistance

What is civil resistance?

Civil resistance is a way for ordinary people to fight for their rights, freedom and justice without using violence.  People engaged in civil resistance use diverse nonviolent tactics—such as strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations and other actions—to create social, political and economic change.  Around the world, civil resistance has been called different names, including nonviolent struggle, direct action, people power, political defiance, and civic mobilization, but regardless of which term is used, the fundamental dynamics of civil resistance remain the same.

Civil resistance movements are powerful because they shift people’s loyalties and behavior patterns.  When people in a society choose to withdraw their consent from, and reduce their obedience and cooperation with, an unjust system, that system becomes more costly to operate.  When enough people choose to no longer consent and obey, the system can become unsustainable, and it then must change, transform, or collapse.  Even when the opponents of civil resistance movements have been well-armed and well-funded, they have often not been able to withstand the sustained mass disobedience and civic disruption caused by strategic, widespread acts of nonviolent defiance.*

Where has civil resistance been used successfully?

Many civil resistance movements and campaigns have been successful against diverse adversaries.  In every decade of the past century, on six continents, popular movements using nonviolent strategies overthrew oppressive regimes, successfully resisted military occupation, and brought greater justice and freedom to their societies.  For example, civil resistance was pivotal in ending apartheid in South Africa; it was used to advance women’s rights, civil rights and labor rights in the United States; it has brought down dictators in Chile, Serbia, the Philippines, Tunisia, Egypt and other places; it was used to resist foreign occupation in Denmark and East Timor; it was instrumental in gaining Indian independence from Britain; it has overturned fraudulent elections in Ukraine and Georgia, ended Syrian occupation in Lebanon, and been used in numerous other lands to establish human rights, justice, and democratic self-rule.*

* This text is based on writing I did for the booklet: Civil Resistance: A First Look