All great social movements and social leaders learn from each other, almost as if the torch is passed and the spirit carries on. Gandhi was inspired by the ideas of non-violence, self-reliance, civil disobedience, and equity of Tolstoy, Thoreau and John Ruskin. One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s key organizers, Bayard Rustin had been in India with Gandhi and learned firsthand about the Satyagraha movement and the power of mass non-violent mobilization. Mandela was also greatly influenced by the commitment to the nonviolence of Gandhi (who was a civil rights lawyer in South Africa before returning to India to lead the struggle for Independence).
To take on opposition with the commitment to nonviolence is a choice and a method for social change that not only transforms systems, but the communities and understanding of people within them. It is not an ‘Us vs. Them’ approach, but a ‘How can we get through this all together and transform our community into something better for us all’ approach. Understanding the distinct patterns and strategies of nonviolent movements from the past century is instrumental for the continuation of the flow of nonviolent social change, and have been the life focus of Gene Sharp. His work has been influential in the struggle for liberation in Burma, the Otpor movement and the overthrow of Milosevic, Georgia’s Kmara, the Egyptian Revolution, the Ukrainian Orange Movement, etc. Basically every civil non-violent protest in the last several decades. The synthesis of Gene Sharp’s his work can be found in: From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation (which has been translated into over 31 languages,*See page 79 for Sharp’s extensive list of Methods for Nonviolent Action **):
Sharp lists a total of 198 actions for nonviolence, which are categorized into titles such as: Social intervention; Formal Statements; Communication with a Wider Audience; Symbolic Pubic Acts; Group Representations; Drama & Music; Pressure on Individuals; Processions; Honoring the Dead; Withdrawal and Renunciation; Public Assemblies; Methods of Social Non-Cooperation like noncooperation with institutions, social events & customs; Actions by Consumers; Action by Owners and Management; etc. Can you think of any more?
Although the emphasis in Sharp’s work to motivate and provide the tools and holistic understanding of structural injustice to inspire social action is for overthrowing a dictator, the force needed to overthrow our current oil-dependent economy is no different. His analysis of power and how to counter it with strategic nonviolence is an invaluable tool for social change. The climate movement is not arising out of a vacuum, but is part of this continuous progression on social thought. We have arrived at our next stage of injustice to overcome: climate and environmental justice. As Mandela reminds us,
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”