Action strategies


a) Linking with people

Engaging and fostering links with people is one of the most important aspects of nonviolent action. We are frequently perceived as engaging solely in confrontational actions with either negative or utopian demands. In speaking up against the status quo, we threaten the vested interests of the media, and as a result usually receive a bad press. We must therefore try our hardest to link directly with all the people around us, as well as with those who are already working in similar areas.

While we should try to make connections with as many like-minded people as possible, we must recognise that some partnerships can be counterproductive. While it is important to state a ´wrong', you may still wish to distance yourself from actions you do not agree with which state that they claim to be addressing the same ´wrong'. Both the World Bank and the violent rioters in Genoa say they are fighting poverty, but they both use violent means (be it neoliberal or anti-neoliberal violence). We must also recognise the tension between what we ultimately want and what is feasible or achievable at the moment.

Opening the potential of culturally determined perspectives.

Rob Fairmichael from Northern Ireland reported on INNATE's (Irish Network for Nonviolent Education and Training) experiences of working with people. He particularly highlighted the problems and possibilities of working in different cultures, and how we can use these to our advantage.

Nonviolence is a difficult concept in Northern Ireland. The term "anti-militarist" is not known, even amongst those working with peace and reconciliation matters.

However, we can take a more positive perspective, by looking for crossovers or possible exchanges. Where can we learn from others and others learn from us?

(a) Nonviolence training work, including tactics. Monitoring and observing.

(b) Networking Information -- regular newssheets.

  • We can help people challenge & reclaim their concepts of their culture -- particularly of what their culture consists of. People think of Northern Ireland, and think of violence. This is quite natural. But Northern Ireland also has a very long tradition of nonviolence resistance and work for social and political progress.

This question of culture and mixing indigenous cultures dynamically was discussed in depth. Facing up to how different cultures help or hinder us can benefit us greatly in linking with people. Specific examples are:

  • England: Class is a fundamental component to culture. Delegates felt they received a culture positive to nonviolence from their parents, rather than from the larger culture.
  • Sweden: Scandinavian change from 14th Century on was almost without violence. There is a long tradition of grassroots democracy.
  • Ireland: Many are Irish speaking, with English as a second language, so are open to difference. It took 140 years for the Irish potato famine of 1846 to be dealt with and remembered properly. Reclaiming Irish experience of emigration can give people an understanding of immigration/asylum seekers to Ireland today.
  • US/Germany: There is an element of empathy that makes nonviolence attractive. Germans are starting to discover local details of Jewish displacement during Third Reich, but the pain is very deeply buried and will take a long time to process.
  • Australia: Aboriginal people are able to identify with the Irish because of their shared experience of oppression.

Building A Culture Of Peace

There are various forms of nonviolent action, including "direct action". This is frequently seen as the most pure and sexy form of action. Other, less physical, forms of nonviolent action can be just as important, of which one is Peace education. Many forms of direct action are very "anti", very confrontational. Protesting or demonstrating against something. Gandhi stressed the importance, alongside demonstrations, of having a constructive programme. We must aim to "construct peace".

We all agree that we want to change from militarism, hate and violence, but how do we achieve what the UN refers to a "culture of peace".

Tony Augarde from the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) presented two quotes to highlight the importance if education. The 1945 UNESCO Constitution begins, "Wars begin in the minds of men", while an old Jesuit maxim says, "Give me a child for the first seven years, and you may do what you like with him after that". Changes start in the mind. One needs to shift attitudes before real changes can happen. We can influence states and governments; lobby like mad, but eventually there has to be some change in attitudes.

Educational materials are quite easy to produce with a small group of people (there are 1000 members of the Peace Pledge Union). This is an essential form of nonviolent action, especially as others are trying to put nasty attitudes into people's minds. Children' s minds are being filled with prejudice, military ideas, racism, religious dogma and the acceptance of hatred. We need to counteract this. But to what extent is it legitimate to try to transmit ideas to children, to change people's minds and attitudes? When does it become indoctrination?

Peace groups may be invited to teach conflict resolution in schools. Does this ignore the wider political issues, such as war and militarism? Children who have learned to co-operate nonviolently might still go to the army or take a job in the arms industry. But at least we can enable them to make a more conscious decision. There was also some discomfort at operating in schools, as some felt that "schools are prisons" and should be abolished as restrictive institutions.

There were also concerns that education is increasingly vocational training, merely preparing children to do the jobs that society requires. Surely "real education" required a reorientation towards "lifeskills", such as encouraging co-operation, making connections and enabling people to make conscious decisions and choices. Education must concern the whole of society.

Peace education is a vital subject area in establishing a better future, in both conflict and non-conflict areas. However, in concentrating on formal education, we must not forget the major influences exerted on young people by their parents, peer groups and wider society.

How can we connect effectively with related groups?

  • Make time for "linking up".
  • Make space for working as well as talking.
  • Ensure clarity regarding what common aims there are and what won't be shared. This latter tends to be glossed over for fear of causing tension, but must be made clear early on and agree to differ. It is better not to lose energy unnecessarily and focus on actions that can be taken together.
  • Keep aware of what complementary campaigns are up to.
  • Retain openness and acceptance of groups as they fluctuate/change.
  • Make visible the chain of relatedness to groups acting at different places along the chain, e.g. campaigners on prison services linking with antinuclear activists.
  • Beware of mistrust and prejudice between activist and lobbying groups.
  • Acceptance of individual groups styles, preferences, energy, enjoyment is vital.
  • Make better use of email, of peace movement's own media. For example, there are many quarterlies, but only one monthly.
  • Informing local communities, town councils, radical bookshops

Small groups face a challenge in taking on the big opportunities presented by the interdependent chains, e.g. what resources can we use to take advantage of openings around shares and investments.

Despite the frequent disillusionment in activist circles, there have been several very effective linkups. These include:

  • Loombreaker (Earth First, Manchester) as a place where different campaigns can share information in a newsletter and connections can easily be seen.
  • Summer camps and gatherings, such as the Big Green Gathering, Earth First Summit, Faslane Peace Camp
  • Swiss campaign against the Army
  • Peace Education Network works because the common interest is clear

b) Linking with the state

What is linking with the state?

"Engaging in a struggle with the state" does partially define the terms of that struggle. It is the state, which lays down the margins of tolerance within which it will allow change. A route into this can be to ask, "How do we cope with the state?" rather than "Do we link with the state?" It is worth remembering that the state is not a solid block, but a conglomerate of mechanisms, working together or against one another.

Is tackling officials or parliamentarians linking with the state? Is involving them in actions? Using the court system? Receiving money from state institutions? There is no clear yes or no to these general questions: it depends on the specific situations. Whatever "linking" there is must remain subject to careful strategising by the campaign: it is necessary to break the campaign up into several smaller, reasonable aims.


The Belgian Anti-Nuke Campaign.

For years, the Belgian anti-nuclear arms campaign had remained practically dormant, until the International Court of Justice verdict on the illegality of weapons of mass destruction provided the campaign with a strong impetus. Whereas, previously, it had only been possible to use political arguments against government policy, it now became possible to declare government policy illegal and take advantage of the court system. A particularly attractive aspect of this whole approach was that the Nuremberg Principle provided a legal base for nonviolent action: court cases deciding that NVDA in certain situations was legally justified were a major promotion for nonviolent action, further empowering people.

International law and particularly the Nuremberg principles can legally restrain states by revoking their sovereignty if they commit war crimes. This can be taken in two ways. Either it legitimates state power in all other cases (where "war crimes" are not committed). Or, more positively, it can be seen to disarm states' repressive mechanisms.

In Belgium, actions carried out at military bases are no longer prosecuted. This is not because of the international law argument, but because the court system chooses not to address the challenge. This refusal to prosecute has created many new spaces and opportunities for NVDA.

There are two aspects to direct action -- confrontation (direct effect) and communication (indirect effect), the second of these frequently being ignored or forgotten. With successful action, we conquer a position on the political and public agenda. Sometimes, there is an opening of the state to our message so how do we cope with this?

The easiest, but most ineffective tactic, would be to merely ignore our achievement so far and continue confrontation as before. Alternatively, we can engage with the newly available channels, opening up dialogue. Accordingly the Belgian anti-nuke campaign has made links with parliamentarians eager to present the anti-nuclear argument, writing resolutions for members of the Green, Socialist and Flemish Nationalist parties. It is possible to make use of parliament in such a way that it acts against official government policy. This will not achieve revolution, but it is a political translation of the campaign into parliament.

While we must always be careful to avoid being manipulated, with simple campaigns such as "Abolish nukes", it is not necessary to compromise our message. The base of the campaign must still remain NVDA at military bases, as a campaign reduced to political lobbying would have zero effect. Careful strategising is essential. "How are we linking with the state?" "What are our intermediate, realisable goals?" "Are they working against us or not?" Build a campaign around something practical: rather than say, "Abolish the state", we need to say, "Start with your nukes".

We must recognise the value of confrontational NVDA as a tactic, but not as the sole focus of the campaign. To achieve any change, there must be some space for dialogue. Direct action as such is, after all, only a use of power, albeit nonviolent power. A campaign solely focused on NVDA could be seen as a nonviolent "total war", however strange this might appear. We must not be limited to the use of this form of power, but keep creating and using opportunities for dialogue so that as many, and as broad a range of, people as possible can relate to and receive our message.

Compromises in methodology also broaden our support base, however uncomfortable it might seem to incorporate politicians and VIPs into our campaign. The effects of the broadening of the Belgian anti-nuke campaign have extended to direct action, which is no longer seen as a radical action, but as a normal thing to do.

It is important to recognise that movements tend to close themselves in on an exclusive activist subculture. This has particularly been the case with NVDA against the state and capitalism. We need to find ways to involve people who only partially share our goals and tactics.


It is important to talk to the "Other", i.e. those disagreeing with us, whether they are government, militarists, capitalists or whoever: communication with officials and media -- those in segments which create the influential sphere -- is essential.

Links can be built on the topic of education. Nonviolent action is important in communication with, and influencing others. Not only in the formal education of children and youth but also in adult education, particularly that of politicians and journalists.

While this might sound utopian, in Croatia, the Centre for Women's Studies and Centre for Peace Studies have been, and still are, running courses and workshops for female politicians and journalists, on presentation skills, empowerment and in general strengthening the skills required for these professions. While doing this, it is possible to place women's issues on the agenda, which including more rights for women and cutting the military budget. The dialogue in these workshops is thus not limited to skills training, but extends to the content being discussed. This has opened new spaces for lobbying: We are increasingly realising that we can put national (including criminal) law, international customary law as well as UN declarations to our own use.

We must also extend the network of people we communicate and engage with, to organisations such as trade unions and parliament (rather than government, which in Croatia and throughout the world is constantly trying to cut back the power of parliament.)

There is always a danger of being coopted, especially of feeling co-opted, but we must fight the spectre of war at all levels, grassroots, media, state and supra-state.

Conscience -- The Peace Tax Campaign. UK

The core of this campaign is to gain state recognition of the human right to be exempted from military taxation.

It has been possible to use legal and parliamentary precedent to demand the alternative use of taxes. As real conscientious objectors, people should be able to divert their taxes to non-military security.

But this raises the question: Can we talk of genuine nonviolent action being carried out by the state?

Conscience promotes the concept of non-military security. While people are very used to the concept of national security, few are familiar with concepts of preventing war, of peace building, of transforming violent conflict -- of operating in a nonviolent way at a national level.

Small-scale, grassroots peace building actions, such as the Balkan Peace Team, are valuable, but are not large-scale enough to prevent wars. To intervene nonviolently on a scale large enough to prevent a war, we require supra-state organisations such as OSCE. Conscience demands that taxpayers should be able to choose to spend their money on initiatives like this, rather than waiting for conflicts and then sending in NATO troops.

Conscience is aware there are compromises entailed in this campaign. E.g. In campaigning for the right to exemption from military tax it is not addressing, and could be even said to be condoning, the very existence of the military. Hence it wouldn't appear to support the rights of total objectors to the existence of the military. However the campaign chooses to focus on conscientious objection to funding the military as there is a legal precedent for CO, and it is an achievable goal.

So though it is a compromise to work with organisations such as the British government, which prepares daily for nuclear war, the peace movement's resources too limited to create single-handedly an alternative security system, and has no choice but to work with governments to change their attitudes.

We need to engage in the debate on a European Defence Identity with our own states and with other states. We must show that it is possible to look at security in a broader sense. What does security really mean (as raised by the report from India)? Can we achieve "genuine security", rather than military security? The government is beginning to pay lip service to the concept but it is unlikely that the government will suddenly start to act nonviolently on its own. However, there is scope for them to act far less violently.

Without denying the value of grassroots actions or calling for uncritical support for the state, if we are serious about building peace on a global level, we have to link with state and state-level institutions.

An Anarchist Perspective

In working for social movements and wanting to achieve some goals, it is of course necessary to work with existing structures and take reality into account: we cannot just wait for the nonviolent anarchist revolution. However, to take WRI's Declaration to "remove all causes of war" seriously, it is necessary to abolish the state. We must keep this in mind while campaigning.

The state and war are twins. States are incapable of true peace. The military is the greatest marker of a state's sovereignty. With anti-militarist action it is impossible not to come into contact with the state, as this is the primary target, but we must be wary of this contact.

For example, there are many international agreements on limiting particular armaments, such as nuclear weapons and landmines, and it is good to campaign for such agreements, as they limit the existence and use of such violent weapons. However, we must be very careful, since to campaign, and particularly to lobby, for these restrictions, it is necessary to adopt the military logic of governments. There is a risk of our true message (that it is precisely the military system which is the cause of war) being swallowed up or obscured.

CO was originally a very anarchist action, and it still is in the many countries, which do not provide a framework for it. However, many European countries now offer an alternative service. CO is a not so radical form of using state regulation for "seemingly anti-militarist actions". We could of course campaign to improve CO, or even for COs to work on anti-militarist campaigns. But this would be legitimising the whole notion of forced conscription.

But states are by their essence not capable of peace. Peace is more than the absence of war. Peace requires a just society. States and a just society are a contradiction in terms.

To achieve true peace, we need the nonviolent anarchist revolution, but we don't have it.

In Summary:

We must engage with what we have: there are no clear-cut solutions, particularly with the development of constructive alternatives. States are becoming more involved in civilian conflict resolution, nonviolent intervention and peace service schemes. It is becoming harder to avoid contact with the state, for example with funding level -- Do we take money from the state? What if it comes indirectly, though a foundation? There are no clear answers but there are some guidelines to evaluate with:

  • If accepting money, how does it affect our independence, and our ability to work against the state?
  • How much is the state scheme of civilian intervention linked to a military scheme? Are we just another component of the state's foreign policy? If so, we must separate ourselves.
  • Will there be sufficient resources left for continuing the other wide-ranging programmes of the peace movement? There is a risk of everybody jumping onto statefunded schemes for increased job security, leaving no one for the un- or low funded work.
  • When co-operating with the state, we must remain in control. When it is called for we must be strong enough to break cooperation, to leave and act independently of that relationship.
  • Finally it is important that we have a clear analysis of the role of the state and its mechanisms. Can we see where we can get into co-operation and where we have to step out of co-operation with state-funded or state-governed politics and institutions?

Especially in an environment such as WRI, some people don't want to tell governments anything other than "dissolve yourself".

However, we cannot engage with the day-to-day wrongs and abuses perpetrated by governments if we do not (at least temporarily) recognise their practical jurisdiction and sovereignty. To achieve anything, we must engage with those institutions that control the power, and whether we like it or not, the most powerful institution remains the state.

We cannot complain that a government has mucked things up again if we do not offer policy proposals or alternatives: it might be more fruitful to take the approach that states which abuse the human rights of their people forfeit their sovereignty over these people.

Or does this merely serve to legitimise the criminal monopoly of power by states?

Programmes & Projects

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