Nonviolence Resources

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WRI's Empowering Nonviolence website is full of stories and strategies for nonviolent resistance! We've recently uploaded a number of new stories exploring programmes and project focused on building a “new world”.

Moses John (South Sudan) and Jungmin Choi (South Korea) are members of WRI's Council, and attended protests in London against the DSEI arms fair. They both gave speeches about the impact of the arms trade in their countries and around the world - you can hear some of what they had to say in this video.

WRI's Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns is now available in French! The translation was completed by friends at the Union Pacifiste de France, collaborating with WRI staff on the design work – to get a copy of the book, please email andrew@wri-irg.org.

Empowering Nonviolence is a project of War Resisters' International's Nonviolence Programme, offering campaigning resources and nonviolence training to grassroots activists around the world in several languages. Radical social change doesn't “just happen”; change happens when committed people take action together in ways that are effective and strategic. Empowering Nonviolence makes our resources available online, for free, to help activists build stronger, more powerful campaigns. Visit www.nonviolence.wri-irg.org to find out more.

With the increasing need for solidarity with Turkish civil society, the Bund für Soziale Verteidigung (Foundation for Social Defence) - a WRI affiliate in Germany - are fundraising for 1,400 Euros to print our Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns in Turkish.

This money would go to the Istanbul Nonviolent Education and Research Centre who will then distribute the handbook for free in their nonviolence workshops and trainings. Please help activists in Turkey to improve their skills in nonviolent action through using this handbook!

Please donate here.

When we think of social change, we often think of protests, campaigns, and direct action. These are all vital ways to say “no!” to destructive practices and institutions.

Permaculture farmers in El Salvador

However, it's equally important that we are building concrete alternatives, where we say “yes!” to the vision of the world we want. Built on the same power analysis as our nonviolent direct action, “constructive programmes” can be powerful acts of resistance. Constructive programmes demonstrate the radical alternatives – to militarism and the causes of climate change, for example – that our world desperately needs, and puts them into practise in the here and now.

For Gandhi, a nonviolent revolution without a constructive programme was impossible; direct action and social change had to be embedded in empowered and vibrant communities that were bringing their own radical and egalitarian visions of life. Along with protest and direct action, he called for communities in India to start building the world they wanted to see, to build a new world in the shell of the old.

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Title: A gender dialogue for peacebuilders Time: 30 to 45 minutes Goal or purpose of the exercise: To create a space for dialogue between women and men in peace organisations. To identify points of tensions between men and women in peace organisations. To develop a level of comfort and commitment to addressing gender issues in peace organisations. How it's done/facilitator's notes:

I. Small group discussion of Gender, Conflict and Peacebuilding

1. In mixed small groups of men and women, make a list of the ways men and women experience conflict and violence differently.

2. In the same mall groups, make a list of the different ways that men and women participate in peace work.

3. In the large group, ask each small group to report their findings.

II. Divide the large group in to small groups of women-only and men-only.

1. Ask each group to share successes and challenges with working with the opposite sex on peace issues. Challenge the groups to provide as many real examples as possible, both positive and negative.

2. Ask each group to discuss strategies for working with the opposite sex on peace issues.

3. Have each group report back their findings and strategies.

4. In mixed pairs, one women and one man, ask participants to respond to each other about the reports. Each person should take a turn to talk about his or her feelings about the dialogue while the other listen and try to understand, not interrupting.

This exercise was adapted from Women in Peacebuilding Resource and Training Manual, ed by Lisa Schirch. The full manual can be found at: http://www.iiav.nl/epublications/2004/womens_peacebuilding_manual.pdf or at: http://www.ifor.org/WPP/resources.htm

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Bombspotting Edited version

By Roel Stynen

On July 8th, 1996, the International Court of Justice declared “that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law”. This offered peace movements an additional argument and a legal basis for actions of civil disobedience against nuclear weapons. In Belgium, small actions of civil disobedience at NATO's headquarters and Kleine Brogel air force base were the start of a campaign, Bombspotting, raising the issue of nuclear weapons, and the legal duty to disarm.

For many participants, Bombspotting was the first time they took part in direct action. From the outset, the organisers made a big effort to enable people to take an active role in the action without necessarily being involved in the preparation a long time before. We encourage people to get in contact with a regional group, and organise and actively promote NVDA trainings as a preparation to Bombspotting, but we keep participation open to 'the average citizen', not only to 'the professional activist'. This means that at Bombspotting actions, a large structure is set up, involving hundreds of volunteers, to enable people to participate easily and without heavy engagement.

One important way in which we lowered the threshold for people to participate, was setting up local groups. These groups, consisting of people from very different walks of life, brought the theme of nuclear weapons and the call for direct action for nuclear disarmament out of the campaigner's meetings and onto the streets. Local mobilizing efforts were much more effective than the national promotion campaign by the office. Through working with local groups, we ensured that nearly everywhere potentially interested people could have face-to-face contact with people working on the campaign on the grassroots level.

For several years, we invited international activists to participate, but then we were faced with new challenges. How could we help create pressure on governments of NATO member states? This is still under discussion. We are far from a truly international campaign, but there have been efforts and discussions that others might learn from. When you invite internationals to join in, it's easy to overlook basic things - such as food, accommodation, meeting places, transport - that can add to stress. Make sure the international participants have all the information they need to take decisions. Take language problems in account – e.g. when you have a home base telephone number or legal assistance, take care the people doing these tasks can handle different languages. Give the internationals time to accustom themselves and to prepare for the action, both at home and shortly before the action. Run through the different phases of their stay and role in the action from their perspective. What information does s/he need? What could help him/her feel secure and comfortable? Also consider meeting one or a few international guests before to prepare this together.

An excellent example of an instrument designed exactly for this purpose is the “Faslane 365 Resource Pack” (www.faslane365.org) This booklet gives basic information on the purpose and political context of the year-long Faslane blockade, contains useful information groups need to autonomously prepare for participation, and offers lots of practical advice on mobilisation, tactics, training,... In our experience, a nonviolent direct action training with the international participants has proved very helpful. Trainings are an opportunity to go through action scenario's extensively and to prepare to handle problems and difficulties that might arise. One can have the feeling that participation in actions abroad does not bring your own campaign much further. Moreover, it is time-consuming and might cost a lot of money. On the other hand, going there yourself can enhance the visibility of your own campaign internationally. It 's very often a very effective way of meeting people that you can work with in the future.

One example: the participation of French Greenpeace activists inspired them to take action against the French development of new nuclear missiles. In September, during the first large demonstration against the M51 missile, about 30 Bombspotters took part in the first Bombspotting-style citizen's inspection at the Centre d'Essaies des Landes near Bordeaux. We gave advice and assistance in the preparation of the action, and Bombspotting NVDA trainers returned a few months after the action to give a 'training for trainers'.

But action abroad can never replace action in your own country. Therefore, again, it is of the utmost importance to think about what you expect from the involvement of internationals and from your own participation abroad.

You can think of ways to increase the significance of the international presence. At the Bombspotting XL action in 2005, where citizen's inspectors targeted four different sites related to nuclear weapons in Belgium, activists were present from all NATO member countries hosting NATO nuclear weapons: UK, US, Italy, Germany, Turkey, the Netherlands, plus activists from other countries, such as Finland, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain. Our press work drew attention specifically to this, and all of the international delegations did their own press work towards their respective countries. When working this way, it is not just a question of inviting internationals, let them participate and that's it. A lot more work is necessary - coordinating press efforts, dividing roles before, during and after the action,...

You can read a longer version of this article at: Bombspotting

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By Ruben Dario Pardo Santamaria

1. A hostile context

The peace community of San Jose de Apartado was founded in 1997 and was born in adverse conditions for nonviolent resistance. The Community is located in an area of Uraba, Colombia, where strong economic interests are at play and where armed conflict is waged between guerrillas (the FARC), state forces and (usually working in collusion with the state) paramilitaries. It is an area where political terror, assassination and intimidation has been used to eliminate leaders and activists. The Peace Community itself is formed of displaced people, people whose parents and grandparents were also victims of violence. Throughout its existence, the Peace Community has had to face campaigns to discredit it from the highest levels of national government and the media, especially under the government of Alvaro Uribe.

The Peace Community has more than 1,000 members, even though around 150 members have been killed - by state security forces, by paramilitaries or by the FARC.

2. Towards a strategy of civil resistance

What began with the urgent need to find practical alternatives for displaced people has grown into a project offering an alternative to the current model of society. This has three dimensions:

Resistance to war and forced displacement: establishing a mechanism for the protection of civilians in a context of strong armed conflict. Establishing a sustainable basis for community cohesion, including developing holistic and ecological economic alternatives. Constructing peace: at the everyday internal level of nonviolent forms of relationship; at the political level of condemning the use of violence and supporting a negotiated political solution to the armed conflict: through outreach, spreading the idea of zones of peace and offering guidance to other local communities. 2.1 Economic Strategy

In a war zone, there is not the normal supply of essential goods. Therefore the Community needs to grow its own food, but cooperates with "fair trade" groups to market coca and baby bananas. In addition, it took the initiative to organise meetings and courses (under the title Peasant University or University of Resistance) to share information about ecological forms of agriculture.

2.2 Policy Strategy

The emergence of the Peace Community has been a radical challenge to those who seek to dominate a territory, above all the armed actors of the state, the paramilitaries and the guerrilla. To survive, the Community needs to build relationships that on the one hand reduce the pressure on the Peace Community, and on the other strengthen its resilience - relationships at the local, national and international level.

2.3 Strategy: community cohesion 2.3.1 Agreement policy for coexistence

The founding declaration of the Peace Community lays out principles of demilitarisation and neutrality which represent the common denominator of the community. The act of signing this declaration is a unifying force for the collective.

2.3.2 Integral Training

Training has been vital to the community. First in preparing to establish it - when there were workshops with displaced people and prospective members. Now the Training Committee concentrates internally on strengthening the understanding of and commitment to the Community principles, analysing its situation, and evaluating the whole process of civil resistance. It teaches conflict resolution skills within the Community itself, and aims to strengthen the resolve of Community members not to join any armed group. The Training Committee works not only with families, coordinators and working groups of members of the Community, but also with other families in the area.

2.4 Strategy: protection

This refers to activities to reduce the risk of violation of human rights of Community members and the very process of civil resistance. This involves: - documentation and public denunciation of violations committed by all armed actors; - identification of community spaces by erecting billboards declaring its principles; - disseminating information through small publications, videos, national and international meetings on its territory, national and international tours and since late 2004 with the creation of its own website; - petitions to the national government and increasingly to international agencies, which sometimes have led to favourable verdicts, restrictions placed on US military aid, the trial of soldiers accused of killing Community leaders in February 2005; - protective accompaniment: Peace Brigades International regularly accompany transport to and from the Community, while other international groups, including the US Fellowship of Reconciliation, that provides protection through accompaniments in the community.

3. Proposal for new neutral zones

Unlike "safe areas" created by agreement between armed forces, in the Peace Community is the civilian population itself that has decided to create a physical space and social protection for those not involved in the war. The peace communities are not a mere space of survival amid the bullets, but seek to build peace with social justice, a way of life based on dignity, autonomy and solidarity.

4. Ability to resist repression

The peace community of San Jose de Apartado has been one of the worst hit by political violence in Colombia. Political repression is aimed at breaking the principles and beliefs of those who opt for peace, at spreading mistrust and intimidation, and crippling hat contrast individual and collective levels established. Through selective actions and copies of direct violence, spreads intimidation and mistrust among the population, crippling people's capacity to react.

Persistence in this resistance despite the violence can be partly explained by the absence of better alternatives for people who have been forcibly displaced. However, it also depends on more positive factors: - a strong social consciousness, acting as a subject and not subordinate to political orders; - the perception that, despite the armed actors, the process of resistance has a chance of success; - confidence that nonviolence offers better chances of survival; - an unshakable commitment not to abandon the struggle for which so many martyrs have already given their lives.

5. Different types of resistance

The Peace Community resists at many levels: - resisting malaria, poverty and lack of basic services in such areas of Colombia; - resisting the terror of legal and illegal armed groups; - resisting the temptation of revenge, in a territory where it would be extremely easy to join any armed actor and seek vengeance against an enemy; - resisting the imposition of an exclusive and authoritarian model of society, while proposing a project of life based on a comprehensive vision of dignity and development.

6. As a conclusion

Among the most important factors that have enabled peasants and farmers of San Jose de Apartado to maintain nonviolent resistance during the past 10 years, are:

the accompaniment of entities of the Catholic Church; the Community's democratic and flexible organizational structure, strengthening the sense of belonging and community cohesion; the improvement if the lives of women and children in respect to what they had before; strengthening of internal discipline, respect for the rules of conduct agreed, and loyalty to fundamental principles of neutrality and nonviolence; implementing internal measures of protection; opening up spaces for consultation with governmental actors; implementing economic strategies to meet the basic needs; a progressive process of integration and coordination of actions with other local experiences of civil resistance in different regions of Colombia; training new leaders; the example of martyrs motivating continued resistance; protection offered by international accompaniment; gradual consolidation of a network international support in many countries; the moral strength of the community and its resilience in the face of violence by armed groups.

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By Jungmin Choi

Not long ago the concept ‘nonviolent way of struggle’ began to be used in Korean social movements. Still, many social activists see nonviolence negatively, as a weak, passive, non-resistant form of struggle, partly because of our own history.

For more than 30 years after the Japanese colonial occupation and then the Korean War, South Korea was ruled by an authoritarian military regime. The regime responded to growing aspirations for liberty and democracy with armed terror, and so some people armed themselves, speaking of 'resistant violence'. Nowadays, the state still uses violence, especially against activists, but more activists are coming to accept that there is a nonviolent way of struggle.

There has been some form of nonviolent resistance since the 1980s, such as students objecting to being sent to the frontier facing the north, and there were statements by soldiers denouncing the violence they experienced during military service while civilians protested against questioning by police patrols. However, the concept of nonviolence was limited just to a means of resistance.

Now conscientious objectors to compulsory military service are said to be the first sincere pacifists in Korea who take nonviolence as a philosophy of life. They have advocated the right to refuse unreasonable orders from the state, where nationalism and militarism are prevalent, and they have appealed to the basic good in people, asking them to question fundamentally the military, arms and war. People were deeply moved when they saw conscientious objectors willingly go into prison for 18 months rather than take arms. They have come to know the significance of the act of conscientious objection, watching the continual wars caused by the USA and Israel.

The working group for conscientious objection in Korea is now focusing on giving necessary assistance such as legal and psychological counselling to those who prepare to object and also spreading awareness of the meaning of conscientious objection through a variety of activities, such as press conferences, forums, campaigns and direct actions. The number of conscientious objectors in Korea is still small and the demands on those who make a CO declaration mean that they need support. The CO movement does not have a unified attitude on nonviolent action. For instance, in 2003 when Kang Chul-min declared his conscientious objection, while he was doing his military service, there were a conflict of opinions whether to hold a sit-down demonstration in solidarity, and similar discussions arose concerning university students who made declarations of CO before they were called up. Many do not see that CO itself as one form of nonviolent direct action in someone's life that should connect with other forms of direct action.

Other groups that take nonviolent pacifism as a principled philosophy of their struggle played an important part in the struggle against the US base extension in Pyeongtaek. They used diverse tactics, including imaginative forms of nonviolent direct action that are in striking contrast to the previous ways of struggle. Some campaigners decided to make a 'peace village', squatting in buildings that were abandoned to make way for the base and renovating them as a library, cafe, guesthouse, displaying many works of art donated by artists supporting the campaign. When the bulldozers, backed by armed riot police and private security forces (= 'hired thugs'), arrived to demolish the remaining buildings in the village, villagers and supporters initially succeeded in blocking this, climbing onto roofs or tying themselves to buildings and sitting down in front of bulldozers. However as government force escalated - from a force of 4,000 men in March 2006 eventually reaching 22,000 in September - hundreds of villagers and supporters were arrested or injured as the demolitions went ahead. Despite this people still tried to farm the fields under military occupation, finally giving up in February 2007. The last candlelight vigil of protest was held in March 2007, and the next month villagers and supporters returned to bury a time capsule containing messages and marked by a flag saying 'Return'.

South Korean experience on how to use web resources for nonviolent campaigns

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By Hilal Demir and Ferda Ülker

"nonviolence cannot be described as merely the absence of violence"

Militarism and patriarchy is deeply rooted in Turkish culture. Currently, war in the 'south-east' is based on ethnic discrimination against Kurds although it is officially described as a 'war against terrorism'. Any attempt to question militarism is called 'treason'. The people most affected by the negative consequences of violence are primarily women, children and elders, and also the religious, ethnic and political minorities. Violence is so internalized in Turkish society that alternative perspectives have been made 'unthinkable' - even among those who normally question hierarchy and promote freedom and equality.

The influence of the military can be seen in the following examples:

Only after having done one’s military service, a man is regarded as a „real“ man. The National Security Council (including the chiefs of staff) that as recently as 1997 prevented the winners of the elections forming a government ('the post-modern coup'). Economic power - the Turkish army's financial services company OYAK is one of the most powerful investors in Turkey. The trust of the people - opinion polls show that the military is the institution most trusted.

The army under Mustafa Kemal established the Turkish republic in 1923, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and Kemalist principles remain fundamental to the state, reflected in the criminal code, the maintenance of a powerful army, and the belief in the 'indivisibility of the nation'. These generate a repressive attitudes. Few people see male domination of women as an issue, and physical violence is widely accepted against subordinates, prisoners and within the family.

Beginnings

The term 'nonviolence' was used for the first time in the principles of the Izmir War Resisters' Association (IWRA) in 1992. Within the association, nonviolence was always a discussion point - especially how to find practical ways of living nonviolently in a violent culture. We first used nonviolence training to prepare ourselves for prison visit scenarios when a group member, Osman Murat Ülke, was imprisoned for conscientious objection. Initially nobody from outside approached us to discuss nonviolence. However, now there is more interest - although the War Resisters' Association itself closed in 2001 because of the burn-out of members.

IWRA's commitment to nonviolence put us in sharp contrast with other leftist groups, who did not take our approach seriously and regarded nonviolence as weak and ineffective. We mainly involved antimilitarist, anarchist and feminist activitists. Perhaps the biggest welcome for nonviolence came from the Lesbian Gay Bi- and Trans-sexual (LGBT) movement which was just in the process of becoming structured and so took up nonviolent methods.

As far as political alliances go, the most fruitful interaction was with the women's movement. When we first began we formed a feminist and antimilitarist women's group called “Antimilitarist Feminists". trying to reach out to women's groups. Despite some initial disappointment, we reached many independent women and then began to hold trainings with women's organizations. This change in attitude was related to changes/transformation within the women's movement - in particular a desire to do things their own way rather than on traditional leftist lines. Questioning violence became a priority for women and nonviolence seemed to offer a response. As more women sought personal empowerment, our cooperation with women and women's groups strengthened.

The closest political group was the Conscientous Objection (CO) movement because it was built by the efforts of activists working to promote nonviolence. Although this partnership still continues, there is an individualistic streak in the CO movement that, I believe, makes discussion of nonviolence less effective. Although most Turkish COs are total objectors (that is, rejecting both military service and any civilian substitute), the movement's attitude towards nonviolence is equivocal at times - especially because of support for CO from the Kurdish movement and leftist groups.

Izmir Nonviolent Trainers Initiative

The Izmir Nonviolent Trainers Initiatives (INTI) first formed as part of the IWRA with the additional support of some other people. Also our work was supported and improved in quality thanks to cooperation with German trainers - including training courses at Kurve Wustrow, an international training for trainers organised in Foca, Turkey, in April 1996, and the accompaniment of two German trainers who lived in Izmir from 1998 until 2001.

When IWRA closed in December 2001, the trainers' initiative continued, organising workshops in Izmir and anywhere in the country where we are invited - including in Diyarbakir in the south-east 'crisis' region. Today there are five trainers – four female and one male – who mostly work on a voluntary basis, only receiving travel expenses, although sometimes we have the money to pay a part-time coordinator. In June 2006 we began a course of training for trainers with 20 participants from all over the country.

The aim of INTI is to enhance and establish nonviolent principles and structures as an alternative to militarism, nationalism, hierarchy and patriarchy. Our public activities began with organising demonstrations and seminars on nonviolence and conscientious objection, also publishing pamphlets and looking for international cooperation. Police confiscated a number of our works at the press. In the field of trainings the group worked with activists from extra-parliamentary groups, from human rights, women's and lgbt groups and from parties. Additionally, the group cooperated with the Human Rights Centre of the Izmir Lawyers’ Association to train lawyers and policemen about human rights issues. In general, issues covered in our trainings include: creating non-hierarchical structures for grassroots and oppositional political work, consensus decision-making, discussion of militaristic structures within the society (starting from the family) and nonviolent alternatives. The individual behaviours and actions of the participants are always the basic and central point of our workshops. For our work, we reflected on theoretical analyses and practical experiences of nonviolence and nonviolent actions (starting with Thoreau and Gandhi and leading to today’s examples). We included reflections on anarchistic approaches to nonviolence, on Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed and Gene Sharp’s strategies of nonviolence.

Our group believes that it is possible to eliminate all kinds of inequalities, discrimination and thus violence and to develop nonviolent actions and methods for social and political change. Therefore, with the principle “Nonviolence is not an aspiration to be achieved in the future, but the very means to achieve such a goal” our group starts questioning everyday life practices that may seem to be “neutral”. For over ten years our group has been learning, practising and teaching the means and methods of nonviolence, an attitude towards life that we are now developing as a life principle. First, we offer "introductory" one day trainings for diverse organisations and for individual activists who question violence within their agenda. Second, we offer “issue-based trainings” on particular topics requested by groups based on their needs - these have included prejudice, conflict resolution, communication, sexism, and so on. Third, we offer a one-week intensive “training for trainers” session with selected individuals who have taken part in the first two training sessions and who want to develop themselves into trainers. Since 2002, we conducted the first and second parts of trainings with diverse groups1 working with women, LGBT, and human rights, ecology, peace and antimilitarism in Izmir, Ankara, Antalya, Adana and Diyarbakır. The individuals who participated in the trainings and want to be trainers were people who had already started questioning violence and had been trying to integrate nonviolence methods within their institutions and their individual practices. However, these people mentioned their lack of information and experience about “nonviolent action” for example in Diyarbakır it was identify the need to learn on developing nonviolent solutions primarily for their fundamental activities (like honor killings, violence against women, etc). They need empowerment in their work and enhanced capacity on nonviolence in order to create new solutions to the on-going problems. Having received an constantly increasing demand for a “train the trainers” training module, we have agreed that the third phase of the nonviolence trainings would be useful to a great degree. We are aware that it is impossible to cover all principles of non-violence in a one-week training. One of the solutions we found to this problem is to continue dialogue and seek possibilities for future meetings of supervision and feedback. Furthermore during the training, a network between the trainers all over Turkey will be formed and the operational principles of such a network will be established. This network of trainers approach would ensure the sustainability of our dialogue, continuing sharing of knowledge and experience among the practitioners of nonviolence trainers, and our collaborative dissemination of non-violence training both at local and national levels.

Our aims

improving and strengthening the culture of democracy and human rights by introducing the concept of non-violence. questioning the culture of violence (which has a militaristic and patriarchal character in Turkey) in order to saw seeds of the culture of non-violence raising awareness of and struggle with discrimination, in all walks of life. Training trainers in order for them to work for these ends by gaining practical experience and increasing their capacity of training such that they can facilitate their own training groups during the one year period.

Nonviolent Campaigns

Looking at examples of nonviolent campaigns in Turkey, we can say that these activities have not been organized in an entirely nonviolent way. While nonviolence was one of the fundamental principles, we must state that these organizations lacked some of the qualities of a truly nonviolent action, such as preparing for the event with prior nonviolence trainings. One of the longest winded campaigns in this regard was the Militourism Festival. This festival, held annually on May 15th (International Conscientous Objectors' Day), consisted of visiting prominent militarist symbols in various cities, organization of alternative events and declarations of conscientious objections Another was the “We Are Facing It” Campaign. This campaign aimed at facing and coming to terms with the war that has been going on in Turkey; it was spread over the length of an entire year with major actions held every once in 3 months. The aim was to prevent people from ignoring this war with the use of nonviolent means such as street theatre.Another nonviolent action was the “Rice Day.” This action was held in Ankara, the locus of official administration, and specifically in front of a military barracks. We gathered there in order to say “we exist, we are here.” As antimilitarists who subverted societal roles in our activities, we used the symbol of the Rice Day in order to enhance group solidarity and end our indivisibility. Apart from these major activities, smaller organizations and actions were also mobilized for short-term political intervention purposes.

Epilogue

Although we have often been marginalized throughout the short history of nonviolence in Turkey and not as effective as we would like, we are becoming more visible thanks to the alliances forged with the women's and LGBT movements here. This is further aided by the fact that conscientious objection began being discussed in the public arena. Increasing demands from different political groups for implementing nonviolence training and methods in their programmes affirm this trend.

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On September 11, 1973, the Chilean junta, backed by the CIA and the Nixon Administration, overthrew the democratically elected government of Socialist President Salvador Allende. Priscilla Hayner, in her book Unspeakable Truths, Confronting State Terror and Atrocity (2001) outlines the devastating impact: “The regime espoused a virulent anticommunism to justify its repressive tactics, which included mass arrests, torture (estimates of the number of people tortured range from 50,000 to 200,000), killings, and disappearances.” The dictatorship assassinated, tortured, and exiled thousands of political opponents and visionaries.

Under these conditions, a foreboding silence, the result of threats and terror, hung over Chile. Some of us wondered, “could Gandhian insights about the power of nonviolence help the struggle to defy the terror?”

Nonviolence refers to a philosophy and strategy of conflict resolution, a means of fighting injustice, and — in a broader sense — a way of life, developed and employed by Gandhi and by followers all around the world. Nonviolence, then, is action that does not do or allow injustice.

Crying Out the Truth

A few of us decided to try to inspire others to speak up against the dictatorship by “crying out the truth.” We faced a double suffering: the pain involved in enduring the dictatorship’s violence, and the suffering caused by keeping silent out of fear. To not cry out while those we love were killed, tortured, and disappeared was unendurable. Clandestine pamphlets and leaflets were printed. Slogans that denounced human rights violations were painted on the walls at night at great risk to safety. Underlying these actions was the principle of active nonviolence: since there is injustice, the first requirement is to report it, otherwise we are accomplices. The clandestine actions helped spread the principle of telling the truth and acting on it. Yet, despite the risks, we needed to move beyond clandestine protests: we needed to move the protests against the Chilean junta into the public arena.

Activating the Public Movement against Torture

José Aldunate, a Jesuit priest who became the leader of the Sebastian Acevedo Movement Against Torture in Chile, says in his memoirs, “A comrade came to us and brought up the fact (of torture). We educated ourselves about torture and about the dynamics of nonviolence. We watched a film on Mahatma Gandhi. I was more motivated to protest against poverty, but I responded to the discipline of the group. We deliberated and decided to undertake a nonviolent demonstration to denounce torture... to break the barriers of silence and hiding with regards to torture, we had an obligation to denounce it in public. We needed to shake the population’s conscience.”

On September 14, 1983, ten years after the regime took power, the anti-torture movement was born in an action in front of the headquarters of the National Investigation Center, 1470 Borgoño St., in Santiago. Around 70 persons interrupted traffic, unfurling a banner which read “Torturing Done Here.” They shouted their denunciation and sang a hymn to liberty. The group returned to this scene to denounce the regime’s crimes against humanity at least once a month until 1990.

In order to act, we needed to openly defy the State of Emergency provisions decreed by the junta in order to terrorize the population. We needed to break through our own sense of powerlessness, isolation, and fear.

The movement denounced torture. It left to other entities the task of investigating and making declarations. It had no meeting place, no secretariat, no infrastructure. It met in the streets and plazas when it was time to act. It had no membership list. Participants came by personal invitation, as the movement had to avoid infiltration from the secret police and other repressive institutions. Instructions were passed from person to person. Participants were mainly trained during the actions themselves, where we evaluated each action on the spot.

Participants faced legal and illegal sanctions when detained and prosecuted as they often were. Tear gas, beatings, detention, and prosecution were common practices used in retaliation against demonstrators. Torture was also a possible consequence of being arrested. Not only Sebastian Acevedo movement participants faced these sanctions, also reporters and journalists willing to report on the actions and the issues that were exposed. At some of the actions, there were as many as 300 participants. Some 500 people participated in total. There were Christians and non-Christians, priests, monks, slum dwellers, students, aged persons, homemakers, and members of various human rights movements; people of every class, ideology, and walk of life.

The main goal was to get rid of torture in Chile. The means chosen was to shake up national awareness (consciousness raising) and rouse the conscience of the nation until the regime would get rid of torture or the country would get rid of the regime. In 1988, after a widespread anti-intimidation campaign, the nonviolent “Chile Sí, Pinochet No” campaign helped, to Pinochet’s shock, to defeat a plebiscite designed to ratify Pinochet’s rule.

Efforts to end the culture of impunity that arose during the Pinochet years, and to engage in national reconciliation, continue, but nonviolent protest provided an important means, amongst others, to overthrow the dictatorship.

Roberta Bacic is a Chilean human rights researcher and activist who now lives in Northern Ireland. She has worked with War Resisters International’s Dealing with the Past Program. A version of this article was previously published in the "100 Years of Gandhian Nonviolent Action" special issue of Peacework Magazine. For more info on Gandhi and Gandhianism, see more WRI links, and selected links to historical Gandhianism from the Peacework issue mentioned above.

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