Nonviolent social movements often have - or think they have - an understanding of the problems we face, and what world we would like to live in. The challenge is to know how to move from the problem to building the vision. There are many factors that influence what actions we take to challenge the status quo. Often, the starting point is the motivation of the group: you get together and think "So what can we do about this?"
Is strategy a buzzword within nonviolent social movements? I ask myself this question since at social movements meetings I repeatedly hear: “We need to be strategic” or “Why are people not interested in strategy?” In changing a certain problem, is having a clear strategy the key factor in what movements can achieve? If so, then what that makes a good strategy? And what helps groups develop such strategies? These are some questions we have been asking ourselves for many years at War Resisters' International.
The purpose of this article is to remind us that Social Movement Research can help actual movements coming to terms with certain issues of their struggles and a better understanding of themselves and their strategies.
In 2010, a convoy of six ships called the Freedom Flotilla set out to challenge the blockade of Gaza, posing a considerable dilemma for the Israeli authorities. On board the ships were around 700 unarmed civilians from around the world, including some well known personalities, like the Swedish crime novelist Henning Mankell and parliamentarians from a number of countries. In addition to the passengers and representatives from the media, the ships also carried 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid, such as building materials and medical equipment like X-ray machines and ultrasound scanners.i The long journey meant that the pressure built while the ships approached Gaza, making this a drama for the world to watch.
Conscientious objection is perhaps more often seen as a moral imperative than as a strategy. However, in countries with active conscription, there can be different ways of avoiding or delaying military service. Some people gain a medical discharge. Others flee, emigrate, choose professions that are exempt from call up, or bribe officials.
Alex Rayfield In a recent article (Rayfield and Morello 2012) a colleague, Rennie Morello and I wrestled with our outsider/insider identities as we facilitated nonviolent training and education with and for West Papuan activists longing for freedom. We wrote: In some sense we might have once identified ourselves as outsiders to the movement offering support “in solidarity”. But over time the movement has stirred-up trouble for us and our insider-outsider identities. We work in solidarity with Papuan activists in their struggle for self-determination, but we are not Papuan. In this way we are cultural outsiders. More importantly, while we attempt to share the risks and costs of working for peace and justice in West Papua, we will never pay the same price as Papuan activists. In this way, we are political outsiders. Connected to this is our commitment to non-interference – Papuan activists themselves must determine the strategic direction and tactical choices of the movement. In this way we are movement outsiders.
When violence erupted after Kenya’s last elections in 2007, Kenyan Quakers were quick to respond – first with humanitarian aid, then moving house-to-house listening to people’s experiences and worries. Eventually they began to help people process their trauma and knit their communities back together. But as they did this, people told them, “You are here telling us not to be violent. But if we hadn’t been violent you wouldn’t be here to begin with.” Some who heard that message promised to come back with a strategy to speak out strongly and loudly against social injustice but without resorting to violent methods.
We, the members of World without War, held a Movement Building Workshop in March of last year in collaboration with Andreas Speck from War Resisters’ International. The workshop used the Movement Action Plan (MAP) model to examine our campaigning, particularly in relation to government's abandonment of the previous administration's plan to address the issue of alternative service. Our campaign has been at a standstill since the inauguration of the current government.