Waging-Nonviolent-Struggle-20th-Century-Practice-and-21st-Century-Potential (9)

Chapter Four


The weapons of nonviolent struggle

The technique of nonviolent action consists of numerous spe- cific “methods,” or forms of action. Such methods serve as the weapons of nonviolent struggle. They are used to conduct the conflict by psychological, social, economic, or political pressure, or a combination of these.

Methods of nonviolent action were introduced in Chapters One and Three and some examples were cited. These included protest marches, flying forbidden flags, massive rallies, vigils, so- cial boycotts, economic boycotts, labor strikes, civil disobedience, boycott of phony elections, strikes by civil servants, sit-ins, hun- ger strikes, occupation of offices, and creation of a parallel gov- ernment. Such methods may be used to protest symbolically, end cooperation, or disrupt the operation of the established system.

These and similar methods collectively constitute the overall technique of nonviolent action. Familiarity with their diversity and characteristics is crucial to understanding nonviolent struggle as a whole and its variations in action.

Understanding the methods of nonviolent action

The many specific methods, or weapons, of nonviolent action are classified into three groups:

1. Protest and persuasion
2. Noncooperation
3. Nonviolent intervention

The following list of 198 methods is intended only to show the range of options available to groups that are using or considering the use of nonviolent struggle. The list is far from complete. Full definitions of each method and historical examples of its use are provided in The Politics of Nonviolent Action.1 Many additional methods doubtless exist, and many new ones could certainly be invented or learned from other groups. Scholars studying this technique, as well as resisters contemplating how they can most effectively conduct a future struggle, are strongly encouraged to study Part Two of the above volume, which is published sepa- rately as The Methods of Nonviolent Action.

This chapter is not intended as a guide to the selection and ap- plication of the methods, but only as a survey of the various types of available methods. Factors to be considered in the selection of methods for a particular conflict will be discussed in Chapter Thirty-seven.

The wise selection of specific methods for use requires knowl- edge not only of the whole range of possible methods of action but also of the strategy that has been developed for the waging of the conflict.

As we will discuss in Part Four, careful strategic planning is very important before the selection of specific methods in a given conflict. Strategic calculation and planning are required to iden- tify what kinds of pressure the resisters need to apply against

1 See Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two, The Methods of Nonviolent Action, Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher, 1973.

The Methods of Nonviolent Action 51 their opponents, and therefore what specific methods the resisters need to employ.


Nonviolent protest and persuasion include numerous methods that are mainly symbolic acts of peaceful opposition or attempted persuasion. These extend beyond verbal expressions of opinion but stop short of noncooperation or nonviolent intervention. The use of these methods shows that the resisters are against or in fa- vor of something, the degree of opposition or support, and, some- times, the number of people involved.

The impact of these methods on the attitudes of others will vary considerably. It is possible that where a particular method is common, its influence in a single instance may be less than in lo- cations where the method has hitherto been rare or unknown. The political conditions in which the method occurs are also likely to influence its impact. Dictatorial conditions make an act of nonviolent protest less common and more dangerous. Hence, if it does occur, the act may be more dramatic and may receive greater attention than it would where the act is common or car- ries no penalty.

The message may be intended to influence the opponents, the public, the grievance group2, or a combination of the three. At- tempts to influence the opponents usually focus on convincing them to correct or halt certain actions, or to do what the griev- ance group wants. The methods of nonviolent protest and persua- sion may also be selected to facilitate a concurrent or later application of other methods, especially the forms of noncoopera- tion. Fifty-four methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion are included in this listing, grouped here in ten subclasses.

Formal statements

  1. Public speeches
  2. Letters of opposition or support
  3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
  4. Signed public statements
  5. Declarations of indictment and intention
  6. Group or mass petition

Communications with a wider audience

  1. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols (written, painted, drawn, printed, gestures, spoken, or mimicked)
  2. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
  3. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
  4. Newspapersandjournals
  5. Recordings, radio, television, and video
  6. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group presentations

  1. Deputations
  2. Mock awards
  3. Group lobbying
  4. Picketing
  5. Mock elections

Symbolic public acts

  1. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
  2. Wearing of symbols (advocacy buttons, patches)
  3. Prayer and worship
  4. Delivering symbolic objects
  5. Protest disrobings
  6. Destruction of own property (homes, documents, credentials, etc.)
  7. Symbolic lights (torches, lanterns, candles)
  8. Displays of portraits
  9. Paint as protest
  10. New signs and names and/or symbolic names
  11. Symbolic sounds (“symbolic tunes” with whistles, bells, sirens, etc.)
  12. Symbolic reclamations (takeover of lands or build- ings)
  13. Rude gestures

Pressure on individuals

  1. “Haunting” officials (may involve constantly fol- lowing them, or reminding them, or may be silent and respectful)
  2. Taunting officials (mocking or insulting them)
  3. Fraternization (subjecting persons to intense direct influence to convince them that the regime they serve is unjust)
  4. Vigils

Drama and music

  1. Humorous skits and pranks
  2. Performance of plays and music
  3. Singing


  1. Marches
  2. Parades
  3. Religious processions
  4. Pilgrimages
  5. Motorcades

Honoring the dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mockfunerals

Public assemblies

  1. Assemblies of protest or support
  2. Protest meetings
  3. Camouflaged meetings of protest
  4. Teach-ins with several informed speakers

Withdrawal and renunciation

51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renunciation of honors
54. Turning one’s back

All these are symbolic actions. Greater power is wielded by the methods of noncooperation and nonviolent intervention.

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