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Campaign Nonviolence Conference Call May 2016

Posted by Ryan Hall

On May 31, 2016 we held our latest Campaign Nonviolence Conference Call. On the call we welcomed guest speaker Erica Chenoweth, coauthor of Why Civil Resistance Works. Below you will find the notes and audio from this call. RSVP for the next call on June 28, 2016 here. On this June call we will have a special focus on the series of nonviolent action campaigns that won American Independence. This is a good call to invite a friend who is not already involved in nonviolence or CNV.

Campaign Nonviolence National Conference Call
May 31, 2016, 5pm Pacific/ 8pm Eastern (60 minutes)

Listen to the call here:

Welcome – Ryan Hall and Rivera Sun

Opening – Veronica Pelicaric

Peace is a daily, a  weekly, a monthly process,  gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures and however undramatic the pursuit of peace. That pursuit must go on.  – John F. Kennedy

CNV in 2016 – Rivera Sun

  • Rivera welcomed new attendees to our monthly conference calls.  She explained that CNV is a long-term movement to build a culture of active nonviolence.  We’re currently working in all 50 states and numerous other countries.  We work on all forms of nonviolence, like direct action campaigns, nonviolence in schools, restorative justice, conflict resolution, living wages, sustainability.  We think of this as practicing nonviolence towards ourselves, others and the global grassroots movement for nonviolent change.
  • We have a Week of Actions Sept. 18-25, 2016 and can include actions around war, poverty, racism, climate change or many others types of injustice.  We also like to see the positive aspects of this that embody a culture of peace and nonviolence. Learn more at  We’re hoping to get 500 actions this year.
  • If you’ve been part of this movement since the beginning, we thank you for your continued involvement!

Reasons Why You Should Schedule a Nonviolence Training prior to the Week of Actions – Ken Butigan

  • Our goal of building a culture of peace means we have to undergo re-training to actually live in a culture of nonviolence where everyone matters.  This requires a large amount of preparation and training. As we look toward the Week of Actions Sept 18-25, 2016, we invite each person to host, hold or bring in a nonviolence training to your community.   Learn more about Pace e Bene trainings here or email us to schedule one at
  • Ken emphasized a few important aspects, Preparation, Insight, Community, and Culture.
    • We are seeing our society grapple with difficult polarities right now.  Any action we take means going public with a nonviolent option. We need to be prepared in those public discourses and actions.  Being prepared was very important for Dr. King and Gandhi and many other social movements.  So far we’ve organized over 600 action in the last two years and we haven’t heard of any violence in any of them yet.  We invite everyone to really engage and organize the space for nonviolent action training.  This year we organized the 1000 Nonviolence Trainings Project, which identifies trainings from around the world (  You can find trainings and list your there.  Ken said when he first attended a nonviolence training it gave him a sense of a different kind of culture and encouraged him to take his first nonviolent action.  

Roll Call – Ryan Hall read the names of those on the call. 120 people registered to join this conference call!

Guest Speakers section// Erica Chenoweth

  • Rivera Sun introduced Erica Chenoweth: Erica is the co-author with Maria Stephan of a book called Why Civil Resistance Works.  There is a Ted Talk by Erica that gives the key points here. Erica is also a professor and associate dean of research at the Joseph Corbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.  She was a featured speaker at our CNV Conference last year in Santa Fe.  Watch it here.  
  • Erica Chenoweth shares her research
    • Erica said she will review some of her key insights that emerged from some empirical research on civil resistance, when it works, how it works, when it fails and why.  She’ll also point out five different observations she’s had as nonviolent resistance becomes a more widespread method of contention around the world.
    • Insights from the current state of literature on this topic.  In her book with Maria Stephan, they collected a data set with 323 mass campaigns from around the world where there were at least 1000 participants seeking change social change.  Their general finding was that nonviolent campaigns out performed violent campaigns two to one.  They also found that this is true in every region of the world in all kinds of countries and against all kinds of opponents.  They could not isolate a single factor where armed struggle was more effective than nonviolent ones.  They found that nonviolent campaigns also usher in periods of sustained democratic reform and less likely to relapse into civl war.  Other long-term benefits include higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates,
    • Features of successful nonviolent campaigns.  They tend to be very large in population and tend to be very diverse in terms of participants.   The single most important factor of success of a nonviolent campaign was attracting large and diverse populations of people.  Movements that surpassed 3.5% of the national population always succeeded.  Nonviolent campaigns can attract larger populations that violent campaigns.  Another researcher has also pointed out that it’s not just the number of people participating but how well organized they are.  In particular, campaigns that are led by labor or religious institutions tend to be much more effective due to their ability to train and organize participants, as opposed to spontaneous movements.   The second thing Erica and Maria discovered was that tactical flexibility and innovation in the face of oppression are key for successful movements.  In other words, if a movement only has one tactic like protests are less likely to succeed.  This is why it is important to think about tactical long-term thinking.  The third factor they found was the ability of the campaign to maintain nonviolence in the face of oppression.  Nonviolent discipline is important because it helps predict when oppression will backfire.  Movements that are nonviolent and are oppressed are much more likely to solicit mass sympathy and support if they remain nonviolent.  The fourth important factor for success of the campaign is to create defections among the loyalists or elite that have been supporters of the opponents like security forces, economic elites, business elites and state media.  When the campaign can impose costs on those actors and pull their cooperation away from the opponent the movements is much more likely to succeed.    Ultimately, movements that succeed in the end tend to perform well on all four of these points, while movements that fail tend to miss some of these elemtents.
    • The average campaign.  Most campaigns tend to last 2.5 years long, meaning there is an active mobilization for roughly three years before it runs its course.  In other words those that claim that nonviolent campaigns don’t work after the first few months are selling it short.  It also raises the questions about how long a movement should prepare to be mobilized, and her data set the answer is a few years.  
    • Key findings since their book came out in 2011.  Through the year 2015 they have been collecting data on nonviolent campaigns.  She said nonviolent resistance is still twice as effective as violent resistance.  Many thought that the Arab uprising was a setback for nonviolent resistance, but Erica  said that we live in a very contentious time and an awful lot of nonviolent mass movements around the world are still succeeding, even though it is at a slightly lower rate. She said violent campaigns are still very ineffective overall.  
    • Erica raised the questions about why in the past six years has nonviolent resistance become a little less effective as opposed to previous historical periods?  Five things she sees driving this would be 1) Many of the campaigns are diffusing tactically rather than strategically.  In other words, when we read stories on nonviolent resistance succeeding we’re looking at the end game of these movements, the last couple of weeks, as opposed to the many years of prep that went into the campaign.  She said that the civil rights movements in the US would have meetings every single day.  The level of discipline and preparation was very high before the end game was even realized.  This differs from many of the movements today that try to mobilize tactically and improvising from there.  She said she heard from a nonviolent movement in Serbia  that spent 95% of their time in preparation and training and 5% of the time in action, which is how most succeed. 2) A higher proportion of nonviolent movements today are tolerating or embracing violent flanks and leaving their nonviolent discipline. These types of campaigns have a lower chance of succeeding, even when they are overall nonviolent but have a small number of street fighting or assassinations.   She said that campaigns that end up having a little bit of violence tend to be much more homogeneous after the violence takes place.  They end up being much smaller and involve much younger people who can engage in these types of actions without fear of repercussions or physical risk.  Violent flanks tend to erode chances of democracy in the long term, even when the movement wins.  They are also  correlated with a civil war after the campaign ends.  Nonviolent discipline is hard to create and maintain especially as the movement grows.  3) Counter movements that form in opposition to a nonviolent campaign seem to be on the rise. She said we’re seeing the polarization effect among different social movements.  She said this has been true in the Philippines, Thailand etc and now to a certain degree in the US. She said that a lot of movements today privilege the public actions like demonstrations and protests, and also underestimate the value of building alternative institutions, or what Gandhi called Constructive Programmes.   These can create new spaces for convening community and having dialogue while breaking down “us vs them” dichotomies.  The main reason nonviolent movements win is because they are able to divide the adversary from its main pillars of support and it weakens the adversary which forces the adversary to give in to key demands or collapse altogether.  When there are movement and counter-movement dynamics, the adversary is basically dividing and ruling which turns the strategy around on the population.  4) There seems to be a growing recognition of the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance.  However it doesn’t mean that just because an action is nonviolent that it is strategically smart.  Many nonviolent actions go nowhere because they are not situated or planned in a way that increase numbers or increase costs on the status quo or shift loyalties. Some even backfire or bring sympathy to the adversary.  This speaks to the importance of strategy over tactics rather than nonviolent action for nonviolent action’s sake. 5) Finally, despite the fact that nonviolence is diffusing around the world, there is still outposts of pessimism particularly among the activists community.   This is likely because they have felt tactical failures.   The historical record is clear though, nonviolent action is often a very powerful method of pursuing social and political change and far more effective than any of its violent counterparts at least since the 1960s.  That trend is continuing as well.  Nobody would argue that nonviolent resistance always works, only about half the time, the key question is how to make it more effective, more fair and has outcomes that is widely legitimate.  She said we need to push back on rhetoric that nonviolent resistance is ineffective since it is baseless and possibly dangerous.  
  • Q & A
    • Rivera asked what Erica’s ideas are to carry this kind of nonviolence knowledge into our own communities.  She said that she thinks just convening groups of people that wouldn’t otherwise come together to talk about this topic.  People who are not familair with nonviolent action think it is a naive concept.  The trick is to make it look like a sexy thing.  She said Campaign Nonviolence is doing it pretty well but we need to find out how to bring it to scale.  She said it is ideas communicated broadly that change the world and the more that can happen the more effective nonviolence will be.  
    • Peter Bergel in Oregon:  Peter mentioned that Erica will be at the Seabec Conference in Washington State on July 4th with FOR.  He asked how we could apply nonviolence to the US/NATO, Russia situation.  He also wanted Erica to share briefly on her background.  Erica said that she has been reading Gene Sharp recently about civilian based defence where citizens would be trained in nonviolence sufficiently to prevent an invasion from another country.  She said Lithuania is the only country to have this set up as part of its national security strategy.  They train their population in schools on nonviolent resistance.  She said it’s not certain how it will work, but there is widespread willingness, but there are few cases to derive data on this.  In terms of her background, she said she was a total pessimist on nonviolence and thought it was only a moral position.  She also thought there was very little research on nonviolent resistance.  
    • Jerry Monroe Maynard in Texas: Jerry asked if there exists a difference in the nonviolence that seeks to change culture versus nonviolence that seeks to change the structure of a government or country.  Erica said she hasn’t really split her data that way, so she doesn’t have a clear answer.  She said her hunch is that movements that have more discreet outcomes are easier to win. She said it is surprising how some movements for cultural change have succeeded. One that came to mind was a movement in Kosovo meant to eliminate the blood feud which were deeply entrenched cultural practices that involved retributional violence against a family member in return for the killing of another family member.  This was a practice for about 1000 years, and in the mid 90s women formed a campaign to end this and created an alternative dispute resolution mechanism to substitute the practice and ended the blood feud within 6 years.  This was a behavioral change and not a discrete outcome.
    • John Cabral in Illinois: How often are these movements asking those in power to carry out certain actions the movements want to see.  For example MLK during the bus boycott wanted to talk to the businesses and get a dialogue started. Erica said that one of the most under-researched aspects of nonviolent movements is the sequence between civil resistance and bargaining and negotiation.  She said that groups like labor movements have a high chance of succeeding because they are experts at bargaining and negotiation.  This is a huge aspect that is underappreciated. Activists often see dialogue and negotiation as selling out.  However most of the sustainable changes in the past have come through civil disobedience that brought movement leaders to the table and gave them access to the leverage they needed to come to a compromise solution, like Poland and South Africa.
    • Chris Nelson in California: Chris asked about the role of charismatic leaders in these movements.  Erica said that while she see’s the appeal for these leaders, it can sometimes be a deficit as well if they are relying on a single leader which the opposition can discredit them in various ways.  She said you can have a charismatic leader as long as you have people in the background working on the internal politics of the movement especially in the absence of that leader.  She also said that movements that do have a centrally led movement, not necessarily one leader, but could be a group or organization or coalition, these tend to be more effective.  This would be opposed to a more horizontal/leaderless style of leadership.
    • Murray Maytom in California: Murray asked whether, in order for nonviolence to succeed, does it matter whether a society is one of excess versus society of need. For example if people have more to lose is nonviolence more effective.  Erica said that one article called Nonviolent Resistance and the Extremely Brutal Opponent showed that in cases where the government is directly dependant on its own population to maintain power, these are places where people power can be highly effective and help shift loyalties since people can withdraw cooperation even if they are poor.  However, when the government is not dependent on its population for its power then it is much more difficulty to bring about loyalty shifts, for example when the government gets its funds from gas and oil as opposed to a tax base.   She said it’s less about excess and need and rather more about the dependency relationship between the power holder and the population.  When the population doesn’t have the ability to impose a direct cost or leverage on their opponent, the most important thing for them to do is solicit third party supporters.   For example in East Timor they had to actively get the support of Indonesian students in their universities and develop a worldwide effort that cut off the Indonesian access to weaponry for it occupation of East Timor.  Essentially they had to get others to do nonviolent resistance for them.

CNV organizers stories

  • Bob Cook with Pax Christi in Maryland.
    • Bob is working on events in September on Syria and nuclear weapons that he hopes will also have many local events connected as well.  On Sept 21 in New York City there will be a global day of prayer and action to get faith leaders to encourage world leaders to stop aiding the violence in Syria .  He hopes for many solidarity events.  On Sept 26th there is the UN General Assembly and the international day for a total elimination of nuclear weapons.  There will be some large events in NYC but also hopes to have many solidarity events around the country.  He said if you are trying to get an event together for the week of actions Sept. 18-25, 2016 then consider organizing around this.  More information will be posted on the CNV/Pace e Bene website at in the coming months.

Date and Time of Next Meeting:
Tuesday, June 28th, 8pm ET/5pm PT, with a special focus on the series of nonviolent action campaigns that won American Independence. This is a good call to invite a friend who is not already involved in nonviolence or CNV.


Closing by Veronica Pelicaric reading the Campaign Nonviolence Pledge

Helpful links mentioned on this conference call:

The Success of Nonviolent Civil Resistance – TedXBoulder by Erica Chenoweth

Erica Chenoweth’s Longer Talk at the Campaign Nonviolence National Conference

Why Civil Resistance Works by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan

Nonviolent Civilian Defense To Counter Russian Hybrid Warfare – Lithuania by Maciej Bartkowski

Gene Sharp on Civilian-Based Defense

Other pdfs and free downloads on Civilian-Based Defense

Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent

On Kosovo and the Reconciliation of Blood Feuds, mentioned by Erica in her talk:
Blood feuds were a thousand year tradition in Albania, deeply woven into the cultural values, to the extent that thousands of Albanians were confined to houses (custom dictated that one could not be killed in a house). When no men were available to take on the duels, the women would dress like men and forswear marriage in order to avenge the death of a relative.

In Recovering Nonviolent History, edited by Maciej Bartkowski, the chapter written by Howard Clark on Albania says, “The Campaign to Reconcile Blood Feuds is mainly associated with Anton Çetta (1920-1995), a noted folklorist but also a polyglot, social reformer, and board member of the CDHRF. He took up this issue after being approached by students from Peja. Fifteen people, including some students, had been killed in blood feuds in1989 and, for their own safety, several thousand were confined to their family homes. In a campaign from 1990 to 1992, some 500 students volunteered to tour villages trying to locate blood feuds. Then, elders such as Çetta and his coleader, the Catholic priest Don Lush Gjergj, visited not only to talk with the male head of the family, but also to encourage women to exert their influence. Eventually there were public ceremonies of reconciliation, the biggest on May 1st, 1990, attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Behind this, a network of local reconciliation committees was set up to address disputes without turning to Serbian courts.”

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