Nonviolent Action Lab

Producing and disseminating knowledge on nonviolent action

The Nonviolent Action Lab produces and disseminates up-to-date knowledge on nonviolent action, how it works, and global trends in success and failure. The world is facing numerous crises that demand urgent and effective nonviolent action. Movements worldwide are fighting global inaction on climate change, discrimination against refugee and immigrant communities fleeing war and hardship, and rising global inequality. At the same time, the very institution of democracy is under threat. Over the past decade, authoritarian backsliding has occurred in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Brazil, India, the United States, and elsewhere. The rise of digital authoritarianism has created more opportunities for more sophisticated forms of repression, which has disrupted and undermined nonviolent movements that have relied on digital organizing and online activism to build their movements. Movements are fighting back against corruption, injustice, and violence in almost every country of the world. What remains to be seen is how effective they will be in challenging entrenched power in increasingly complex environments.

Existing research shows that nonviolent resistance can be a highly effective pathway to defend democratic values and institutions, while also creating transformative change in many domains. Yet many people remain skeptical about the power of nonviolent resistance to effect change. Part of the reason for this skepticism is that information about the power of nonviolent resistance—and up-to-date data demonstrating its power—is inaccessible to many people in the world. By systematically studying and amplifying nonviolent resistance, and synthesizing lessons learned from global movements worldwide, the lab will make it easier for the public and practitioners to embrace nonviolent action as a means of transforming injustice. 

 

News and Announcements

Women's March Washington, D.C.

How to Stop a Power Grab

November 16, 2020

According to Erica Chenoweth, there is no one, single moment when a country crosses from a democracy into an autocracy. Instead, as she tells The New Yorker, "The norms and institutions can grow weaker over years, or decades, without people noticing."

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Documentation as Resistance Against Widespread Civilian Harm in Yemen

Documentation as Resistance Against Widespread Civilian Harm in Yemen

Abstract:

 

The efforts by Yemeni civil society to document the harms of the war as they occur are a powerful act of resistance and are critical to advancing justice for the Yemenis against whom these harms have been perpetrated, in whatever form that justice may ultimately take.

 

The Yemeni Civil War broke out in 2014 following a failed political transition in the aftermath of the 2011 Yemeni Revolution. The Revolution had resulted in the ouster of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled North Yemen and—after North and South Yemen joined—the Republic of Yemen, for more than three decades. However, several groups—including the Houthi movement in northern Yemen—opposed the new government that had formed under Saleh’s former vice president, now current President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The Houthis attacked and took over the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in the fall of 2014, and several months later, Saudi Arabia responded with a military intervention to re-install the Hadi government, resulting in the civil war that continues to devastate Yemen today.

Since then, it has been deemed the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Though the Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi-led insurgency are the central parties to the conflict, more than a dozen countries have provided support to one of the sides. Most importantly, a Saudi-led coalition of countries (the “Saudi Led Coalition”), including the U.S., is backing the government, while Iran is providing support to the Houthis. The respective resources of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other countries have contributed to the high rate of civilian casualties, the millions of people at risk of starvation, and the widespread violations of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in the Yemeni conflict. In spite of this, no party to the conflict has transparently addressed the number of civilian casualties, nor the broader violations of IHL and IHRL, resulting from their operations, and have instead denied their role in the harms being perpetrated against Yemeni civilians.

Read the full paper. 

: Niku Jafarnia | March 12 2021
: The efforts by Yemeni civil society to document the harms of the war as they occur are a powerful act of resistance and are critical to advancing justice for the Yemenis against whom these harms have been perpetrated.
Last updated on 03/12/2021

Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman. 10/20/2020. “Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds.” The Spokesman Review. Read the article.
Black Lives Matter protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful, our research finds

Abstract:

When the Department of Homeland Security released its Homeland Threat Assessment earlier this month, it emphasized that self-proclaimed white supremacist groups are the most dangerous threat to U.S. security. But the report misleadingly added that there had been “over 100 days of violence and destruction in our cities,” referring to the anti-racism uprisings of this past summer.

In fact, the Black Lives Matter uprisings were remarkably nonviolent. When there was violence, very often police or counterprotesters were reportedly directing it at the protesters.

Read the article. 

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | Oct 20 2020
: Research shows the Black Lives Matters protests were extraordinarily nonviolent, and extraordinarily nondestructive, given the unprecedented size of the movement’s participation and geographic scope.

The Future of Nonviolent Resistance

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth. 7/2020. “The Future of Nonviolent Resistance.” Journal of Democracy , 31, 3, Pp. 69-84. See full text.
The Future of Nonviolent Resistance

Full Text

Erica Chenoweth examines the recent decline of civil-resistance campaigns and argues recent setbacks, like the pandemic, have served as a much-needed reset for movements around the world.

Over the past fifty years, nonviolent civil resistance has overtaken armed struggle as the most common form of mobilization used by revolutionary movements. Yet even as civil resistance reached a new peak of popularity during the 2010s, its effectiveness had begun to decline—even before the covid-19 pandemic brought mass demonstrations to a temporary halt in early 2020. This essay argues that the decreased success of nonviolent civil resistance was due not only to savvier state responses, but also to changes in the structure and capabilities of civil-resistance movements themselves. Perhaps counterintuitively, the coronavirus pandemic may have helped to address some of these underlying problems by driving movements to turn their focus back to relationship-building, grassroots organizing, strategy, and planning.

: Erica Chenoweth | July 2020
: Erica Chenoweth examines the recent decline of civil-resistance campaigns and argues recent setbacks, like the pandemic, have served as a much-needed reset for movements around the world.
Last updated on 07/31/2020
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Research shows that demonstrations are just one of many tools that civil resistance movements can use to effect change. Such movements are effective when they do three things: attract widespread and diverse participation; develop a strategy that allows them to maneuver around repression; and provoke defections, loyalty shifts, or disobedience among regime elites and/or security forces.”

- Erica Chenoweth