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."

topol_01

Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Receives Gift from Topol Family Foundation to Support Launch of Nonviolent Action Lab

May 26, 2020

Cambridge, MA – The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School is pleased to announce a generous gift from the Topol Family Foundation to support the Center’s program on nonviolent social movements.... Read more about Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Receives Gift from Topol Family Foundation to Support Launch of Nonviolent Action Lab

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Select Publications

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

The Floyd Protests Are the Broadest in U.S. History — and Are Spreading to White, Small-Town America

The Floyd Protests Are the Broadest in U.S. History — and Are Spreading to White, Small-Town America

Abstract:

Erica Chenoweth discusses the Floyd protests and its impact on law, social policies, and the 2020 elections.

Across the country, people are protesting the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and demanding action against police violence and systemic racism. National media focuses on the big demonstrations and protest policing in major cities, but they have not picked up on a different phenomenon that may have major long-term consequences for politics. Protests over racism and #BlackLivesMatter are spreading across the country — including in small towns with deeply conservative politics.

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | June 6 2020
: Erica Chenoweth discusses the Floyd protests and its impact on law, social policies, and the 2020 elections.
Last updated on 06/18/2020

Media Coverage Has Blown Anti-Lockdown Protests out of Proportion

Citation:

Erica Chenoweth, Lara Putnam, Tommy Leung, Jeremy Pressman, and Nathan Perkins. 5/10/2020. “Media Coverage Has Blown Anti-Lockdown Protests out of Proportion.” Vox. See full text.
Media Coverage Has Blown Anti-Lockdown Protests out of Proportion

Abstract:

Erica Chenoweth explains that anti-lockdown protests are smaller than portrayed, but the media is amplifying their message.

In the last few weeks, protests against state lockdowns and social distancing measures have seized national headlines. The wall-to-wall coverage might give the impression that what we’re seeing is a powerful grassroots movement in the making. But research we just conducted on protest attendance and media coverage shows something different: This massive media coverage has in fact been out of proportion.

A comprehensive look at the social distancing protests reveals that they have been small in terms of both the number of participants and locations. As one official in the administration of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) tweeted about a protest in Annapolis on April 20, “There were more media inquiries about this than there were participants.”

Read the full article.

 

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | May 10 2020
: Erica Chenoweth explains that anti-lockdown protests are smaller than portrayed, but the media is amplifying their message.
Last updated on 05/11/2020
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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