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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Select Publications

The Physics of Dissent and the Effects of Movement Momentum


Erica Chenoweth and Margherita Belgioioso. 8/5/2019. “The Physics of Dissent and the Effects of Movement Momentum.” Nature Human Behaviour. See full text.
The Physics of Dissent and the Effects of Movement Momentum


How do ‘people power’ movements succeed when modest proportions of the population participate?

Here we propose that the effects of social movements increase as they gain momentum. We approximate a simple law drawn from physics: momentum equals mass times velocity (p = mv). We propose that the momentum of dissent is a product of participation (mass) and the number of protest events in a week (velocity). We test this simple physical proposition against panel data on the potential effects of movement momentum on irregular leader exit in African countries between 1990 and 2014, using a variety of estimation techniques. Our findings show that social movements potentially compensate for relatively modest popular support by concentrating their activities in time, thus increasing their disruptive capacity. Notably, these findings also provide a straightforward way for dissidents to easily quantify their coercive potential by assessing their participation rates and increased concentration of their activities over time.

Read the full article here

: Erica Chenoweth et al. | Aug 5 2019
: How do ‘people power’ movements succeed when modest proportions of the population participate?
Last updated on 02/11/2020

Reclaiming Stonewall: Welcome to the Celebration—and the Struggle


Timothy Patrick McCarthy. 6/25/2019. “Reclaiming Stonewall: Welcome to the Celebration—and the Struggle.” The Nation.
Reclaiming Stonewall: Welcome to the Celebration—and the Struggle


A new edition of The Nation examines the meaning of Stonewall. 

Guest edited by Timothy McCarthy, the issue asks us, 'What still needs to be done?'

"Anniversaries are occasions for remembrance, even pride and celebration, but they should also be moments of reckoning, which offer us the opportunity to reflect critically on where we come from, where we are, and where we go from here. 

To help us reckon with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, The Nation invited a remarkable group of LGBTQ activists, artists, and academics to reflect on its many legacies. Ranging in age from 23 to 88 years old, the participants in “Reclaiming Stonewall” represent the stunning diversity of our community across generations. Combining the personal and the political, this collection of living queer histories is something of an archive of our moment, when many of us are grappling with what might be called the paradox of progress: the coexistence of important changes—in courtrooms and legislatures, hearts and minds—with seemingly intractable challenges.

As we reckon with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, let us heed all these voices and ask, “What still needs to be done?” If the legacy and inheritance of Stonewall mean anything, it’s that our fight is far from over and that our collective struggle for liberation—for everyone—must continue."

—Timothy Patrick McCarthy

: Douglas A. Johnson | June 25, 2019
: A new edition of The Nation examines the meaning of Stonewall.
Last updated on 05/17/2021

The '3.5% rule': How a small minority can change the world



Research featuring Carr Center's Erica Chenoweth. 

Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.

"In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.

In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands."

Read the full article on BBC Future.

ow: David Robson | May 15, 2019
sdf: Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts.
Last updated on 02/11/2020
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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