Why is conflict early warning and nonviolent action erroneously assumed to be conceptually and operationally distinct in the practice conflict prevention? Isn’t communication central to the effectiveness of both early warning and nonviolent action? Yes it is.
Planning, preparedness and tactical evasion, in particular, are central components of strategic nonviolence: people must be capable of concealment and dispersion. Getting out of harm’s way and preparing people for the worst effects of violence requires sound intelligence and timely strategic estimates, or situation awareness.
Unlike conventional early warning systems, nonviolent groups make use survival tactics and mobile communication technologies instead of endless security council meetings and academic databases. To this end, studying and disseminating testimonies of those who survive violence can provide important insights into numerous tried and true survival tactics. Luck may at times play a role in survival stories. But to quote the French scientist Louis Pasteur, “in the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.”
From survival testimonies communities in crises can “learn what dispersed and hidden livelihoods look like. They can be shown how they might dismantle their village homes and build temporary huts near their fields as the Vietnamese sometimes did in the face of American airpower. Or use crop colors and canopies that are less noticeable from the air, as Salvadoran peasants sometimes planted.” Understandably, “no sophisticated warning systems were available, so people had to develop their own skills in detecting and identifying aircraft” (See Barrs 2006).
Today, local communities are increasingly making use of ICTs to get out of harm’s way. From Iraqis using Google Earth to avoid the bloodshed in Baghdad, the Burmese underground using radios and mobile phones to monitor the movement of soldiers, and the SMS revolution in the Philippines that deposed the Estrada regime, one can only expect what I call the iRevolution to continue full steam ahead. Indeed, evidence of human rights abuses in Tibet was available on the web within hours, both in the form of blogs and video footage. Amnesty International’s “Eyes on Darfur” regularly sends Sudanese government officials satellite imagery depicting their complicity in the genocide. The next logical step will be to provide local communities with this information.