Tag Archives: Nonviolence

Wasp: Sticker-War as a Tactic for Civil Resistance

Eric Russell’s science fiction novel, Wasp, is brilliant. It was published in 1957 and weaves civil resistance theory with creative tactics that remain fully relevant half-a-century later. What I want to do here is share some excerpts that describe a very neat civil resistance tactic. Please see my previous post for the context of the story along with the novel’s compelling theory on civil resistance.

One of the first tactics that Mowry employs is perhaps surprising—posting stickers with different messages. His strategy is to make the authorities think a powerful underground movement lead by Dirac Angestun Gesept (D.A.G.) is resisting the regime. This movement is entirely imaginary. The sticker read for example:

“War is wealth for the few, misery for the many. At the right time, Dirac Angestun Gesept will punish the former, bring aid and comfort to the latter.”

Mowry bet that folks who came across the he posted in very public places would be too shocked to try and remove them and would stay very clear of them. “The chances were equally good that they’d spread the news, and gossip is the same in every part of the cosmos: it gains compound interest as it goes the rounds.”

In one instance, Mowry had planted a sticker on a shop window. He then stands on the other side of the street to see what would unfold. Very quickly, a crowd forms and a scowling police officer was at the scene. He immediately summons the shopkeeper who becomes very anxious when he sees the sticker.

‘Get if off!’

‘Yes, Officer, Certainly, Officer. I shall remove it immediately.’

The manager started digging with his nails at the sticker corners, in an attempt to peel it off. He didn’t do so well, because [Earth’s] technical superiority extended even to common adhesives. After several futile efforts, the manager threw the cop an apologetic look, went inside, came out with a knife, and tried again. This time he succeeded in tearing a small triangle from each corner, leaving the message intact.

A few minutes later, James Mowry, glancing back from the far corner, saw the manager emerge with a steaming bucket and get busy swabbing the notice. He grinned to himself, knowing that hot water was just the thing to release and activate the hydrofluoric base beneath the print.

Sure enough, but the time he came back a few hours later, “the sticker had disappeared; in it’s place the same message was etched deeply and milkily in the glass. The policeman and the manager were now arguing heatedly upon the sidewalk, with half a dozen citizens now gaping alternately at them and the window.

As Mowry walked past, the cow bawled, ‘I don’t care if the window is valued at two thousand guilders. You’ve got to board it up or replace the glass.’

‘But, Officer…’

‘Do as you’re told. To exhibit subversive propaganda is a major offence.’

By the end of the night, Mowry had slapped exactly one hundred stickers on shops, offices, and vehicles of the city transport system; he also inscribed swiftly, clearly, and in large size letters D.A.G. upon twenty-four walls. The latter feat was performed with [Earth] crayon, a deceitfully chalklike substance that made full use of the porosity of brick when water was applied. In other words, the more furiously it was washed the more stubbornly it became embedded.

The following day, Mowry brought a paper and searched it for some mention of yesterday’s activities. There wasn’t a word on the subject. First he felt disappointed; then, on further reflection, he became heartened.

Opposition to the war and open defiance of the government definitely made news that justified a front-page spread. No reporter, no editor would pass it up if he could help it; therefore the papers had passed it up because they could not help it. Somebody high in authority had clamped down upon them with the heavy hand of censorship. Somebody with considerable power had been driven into making a weak countermove.

That was a start, anyway. Mowry’s first waspish buzzings had forced authority to interfere with the press. What’s more, the countermove was feeble and ineffective, serving only as a stopgap while officials beat their brains for more decisive measures.

The more persistently a government maintains silence on a given subject of discussion, the more the public talks about it and thinks about it. The longer and more stubborn the silence, the guiltier the government looks to the talkers and thinkers. In time of war, the most morale-lowering question that can be asked is, ‘What are they hiding from us now?”

Some hundreds of citizens would be asking themselves that same question tomorrow, the next day, or next week. The [messages on the stickers] would be on a multitude of lips, milling around in a like number of minds, merely because the powers that be were afraid to talk.

And if a government fears to admit even the pettiest facts of war, how much faith can the common man place in the leadership’s claim not to be afraid of anything?

I did a little research to see where we’re at with sticker technology. While stickers with hydrofluoric acid still belong to the realm of science fiction, there are stickers that give the very real semblance of being etched in glass are available.

Patrick Philippe Meier

What Does a Wasp Have To Do With Civil Resistance? Everything.

Google’s Vint Cerf recommended Eric Russell’s science fiction novel, Wasp, to a colleague of mine in the field of civil resistance. I’m very glad he did, I just read it and the novel is brilliant. It was published in 1957 and weaves civil resistance theory with creative tactics that remain fully applicable half-a-century later. Plus, it’s an action-packed page-turner. I highly recommend it.


What I want to do here is share some excerpts that elegantly highlight the theory behind civil resistance (my next posts expose creative tactics using stickers and paper-based wars).

The setting is an intergalactic war between Earth and the Sirian Empire. The latter has an advantage in personnel and equipment. Earth needs an edge and this is where James Mowry comes in. He is covertly dropped on the Sirian home planet to destabilize the entire empire. The aim is to divert the Empire’s resources and focus away from the war against Earth by creating a fictitious resistance movement at home. Wasp is the story of the strategies, creative tactics and real-world technologies that Mowry employs to accomplish his mission.

But first he has to be convinced to take on a mission that would have him single-handedly destabilize the entire empire from within. Naturally, he seriously questions the sanity of Agent Wolf, the unpleasant operator assigned to recruit him. Growing impatient with Mowry’s stubbornness, Wolf hands him some press reports.

Mowry glanced at them and perused them slowly.

The first told of a prankster in Roumania. This fellow had done nothing more than stand in the road and gaze fascinatedly at the sky, occasionally crying, ‘Blue flames!’ Curious people had joined him and gaped likewise. The group became a crowd; the crowd became a mob.

Soon the audience blocked the street and overflowed into the side streets. Police tried to break it up, making matters worse. Some fool summoned the fire squads. Hysterics on the fringes swore they could see, or had seen, something weird above the clouds. Reporters and cameramen rushed to scene; rumours raced around. The government sent up the air force for a closer look and panic spread over an area of two hundred square, from which the original cause had judiciously disappeared.

‘Amusing if nothing else,’ Mowry remarked. ‘Read on,’ commanded Wolf.

The second report concerned a daring escape from jail. Two notorious killers had stolen a car; they made six hundred miles before recapture, fourteen hours later. The third report detailed an automobile accident: three killed, one seriously injured, the car a complete wreck. The sole survivor died nine hours later.

Mowry handed back the papers. ‘What’s all this to me?’

Wolf: We’ll take those reports in order as read. They prove something of which we’ve been long aware but which you may not have realized. Now, let’s take the first one. That Roumanian did nothing, positively nothing, except stare at the sky and mumble. Yet he forced a government to start jumping around like fleas on a hot griddle. It shows that in given conditions, actions and reaction can be ridiculously out of proportion. By doing insignificant things in suitable circumstances, one can obtain results monstrously in excel of the effort.

Now consider the two convicts. They didn’t do much, either. They climbed a wall, seized a car, drove like made until they gas ran out, then got caught. But for the better part of fourteen hours, they monopolized the attention of six planes, ten helicopters, one hundred and twenty patrol-cars. They tied up eighteen telephone exchanges, uncountable phone lines and radio link-ups, not to mention police, deputies, posses of volunteers, hunters, trackers, forest rangers and National Guardsmen. The total was twenty-thousand, scattered over three states.

Finally, lets consider this auto smash-up. The survivor was able to tell us the cause before he died. He said the driver lost control at high speed while swiping at a wasp which had flown in through a window and was buzzing around his face. The weight of a wasp is under half an ounce. Compared with a human being, the waps’s size is minute, it’s strength negligible. Its sole armament is a tiny syringe holding a drop of irritant, formic acid. In this instance, the wasp didn’t even use it. Nevertheless, that wasp killed four big men and converted a larger, powerful car into a heap of scarp.

‘I see the point,” Mowry said, “but where do I come in?’

“Right here,” said Wolf. “We want you to become a wasp.”


After several months of training, Mowry is dropped on Pertane, the home planet of the Sirian Empire. He spends the first evening exploring Jaimec, the capital.

He wandered around, memorizing all geographical features that might prove useful to recall later on. But primarily he was seeking to estimate the climate of public opinion with particular reference to minority opinions.

In every war, he knew, no matter how great a government’s power, it’s rule is never absolute. In every war, no matter how righteous the cause, the effort is never total. No campaign has ever been fought with the leadership united in favour of it and with the rank and file one hundred per cent behind them.

There is always the minority that opposes a war for such reasons as reluctance to make necessary sacrifices, fear of personal loss or suffering, or philosophical and ethical objection to warfare as a method of settling disputes. Then there is a lack of confidence in the ability of the leadership; resentment at being called upon to play a subordinate role; pessimistic belief that victory is far from certain and defeat very possible; egoistic satisfaction of refusing to run with the herd; psychological opposition to being yelled at on any and every pretext, and a thousand and one other reasons.

No political or military dictatorship ever has been one hundred per cent successful in identifying and suppressing the malcontents, who bid their time. Mowry could be sure that, by the law of averages, Jaimec must have its share of these.

For a description of the creative tactics used by Mowry, stay tuned for my following post.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Content for Digital Activism and Civil Resistance

I’ve been advising a large scale digital activism and civil resistance project and am concerned by the lack of importance placed on content. The project’s donor (not implementer) literally thinks that flooding the country in question with mobile phones, for example, will catalyze an effective digital and civil resistance movement. Clearly, they know very little about civil resistance.

Content Matters

Here’s a personal story I often relate during conversations that tend toward technological determinism. I was in the Western Sahara in 2003 doing investigative research on the Polisario guerrilla movement. I made contact with a high ranking guerrilla fighter who had trained in Cuba and Libya and who just defected from the camp’s headquarters in Algeria. He was a wealth of information and we quickly became friends.

Click for credit/source

One of my most memorable moments was when he recounted what ultimately made him decide to leave the Polisario. “I got a Spanish copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell, and I couldn’t believe it, he described in detail the political nature of the Polisario movement. I did not want this life for my children and my wife. So I left.”

Click for credit/source

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely pro self-determination for the Western Sahara which, like many others, I consider to be the oldest colony in Africa. The point of my story, however, is that a simply but brilliant book was enough to make my friend take a huge risk in defecting. Content is key, technology is secondary. (I’m actually reading a neat book, Wasp by Eric Russell, that gets exactly at this disproportionate, asymmetric dynamic vis-a-vis civil resistance).

Identifying Content

This brings me to my next point. I have been surprised to find little material that specifically lists the kind of content one would want to smuggle into a country under authoritarian rule. This is not to say we should restrict certain types of information, absolutely not, the first step is to provide full and secure access to all content on the web, for example.

At the same time, it behooves us to place some deliberate “sign posts” to specific content that can educate a closed society about digital activism and civil resistance. This means providing access to international and alternative news, such as mainstream media and GlobalVoices. Providing access to Wikipedia is also a good idea. But there’s a lot more content out there if the goal is to foster a peaceful transition to democracy.

As the Western Sahara story suggests, we would want to provide all of George Orwell’s books in print and/or electronic form. In addition, books on democracy and especially nonviolent revolutions and social movements. History books on civil resistance as well as video documentaries and even audio-books. I would also include multimedia material on nonviolent tactics and strategy.


Finally, I’m interested in computer games, like A Force More Powerful (AFMP); see screenshot above. I’ve also been toying around with the idea of multi-player games on mobile phones that replicate swarm or smartmob-like behavior. Like a treasure hunt of sorts via SMS or beeping.

How You Can Help

The identification of content should be one of the very first steps in this kind of digital activism and civil resistance project. Only after the content is identified, acquired and translated into the appropriate language(s) should one turn to technology as a vehicle for safe and secure transmission using encryption, steganography, etc.

In the meantime, here’s what I  have so far:

  • A Force More Powerful (book, DVD and game)
  • Nonviolent Conflict: 50 Crucial Points (>)
  • Waging Nonviolent Struggle in the 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (>)
  • Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the 20th Century (>)
  • Unarmed Insurrections: People Power in Non-Democracies (>)
  • On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals (>)
  • Introduction to Nonviolent Conflict (>)
  • Bringing Down a Dictator (DVD)
  • Revolution in Orange (Book and DVD)
  • There Are Realistic Alternatives (>)
  • The Right to Rise Up: The Virtues of Civic Disruption (>)
  • Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power (>)
  • Civil Disobedience by Hannah Arendt (>)
  • War without Weapons (>)
  • Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographic Perspective (>)
  • Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent (>)
  • Power and Persuasion: Nonviolent Strategies to Influence State Security Forces (>)
  • Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Lessons from Past, Ideas for Future (>)
  • How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (>)

There is more great content listed on the Albert Einstein Institution website, PeaceMakers, Civil Resistance Info, Nonviolent Conflict, DigiActive and David Cortright’s website.

I’m looking for free or paid content. This content can be text, audio and/or video. I’d also be interested in putting a list together of entertaining movies with an underlying message of democracy and nonviolent resistance. The same goes for computer games and games on mobile phones. In sum, any material you think could educate and empower a society closed from the world would be welcome.

Feel free to forward this call for feedback as widely as you’d like. Thank you.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: The Future of Civil Resistance

The final presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the future of nonviolent conflict. This future depends largely on the quality of our thinking.

There is a surprising development of civil resistance. To be sure, the frequency of occurrences is accelerating. At the same time, a consensus on concepts and dynamics is also surfacing. The definition of civil resistance which is gaining traction is as follows:

Civil resistance is a type of political action that relies on the use of non-violent methods. It is largely synonymous with certain other terms, including ‘non-violent action’, ‘non-violent resistance’, and ‘people power’. It involves a range of widespread and sustained activities that challenge a particular power, force, policy or regime—hence the term ‘resistance’. The adjective ‘civil’ in this context denotes that which pertains to a citizen or society, implying that a movement’s goals are ‘civil’ in the senes of being widley shared in a society; and it generally denotes that the action concerned is non-military or non-violent in charachter.

This definition is taken from the forthcoming book “Civil Resistance & Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Ghandhi to the Present” edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash.


Civil resistance will increasingly be the preferred strategy for countering repression. This is due to the better success/failure ratio of civil resistance and the fact that nonviolent transitions have a more democratic outcome.

Skill of civil resistance will become increasingly ascendant over restrictive conditions. They will be less limited by the brutality of the regime. In addition, they will be less constrained by low civil society development. Hence the need for training in civil resistance.

Foreign policy elites will increasingly recognize civil resistance as a contest without a predetermined outcome. To this end, we need to do the following:

  • End the sterile debate on whether to engage or not to engage rather than who to engage with;
  • End the distinction between hard and soft power;
  • Better understanding of the varieties of assistance to opposition movements;
  • Create norms for requests for assistance rather than right to protect.

In conclusion, we are neither at “the end of history” nor “the return of history.” The advancement of civil resistance puts us at “the end of the return of history.” So how do we accelerate this process?

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Civil Resistance in Democracies

The fourteenth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on movements and elections. The talk was given by none other than Professor Doug McAdam from Stanford University. I’m a big fan McAdam’s research and have cited his work in my dissertation research.

What is absolutely stunning in the social movement literature is the almost complete lack of reference to the role of elections. Likewise, the literature on elections virtually ignores the role of social movements. These academic silos reminded of my dissertation proposal in which I note that the nonviolent civil resistance virtually ignores the role of communication technology.

There are five dynamic links between social movements and elections:

  • Elections as a social movement tactic
  • Proactive electoral mobilization
  • Reactive electoral mobilization
  • Elections shaping the longer-term waxing and waning of movement fortunes
  • Party polarization via social movement pressures

The standard explanation for social movement mobilization, known as political process theory (PPT), emphasizes the role of political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and framing processes, along with protest cycles and contentious repertoires. Movements can use an electoral strategy to manage political transitions. Social movements can also become part of important coalitions in the election process.

One of the most brilliant campaign strategies, according to McAdam, is Freedom Summer in 1964.

“This was a campaign in Mississippi launched to register as many African American voters as possible, which up to that time had almost totally excluded black voters. The project was organized by the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of four established civil rights organizations: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), with SNCC playing the lead role.”

One participant noted that at times social movements (e.g., indigenous movements in Mexico and Guatemala) explicitly boycotts elections or at the very least deliberately do not place any importance in the electoral process. I don’t think this necessarily contradicts McAdam’s point, those indigenous movements did have a strategy—one of non-engagement.

The way I see it, elections are critical processes in any case. As McAdam explains, “elections do create a moment when mobilization is more or less legitimate, they provide a cover.” More fundamentally, I would crystallize the importance of elections around the notion of predictability. In other words, elections are scheduled events and provide an anchor around which resistance movements can plan and prepare for.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Repressive Strategies, Democratic Assistance & Civil Resistance

The thirteenth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on international efforts to assist, defend and advance democratic development. The talk also focused on the strategies implemented by repressive regimes to prevent uprisings.

There are a number of issues that arise in democratic assistance:

  • Is supporting democratic parties in advance of elections assistance or intervention?
  • Fine line between democracy promotion and “picking sides”
  • Difficult to identify who the democrats are
  • Risk of futility: lost causes
  • Risk of misuse of aid by corrupt and sincere actors; need to monitor.
  • Risk of supporting Western-oriented NGOs to the exclusion of more authentic groups.
  • Where does the initiative come from, the donor or the recipient?

The Color Revolutions

There are several well known successes in civil resistance movements. But to really understand what makes movements successful requires that we clearly understand why some movements failed, such as Burma 1990, Belarus 2006, Zimbabwe 2008. Iran is as yet undetermined.

There are some external conditions facilitating color revolutions:

  • Democratic leverage: susceptibility to Western/democratic pressure as a result of economic or security ties.
  • Relative lack of reciprocal leverage on West.
  • Linkages: economic, geopolitical, social, communication and transnational civil societies.

Linkages make repression more costly by:

  • Heightening Western attention and stakes.
  • Increasing the prospect that Western governments will impose costs.
  • Creating democratic constituencies with a stake in democratic reform.
  • Strengthening demo actors in relation to autocrats.

The authoritarian backlash: Authoritarian learning. These regimes do the following:

  • Preempt the favorable conditions for mass mobilization to bring about democratic change.
  • Study and learn from other successful color revolutions. They have thus developed a number of counter-strategies.
  • Restrict alternative political space more aggresively.
  • Foment divisions among the political opposition.
  • Forbid/criminalize the receipt of international grants by independent media and NGOs. This has placed a devastating role.
  • Sever international democratic ties.
  • Forbid international observation of elections.
  • Forbid or harass domestic election monitoring.
  • Shut down mobile networks, SMS, post-election, as crisis builds.
  • Preemptively seize control of public spaces, block access for mass ralies; utilize force early and brutally.
  • Redeploy security forces to ensure loyalty.
  • Import and deploy powerful Internet monitoring and filtration systems.
  • Borrowing and cooperation among authoritarian regimes.

Iran Conditions

There are favorable conditions and still some space for political pluralism. There are high levels of information and education. There is some unification of opposition. There are regime splits, unpopular incumbent. Extensive capacity is using new technologies.

There are however unfavorable conditions. Lack of a parallel vote tabulation to “prove” election fraud. Regime control of security forces so far. The regime is has the technical skill and capacity to monitor and block information. There is little Western leverage.

Tipping factors in Iran include:

  • Courage, commitment, strategy of opposition leadership
  • Opposition ability to craft and sustain campaign of non-violent civil resistance, vs “returning to normal”
  • Further regime splits: where will the clerifcal establishment (Qom) and various security branches come down?
  • Battle of information technology between regime and opposition: repression or evasion? Liberation technology: increasing use of Internet, cell phones, SMS and new social media?

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Media and Nonviolent Conflict

The twelfth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the role of the media in civil resistance. The media can be a powerful force in supporting the principles of a nonviolent struggle. At the same time, the media can also frame issues in a very unhelpful way.

I should say that the tactics and strategies below are core to the field of digital activism. DigiActive provides training on how to use new media to frame your message and how to connect with mainstream media. One needs to set an “agenda of resistance” in all media interventions.


News framing is like a picture frame; new influences what people think and feel about but also influences what people do not think about. Words activate particular frames of seeing. The challenge for activists is to “mediatize” your own conflict.This means framing the conflict at home and abroad. Getting your values and vision across can substantially change the strategic balance of your struggle

In order to interact with the media, nonviolent movements have to understand what journalists need:

  • Clear, molded messages: What are you trying to say?
  • For clearly targeted audiences: Whom are you trying to reach? Your first audience is us in the press.
  • With a local angle or news-peg: Why does it matter to me?
  • Promotion is key: Storytelling is story selling double meaning.

Journalists in essence perform two functions: verification and justification. The challenge for the activists’ organization is to be able to feed both these appetites:

  • Capacity to deliver the event/development journalists can themselves witness;
  • Capacity to provide the “justifiable” sources and commentators.

Being able to provide both enables the nonviolent activist to trade in the media market at some competitive advantage.

What makes a good story?

  • Information: what do people need to know? Why does a story matter to me?
  • Human appeal: News is people, who they are, what they want, and how they get it. Issues need a human face.
  • Buzz factor: what are people talking about? News is deviation from norm. Mode of delivery matches message. Nonviolence is often a deviation from the norm.

One participant asked whether the story of Neda in Iran helps or hurts the civil resistance? On the one hand, Neda has come to frame the current struggle. On the other hand, it does demonstrate that the regime is cracking down and may help spread fear. CNN turned the story of Neda into a story on “how CNN covers the Neda story” as opposed to the story behind Neda.

Don’t fight the media, figure them out:

  • Understand who covers what
  • Target your media audience: TV? Radio? Print? Internet?
  • Make relationships, maintain them (not just when news breaks)
  • Understand news cycles
  • Pitch the right reporter at the right time
  • Mold the message say it simply
  • Personify your story: we cover people, not issues
  • Keep deadlines in mind
  • Know how journalists see their competition

Get your story out on the Internet: Why? How?

  • Reach a new audience
  • Free distribution
  • Increase your numbers
  • Get feedback
  • Meet allies
  • Signal adversaries
  • Raise money
  • Pitch to journalists
  • Great blogs have new posts several times a day

In conclusion, understand what makes a story; remember who you’re trying to reach and how; treat the press like an ally, not an enemy; technology is your friend (but use it safely/securely); develop flexibility in your ability to get your message to people.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Law, Justice and Nonviolent Conflict

The eleventh presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on Rule of Law and Justice in nonviolent action. This was an interesting talk on the commonalities between the strategies in nonviolent conflict and post-conflict constitution making, e.g., participatory and inclusive approaches increase legitimacy.

The presentation on Rule of Law was somewhat technical and formalistic, which was actually very helpful for those of us not well versed in this area. The process of constitution making is not one I’m familiar with but the discussion reminded me of a colleague’s interesting in setting up a platform to “crowdsource” a constitution.

The topic of Truth Commissions was also presented. These are often referred to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. The reconciliation process is often not possible so seeking to establish co-existence is frequently preferable.

There are three primary intersections between nonviolent movements and the legal/justice process in post-conflict scenarios:

  1. Movement’s goals/vision of tomorrow;
  2. Indivisibility of means and ends;
  3. Relationship with security forces.

Some important questions thus follow

  • In what specific ways can a nonviolent campaign smooth the way for transnational justice while simultaneously contributing to the likelihood of success for the movement?
  • What kinds of goals would specifically be included in a manifesto/vision of tomorrow?

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Role of Diplomats & Diasporas in Civil Resistance

The tenth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on how diplomats can assist democratic movements and what role the diaspora plays in the democracy movement.

The Diplomats Handbook is designed to give diplomats options regarding what they can do vis-a-vis diplomatic intervention. The golden rules for diplomats include listening, respecting, understanding and sharing. Guidelines are provided on how to demarche governments (like Iran’s currently) and how to inform the media (like in Burma); providing a space for meeting; attending rallies (like Ukraine) to act as a witness; ultimately to protect (like Italian embassy in Tehran).

The diaspora plays 4 important roles in the democratic process:

  1. Act as the voice of conscience to the world.
  2. Lobby diplomats for internationa support and cooperation.
  3. Mobilize activists for grassrooots involvement both inside and outside the country.
  4. Provide psychological and financial support to the movement.

In building a partnership with the international community, diasporas call for the:

  1. Protecting human rights.
  2. Spreading democracy.
  3. Building of civil society.

Actions are also needed from foreign diplomats. These include:

  1. Promoting the cause within one’s own government.
  2. Sending a unifying message regarding human rights and democracy.
  3. Exert pressure against human rights violations.
  4. Engage democratic groups.
  5. Support grassroots independent organizations.

One participant noted that the diaspora can also play a negative role by acting as spoilers in a particular process. Cuba doesn’t really qualify but I’m struck at how different the perspectives of Cubans in Miami are from those of Cubans on the island. Once the Castros are gone, how will the relationship between the diaspora and Cubans on the island be managed?

In the case of Vietnam, the nonviolent opposition groups in the diaspora make a point to go back to Vietnam on a regular place to work side by side with counterparts in country.

Another conversation that ensued was on the role of the US State Department, and specifically how nonviolent movements can manage that relationship. In one case, a participant mentioned that the State Department has been one of the most frustrating impediments. Another participant volunteered guidance: with the State Department, you need to apply a lot of pressure and make friends with the right people in State.

One final observation emphasized the need for the diaspora to be the voice of conscience both outside the country and also within the country.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Rechanneling Militancy in Nonviolent Struggle

The ninth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the issue of terrorism. In particular, the talk discussed how terrorism works and why it fails. Is terrorism an effective means at achieving a stated objective?

Terrorism is almost entirely psychological; it is about changing people’s minds and perception. So terrorism always requires an audience.

How terrorism works

  • “Propaganda of the Deed” – directed at supporters and potential supporters; action speak louder than words; this is the moment, join the revolution.
  • “Provoking repression” – directed at governments, people will turn on their governments when the latter over-react.
  • “Asset to liability shift” – directed at populations and governments; increase the perceived “price” (in financial but also political terms) of a policy.

There are two examples of terrorism being successful particularly because the conditions were “right” so to speak. The first is the anti-colonial movement in Algeria. The second is the creation of Israel, i.e., the terrorist activities against the British.

Why terrorism fails

  • People are more resilient than terrorist assume. The longer a terrorism campaign goes on, the more people get used to it and become more resilient.
  • People rarely blame the government. People do not turn on the government for not preventing the terrorism.
  • All governments are not paper tigers. Government do not step down and readily give in to terrorist demands. Governments are not easily dislodged as terrorists sometimes assume.

Terrorists often face dilemmas, they can:

  • Carry on but risk losing momentum, such as ETA.
  • Escalate and risk turning the people against them, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

While this was an interesting presentation, I was hoping to learn more about concrete tactics/actions nonviolent movements can use to dissuade potential new recruits from joining terrorist groups. In any case, here are good reads I recommend on this general topic:

Patrick Philippe Meier