3.15. Violence or Nonviolence?

In addition to the enormous physical and emotional harms of violence, going that way is often a flat-out bad strategic move.

What’s the way forward?

Through legal means or civil resistance? Through violence or nonviolence?

Every situation is different. I don’t think it’s possible to say what will or won’t be required for us to do, in our lifetimes, to make things right.

But I do think there are a couple of important points that need to be made.

First, in addition to the enormous physical and emotional harms of violence, going that way is often just a flat-out bad strategic move.

That was the conclusion of Gene Sharp—the guy who literally wrote the book on how ordinary people can topple oppressive governments.

He makes the very simple point that in any struggle, you want to apply your greatest strengths against their greatest weaknesses.

And what’s the one thing governments have a lot of? Military. Police. Guns. Bombs.

Trying to take on that whole apparatus is definitely not a shrewd application of this very basic principle. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what you’d want. It’s their strength, against your weakness.

That said, however…sometimes the threat of violence can be helpful.

This is what happened during the Civil Rights movements in the 1960s. Martin Luther King was committed to peace. But he definitely benefitted from the contrast between his methods and the more violent ones espoused by Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and others.

His movement became the middle ground between the unsustainable, illegitimate status quo—and the violent progress that threatened to occur, if peaceful progress couldn’t be attained.

People tend to cling to the status quo. It’s what they know. It doesn’t seem that bad to them. They may even benefit from it, directly or indirectly.

The challenge is to show them—not just tell them—that the status quo just isn’t a sustainable, legitimate option anymore.

This is a different situation than the sixties, though. We keep trying to duplicate the methods they used back then to generate progress. And for the most part, it isn’t working.

That’s because we’re stuck in this bitter, divisive, fifty-fifty political stalemate—where you can pretty much bank on half the country sympathizing with any movement that comes up…and half the country coming to despise it.

To me, the writing on the wall is clear. Busting out of this fifty-fifty deadlock somehow is the next movement that has to occur.

There’s no shortage of people who hate this situation. People don’t need to be shown that it sucks. We’re already living with the consequences.

We’d like to ditch it. But we don’t know how. We feel so far apart, ideologically—as if half the country lives in a whole other world.

But it’s not about us.

It’s about the two political parties that monopolize our politics—spending billions of dollars to expertly push our buttons, divide us in half, and make it so we feel we have no choice but to vote for them.

We can do something together just as remarkable as what was done in the sixties.

But not by mechanically trying to duplicate their methods. And not through either of those two political parties.


This is the 59th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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