First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win. – Mohandas Gandhi
What does that mean?
This is the block diagram for the path of peaceful resistance. They start by pretending you are insignificant. Then they make fun of you, trying to demean or dismiss your movement and/or objective. Then they realize you are ascendant and they are in decline, and they get fight back (the level of violence depends on the situation, from cross words, all the way up to murder).
At that point, if you can sustain the casualties, you have won the prize. Even if your movement is crushed, you still have won the moral argument and sown the seeds that will, sooner or later, bear fruit.
Why is peaceful resistance important?
Gandhi’s life is a road map to peaceful resistance, a map that has been used since then in several countries, and with great success. In countries with brutal, repressive dictatorships, it has been less successful.
This post will focus on the core of the saying, the act of peaceful resistance. Peaceful resistance is a far more moral and appropriate response to systemic wrong in a power structure than violence.
And since you are usually pitted against the establishment, they will, by definition, hold the edge in weapons and their use. Not the best odds, and a thoughtful review would point away from the path of violence and towards peaceful resistance.
In today’s world of inter-connectivity and mass media, the brutality of repression is fairly easy to show to the world. So long as the resisters are not returning violence for violence, they are seen as the “good guys” while the establishment is seen as the “bad guys.”
This helps bring pressure to bear on the brutes to tone it down, as the world is known to be watching. This moral high ground adds legitimacy to the resisters and helps bring world wide pressure on the establishment to yield at least somewhat to their demands.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Unless you are planning a hunger strike or some other peaceful act that will attract world wide attention, you will probably have to settle for starting locally. Your neighborhood, your community association, your school board, your town or city, or even your state could be good places to start.
Remember, changing the establishment is neither going to be quick, nor easy. Select a topic you feel passionate about, so that you can keep the energy up for the long haul. Some examples follow.
At the neighborhood level, are there unruly kids, random property crimes or other undesirable activities? You can either confront the people who are behaving badly, or you can work with your neighbors and the local police to form a community watch group. Perhaps one neighbor is unruly, or not maintaining their building or property.
You can ring the doorbell and yell at them, or you can get a bunch of neighbors together and stand, as a group, in front of the house while one rings the doorbell and mentions the conditions the neighborhood would like to see addressed.
At your community association, are there rules or regulations that seem strange or that are particularly difficult to understand or to comply with? Did they change the rules recently, for no apparent reason? Start by asking why, and then work with the board to change the regulations to better suit you and the community.
If that fails, start talking to your neighbors and get them to come out to the board meetings and continue to show up, politely voicing your opinions, until something happens. If need be, you can change things right after the next election for the board members.
At your local school board level, are your kids getting the education you think they should be getting? Is there a proper balance between school work and homework, recess and class time? Are the kids getting the subject matters that are important to you, possibly including foreign languages, music, art, physical education, health education, etc…
If not, do the same thing – talk to the board members and ask why. If you can’t get what you feel you kid(s) should be getting, you will have to find other like-minded parents and start sitting in the board meetings. Perhaps you will have to run for the board yourself. But yelling and screaming, violence and anger will not get you what you want.
You can see the pattern of the quote in the actions that transpire within the dynamic of the situation. If you’ve never been to a town council meeting, a community association meeting, a school board meeting or anything else like that, it can be a real eye opener.
You should probably do that a few times to familiarize yourself with the procedures and processes before you dive in. The first few times, you will likely get a nod and be forgotten. Then you will be the subject of eye-rolling and whispers among those in power. Once you get some momentum, and people are there supporting you, those in power will start to push back.
If you can keep it up, they will eventually fail and you will win. Popular opinion and a smart media strategy (even in the local community paper, interviews on the local TV stations, flyers and door-to-door outreach) can also work wonders. All that is left is to outlast them, to turn the public in your favor, and victory will be yours.
This technique of peaceful resistance can be used in most situations, although you will have to admit that there are external forces at work. There might not be enough money (although if it’s just a difference of priority, that’s a whole different ballgame), there might be a lack of qualified people, or a lack of resources in general.
To these things you must yield, as the grass must yield to the wind. A peaceful protest of a flood will only get you wet. As always, logic and reason must prevail, but there is room for creativity.
You can fight city hall, and it won’t be easy. But it can be done, with the highest of ethical standards and yield the best of results, if a proper path is followed.