Civil Disobedience

For those of us who wish for change, but have been beaten down by years of being told 'there is no alternative', mass acts of civil disobedience offer inspiration and a space in which there is safety in numbers. Successful social movements have generally followed a path of:

  • Consciousness – the stage of realising there is a problem and creating conditions for change.

  • Coordination – building movement power by sharing information; networks and organisations working together and developing.

  • Confrontation – a direct challenge to the power of the dominant system, often through some form of civil disobedience.

  • Consolidation – ensuring that real-life change occurs and is lasting.

Civil disobedience (the confrontation stage) has been a necessary part of practically all successful social movements. The power held by dominant systems is not yielded to the force of good arguments and nice asking alone!

Dominant systems exert many sorts of power. Social movements can exert their own “Counter power” in three main ways:

  • Idea Power – challenging accepted truths, refusing to obey laws and finding new ways to communicate.

  • Economic Power – exercised through strikes, boycotts, tax resistance and ethical consumption.

  • Physical power – non-violently placing bodies in the way of injustice.

Non-violence is a principal we adhere to in the Compassionate Revolution because:

  • We believe in the adage that “violence breeds violence” and we seek peace.

  • Violence* has been largely ineffective in social movements because the dominant power can counter such forces most readily

  • Principled non-violent stances against oppression or for justice are most likely to appeal to others to support or join a movement, through the force of their moral position.

Examples of all of these are found in our history of civil disobedience section.

Less than 1 percent of Americans actively took part in the Civil Rights Movement and indeed most successful movements for social change involve between 1 and 5 percent of people. The theory of change suggests how ideas spread through cultures, beginning with innovators (2.5%) and then early adopters (13.5%). Whilst civil disobedience may seem extreme to some and the narrative in this website alien, the path to change is tread by innovators and early adopters. When ideas become mainstream, huge power is unleashed, however even before then change is possible with just a few % willing to make a stance.

Nelson Mandela said it always seems impossible until it's done. It is often the people most involved in the movement that are caught most by surprise when the tipping point arrives suddenly, making the longed for change inevitable. We stand today in a better world thanks to those willing to struggle on for change, some of whom never saw the fruits of their labour.

With thanks to Tim Gee for his book “Counterpower”, Polly Higgins “I Dare you to be Great” and Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy” which we refer to in this section.

*Damage to property and machines is not necessarily violent, when undertaken to sabotage damaging processes or raise awareness when a movement is being ignored (Emmeline Pankhurst spoke of how the “noble art of window smashing” had been crucial in winning the vote for men, thus eventually adopting the tactic as a suffragette). However we would suggest such actions may often be unwelcome and unhelpful.