social change | June 02, 2013

Why Peaceful Resistence Is More Effective Than Violence: Srdja Popovic

How many films have you seen about the Vietnam War? Probably dozens. How many, on the other hand, have you seen about Martin Luther King or Harvey Milk? Probably not nearly as many. This is the stark comparison social change speaker Srdja Popovic drew between the exposure that violent initiatives receive versus that of non-violent movements. Despite getting a fraction of the coverage that violent wars and upheavals do, Popovic says that non-violent resistance has historically been twice as effective as violent resistance. As he shows in his Oslo Freedom Forum 2013 keynote, the chances of winning a war is around 26 per cent. Compare that to non-violent action, and your success rate doubles to 53 per cent.

He also says that non-violent action is ten times more likely to result in a durable democracy than violent action. Trying to achieve a stable democratic through force yields a success rate of about 4 per cent. But when you use people-power and tactics that do not involve the use of death and destruction—you have a 41 per cent chance of creating a stable democratic environment. How do you achieve these outcomes? Popovic says there are three pillars to success in a non-violent movement: Unity, planning, and non-violent discipline. You need to ensure that your group is acting in unison, he says, because it only takes one person acting out to derail your momentum and discredit your movement. It is also key, he says, to ensure that you are using the right tactics for the cause you are fighting for. You must take into account where you are hosting these movements and ensure that it will be the most effective—and safest—way to bring attention to your cause.

His speech, like his other presentations, had the audience captivated by his powerful message. Tackling serious subjects without taking himself too seriously, Popovic advocates for changing the world not with guns or bombs—but with people, knowledge, and humor. That's how he overthrew Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 (with the youth movement Optor! that he founded). As he teaches us in his talks, peaceful revolutions are not often talked about as much as non-peaceful ones. However, if we start the conversation, we can inform others that changing the world doesn't have to be a violent affair.

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