Book reviews - Role of Non-Governemental-Organisations.
       

People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity
(London: Pluto Press, 2009, 237pp.)

There have been a number of waves of public attention to non-violence as a socio-political force. The first in modern times was the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi in the independence of India, and Gandhi's actions and writings remain as the core philosophy. As Howard Clark reminds us "Historically, unarmed resistance has been waged primarily against colonialism and for self-determination or by the excluded and oppressed to attain rights and economic justice. Both remain major themes, and increasingly are pursued with a transnational focus."

The second wave to receive wide attention was the US civil rights movement in which Martin Luther King Jr. was the figure of consistent non-violent action. There was also the 1986 "People Power" that brought down the government of President Marcos in the Philippines as well as a host of anti-apartheid actions that brought change to South Africa. More recently, there have been the "coloured revolutions" against the leaders of Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005), and the demonstrations against Syrian influence after the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri (2005). Nonvioçlence was used in the changes in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt and was also tried elsewhere during the 'Arab Spring' Thus issues of democracy at a national level also give rise to unarmed resistance, especially dictatorship, authoritarianism, electoral fraud, and other forms of corruption.

As Howard Clark points out in his introduction "Many movements come into existence without knowing what they can achieve. Especially in the early days, every action is an experiment - testing the ground. In 1998 when Otpor began spraying graffiti in Belgrade, few could have imagined the impact they would have in the next two years…Almost every struggle invents - or perhaps thinks it has invented - new methods. Public methods range from quiet constructive action to direct confrontation, from spectacular stunts by small groups to massive popular demonstrations, from withdrawal of support through a boycott or strike or simply staying at home to occupying land or buildings. To these could be added a host of 'unobtrusive' actions that help maintain morale and construct the networks that underpin movements of resistance in repressive situations."

However, in the excitement of the take-off stage of a movement, unrealistic expectations can be generated leading to disappointment and loss of momentum. But as George Lakey writes "Fortunately, the persistent grassroots movements of the world are not fear-based. They suffer, they act and they hope. They make allies because they're not driven by fear. Effective movement leaders know that expansion and grassroots power do not come from fear but from boldness and risk-taking. When they see cracks in the wall, they widen the cracks rather than obsess that the cracks may narrow again."

As Howard Clark sums up "The appropriate response is for activists to recognise what they are doing well, to strengthen their structures and to deepen the relationships of transnational solidarity, not seeking short-term results as much as grounding the movement for the long haul."

Rene Wadlow