Why we choose nonviolence?

Brainstorming is a group technique designed to generate a large number of ideas in a limited amount of time. Most of us have probably used brainstorms in our political work to develop descriptions (i.e. What is nonviolence?) or answer question with as many ideas as possible to consider (i.e. What tactics would help us reach our goals?). It is a good tool to use at meetings and nonviolence training as it gets people energised by the flow of answers. It also helps to listen to more voices within the group.

Here are 4 recommendations for holding a brainstorming session:

  1. Focus on quantity: The assumption is that the greater the number of ideas generated, the greater the chance of producing a radical and effective solution.
  2. No criticism: It is often emphasized that in group brainstorming, criticism should be put 'on hold'. Instead of immediately stating what might be wrong with an idea, the participants focus on extending or adding to it, reserving criticism for a later 'critical stage' of the process. By suspending judgement, one creates a supportive atmosphere where participants feel free to generate unusual ideas.
  3. Unusual ideas are welcome: To get a good and long list of ideas, unusual ideas are welcomed. They may open new ways of thinking and provide better solutions than regular ideas. They can be generated by looking from another perspective or setting aside assumptions.
  4. Combine and improve ideas: Good ideas can be combined to form a single very good idea, as suggested by the slogan "1+1=3". This approach is assumed to lead to better and more complete ideas than merely generating new ideas alone. It is believed to stimulate the building of ideas by a process of association.

Following the theme on this Broken Rifle we held an electronic brainstorm via WRI's list-serves. We asked the question:

"Why is it important that protest groups take the strategic choice in favour of nonviolent methods?"

Here are the answers we received:

  • Because, irrespective of strategy it is important a principled choice is made, particularly when our resistance is tested to the upmost. (Gwyn)
  • Because if the means are not nonviolent the ends will not be. (Chris)
  • Because of respect of life and dignity of everyone including the opponent
  • So that in case the other side chooses to respond violently, the protest group has not given them an easy legitimisation to do so, and thereby shows to the wider public observing what is happening who is right and who is wrong. (Christine)
  • Because nonviolent methods have a much larger range of possibilities and options, and are often just the better ones. (Christine)
  • Just because two simple issues: legitimacy and effectiveness. The legitimacy is important because the battlefield is inside a communicative ambit, and using nonviolence you are showing to the public opinion your protest is legitimate. The effectiveness of nonviolence comes from an analysis of power that means that violence creates another power structure that will need some kind of future domination, if we don't want to become the same thing as we are fighting against we must use nonviolence. (Cthuchi)
  • Nonviolence because it helps us all win. Violence imposes the will of one on another, leaving one a winner and the other defeated. (Denise)
  • Because violence hasn't been shown to work. How much more research do we need? Let's try a nonviolent experiment. Please. (Denise)
  • Because violence has created the mess we're in. Seems only logical that nonviolence is what will get us out. (Denise)
  • "We are nonviolent because an injury to one is an injury to all." (Bayard Rustin quoted) One of my frequently used argument is that "we" could be wrong (talking from personal experiences here) and I want to have the option to reverse my actions. Difficult if you have killed someone. (Jørgen)
  • More people can be involved, whatever their age or physical ability; less secrecy is necessary; nonviolent actions don't cause as much fear or alienation from third parties; means are consistent with ends; nonviolence is often more effective; heightens the contrast with the violence of the system/repression; respects life. (Vivien)
  • At least, there will be some survivors. (Ugur)
  • Violence and legal protest are sometimes effective but fundamentally political traps, making you fight for your rights on the terms of the powerful. Nonviolent resistance against power structures and building the new society with constructive work are methods that uses the power of the people and does it on our own terms, where we are the strongest, they the weakest; building legitimacy, cooperation, community and communication; i.e. that which creates and maintains human relationships, i.e. society. (Stellan)

Wrapping up

When you are present with a group doing a brainstorming session, when all the ideas are up on the wall, ask if there is anything up there that people have a question about, or that they disagree with. Open this up for discussion. You may not need to come to consensus on a brainstorming session. (At a training session, you are not trying to come up with a definition to answer "What is nonviolence?"). Or you may want to sort out the answers for further discussion. (The brainstorming gave the group lots of tactics, now you need to choose the best ones. You can do that by creating a "matrix", listing the tactics down one side/ the goals along the top, and check to see if the tactic with a positive (+), a negative (-), or neutral (0) for helping to reach the goal of the action.)

After you get the different answers from a brainstorming, you can organise them into categories to help you identify some of the main issues. For example in this brainstorming, we can state that some of the main reasons why to choose nonviolent methods:

As a principle: If we want a peaceful and just world the means to reach it need to be peaceful.

Effectiveness: Nonviolence has shown to be effective in many cases, violence has mainly led to more violence.

Respect for others: Respect for life, your opponents and your own group.

Group process: Welcomes all voices and their active participation.

Independence: Working in our own terms instead of working for someone else's power. After identifying the main issues you can use other tools to analyse them in more depth, for example the Pillars of Power presented in this Broken Rifle. We encourage you to use brainstorming in your campaign work. In most cases you will get useful idea while giving everyone a chance to participate and have a good time!