Nonviolent Campaigns: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why


So you’ve heard a lot about the powers and successes of nonviolent action but are ready to move beyond teaching about Gandhi and Dr. King. Thanks to a project lead by George Lakey at Swarthmore College, there is now a Global Nonviolent Action Database that provides free access to the hundreds of cases of nonviolent campaigns around the world! The intention of this database is, “to assist researchers and activists to better understand the special features of nonviolent struggle that make it different from both violent and institutional politics.”

Lakey, the Director of Training for Change and 2010 Peace Educator of the Year, explains that “nonviolent action” is also commonly known as:

  • People Power
  • Civil Resistance
  • Satyagraha
  • Nonviolent Resistance
  • Direct Action
  • Pacifica Militancia
  • Positive Action

The database includes cases that are identified as “campaigns”, not “movements” because they consider movements to typically consist of a number of campaigns aimed at achieving large goals. Also, the campaigns researched are ones that have reached their point of completion. Each “case” is presented as a database file and narrative that describes the issues behind the campaign.

The database can be searched by country, issue, or method used. The campaigns are grouped by the following categories: democracy, economic justice, environment, human rights (religious and women’s rights), national/ethnic identity (and anti-colonial struggles), and peace. You can learn about nonviolent action that took place everywhere from Afghanistan to Norway to Zimbabwe. You can even find campaigns that occurred as early as Before A.D. in Italy to present-day in Egypt. If you are interested in learning about the larger movements, you can search under “Waves of Campaigns” to find information about:

  • African Democracy Campaigns
  • Arab Awakening
  • Asian Democracy Campaigns
  • Colour Revolutions
  • Soviet Bloc Independence Campaigns
  • U.S. Civil Rights Movement

Here is an example:  “Egyptians campaign to oust President Mubarak, 2011”

On this page you will find the time period, the description of the location, the goals, methods and classification of the case. You can also find information about the campaign’s influences, leaders, partners, allies and opponents, order of social groups and the success outcome. Lastly, everyone also has access to the sources used to compile the information to learn even more about the study!

This resource supports three Pillars of Peace Education: 1) Exploring Approaches to Peace; 2) Reframing History; and 3) Transforming Conflict Nonviolently. Students can learn how people around the world aim to achieve peace. Furthermore, they can look at history through the lens of nonviolent actions – narratives that are often left out in schools’ historical texts. Lastly, the database acknowledges that conflicts do exist, and it provides examples of a variety of methods that people use to approach conflict alternatively—nonviolently.

With regard to the uses of the database, the team included this wonderful message: “Strategists, activist organizers, scholars, and teachers will find many uses for the database, as well as citizens wanting to expand their horizons. Even before release to the public, for example, a teacher who knew the database team was using our cases to assist middle school pupils to develop plays. Any school that teaches about the environment, civil rights, or other issues may find the curriculum enlivened by sending students to the database. History students might enjoy doing the detective work of finding the hidden stories in their local area that could be developed into cases. The database also offers an invitation to geographical learning.”

I would recommend this database to be used by students starting in middle school. Though I believe that educators can incorporate this across the curriculum, it may be most welcome in a Social Studies department. The information provided can truly open students’ eyes and deepen their understanding of nonviolence, people power, and the struggle for justice, peace, democracy or human rights around the world. It may also help students to better grasp the tactics and motivations of the ongoing “Occupy” movements across the nation. The database can be utilized in formal or community education settings. It can also be beneficial for organizers of future movements to scan through this database to examine the advantages or limitations of strategies of previous campaigns.

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