Does Civil Disobedience work better than a violent protest?

As history stands, does civil disobedience work better than violent protests in terms of getting the Gov’t to A) see what you are doing and what your cause is B) take actionable measures towards reasonable goals (of the consortium)?
i.e. is sitting infront of a redwood so the guy with the saw doesn’t cut it down, better than blowing up the clear cutting equipment so they can’t work.

This example is not the best but it illustrates a point.

How civily disobedient are you? Would you much rather a quite protest to a loud one, and what topic would you choose? Let’s say drilling oil in Alaska’s National Forests…

Viloent protest has the advantage of forcing notice more than most non-violent protests. The downside is that those who participate cede the moral high ground. Also, they give the other side an excuse to respond in kind. The WTO protestors in Seattle are a perfect example. While they might be makig a good point, I find it easy to say fuck those anarchist law breakers who do not respect private property, laws, or order. And if a few billy clubs find their way to the back of their heads, meh, they deserve it.

It only works if the “oppressors” are concerned about maintaining a public image of being civilized. If they glorify violence or see violence as first resort, then being passive just encourages them.

Exactly. Gandhi would have lasted about a millisecond against, say, the Romans.

Civil disobedience and peaceful protests require a couple of things: the group against which you are protesting wants to maintain a good public image, and your protest is visible to a lot of ordinary people. If either or both of these is not the case, nonviolent means of redress will get you nowhere. Of course, violent retribution will hurt the image of the protesters, except if the response is even more so.

Excellent answer.

I’ll add that, when I see violent protestors, I can’t help wondering whether they’re in it for the protest or for the violence. Some people just like being violent and destructive, and if they can find an excuse that semi-legitimatizes their fun, so much the better. That just means that if everybody thought like me violent protest would be ineffective, but not everybody does; some probably think violence means you’re serious.

If there’s any good will at all between the opposing factions, nonviolent protest has a far better chance of preserving that good will and leading to a long-run outcome that everyone can be satisfied with.

I don’t have a score card, but it seems to me that violence, unless you can win, fails to solve anything. It not only fails to convince anyone about your case, it galvanizes moderates against you.

What did Asimove say - “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”? I think it’s true. If your argument is so uncompelling that you need to convince people with terror, maybe you should rethink your position.

Think of it this way, what’s more compelling argument? A million black men assembling peaceably in front of the Capital or the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict?

I certainly know which one has more appeal for me personally, but you’ve got to admit that things changed a bit after the riots. It went from the President declaring “The jury system worked” and offering protestors a nice hot cup of Shut the Fuck Up to two officers being convicted of human rights violations.

Ugly, stupid, wasteful, and tragic – but effective. Yeah, perhaps a letter-writing campaign would have achieved the same results.

Me, I think rioting is inefficient, but I don’t think the Million Man March was much better in terms of Work Accomplished. (Although the cost to clean up after it wasn’t quite so dear, and it was nice that nobody had to die.)

But look what the non-violent protests lead by the Rev. King accomplished. Yes, there was violence, but it wasn’t on the part of the protestors. They weren’t the ones with the fire hoses, the sticks and the dogs.

Violent protests breed the desire for revenge.

I suspose that’s worth 50-60 deaths and a billion dollars in damage.

Uh, I was there. That was a police riot, despite what your talking heads told you.

I agree. Add the media and the desire for revenge goes global, and creates societal resentments. And we all know what resentments can lead to. Terrible stuff those resentments…Non-violent protests are, in my opinion, as likely to induce a response as violent ones. I would not mistake the blood and guts aspect of a violent protest to get the OOO’S AND AHHHH’S but what is really going to change legislators or peoples making the decisons minds ?

I read a really good alternate history short story once (IIRC, it was by Poul Anderson), in which the Nazis had driven through the Middle East and pushed the British out of India. Gandhi organized civil disobedience against the Nazis, and the Nazis responded by slaughtering millions of Indians and executing Gandhi. It demonstrated the point that civil disobedience only works against people who share your moral values.


Although that is interesting, it is fiction.

The British Empire had a powerful military presence in India and was prepared to (for example) machine-gun unarmed protestors. Nevertheless Gandhi prevailed.

Hmm. I seem to remember hearing about a different group of non-violent resisters back in the day of the Roman empire—some kind of schismatic Jewish sect with a cult figure called Yeshua or something like that—that not only avoided being wiped out by the Romans but even managed to become moderately successful in attracting adherents.

(Yes, of course, Christianity’s biggest power gains came when it achieved some measure of state control, including the use of military force. But my point is that even as a small weak non-violent cult it managed to last considerably more than a millisecond, even against the Romans.)

It was “The Last Article” by Harry Turtledove. And Glee, you’re right. Britain was willing to machine gun unarmed protestors in India. But it also had a free press, and independent judiciary, and a population willing to mobilize against apparent injustices. So, the repressive actions against the Indians became the subject of fierce debate in Parliament and of public outcry.

Nazi Germany had none of these things, and so it was able to engage in the most horrible human rights violations without public compaint.

I was wondering if I might slightly change the debate to “loud noisy shrill protesters vs. moderate, respectful marches.” Which do you think works best? What works best for you?

I’m a “literature” kind of guy. If you walk up to me and say, “Please take this and read it,” and hand me a pamphlet, I will invariably do so and consider the point being presented. If you jump in my face and start screaming and spewing saliva at me, you’ve lost me, and I will look elsewhere for more reasonable people or forums to present your cause. But, I don’t think most people would do as I do. You scream in their face, and most will never look at any merits the position you’re promulgating might have.

Sir Rhosis