History of Mass Nonviolent Action
The use of nonviolence runs throughout
history. There have been numerous instances of people courageously
and nonviolently refusing cooperation with injustice. However,
the fusion of organized mass struggle and nonviolence is relatively
new. It originated largely with Mohandas Gandhi in 1906 at the
onset of the South African campaign for Indian rights. Later,
the Indian struggle for complete independence from the British
Empire included a number of spectacular nonviolent campaigns.
Perhaps the most notable was the year-long Salt campaign in which
100,000 Indians were jailed for deliberately violating the Salt
The refusal to counter the violence of the repressive social system with more violence is a tactic that has also been used by other movements. The militant campaign for women's suffrage in Britain included a variety of nonviolent tactics such as boycotts, noncooperation, limited property destruction, civil disobedience, mass marches and demonstrations, filling the jails, and disruption of public ceremonies.
The Salvadoran people have used nonviolence as one powerful and necessary element of their struggle. Particularly during the 1960s and 70s, Christian based communities, labor unions, campesino organizations, and student groups held occupations and sit-ins at universities, government offices, and places of work such as factories and haciendas.
There is rich tradition of nonviolent protest in this country as well, including Harriet Tubman's underground railroad during the civil war and Henry David Thoreau's refusal to pay war taxes. Nonviolent civil disobedience was a critical factor in gaining women the right to vote in the United States, as well.
The U.S. labor movement has also used nonviolence with striking effectiveness in a number of instances, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) free speech confrontations, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) sitdown strikes from 1935-1937 in auto plants, and the UFW grape and lettuce boycotts.
Using mass nonviolent action, the civil rights movement changed the face of the South. The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) initiated modern nonviolent action for civil rights with sit-ins and a freedom ride in the 1940s. The successful Montgomery bus boycott electrified the nation. Then, the early 1960s exploded with nonviolent actions: sit-ins at lunch counters and other facilities, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Freedom Rides to the South organized by CORE; the nonviolent battles against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); and the 1963 March on Washington, which drew 250,000 participants.
Opponents of the Vietnam War employed the use of draft card burnings, draft file destruction, mass de-. monstrations (such as the 500,000 who turned out in 1969 in Washington, D.C.), sit-ins, blocking induction centers, draft and tax resistance, and the historic 1971 May Day traffic blocking in Washington, D.C. in which