Paul Fernhout: G. William Domhoff on Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence

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Paul Fernhout

Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence

by G. William Domhoff<

March 2005

One of the distinctive features of left activists is their willingness to go to the streets to win people to their causes and create the political pressures necessary for the social changes they advocate. Studies in social psychology and sociology support this strategy by showing there has to be a non-routine dimension to any effort toward change. It doesn’t make any sense to people to say that things are terrible, but they just should vote and write letters to their elected representatives. If things are going to change, then people have to get out of their routines one way or another. There has to be social disruption. There has to be a “getting in the way of power” as one author-activist puts it. There has to be a social movement that has a shared political identity.

But case studies also show that these movements go nowhere without an electoral component, as seen with the women’s suffrage movement, the industrial union movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the feminist movement, and the environmental movement. Changes in government were the end result in every case. They usually don’t go far enough, but that just means the next cycle of movement activism is necessary.

Studies of social movements in the United States also show that the necessary social disruption has to be created through the principled use of strategic nonviolence. Any form of violence, whether property damage or physical battles with opponents and police, will turn off the great majority of Americans and bring down overwhelming police and military repression.

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Phi Beta Iota:  This may be where OWS derails.  They have ONE CHANCE to demand Electoral Reform in time to impact on 2012.  That chance slips away by the end of November.  The Constitutional Amendment is a pipe dream in the absence of Electoral Reform first, first Congress has to be cleansed of corruption, then a Constitutional Amendment can be sought.