2011 Fletcher Summer Institute

From June 19-24, I attended, helped organize, and presented at the 2011 Fletcher Summer Institute for the Advanced Study of Nonviolence Conflict. This yearly institute is the only professional level course of its kind offered in the world that explores the strategic use of nonviolent civic action – strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, etc. – as a method of fighting for and defending human rights, social justice, and democratic self-rule.

This year the institute brought together 45 participants from 26 countries and delved into topics such as forming a movement, the paradox of repression, citizen journalism and movement media, negotiations and transitions, and the role of third party actors in supporting civil resistance movements. My colleague, Nicola Barrach, and I co-presented a session on digital and social media in civil resistance, which looked at the uses and limitations of digital technology, social media, and the internet in waging nonviolent struggle.

In addition to presenting, I also helped coordinate various media elements of the institute by integrating the use of our FSI alumni network Facebook group page as a platform for continued discussion and resource sharing; organizing live, communal note-taking on Twitter with the #fsi11 hashtag; curating and sharing key tweets and resources mentioned during the different sessions using Bundlr; recording audio interviews with participants and presenters and sharing those recording on Twitter using Audioboo; and conducting longer video interviews with select participants and presenters for the ICNC website and our On the Ground Interview Series.  Needless to say, I did not get much sleep, but I did have a great time, learning a lot from some amazing organizers, activists, and educators!  Continue reading to learn more about the institute, the various sessions, and some of the key take-aways from each.


Opening Keynote Address
Rev. James Lawson

Prolific civil rights leader and trainer of nonviolent action, Rev. James Lawson, delivered the opening banquet keynote address talking about his experience organizing and training the Nashville lunch counter sit-in campaign.  Reverend Lawson’s remarks were preceded by a showing of a segment about the Nashville, Tennessee sit-in campaign from the documentary film, “A Force More Powerful.”

Check out this interview with Rev. Lawson by Waging Nonviolence editor and FSI participant, Nathan Schneider.


The Dynamics of Civil Resistance
Jack DuVall

In this session, Jack DuVall –  President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and co-author of the book, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict –  discussed how the modern practice of civil resistance sprang from ideas about the underlying nature of political power that began to be framed about 170 years ago. As later developed by Gandhi and adopted by scores of movements and campaigns for rights and justice in recent decades, strategies of civil resistance have exhibited a common dynamic, propelled historic changes, and imparted certain political and social properties to their societies. The record of these strategies in liberating oppressed people, when compared to that of violent insurgency or revolt, has been remarkable – and suggests why political violence may substantially be reduced in the future.

The Geopolitics of Civil Resistance
Dr. William C. Martel

To understand the geopolitical context of nonviolent conflict, this session examined how globalization – notably, democratization, communication, economic integration, technology, and ideology – is profoundly altering international politics and economics. A critical reason for this shift is the emergence of non-state actors as an increasingly decisive force in global politics. By examining what strengthens and weakens non-state actors, Dr. Martel examined the interactions between geopolitical forces and the role of nonviolent conflict in international politics.

Forming a Movement
Hardy Merriman

Given political oppression in many regions of the world, what explains the emergence of nonviolent movements in some countries but not others? Furthermore, what are the skills that nonviolent movements use in order to build movements and unify populations? In this session Hardy Merriman examined these and related questions, and addressed issues such as the development of movement discourse, capacity building, and the creation and expansion of political space.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Film Screening: Bringing Down a Dictator
Ivan Marovic

During the evening, Ivan Marovic introduced the documentary film, “Bringing Down a Dictator,” which looks at nonviolent Serbian youth movement, of which he was a part, that brought down Slobodan Milosevic.


Sustaining a Movement
Ivan Marovic & Hardy Merriman

Civil resistance movements must be durable and resilient enough to engage in struggle with entrenched adversaries. What sustains such movements in the face of both internal pressure (in the form of disunity) and external pressure (in the form of repression)? To address this question, Ivan Marovic, drawing from his own experience in the Serbian youth movement that brought down Slobodan Milosevic, examined issues of tactical sequencing and innovation, movement risk assessment, and looked at how movements galvanize support and maintain momentum and initiative against their opponents. In addition, Hardy Merriman examined issues of tactical sequencing and innovation, movement risk assessment, and looked at how movements galvanize support and maintain momentum and initiative against their opponents.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Nonviolent Struggle and Radical Flank Effect
Dr. Howard Barrell

Dr. Barrell discussed how the struggle against apartheid in South Africa demonstrated that civil resistance can be a more resilient and effective form of struggle against oppression than military action. Drawing from his personal experience as an activist in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, Dr. Barrell used the case of South Africa to show how the leadership of the ANC, the preeminent South African liberation movement, saw the role of civil resistance as subsidiary to, and creating fertile political conditions for, armed struggle. But events produced an entirely different outcome. Civil resistance that came to be coordinated by the United Democratic Front ended up displacing armed struggle as the main weapon against the oppressive state. This shift occurred through the 1970s and 1980s, the decisive period in the struggle to end racial oppression of black people in that country.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Luncheon Speaker – The 1987 Palestinian Intifada
Dr. Mary Elizabeth King

Dr. Mary Elizabeth King spoke about how the history of Palestine is by no means dominated by violence. In fact, Palestinians used various methods of nonviolent actions such as protest and persuasion, boycotts, strikes and parallel institution building from the 1920s onward — only to face repression indifference from the colonial British authorities prior to 1948, or from Israel was established. Disregard for historic Palestinian civil resistance had the effect of strengthening Palestinian factions that advocated violent resistance. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, inside the territories militarily occupied by Israel, an extended, multi-year process built the civic capacity of the Palestinians through thousands of committees, thereby enabling the coming mass nonviolent movement. Activist intellectuals spread knowledge about nonviolent strategies throughout Palestinian society, shaping a new politics, with changes in popular thinking about how to transform their situation, including withholding cooperation from a belligerent occupation.

Check out these short audio clips from the presentation

Dr. Mary King speaks on how the first Palestinian Intifada emerged
Dr. Mary King speaks on the history if civil resistance in Palestine
Dr. Mary King speaks on the influence of the first Palestinian Intifada

Backfire and Security Divisions
Dr. Lee Smithey & James Greene

Dr. Smithey explained how nonviolent civil resistance movements that challenge autocratic governments must often deal with repression and intimidation. Regimes depend on the legitimacy they can cultivate. However, when faced with popular resistance, they are forced to weigh the costs and benefits of escalating their use of coercive security measures, and even outright violence, to chill dissent. Though such repression can successfully raise the cost of movement participation and thus undermine challenges, it can also “backfire” and enhance popular mobilization. The session looked at how the strategic application of nonviolent methods can take advantage of this paradox of repression and raise the likelihood that violence will trigger further mobilization. Much depends on the ability of civil resisters to maintain nonviolent discipline, frame repression, and choreograph actions that help ensure repression will be widely interpreted as reprehensible.

Mr. Greene, drawing from his experience working in Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, described how the effect of backfire can extend beyond civil society to include elements within security institutions that see repression as opposed to their professional ethos and institutional or personal interests. As nonviolent movements seek to shape the environment in ways that maximize the possibility for backfire, it is important that they consider the values, interests, mind-set, and working environment of those who serve within the security sector. These factors vary widely among different institutions (e.g. armed forces, police, and internal security) and elements within these institutions (e.g. conscripts, professional soldiers, and officers at various levels). Various elements also have differing levels of identification with the regime or dissonance in values with it. Nonviolent movements that are willing to take a nuanced view of security institutions, understanding them and relating to them as something other than a monolithic oppressor can use these divisions to reduce the effects of repression and undermine political support for a regime within its own institutions.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Transitions and Negotiations
Dr. Nadim Rouhana

Dr. Nadim Rouhana looked at hot negotiations and the use of nonviolent actions are interlinked and play an important role in forcing bottom-up and also top-down, elite-actor transitions will be reviewed as a segue to a discussion about movement-centered attributes and mechanisms, including openness to negotiations, consultations and coalition building –by which broad-based nonviolent movements facilitate democratization and successful democratic transitions. The talk will draw on historical cases as well as current cases of transition to democracy in the Middle East.

Charles River Cruise


Success in Civil Resistance: The Necessity of Skills
Dr. Peter Ackerman

Dr. Peter Ackerman looked at nonviolent conflict as a contest between nonviolent civil resisters and their (often violent) adversaries. In this contest, each side has different strategies and tactics that they can employ to try to win. Civil resistance movements wage their struggle through political, economic, and social pressure, and they have a wide variety of tactics at their disposal to do this. A movement’s adversary often tries to wage its struggle through violent means, which has a completely different dynamic and tactical repertoire than nonviolent methods.  In this asymmetric contest between violent and nonviolent actors, the side that is best organized, most skillful, and most strategic, is more likely to prevail. Therefore, the skillful and strategic choices that civil resistance movements make are of critical importance to their outcome.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Third Party Actors and Transnationals
Dr. Ian Johnstone & Dr. Stephen Zunes

During the first part of the session, Dr. Johnstone examined the role of international organizations in democracy promotion. He began by asking whether there is a growing global consensus on the value of democratic governance – perhaps even an emerging “right to democracy.” He then considered how international organizations are both contributing to and acting on that consensus through their normative and operational activities. Among the operational activities, he looked at electoral assistance, the good governance agenda of development agencies, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. In addition to these non-coercive approaches, he considered cases of military action to uphold democracy – most recently in Cote d’Ivoire. The central objective of the session was to explore the global normative and political context in which democratic action by non-state actors occurs.

During the second half of the session, Dr. Zunes critically examined some recent cases where there have been charges of foreign interference in popular nonviolent uprisings by foreign governments, NGOs, and other outside actors; explored how outside support can actually harm a movement’s chances of success; and, under what circumstances outside actors can make positive contributions to nonviolent struggles for freedom and justice. In general, autocratic governments, regardless of ideological orientation or geo-political alliances, have traditionally blamed real or perceived hostile powers for indigenous nonviolent challenges to their regime. However, unlike military coups and armed rebellions, the degree of influence a foreign power can actually have on a popular civil insurrection is rather minimal.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Jim Lawson Awards
Dr. Mary King, Ghada Shahbender, and Lhadon Tethong

This year’s FSI marked the start of the annual Jim Lawson Awards, which honors individuals whose work and activism has helped advance the understanding and use of nonviolent action in struggles throughout the world.  And there was no better way to inaugurate this award than by giving it to four amazing women: one whose work has been as a leading advocate for Tibet rights and self-determination (Lhadon Tethong), one whose work has been as a journalist bravely covering the state of resistance inside her country of Bahrain, one whose work has been as an human rights activist helped in the struggle to bring and end to Mubarak’s 30 year rule in Egypt (Ghada Shahbender), and one whose work as an educator has helped inform students and activists around the world about the rich history and strategy of nonviolent resistance (Dr. Mary King). Listen to audio clips from the award ceremony…

Jack DuVall opens up the James Lawson Award ceremony
Jack DuVall reads one of Ghada Shahbender’s poems
Jack DuVall read an article about the resistance in Bahrain
Lhadon Tethong accepts her James Lawson Award
Dr. Mary King accepts her James Lawson Award
Rev. James Lawson talks about the award given in his name

Check out this article about the Lawson Awards by Waging Nonviolent editor and FSI participant, Nathan Schneider.

Citizen Journalism and Movement Media
Al Giordano and Greg Berger

In this session, Al Giordano and Greg Berger looked at how movements that do their own journalism and make their own media have a much greater chance at success than those that rely on commercial or state media. From Mexico to Egypt, Berger and Giordano have reported extensively and also studied how journalists and media makers have helped – or hurt – the movements that they cover. Through the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, they train independent media makers in how to report stories about social movements and nonviolent civil resistance, and how to bring the message to a wider public audience through techniques developed to make videos and news reports “go viral.”

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Conventional Media and Civil Resistance
Dr. Cynthia Boaz and Dr. Howard Barrell

In this session, Dr. Boaz introduced several common media frames (or “biases”) that lead to distortions in coverage of civil resistance. She also discussed the role of meta-frames, i.e. deeply held beliefs and assumptions about concepts such as power, conflict and violence, which reinforce misperceptions in media reporting of civil resistance.

Dr. Barrell examined strategies that were developed by two groups of journalists in different parts of the world struggling to reach their audiences despite severe repression. One group was Burmese, the other South African. In Burma, opposition journalists set out in the 1990s to find a way to bypass their government’s tight grip on the media in their country. They ended up creating something entirely new, free of control by the government, that exploited advances in broadcasting technology and the credibility that derives from a ‘public service’ ethos in journalism. In South Africa in the 1970s, there seemed little chance of developing an effective opposition media outside of the state-approved system. A group of journalists asked themselves if they could work within government-imposed constraints yet still get across a militant opposition message.

See key tweets and resources from this session…


Civil Resistance and Extreme Violence
Dr. Erica Chenoweth & Nichole Argo

Dr. Chenoweth contested myths about the effectiveness and necessity of violence as a method of resistance. She also presented evidence that shows that nonviolent resistance can be a superior method of resistance, even against regimes who try to use extreme brutality to silence dissent. She distinguished between insurgencies (and “terrorist” groups) who may be open to the idea of abandoning violence, and those who are likely to maintain violence even when other alternatives are possible. Chenoweth also discussed how to increase awareness among the policy community and the public about the strategic advantages of nonviolent resistance.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Civil Resistance and Human Rights
Dr. John Hammock & Nicola Barrach

The understanding, pursuit and enforcement of human rights can offer nonviolent civic movements a number of legitimacy-conferring and tactical opportunity-exploiting possibilities. This interactive session explored concepts of national sovereignty, individual rights and human development as well as the role of local and international NGOs in aiding or hindering nonviolent movements. Drawing on the experience of the participants and the professor, cases were highlighted to illustrate how civic movements and campaigns can benefit from and use human rights values, norms, and legal/ institutional frameworks to advance their goals and values.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Luncheon Speaker
Dr. Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp, Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution and one of the foremost authorities on nonviolent struggle in recent decades gave a keynote address to discuss the relevance of civil resistance to the continuing global fight for human rights, democracy, and freedom.

See key tweets and resources from this session…

Breakout Groups

All the participants and presenters were broken up into six different groups, each looking at a different nonviolent struggle or element of nonviolent struggle.  The sessions included: Iran/Bahrain, movements against exploitation, women resisting, China/Tibet, self-determination struggle, and my colleague Nicola and I led a session on digital and social media in civil resistance.

Each group was tasked with learning about the particular topic, connecting it to some of the sessions throughout the week and then preparing a presentation for the following day.  The digital and social media in civil resistance group developed a list of “recommandments” for nonviolent activists interested in using digital and social media in their struggle.  These “recommandmants” were based on our groups discussions around hotly debated issues within this field such as: privacy, digital divide, social media legitimacy, internet censorship, and media ownership.

Check out the outline of the digital and social media in civil resistance workshop that we facilitated.  Also, check out the list of recommandments that the participants put together.

The New Movement in Mexico
Javier Sicilia

During this evening session we Skyped in Javier Sicilia – a Mexican poet, novelist and journalist who is currently leading a growing popular movement to end the violence plaguing Mexico through the war on drugs. After his son was killed in late March 2011 Sicilia began organizing protests in and around his home city of Cuernavaca as well as satellite protests occurring in 40 other Mexican cities. Since then Sicilia has gained international attention through his use of civil resistance as a means to represent the people’s refusal to tolerate drug violence anymore.

Sicilia is calling attention to the fact that the current strategy of simply killing the criminals is not working; Mexican officials must take action against the root cause of the violence i.e. the social, political, and institutional decay that allows violent crime to flourish, he argues. In early June 2011 Sicilia led his “Caravan of Solace” from the central Mexican state of Morales to Juarez, Mexico, the epicenter of drug war violence. His latest action is calling additional attention to the study of nonviolent action as an effective means to articulate popular concerns and energize institutional change.


Weak States and Non-State Actors
Dr. Richard Schultz

Instability, conflict and irregular warfare within states due to burgeoning challenges posed by non-state actors–both armed and unarmed–have proliferated in number and importance since the Cold War ended. With the spread of globalization, the technological shrinking of the world and interdependence of states and regions, these internal conflicts have and will continue to have far-reaching consequences for international and regional stability, as well as consequences for rights and democracy. This presentation examined the sources of this instability and conflict focusing on the growing number of weak and failing states.

Group Presentations

The Future of Civil Resistance
ICNC Staff

Civil resistance is now recognized as a preeminent methodology for securing political rights and obtaining justice, while reducing the level of deadly violence in conflict. Many seminal cases of civil resistance — in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Nepal, Burma, Maldives, Zimbabwe — have occurred in the first decade of the 21st century. We may be reaching the point where the knowledge of civil resistance strategies is being developed and disseminated faster than the opponents’ capacity to counter it. How can this best be assured, what role does ICNC play in the dissemination and development of civil resistance knowledge and how might it change the international system? These and other questions about the future of nonviolent conflict were explored in this session.

I will close with a quote from a reflection piece written by one of the FSI participants, Ayman Qwaider.

Attending the training course on nonviolent conflict at the Fletcher Summer Institute in Boston was a spark of inspiration which gives me energy to stay hopeful that justice will prevail. Ordinary people have absolute power is an overwhelming statement which always fascinates and empowers me. Having the chance to share real stories from different parts of world on issues of freedom, equality and justice and being introduced to various kinds of struggle, has assured me that people still have power to challenge state power, and people still have the ability to transform realities through nonviolent resistance.

One response to “2011 Fletcher Summer Institute

  1. Pingback: Why I Got Arrested | Daryn R. Cambridge

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