Evidence That Non-Violent Demonstration Works


Bandon Inclusivity Group (BIG) chooses the non-violent approach to social change. A May 13, 2019, BBC Future website article by David Robson shared evidence of the effectiveness of this approach in an article entitled “The ‘3.5% rule’: How a small minority can change the world.”

Robson’s article is based on research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University.  Chenoweth’s research has received numerous awards by political science and academic organizations.

Robson notes that Chenoweth found nonviolent campaigns lead to political change twice as often as violent ones and that if 3.5% of a given population is involved the are successful.  Chenoweth’s research looks at 323 violent and non-violent campaigns in the past century.  According to Robson, the research counts a non-violent campaign as a success ”… if it fully achieved its goals both within a year of its peak engagement and as a direct result of its [non-violent] activities.” 


Examples of non-violent successes include:

1983-84 Brazil, protest against military rule. 

1986, Philippines, People Power movement.

1988 Estonia, Singing Revolution

1989 Czechoslovakia, Velvet Revolution

1980’s-1990’s South Africa, anti-apartheid boycott

2003, Georgia, Rose Revolution

2019, Sudan and Algeria, presidents of Sudan and Algeria resign.


Noteworthy for future organizers, the Chenoweth research shows nonviolent campaigns cause disruption to normal urban life and society and succeed in achieving their goals because they can recruit participants from a broad demographic.  This is because they do not require secrecy, take the moral high ground, can include those who disdain violence and those less physically fit, and do not as readily alienate police and the military.  The research suggest even a 3.5% participation rate assures success.

Failed nonviolent protests are cited from the research.  Factors that may lead to a movement’s failure include lack of unity among activists.  For example, a 2011 movement in Bahrain failed due to a split among competing factions.

The takeaways from Robson’s article is that civil disobedience is not only a moral choice but also powerful.  Chenoweth calls for non-violent campaigns to be included more prominently in our history education so as to inspire our future.

For more detail concerning Erica Chenoweth research, check out her book “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict”, co-authored with Maria Stephan.


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