The following is part of a blog post by Ken Butigan for the website Waging Nonviolence, entitled “Another Step Toward Mainstreaming Nonviolence”. Ken Butigan is the director of Pace e Bene, an Oakland, California-based non-profit organization fostering peace through education, community, and action.
“The movement that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s thirty year autocratic rule not only has created a spectacular breakthrough for Egyptian democracy, it has bequeathed a priceless gift to the rest of us in every part of the planet. For eighteen days the Egyptian people carried out an unarmed revolution with determination, creativity, and a daring willingness to risk. They marched, they improvised, they prayed, they connected with one another. Most of all, they stayed put, and invited the nation to join them.
Faced with a corrupt and dictatorial police state, such a movement might have been tempted to wage armed struggle. Instead, they reached for, experimented with, and remained largely steadfast about another way: non-violent people power. Hence the tactics they chose: Massive demonstrations, brazen and ubiquitous use of social media, befriending the army, work stoppages, and eventually the call for a general strike. Non-violent people power operates on the assumption that systems of violence and injustice are not absolute and implacable. Rather, they are kept in place by pillars of support. These props include the police and army; the media; economic forces; cultural and ideological structures; and the general population. The job of a non-violent resistance movement is to remove this support. Key to this process is alerting, educating, and mobilizing a growing number of people throughout the nation or society to withdraw their consent, and to overcome their fear of the consequences for doing so.
The gift that the Egyptian people have placed in each of our hands is the crystal clear example of the power of ordinary people to unleash seismic social change. What makes the accomplishment in Egypt especially valuable to the rest of the world at this time, however, is that (given the determination of the demonstrators, the stubbornness of the regime, and the ubiquity of social media and other technological innovations) many of us were able to follow this struggle step by step in real time and to therefore see in minute detail how this kind of monumental change happens. We were able to see this campaign in slow motion: the initial call, the gathering momentum, the series of repressive attacks, the galvanizing power of Days of Prayer, the lulls, the unexpected developments, the government’s ineffective sticks and even more ineffective carrots, the wave of strikes that began to spread across the country…
This eighteen day saga riveted the world. It offered us a new, three-dimensional awareness of our power to make change through determined, non-violent action. And it offers us a glimmer of hope as we stand at a monumental crossroads in human history. In a time of virtually permanent war, growing poverty, threats to civil liberties, ecological devastation, and many other problems, humanity faces the challenge and opportunity to choose powerful and creative non-violent alternatives. We can continue to opt for the devastating spiral of violence and injustice, or we can build civil societies where the dignity of all is respected and the needs of all are met. True peace and long-term human survival depend on this.
Egypt gives us a clear and radiant example of the non-violent option. For eighteen days, Egypt “mainstreamed non-violence”. Mainstreaming non-violence does not mean creating a utopia where conflict, violence, and injustice do not exist. Instead, it is the process of nurturing a culture that advances non-violent options for addressing complicated challenges in ways that are neither violent nor passive. We have much to learn from this powerful experiment in this peaceful and determined struggle for justice.
All of us owe debt of gratitude to the pro-democracy movement in Egypt for this monumental gift that reveals for people everywhere the power and possibilities of non-violent change in a world wracked by violence and injustice.”