Active Non Violence -The Way of the Courageous!

Conclude the talks we are starving! That was the clarion call by women from all walks of life from Zimbabwe in September 2008 [1] this was after long talks that seemed not to be bearing any fruits among the political leaders who had not agreed on the structure of the inclusive government. Meanwhile there was a deep political and humanitarian crisis till the women decided enough is enough! The women under the coalition of Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) held protests for the leaders to act and conclude the talks.

Home in Kenya, a woman who was seven months pregnant, and on complete bed rest, joined other women in Kenya who sat on the floor of the Serena Hotel in Nairobi at the exit of the politicians who were having talks to address the crisis that had rocked Kenya following disputed elections held in December 2007 [2]. As she joined the other women in the vigils, she was certain of one thing, peace is what she needed, and she could no longer sit at home to watch news from the Television.

In 2003, another woman led Liberian women in demanding for action to end war in their country. Leymah Gbowee a Liberian activist played a leading role in organizing women of different faiths and ethnicities to bring about an end to the civil war in her country. She founded a movement called Women of Liberia Mass action for peace. She started with the women because it was the women of her country who were fed up, fed up with the fear that raged rampant across the land; fed up with military strong-arming; fed up with rebels recruiting their children. [3] The movement started with praying and singing in a fish market in the capitol. Eventually, their numbers grew to such proportions that the then military dictator Charles Taylor had to meet with the women. They demanded that he enter peace talks, and much to their astonishment, he agreed. It was many days of protests, picketing, and media outreach, community sensitization on the role of women in advancing the peace agenda, coalition building, position statements and prayer vigils. Eventually the warlords signed a comprehensive peace treaty that pushed the dictator, Charles Taylor, from power and established a new government. [4]

In the 20th century, other leaders led their communities in similar kinds of protests to demand justice, and they include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rossa Parks. Gandhi (1869 – 30 January 1948)) was the pre-eminent political and spiritual leader of India during the Indian Independence movement and pioneered resistance to tyranny through civil disobedience , a philosophy firmly founded upon total non violence which led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world [5] Part of the strategies that the Indians used was non-cooperation. Indians in public office resigned, government agencies such as courts of law were boycotted, and Indian children were withdrawn from government schools.

Throughout India, streets were blocked by squatting Indians who refused to rise even when beaten by police.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) was an American religious leader whose legacy is the fight for civil rights and against racial discrimination [6]. He is famous for his speech, ‘I have a dream’ which many feel the dream was realized on the election of the first black president in the United States of America, President Barrack Obama. Rossa Parks, refused to obey bus driver’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. This brave woman, an unknown seamstress, was arrested and fined for violating a city ordinance, but her lonely act of defiance began a movement that ended legal segregation in America, and made her an inspiration to freedom-loving people everywhere [6]. All these common women and men who became popular for their actions and many more others most of who have never been documented have one thing in common, use of active non violence.

Active non violence

Contrary to some beliefs, non violence is not a passive action and it takes much courage, probably much more courage than violence. According to the Wikipedia encyclopedia Nonviolent resistance (or nonviolent action) is the practice of achieving socio-political goals through symbolic protests, civil disobedience , economic or political non cooperation, and other methods, without using use of violence. Some of the actions are meticulously planed while others take an action that was not premeditated of a woman or man who decides, enough is enough, someone who is fed up with status quo and decides to challenge it regardless of the consequences, but without becoming violent like Rossa Parks. There is a famous quote by Mary Frances Berry; ‘If Rosa Parks had taken a poll before she sat down in the bus in Montgomery, she'd still be standing’

The non-violence movement developed by Gandhi prepared the ground for Great Britain to renounce its supremacy in India, though Gandhi himself was killed by a paid assassin. Also M.L.King's struggle ended without victory. He was assassinated in the balcony of his hotel in Memphis, while assisting a protest which denounced the low salaries of the black people who collected the trash. However, non violence continues to be one single strategy of seeking justice that calls for deep commitment of masses of people to challenge some status-quo.

It is based on six key principles:
Principle One: Non-violence is a way of life for courageous people- It is active non-violent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. It is always persuading the opponent of righteousness of your cause.

Principle Two: Non-violence seeks to win friendship and understanding - The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.
Principle Three: Non-violence seeks to defeat injustice, not people - Non-violence recognizes that evildoers are also victims, and not evil people. The non-violent resister seeks to defeat evil, not people.

Principle Four: Non-violence holds that suffering educates and reforms- Non-violence accepts suffering without retaliation. Non-violence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it. Non-violence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. Suffering has the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

Principle Five: Non-violence chooses love instead of hate- Non-violence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body. Non-violent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative; gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility. Non-violent love is active, not passive, and is unending in its ability to forgive in order to restore community. Non-violent love does not sink to the level of the hater, Love for the enemy is how non violent activists demonstrate love for themselves. Non-violence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

Principle Six: Non-violence believes that the universe is on the side of justice - The non-violent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Non-violence believes that God is a God of justice.
Active non violence (ANV) is therefore contrary to some demonstrations where the demonstrators are involved in violent exchange with the police or other peace keepers. It requires courage not to retaliate even when the ‘enemy’ retaliates with violence. It takes time and patience, with the belief that violence begets more violence hence peace is the way to go non violent actions. Young people have the numbers to demand justice through non-violent means but many times they also engage in violence hence defeating the purpose of ANV. It normally requires meticulous planning and commitment with a critical mass of people who are convinced of the cause.

[1] From article, ‘The struggle continues’ by Dorothy Atemma, courtesy of Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) website (refer and full article can be accessed on
[2] ibid
[4] The movement is featured in a documentary movie entitled ‘ Pray the devil back to hell’


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