Civil Rights Movement: Methods of Nonviolent Action
By: Mary Elizabeth King
The U.S. civil rights movement (1955–1965) of the mid-twentieth century owes its success in part to its implementation of the technique of nonviolent struggle, using scores of nonviolent methods, or action steps. The hundreds of documented nonviolent sanctions, or methods, fall generally into one of three fundamental categories, identified by the scholar Gene Sharp as protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention. Protest or persuasion methods send a message and include demonstrations, marches, petitions, and vigils. Noncooperation methods suspend cooperation and assistance and include economic noncooperation, such as consumer boycotts and strikes, and political noncooperation, such as civil disobedience—the deliberate violation of decrees, laws, military or police orders, ordinances, or regulations regarded by those ruled by them as illegitimate, immoral, or unethical. Nonviolent intervention methods intentionally disrupt and include alternative or parallel social and political systems, hunger strikes, and sit-ins.
The civil rights movement used methods from all three classes, but those most commonly included were “nonviolent direct action”—a synonym for nonviolent struggle or nonviolent resistance, which generally referred to protest and persuasion methods to gain blacks access to segregated public facilities—and voter registration, which was sometimes considered among alternative or parallel institutions or valued for its power potential. The civil disobedience employed in the movement cut across classes, with context determining whether a method epitomizes political noncooperation or political intervention.[…]
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