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A Timeline of Nonviolent Movements in the 20th Century

A Timeline of Nonviolent Movements in the 20th Century

Excerpted from A Force More Powerful: a Century of Nonviolent Conflict (pp.3-4):

  • In 1905 an Orthodox priest, Georgi Gapon, persuaded 150,000 workers to walk the icy streets of Russia's ancient capital in the century's first public challenge to autocratic power. He ignited mass action nationwide that led to the country's first popularly elected national parliament.
  • After the world war that opened the door to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia and imposed reparations on Germany, miners and railway workers in the Ruhr in 1923 confronted invading French and Belgian soldiers who were sent to extract Germany resources. They refused to cooperate and thwarted the invaders' goals until the British and Americans pressed for the troops' withdrawal.
  • In 1930-31 Mohandas Gandhi led mass civil disobedience against the British in India. He convinced his followers to stop paying salt taxes and cease buying cloth and liquor monopolized by the raj, intensifying his nation's long, successful drive to independence.
  • Danish citizens during the German occupation in World War II refused to aid the Nazi war effort and brought their cities to a standstill in the summer of 1944, forcing the Germans to end curfews and blockades; other European peoples under Nazi domination resisted nonviolently as well.
  • Salvadoran students, doctors, and merchants, fed up with the fear and brutality visited on their country by a longtime military dictator, organized a civic strike in 1944. Without picking up a single gun, they detached the general from his closest supporters, including members of the military, and forced him into exile.
  • Less than ten years after the British left India, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following Gandhi's teachings, led his fellow African Americans on a fifteen-year campaign of marches and boycotts to overthrow racial segregation in the American South.
  • A few years after Dr. King was assassinated, Polish dissidents defied communist rule by initiating new forms of social action rarely seen in the Soviet bloc. Later workers struck and won the right to organize, giving rise to Solidarity and eventually the end of communism.
  • As change was brewing in Poland, a group of Argentine mothers, outraged by their government's silence about the disappearance of their sons, started marching in the central plaza of Buenos Aires. They did not stop until the legitimacy of the country's military junta was undermined, leading to its downfall after the debacle of the Falklands War.
  • As the generals fell in Argentina, General Augusto Pinochet, across the Andes in Chile, faced a surging popular movement that mounted a series of protests of his dictatorship. Ultimately they overturned him through a plebiscite he was not supposed to lose.
  • Half a world away, after Ferdinand Marcos stole an election in the Philippines in 1986, the widow of an assassinated opposition leader led hundreds of thousands into the streets. Supporting a rebellion by reform-minded military officers, they deprived the dictator of any chance to hold power by force, and he fled the country.
  • Not long after Filipinos reclaimed their democracy, Palestinians challenged Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by organizing protests and boycotts and by building their own network of social services. This wave of nonviolent resistance became the largest if least visible part of the intifada.
  • While Solidarity continued its fight, boycott organizers, trade unions, and religious leaders in South Africa joined to wage a nonviolent campaign against apartheid. Along with international sanctions, they helped force the freeing of Nelson Mandela and negotiations for a democratic future.
  • Days after the Berlin Wall fell, thousands of Czech students sat down at the edge of Wenceslas Square in Prague chanting, "We have no weapons...The world's watching." In weeks the communist regime and others like it in East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, and even Mongolia were gone.
  • In the 1990's a Burmese mother, Aung San Suu Kyi, led her country's democracy movement while under house arrest, as young Burmese were bolstered in their struggle by a new worldwide cohort of nonviolent activists and practitioners.
  • In 1999-2000, a student-led resistance movement, with support from pro-democratic groups abroad, and a unified political opposition mobilized to defeat President Slobodan Milosevic at the polls. With his security forces neutralized by a nonviolent uprising, and facing general strike, Europe's last dictator capitulated.

Last updated by Shara Lili Esbenshade May 5, 2011.


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