Just last week, before the Edinburgh march, I bemoaned this piece in the Scotsman:
Reacting quickly, I condemned it as clearly wrong, a scare story, but then realised I didn’t actually have the evidence. A quick search and I found this:
‘It turns out that social science has a lot to say about which protests are likely to be effective. My research shows that social movements can indeed create long-lasting political change.’ (Mazumder, Harvard, 2017)
Mazumder, a PhD student at Harvard, found that peaceful, articulate and organised protests, as in the AUOB marches, can ‘create long-lasting political change.’
Just one PhD student is probably not enough. You might remember that was the basis for the Blair/Campbell ‘dodgy dossier’ justifying the Iraq War. Luckily, I knew that where there is a PhD student onto something, there will also be an academic onto the same thing.
Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way. Her research was reported on by David Robson of the BBC on 14th May this year, shared helpfully by Wings. He wrote at length, but the key points are:
Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.
Roughly 3.7% of the Scottish population marched in Edinburgh alone yesterday!
Robson gives these recent examples:
- In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.
- In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.
- Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.
- In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.
- Chenoweth’s influence can be seen in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, whose founders say they have been directly inspired by her findings.
The full report is here: