No single event nor charismatic leader changes history. History changes when large groups organize around common goals. Events and leaders can help galvanize forces. But people power has a great track record. And, movements that rely on principles of nonviolence seem to succeed more often and create more lasting change than those engaged in armed struggle. In the U.S., the Civil Rights, Free Speech and Anti-War Movements of the 1960s, the Women’s Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement all shifted the political and cultural landscape. More recently Occupy had an impact. Internationally there was the overthrow of Marcos in the Philippines, Tiananmen Square. Some might say the Indonesian election in 2014 represents another nonviolent regime change – a victory of the ballot over the bullet. And who can forget what happened in South Africa?
Erica Chenoweth teaches Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School where she directs the Nonviolent Action Lab at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She is the author of Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know.