HKS Professor Erica Chenoweth’s groundbreaking research shows that nonviolent resistance campaigns are 10 times as likely to result in democratic change.
Featuring Erica Chenoweth
November 12, 2019
42 minutes and 1 second
Activists from around the world reach out to Harvard Kennedy School Professor Erica Chenoweth on an almost daily basis. And they mostly ask the same question: How can we fight authoritarianism — and the often-brutal repression that comes with it — without resorting to violence ourselves? They turn to her because her groundbreaking research has shown that, when done the right way, nonviolent civil resistance is actually more effective at driving political change than taking up arms.
Chenoweth is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of the forthcoming book: “Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know.”
To read more about Professor Chenoweth and her work, check out this article in the latest issue of Harvard Kennedy School Magazine.
This episode is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.
Thoko Moyo: Hello and welcome to PolicyCast. What is it about nonviolent protest that makes it so successful?
Erica Chenoweth: Yes. Well, the first thing I would say is that in the study, we focus on nonviolent resistance above and beyond just protest. Which is key because there's no evidence to suggest that nonviolent protests on their own are successful, but nonviolent resistance as a category of action, meaning the combination of protest, strikes, boycotts, stay-aways, and other forms of nonviolent action can together have a lot of potential for creating political and social change. It doesn't always succeed, but it succeeds more often than its violent counterparts. And it succeeds much more often than a lot of skeptics think.
The reasons why we think that nonviolent resistance is a more effective form of struggle in many contexts is because first of all, far more people are willing to engage in nonviolent resistance than are willing to engage in armed insurrection. That allows these movements to really pull out the different dissident capacity of a country: men, women, children, youth, elderly, people with disabilities. People who ordinarily wouldn't volunteer to join an armed insurrection on their own accord might be more willing and capable of participating in methods that are not asking them to use offensive violence.
Thoko Moyo: And some of this is about personal safety, right? People are less fearful.
Erica Chenoweth: They're less fearful. Sometimes they're very afraid, but there's power in numbers, and that has a self-reinforcing effect. If you're sitting and looking out your apartment window in a very repressive country, and somebody spreads a rumor that there's going to be a major uprising downtown against the security forces, the average person, if they look out their window and don't see anybody in the streets, probably wants to stay home and hunker down.
Whereas if you hear that there's a mass uprising and people are going to the square and you look out your window and you see 100 people going down the alleyway singing songs to the square, you're going to be much more likely to say, "You know what? I'm not going to miss this moment." And it's kind of an optical illusion, but it's still something that is effective in pulling out more people to participate.
Thoko Moyo: And so, just talking about the sort of combinations, and you mentioned a few of them, let's examine that. How often are some of these campaigns using the various methods of stay-aways in addition to being out on the streets? What has your research shown?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah, that's a great question. I can't think of the exact breakdown off the top of my head, but in looking at about 550 mass mobilizations from 1900 through 2018, I can say that among the nonviolent mass movements that have succeeded, the vast majority combined far more actions than just mass demonstrations and protests. So they were doing limited or full general strikes, they were engaging in boycotts of products or of elections, or engaging in certain types of noncooperation, which can mean shunning leaders or refusing to send in taxes or refusing to engage in behaviors you're expected to do.
Or they're doing stay-at-homes where they're banging on pots and pans at night, or shutting off the electricity at certain times of day and then shutting it back on ... or turning it back on so that it creates some disruption. Most of the campaigns that succeed have some combination of these different methods.
Thoko Moyo: You've talked about the fact that no existing power has power permanently, and that to maintain the status quo, they're 100% reliant on the cooperation obedience and help of people who reside in different pillars of support. Talk to me about that. What is that idea?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. That's actually an idea drawn from Gene Sharp's work on the theory of nonviolent action, which itself draws on ideas about the nature of power from Hannah Arendt to Henry David Thoreau. And essentially what Sharp was saying was that we have this illusion in our minds that, especially totalitarian regimes, but even semi-authoritarian or authoritarian regimes, are sort of permanently in charge. They've figured out a way to gain the system such that they're impenetrable and invulnerable to challenge from below. And of course, this is a very convenient narrative for those regimes, because they think that it will prevent these challenges from developing.
Thoko Moyo: You just give up without even trying.
Erica Chenoweth: Exactly, exactly. It's just demoralizing, and people have apathy and they accept the status quo. But what Arendt and later Sharp were arguing was that actually, this is an illusion, and it's a very convenient illusion for power holders, where in fact, what they know in secret is that their power is fragile and delicate, and that it's totally dependent on whether A) the people continue to believe that, and B) the people who are close to them whom they've entrusted with certain types of authority and power themselves also decide to continue supporting them.
So, for example, if a regime is very dependent on economic elites and a small entourage of important power players in the society that have a lot of money, it may be that they have to maintain their loyalty and cooperation to maintain power. If it's a country where it's a military regime and in order to maintain power, the power holder has to make sure that the colonels assent and that they don't break off and start to form alliances with other competitors, rivals, or God forbid, civil society groups that are calling for change, right? Basically, the idea is that every kind of government, or if the opponent is a corporation or if the opponent is a university administration or whoever it is, every kind of opponent relies on lots of people in order to maintain the status quo. And that when those people begin to question whether it's in their own personal interest to continue that cooperation, that's when those regimes are very vulnerable to your challenges from below.
Thoko Moyo: And can you give an example where you've actually seen a change in alliance and loyalty by a critical group for a regime?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. I think this is probably one of the most important factors in explaining the timing of success for mass campaigns. The numbers matter, but they matter because they can provoke these shifts in loyalty. There are so many examples because of that. And one of them that's very commonly cited by scholars in this area is the shifts in the loyalty of security forces in Serbia, right as this critical moment was coming to fruition around Slovodon Molosovich's claim that he had won the election of 2000 in September of 2000, which was a fraudulent claim, and there were really good pieces of evidence to suggest that it had been a fraudulent election.
And so the opposition that had descended onto Belgrade in October of 2000 was surrounded at one point by security forces who, up to then, had been very willing to beat these student activists and harass them and engage in various forms of repression. But in this critical moment when they saw how many people were coming from the provinces and from the countryside, including mayors of the opposition parties with their whole groups of people ... there were grandparents, there were women, there were all kinds of people other than just the student movement ... they decided it wasn't in their interest to continue defending Molosovich. And many of them potentially were conscripts from these places and had relationships with people who they thought were in the crowd, and so they refused an order to shoot live fire on the demonstrators. The demonstrators heard that order come to shoot on them over the radio because they'd stolen some police radios. And when they saw that the police were not obeying, that's when they simply walked through the blue line into the Parliament-
Thoko Moyo: And the security forces stepped aside to let them through.
Erica Chenoweth: They stepped aside, exactly. Here, what's really critical is that they don't have to join the protest; they just have to basically say no to an order to engage in mass repression at a critical political moment. And that itself can be enough to essentially push the movement over the edge.
Thoko Moyo: And you touched on some of the reasons why the security forces took that action or the non-action that let the protesters through. Can you just tell me a little bit more? Did journalists or anyone go and actually interview and ask them what it is that made them say they're not going to follow the order?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. There were people, as you can imagine, because this was a very widely publicized event, who went immediately and asked the police, "What were you thinking?" And many of them said things that were very mundane and personal, like, "I thought I saw my neighbor in the crowd. I thought I saw my sister-in-law's friend in the crowd. I thought I saw my kid in the crowd. I thought I saw a guy who sells me liquor at a discount on Saturdays in the crowd." And the implication was that they felt that if they followed the order and did shoot live fire, that their own personal lives would be changed forever. And their own comfort in the society might be different. And they were much less willing to risk that than to simply let what was kind of a nationalist party claim victory in the election and assume power in a transition. Because they felt that that was actually at that point a much more predictable way to imagine the future of their role in the country than to engage in something that would be widely viewed as a criminal act at a moment when it was clear that Molosovich was done.
Thoko Moyo: Right. And so the timing mattered as well, that it was coming at a stage where they had seen that things are about to change in the country anyway.
Erica Chenoweth: Absolutely. And you can think of lots of other examples of this. Like the Egyptian military's behavior during the January 25th uprisings in 2011, where when Mubarak said to them, "Go out and put down this uprising," the military said, "We're not going to do that."
Now, of course, they had, in this case, clear interests in maintaining stability in the country. Later, they cooperated with activists to oust Morsi and to assume power, which they still have. But this is another example where, often, the case is that key players in the society are the decisive ... Their decisions are decisive in determining whether the movement essentially wins or not. What happens after victory for the movement is very contingent and dependent on lots of things other than just whether the movement maintain nonviolent action throughout. But it is clear that these movements force crises whose outcomes are largely dependent on the behavior of these inside actors.
Thoko Moyo: When you think about that, I imagine that's a critical point for organizers as they plan such campaigns. How would one think about that idea that at some point you can change or shift loyalties and incorporate that in the planning and organizing?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it really depends on what types of connections already potentially exist between movement activists or their allies and people that are within these different pillars. And that can often depend on lots of things that are longstanding in the society, like how are people recruited into security forces. Is it an all-volunteer force or is it conscripts? That can make a huge difference into whether people in a broad-based crosscutting movement have connections to people who are currently serving in the police or military.
In other contexts, organizers might rightly calculate that they have no business trying to engage in some kind of divide-and-rule strategy with the military because they have no connection to the military, or engaging in that way would be downright dangerous for them. And so, in those types of settings, you often see them trying to aim more at economic and business elites, or the business classes, where they might have more of a connection and where they might be able to better divide and rule. But I think that the key thing for organizers as a general matter is the takeaway that it's really a divide-and-rule game. The regime is going to try to divide and rule the opposition, and the opposition tries to divide and rule the regime. And whichever side does that better is the side that typically wins.
Thoko Moyo: So, in nonviolent protests or campaigns, sometimes protesters are attacked. They're fired upon. What happens when that happens? Obviously we know what happens to the protesters, but is that a good move for the regimes? Because the suggestion's that that's a risk as well for the repressive regime to do that.
Erica Chenoweth: Absolutely. Most of the campaigns that I study and am most familiar with experience repression, because I mostly study campaigns that are making radical or massive socially transformative demands. There is something that my colleague Christian Davenport has called The Law of Coercive Responsiveness, which means that any form of dissent that genuinely challenges the status quo will be met with repression. Most of the movements I look at experience it in some form, to some degree.
Now, the question is, how intense is the repression, how persistent is it, and how long can a power holder credibly engage in repression over the long term without starting to wear at the loyalty of the security forces? And that's where the risk comes in for the regime. Most regimes, I think, including authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in our time period right now, I think have learned that the most overt forms of brutality in the streets are way too risky for them to just casually engage in anymore. In part because it does risk the security forces saying no, and it also risks the potential if the security forces say yes, for the action to backlash or backfire, meaning that when the repression happens, it's viewed as disproportionate or excessive in its brutality against unarmed demonstrators. Perhaps the security forces take things too far, and then you're facing an even larger ground swell of people whose demands may be even now escalating to remove you from power. Basically, what many different authoritarian regimes seem to have done is engaged a much more sophisticated kind of set of repressive tactics, which aren't necessarily new, but are new in the sense that they're being replicated across countries at a rate that I think is troubling for human rights defenders.
First, they tend to instead of engaging in these mass shows of brute force in the streets, they engage in much more pseudo-legitimate crowd control tactics, like using tear gas, like using different cordon areas, restricting movement, applying curfews, and things like that. Which have a lot more sense of legitimacy for many different people who are sitting on the sidelines and thinking, "Well, of course the police have to control the crowds and protect property and people."
But the other thing they do is they're able to really exploit I think social media in the way that many different activists and organizers and movements engage in very public forms of planning and preference display. It's really clear what people believe because of their behavior and their statements on social media. And so that actually often advantages the regimes that are trying to target more selectively people whom they can arrest to prevent them from being effective organizers.
Thoko Moyo: That's interesting, because when people think about, for example, the Arab Spring, the first thing that comes to mind is just the power and the importance of social media in the success of that campaign. So it's interesting to hear you say that it's a double-edged sword.
Erica Chenoweth: Absolutely. And I think double-edged is exactly the right way to put it, because it's not that there's no value in digital activism, right? We know that, for example, from different research, that organizing an event through Twitter or through Facebook does allow for more people to participate than would otherwise participate, because it's just really quick communication, it's easy to coordinate people, and so forth.
It does mean, though, that you can get a false sense of your efficacy based on numerical attendance. Because what used to be 200,000 people 30 years ago might have been a much bigger organizational lift, requiring much more preparation, planning, et cetera, than 200,000 people today, which is just a really well-publicized event called for on Twitter, right?
What happens is that the movements don't necessarily have to go through the processes of conflict resolution, negotiating on message, training and preparing people to participate, training people how to respond to police. These things much more happen in the field right now, where if you show up at a demonstration and there's a high risk of police repression, you might get a flier that tells you what to do. They might be publicizing what to do online, et cetera. But this puts everything out into the open in a way that I think sometimes can put these movements at risk of either being well anticipated and managed, or outright targeted in terms of who's calling the shots and who the regime can arrest early.
Thoko Moyo: And I've heard you use the phrase "smart repression." That seems to be something that's happening. And this is some of what you're touching on now where the regimes could actually use social media to their advantage. Do you want to just explain when you say, "smart repression," what you mean by that? And then just give a few more examples, which I know you've touched on some of them right now.
Erica Chenoweth: Sure. Yeah. Smart repression I think is really just the idea that the repression is politically savvy. It's trying to avoid creating backfire effects. It's trying to avoid the look of being disproportionate and excessive, but it's still trying to root out key organizers. It's trying to sew divisions within the movement. It might be trying ... the form of repression is often planting agents provocateurs or other people in the crowd to engage in street fighting or other forms of undermining the movements, discipline. It may be-
Thoko Moyo: Fake news, fake events.
Erica Chenoweth: Yes, absolutely. Propaganda, that's exactly right. And yes, even entrapment, right? There was one episode back in 2011 where Omar al-Bashir's government set up a fake Facebook page for an event that was going to be called Sudan's Arab Spring or something like that, to which something like 17,000 people RSVP'd. But it actually was an interior government website that was essentially collecting then names of people who would attend an event like this. It was fake and people were arrested and hurt by the government because of their RSVP to that event.
Thoko Moyo: And in the long term, then people become fearful about responding to events. It starts to effect your ability to use that as a platform to organize.
Erica Chenoweth: It can. It also can make certain people double down in their commitment to make sure that they are capable of launching some kind of opposition movement later. There's a scholar named Eugene Finkel who actually wrote a piece about armed resistance against the Nazis in the 1940s. And he calls this the "Phoenix effect" where people who are singled out for repression early on in a conflict often get to know the opponent very well in the course of their harassment and treatment by them. And that can actually make them, if they survive, very powerful organizers later.
Erica Chenoweth: Not only because they're very motivated, but also because they have a better understanding of the potential weaknesses and vulnerabilities within the regime. And they know that they can survive 24 hours of detention or ill treatment by the regime and live to organize a dissent later. So in Sudan's case, I think it's a really good example where a lot of the people who were involved in the recent anti-Bashir uprisings were people who've long faced harassment and repression by the regime, and served to be both very morally motivating for others in the movement, but also maybe who were very savvy and well-equipped to exploit the regime's weaknesses.
Thoko Moyo: You have regimes that are evolving in time as they see the potential and the success that this type of civil resistance can have. What are the implications for people that are involved in such campaigns? What are they thinking about? What are the core components? Because it sounds to me that it's more than just thinking about, "Let's get out on the street." There needs to be a level of even strategy. Is that something that you would bring into the conversation in terms of nonviolent protest?
Erica Chenoweth: Absolutely. I think people who are mobilizing already around the world know this well. But the truth is that movements don't win just because they're nonviolent, and they don't win just because they're making really good arguments. It does require a strategy. It requires organization. It requires a long-term plan. And I think many of the ... The average campaign, in the data that I work with, lasts about three years.
Thoko Moyo: Three years?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. And for armed campaigns, by the way, it's about nine years before they run their course, success or failure, one way or the other. And so that means, if you think about it, if you're one of these people who's involved in these movements, it really necessitates a long game where the movements are thinking about not just what we need to do to make sure that the event next Saturday goes well and there's a lot of people who show up, but also they're thinking about whether having an event this Saturday even makes any sense given our long-term goal and where we are today.
It also ... If a campaign has a strategy, they can absorb a few losses along the way in the sense of some things can be set back or they can have an event that doesn't go as well as they hoped, or not as many people came out as they hoped or whatever it is, but they still are on track toward their strategy. As opposed to if a movement is purely basically concerned with whether people showed up at the event or whether it was a total disaster. So that's one thing, is letting strategy dictate the tactics rather than letting tactics essentially improvise a strategy along the way.
Thoko Moyo: And it's understandable. I think people are feeling the urgency of now, and so they're very focused on, "Today we want to see the change happen today, and so as many people need to come out." It sounds like that's what drives it. But it's that taking a step back and thinking, "Well, actually, this may be a longer-term game than we imagined to actually get the results that we want."
Erica Chenoweth: I think that's absolutely right. And I think there is absolutely a time and place for people to show up in a given moment and say what they think about a particular injustice. They key is not to conflate that with a strategy of nonviolent action. So there's one kind of thing where it's like people need to come together to grieve a moment or to express outrage in a moment; that's important. But it's not necessarily the same thing as this organized strategy of nonviolent action that has a beginning and an end, and you know where you are in the process and how your opponent is reacting to you.
The modal reaction, by the way, of governments to acts of protest in particular, is to ignore them and hope that it fizzles out. And that's based on different global descriptive statistics of state response to protest events. And that makes sense for lots of reasons. It's much less risky to just wait it out, but it also speaks to the power of a movement that can find a way to pester the state and force it to respond one way or the other. They key is getting the opponent to respond in a way that basically plays into your hands as a movement.
I'd say there's four things that successful movements tend to do. The first is that they engage a large and diverse population of participants that stay engaged over time and are crosscutting and diverse in their representation from throughout the society. The second thing is they do create these loyalty shifts in the opponent's pillars of support. The third thing is that they tend to vary their methods so they're not just doing the protest, but they're doing other forms of noncooperation. And then the fourth is that they have discipline and are able to maintain their plan, even when the regime's response escalates into even highly brutal forms of repression, which have a very clear purpose, right? They are clearly meant to demobilize and terrorize the opposition.
The opposition that knows that that kind of behavior by a government is a sign that they are threatening, not that they're weak, can be a powerful way for them to respond to these types of events which are otherwise just totally can be very devastating for members of an opposition movement.
Thoko Moyo: When you talk about varying the forms of noncooperation as being quite critical for success of nonviolent campaigns, one thing that comes to mind is with the impatience that people who are suffering under a very repressive regime would be, "We've done this and we're not seeing results." The tendency's to want to move into, "Well, maybe going out in the streets is not working. Maybe we need to have ... Let's put our lives on the line. Let's also respond with violence that may push the regime to take us seriously, or to actually hasten the change."
What happens when your nonviolent campaigns start to have a violent flank, as you've called it? What tends to happen? Can you combine the two?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. It's a bit of a mixed bag. As you can imagine, it's a pretty controversial question. In the scholarship, there's a lively debate about it. But from what I can say from my data at least, it looks like that primarily nonviolent campaigns that do either embrace or tolerate a violent flank tend to be less successful than the campaigns that just use nonviolent action.
In other words, it does appear to have the effect of essentially demobilizing many of the participants. So in other words, if you're engaged in some kind of mass movement, you know you're supposed to go out every Friday, or every weekend, to engage in a protest. And you've been doing this for three or four months, and it seems to be going somewhere but the police are clearly starting to become a bit more physical in their repression, and people are getting hurt. And then the next time you show up, there are people who are ready to engage in street fighting with the police.
Erica Chenoweth: That typically has the effect of driving away a large number of erstwhile participants, particularly those who do not want to be caught in the middle, because for whatever reason they have a lower risk acceptance for their physical safety than others. So that can mean that people who have some kind of physical disability, people who feel physically vulnerable in any way other than the average person may not participate.
And so what we see is that the appearance of a violent flank tends to homogenize a movement and make it much more young and male, compared to movements that are engaging in nonviolent action. Even as repression rises, they are still engaging in nonviolent action with a much more diverse participation base. And that, of course, then leads to the ability to work on those loyalty shifts and innovate new nonviolent tactics that I think are really important. I do want to say one thing about this double standard that nonviolent action often faces. If you can think about a setting where, let's say you have 300 people in the streets protesting, and there's a really nasty crackdown, and say, 12 of them are killed in the streets. There is a tendency to want to say, "Obviously this shows that nonviolent action doesn't work and we have to use violence."
Now, if you have that same group of 300 people all with arms engaging in street fighting with the military five months later, and 12 of them are killed in street fighting, usually they don't say, "It's obvious this violence isn't working; let's go to nonviolent action." Usually they say, "We need more and better violence," right? The question is, who's game are you playing? Are you on your own court, or are you playing the game that the state wants you to play, where they can totally outgun you and overpower you?
Thoko Moyo: Right. And let's talk a little bit more about the differences in outcomes. Not so much the changing of regime between nonviolent and violent campaigns, but the impact that it actually has on society of a country. Because you mentioned earlier on that nonviolent campaigns last a shorter time than armed conflict. What are some of the implications of being in a protracted ... Some of them are obvious: loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, et cetera. But let's talk about that a little bit more, just to contrast the two.
Erica Chenoweth: Sure, yeah. As you mentioned, there are enormous costs and long-term consequences for armed insurgency and counterinsurgency that involve loss of life, that involve loss of infrastructure. It is the overwhelming tendency for countries emerging from longstanding civil wars to be authoritarian, because whoever wins is either winning from the perspective of having an armed uprising with martial values attached to it, or they've crushed a rebellion and in doing so have-
Thoko Moyo: So they come in and they're already-
Erica Chenoweth: Exactly. It looks like it's much more common for campaigns of armed insurrection to lead to authoritarianism, at least in the immediate aftermath of a conflict. It's not universal, but it's much more common, especially when the insurgents win. And the difference is that for nonviolent campaigns, there's something like 10 times more likely to emerge as democracies after the campaign is over. And that includes cases where the campaigns didn't win. In other words, you can have cases where the mass movement failed, but that it created enough of a shockwave through the elite governing institutions that they began to shuffle a bit, and political liberalizations started to take place.
One of the examples of this that didn't emerge as a democracy but does show the impacts of a so-called failed movement on the empowerment of people with relatively more liberal ideas about government is actually the Tiananmen Massacre, and the following years within the CCP that really gave rise to much more open political leadership. Even though Tiananmen is often considered one of these cases where there was this totally brutal crackdown and massacre, it destroyed the Chinese democracy movement, et cetera, it nevertheless really rattled the ruling party, and did empower some moves within the ruling party to bring to power more people that wanted to be at least perceived as responding more to public demands and rooting out corruption and opening the economy and things like that.
It's not to say that China is a success story around nonviolent action, but it is to say that short-term failures don't always mean that the movement didn't matter. And I think in this case that it was very important.
Thoko Moyo: We are running out of time. I think I could quite happily talk about this for the next hour. But I need to wrap up, and I guess it would be useful to hear from you from your research and the data that you've analyzed. When you compare campaigns of old to nonviolent campaigns that we're seeing today, what are some of the main differences? Are there more people showing out, the gender dimension? What is it looking like?
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah, that's a great question. The data that I've collected go until about the end of 2018-
Thoko Moyo: And start from-
Erica Chenoweth: And start in 1900, yeah.
Thoko Moyo: 1900, okay.
Erica Chenoweth: And so, what it looks like is that we definitely live in the most contentious decade on record during that time period. That means we have more mass mobilizations where people are demanding either the removal of their government's national leader or territorial independence than we have during that entire time period. One of the things that's really critical about it, though, is that they're doing it overwhelmingly using these nonviolent methods. So instead of having this be a decade where the entire world is on fire because of violence, we're having it where it's tumultuous and it feels unstable. That's because there's so many people around the world using nonviolent action, which you could view as a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose. But one thing that I would say that's different about this decade is that surprisingly, the average campaign actually has fewer people showing up.
Thoko Moyo: Has fewer people?
Erica Chenoweth: Fewer people showing up than were showing up in peak moments in the 90s or even in the early 2000s.
Thoko Moyo: I would have thought there were more people ... Well, I'm thinking most recently for me was the Women's March in the U.S., which was just unprecedented in the numbers.
Erica Chenoweth: Yes.
Thoko Moyo: Was that an exception?
Erica Chenoweth: Yes, it was an exception. What's happened in the U.S., what's happened in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, where you've had overwhelming numbers of people turning out, are actually relatively exceptional cases. There are two others: Algeria and Sudan both had probably around 2% of their populations turn out to demand the overthrow of Bashir and Bouteflika there. But these are actually exceptional in our decade, because up to now, the average nonviolent campaign has been a bit smaller than really large-scale campaigns that were bringing out 3, 4, 5, even 10 percent of the population in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. So that's one interesting thing.
The second thing is that I think that they're much more driven by this digital model, which as I mentioned, can bring a large number of people out, but doesn't necessarily build that sustained base of support that can start to have those dramatic political effects by essentially forcing these people and these pillars of support to question whether they're being very smart. So that's the part that seems to be missing. It seems to be that movements are basically saying, "We're huge, and that's what matters." Size of a movement matters because it can have these broader political effects, but without them it's actually quite difficult for large numbers alone to matter as much.
And then, the third thing is that there does seem to be an overwhelming reliance on protest and mass demonstrations. There seems to be less capacity for doing general strikes, for example. But what we know from many of these historical movements is that the strike is probably the most potent single method of nonviolent action that's possible.
Thoko Moyo: A strike could be just staying away, not doing the things that you're expected to be doing.
Erica Chenoweth: Yeah. Staying at home for a week or two. If cities' populations stay at home for a week or two without going to work, it just grinds the economy to a halt. It's not sustainable.
Thoko Moyo: But the regime can come and pull you out of that home. There's been examples where people have been forced to come back to work or go and do what they're expected to do.
Erica Chenoweth: That's right. Yes. There are examples of that, and of course bringing in other workers and things like that. It's always a tit-for-tat, in a way. But, many movements that prepare for engaging in strikes and meaningful moments, when they have a very large-scale number of participants, it's impossible for the regime to bring everybody back to work if they don't want to go. And then in some cases, they'll go to work and they work at half pace.
Thoko Moyo: Yeah, and go slow.
Erica Chenoweth: Exactly. There are lots of methods available for these movements to think through.
Thoko Moyo: Professor Chenoweth, thank you so much for your time. This was fascinating, really interesting. Very excited to read your book. When does it come out?
Erica Chenoweth: It should come out in Spring of 2020.
Thoko Moyo: Fantastic. Thank you so much.
Erica Chenoweth: Thank you.