HKS Authors

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Academic Dean for Faculty Engagement
Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment


Civil resistance is a form of struggle in which unarmed civilians mobilize using a series of coordinated methods like protest, non-cooperation, and the building of alternative institutions to confront their opponents People have used methods of civil resistance— like protests, strikes, or acts of civil disobedience— in North America for hundreds of years However, there was little comprehension of the potential strategic and moral potential of civil resistance as a systematic approach to building and wielding power against oppression until Mohandas Gandhi popularized the concept within the Indian context. Bayard Rustin was one of the first people—if not the first per-son— to systematically apply the theory and practice of nonviolent civil resistance to race relations in the United States. At the time of its introduction to the US context, civil resistance was still an emerging technology of resistance, with anticolonial movements following Gandhi’s example by experimenting with the tactics, strategy, and philosophy of nonviolent action Although Rustin is often considered a “giant of post– World War II pacifist and civil rights activism,” he left a profound legacy in solidifying a popular under-standing and use of civil resistance in the United States.


Chenoweth, Erica. "Rustin’s Legacy of Civil Resistance in the US." Bayard Rustin: A Legacy of Protest and Politics. Ed. Michael G. Long. NYU Press, 2023, 10-24.