On success stories

Maria J. Stephan lists her favourite examples of non-violent campaigns that worked.



Maria J. Stephan lists her favourite examples of non-violent campaigns that worked.


I have a number of favourite examples of effective non-violent campaigns, but one that is very close to home is our own Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. And this was a campaign against Jim Crow laws, segregation, that imposed unjust laws, rules and regulations, on African-Americans. It was a campaign that was led by black leadership that involved the churches, that involved white allies, and that involved a significant number of amazing non-violent campaigns and tactics. 

So the Montgomery bus boycott was a classic example of African-Americans refusing to ride the bus and pay the fees to the driver, which caused a significant economic effect on the owners of the bus system; the lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville. So it was a very methodical, strategic movement of movements that brought lots of different people groups, organisations, sectors of society together and achieved remarkable gains, and ended the system of apartheid in this country. We’re still fighting for civil rights in this country, as you know, and the movement for Black Lives is the latest manifestation of the Civil Rights Movement, which was hugely successful in the 1960s. So that’s one of my favourite examples.

The anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa was another classic case where black-led boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience targeting white businesses, led to the eventual negotiations between the apartheid regime and the African National Congress, which preceded the peaceful democratic transition in that country. But very vibrant, non-violent activism.

And then, I always like the example of the Serbian youth-led movement, led by Otpor, which was an organisation led by university students that ended up mobilising the entire population of Serbia to challenge the regime of Slobodan Milošević – who was known then, as you know, as the Butcher of the Balkans – and that mobilised the population to challenge him when the elections were stolen, and ultimately they won. They were able to force the removal of Milošević without blood spilling and people being killed. And that example is used by a lot of activists in movements around the world, especially with what youth can do effectively to challenge oppression.