To Concentrate or to Disperse
One useful way of classifying the various nonviolent tactics is to divide them into tactics of concentration and tactics of dispersion. For example, protest demonstrations or rallies are tactics of concentration, because they tend to concentrate hundreds or thousands of people in one location. Tactics of dispersion, on the contrary, are those where people are dispersed over a vast area and can carry out actions individually or in small groups. Examples would include tactics such as noncooperation, boycotts, and strikes, etc.
During the Civil Rights movement in America, one of the most well known campaign was the March on Washington, when a million people congregated on the National Mall in Washington, DC. This is perhaps the best example of what a tactic of concentration looks like.
At the same time, the Civil Rights movement used many tactics of dispersion, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, or the sit-in actions. During that period African Americans were not allowed to eat at Whites-only counters in restaurants. African American students and activists would purposely enter these restaurants, sit at the Whites-only counters, and wait to be served. They would refuse to leave until they were served and would bring the entire restaurant to a stand-still, forcing people to confront this widely accepted racist business practice. The sit-in became one of the most effective tactics in the fight against racial segregation.
Tactics of dispersion, unlike tactics of concentration, do not require thousands of people to gather in one spot. By nature, these tactics are meant to be dispersed across scores of towns and cities, and carried out in many different locations. The advantages of using tactics of dispersion are:
(1) They can reduce the risk of arrest or imprisonment faced by participants in the resistance.
(2) This means that the campaigns can be sustained for a longer period.
(3) This in turn means that more people can eventually join the movement.
At this moment, Tibet is one of the most hostile places for political activism, where activists routinely pay an unbearably high price for their activism. Given the harsh political environment, tactics of dispersion are often more suitable than tactics of concentration. In Tibet, we’re beginning to see more and more people using tactics of dispersion. Instead of holding large protest gatherings, people are beginning to ask, “What can we do in our own homes or in our own family? What are we going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Where are we going to buy our groceries, and from whom?”
There are hundreds of these small, simple but important decisions that an individual has to make each day. Each of these small decisions can be transformed into an act of resistance and when carried out by hundreds or thousands of people, can change some aspect of the current situation in Tibet.