The boycott is one of the most well-known nonviolent resistance tactics, and it can also be one of the most powerful. To carry out a boycott, people don’t have to gather together in a single place or engage in high-risk actions. Due to the low risk involved, lots of people can take part, building a campaign’s power and sustaining momentum for a long time.
Watch this video to learn about the tyrant who gave the boycott tactic its name:
Some boycotts are known the world over, like the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. Thousands of African-Americans vowed to stop riding city buses in Montgomery, Alabama until buses were desegregated. As a result of this campaign, black Americans were finally allowed to take seats on a first-come, first-served basis, without having to yield their seats to white riders on city buses.
There have also been very successful boycotts in Tibet. In Nangchen in 2011-2012, villagers refused to buy vegetables from price-gouging Chinese vendors. After initially trying and failing to negotiate with the vendors about their astronomical prices, Tibetans appealed to the police, who refused to do anything. It was after meetings, discussions and planning, that community members decided to stage a boycott. They approached businessmen in Nangchen who agreed to import vegetables and other foods from Xining for an affordable price as a favor to the community.
By April 2011, the majority of Tibetans in Nangchen were participating in the boycott. The boycott achieved success: some Chinese vegetable sellers charging high prices lost business and left town, while new Tibetan vendors emerged in Nangchen. Other Tibetan villages nearby followed suit and emulated Nangchen’s example. And the campaign was low risk – people could participate individually, without gathering together in one place. The police never got involved and no one was harmed.
The Nangchen boycott had many of the key factors that make a boycott successful. The organizers planned the campaign and had clear and realistic goals; they organized an alternative supply of the product they asked people to boycott; and they ensured widespread participation. They also framed the issue effectively, making sure their message stayed focused on the problem of overpriced vegetables.
In the end, though, the campaign had one flaw: the system of having volunteers truck vegetables in from Xining was not sustainable, and when the volunteers stopped their service, some high-priced Chinese vendors returned.
Nevertheless, the initial success of the boycott demonstrates that Tibetans have the power to influence their local economy and take back control to some extent. The interest from other villages suggests that there is potential for this initiative to expand and bring about large-scale economic changes as well.