How Does Nonviolent Change Happen?

To most people, the process by which change occurs is a great mystery that takes place inside the black box of politics. Most of the time, those pushing for political change recognize the important ingredients that go into the process and the outcome that results from it. But between the input of ingredients and the output of results, what actually takes place inside the black box? How does the mechanism of change actually work?

Watch Tendor explain and illustrate the Mechanisms of Change in this new video:

In the language of nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp, there are four main mechanisms through which nonviolent change takes place, whether at the level of international politics or between two people.

The first mechanism is Conversion. In this mechanism, the decision maker is successfully persuaded to change her mind. If I told you about lung cancer and successfully convinced you to quit smoking, I’ve “converted” you. Conversion often takes place between individuals, but when it comes to settling disputes of international dimensions, this mechanism is highly unlikely to work.

The second mechanism of change is called Accommodation. In this scenario, the opponent does not change their mind, but the movement has taken actions that create pressure or otherwise make the opponent feel that it’s in their interest to give in to your demands. Both sides have accommodated each other, but the root of the conflict remains unaddressed.

The third mechanism is Coercion, where raising pressure on the opponent is the strategy to victory. The actions the movement have taken have undermined the power and control that the opponent has, so the opponent has no choice but to give in to the movement’s demands. Some of the boycott and direct action campaigns used by Black Americans in the Civil Rights Movement in the United States are examples of coercion.

The fourth mechanism is Disintegration. In this case, the oppressor’s regime simply disintegrates and loses all of its power and control. The oppressed people or nations suddenly find themselves in a new situation whereby they have an opportunity to liberate themselves and consolidate their freedom. The best example of this scenario is the Soviet Union, an empire that collapsed and fragmented into several states.

These are the four basic mechanisms by which nonviolent change takes place. It is often difficult to imagine or visualize how change might happen in Tibet. Many think of China as an invincible and permanent empire. However, if we take a close look at these four mechanisms, we can see that there are multiple and diverse ways in which change can happen. It is far more possible than we are willing to believe. (བོད་ཡིག)

Read more about Mechanisms of Change here: (English) (བོད་ཡིག).