Even in progressive and radical circles, there still remains a great deal of misinformation and confusion about the strategy and philosophy of nonviolent resistance: particularly, its reasoning, goals, and tactics. Therefore, it is often helpful to consult the leaflets and other primary sources of the time to learn exactly what they thought they were doing. This little leaflet from 1961 produced by the New England CNVA gives us a particularly clear articulation of their analysis of the Cold War nuclear situation and the practicality of nonviolent action in the age of weapons of mass destruction. As we today again find ourselves in conflict with the greatest nuclear power in the world, it may be useful to examine the analysis and strategy of past generations’ nonviolent actionists.
As the leaflet alludes, part of the purpose of practicing nonviolent resistance is to demonstrate how truly disruptive it could be. Some examples of nonviolent tactics were learned from the peace movement’s overlap with the labor movement: actions like slowdowns and strikes, but also organizing principles like collective action and economic sharing. When applied to the peace movement, most actions were of course more effective with many participants, but even just a few people could deface enough property, delay enough tests, and otherwise cost the government enough time and money to force it reconsider its plans from time to time. And if totalitarianism ever came to the country, the nonviolent resisters would have already been organized, practiced, and ready to act.
On the back, the leaflet gives a few examples of what nonviolent resistance to war and the war industry might look like. While some actions are obvious (“Speaking out”), some may be unfamiliar to most people (“Refusing to pay war taxes”) while others may not seem directly related to war at all (“Sharing worldly goods”).
While often made out to be naive, passive, and ineffective, actual practitioners of nonviolent resistance in the 1960s were often the ones who articulated strong analyses, put their own bodies on the line, and not only made some David-vs-Goliath victories, but also inspired an entire new generation of social justice movements.
(Click the images below to download the PDF version of the original clippings)
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“let’s walk for PEACE.” Polaris Action Bulletin. 10 April 1961 (Bulletin #21), insert 1-2.
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