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Expert advocates for nonviolence

| Thursday, September 25, 2014

A crowded Hesburgh Center auditorium hosted the 16th annual Yoder Dialogues on Nonviolence, Religion and Peace Thursday, where Maria J. Stephan, a non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council and a senior policy fellow of the U.S. Institute of Peace, gave her view on the power of civil resistance.

“Civil resistance, if there is one message … is not magical,” Stephan said. “It does not win by melting hearts and minds. It wins through planning, strategy and effectively applied pressure. All of that can be learned, taught, built on and shared between activists and movements.”

Stephan’s speech addressed much of her work with Erica Chenoweth, a former Yoder Dialogues speaker and their 2011 book “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” She said during the period from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent campaigns were twice as effective as violent ones when against oppressors.

“Nonviolent campaigns, we found, statistically have a 46 percent success rate against oppressive opponents, whereas armed campaigns have only a 20 percent success rate,” she said.

Although the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance has declined since 2011, there is more hope for the future, Stephan said. While this is primarily because authoritarian regimes learn from each other, diverse groups of people have the power and desire for civil resistance.

“More and more people in different countries are engaging in nonviolent resistance,” she said. “Just in the period 2010 to 2013, there were more nonviolent campaigns than in the entire decade of the 1990s. What is clear is that people are increasingly learning from each other and are turning to this method of struggle in order to advance rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Stephan said civil resistance, in comparison to armed struggle, is a more effective way to achieve peace.

“The vast majority of atrocities globally occur when states are responding to armed insurgencies,” Stephan said. “Arms insurgencies win about 24 percent of the time, but the level of casualties, notably civilian casualties, are often astronomical. Most genocide mass atrocities occur in this type of context.”

The Yoder Dialogues have been held annually since 1999, and are put on in honor of John Howard Yoder, a former theology professor at Notre Dame. The Yoder family supports the event each year, and it consists of a lecture followed by a discussion, normally on a topic related to nonviolence and peace.

“The Yoder tradition has been very involved in … international solidarity around peace and justice issues,” Stephan said. “[The] Kroc [Institute] is a place where you can meet people. You have activists coming together with policy makers coming together with academics, so it is a great place to swap notes about what types of interventions actually work.”

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