So You Say You Want to Start a (R)evolution?

Five Basic Steps for Nonviolent Action


“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

– Mahatma Gandhi


“We will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witness to the truth as we see it.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.


1. Never dehumanize anyone. Try to understand the real needs of your opponents. Always remember that they are human beings too; in fact the more you respect your opponent as a human being, the more effectively you will be able to change their unjust ways — and defend your own ideals. Harm no one: your struggle is with the problem, not the person. Violence begets violence: “Hate can never overcome hate, only love can do that” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) Never harm another’s dignity — or accept harm to your own. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (MLK, Jr.) Indeed, the power of nonviolence is that it offers everyone a way back to dignity. A Tagalog word for their ‘people power’ in the Philippine uprising of 1986 was alay dangal, ‘to offer dignity.’

2. Your means are your ends. If your thoughts, words, and actions are nonviolent to the greatest extent possible the result will always be positive. As Gandhi said, “violent revolution will bring violent independence.”

3. Patience. An Arabic word for nonviolence is sabr ‘patience.’ Patience with insults you must endure, patience to contain your anger (or fear), patience because in nonviolence the results of your actions may be far off. In nonviolence it is often possible to lose the battle but go on to win the war. And the real ‘win’ we are reaching for is to win over the hearts and minds of even the most opposed. At the same time, know that there is always a solution that will benefit all parties: the way to help an oppressor, as the Prophet said, is to prevent him from oppressing.

4. Constructive Program. In between protests & boycotts, know what programs you can carry out to create the relationships you want to see in your community. You can ‘cooperate with good’ and ‘non-cooperate with evil’. Having both ready and knowing when to emphasize which approach gives great power. In general, be constructive when you can, obstructive when you must. In this connection, do not rely overly on things or tactics that are only symbolic. Be concrete, constructive, compassionate. Create parallel institutions to replace the ones you overthrow — before you overthrow them. It will be easier!

5. Swadeshi|Localism. Gandhi called this “swadeshi“. First solve the problems that you are closest to, both geographically and as an individual, before getting involved in the struggles of others. If you focus your efforts there you will find that your circle of influence expands.