The Power Of Peaceful Resistance

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian Leader
This week, CBS News Sunday Morning's John Leonard reviews A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, a new two-part, three-hour PBS documentary premiering Mondays, Sept. 18 and 25, at 9 p.m. ET.
For the next two Monday nights on public television, you will meet heroes who never fire a shot or push a long-range missile button. In A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, what these heroes do instead, in popular movements of tens of thousands, is withhold their consent. Against tyranny and exploitation, servitude and second-class citizenship, occupation and oppression, they refuse, secede, challenge, embarrass, disrupt, disobey -- resist. And this resistance is anything but passive. It is mobile, disciplined, smart and thrilling.

It began with Gandhi's march to the sea in 1930, to collect salt illegally, and from that sea spread to Bombay, where the Indian mind was decolonized.

When the Nazis invaded Denmark, Danes simply refused to build German ships or to feed the German army, and saved most of their Jewish citizens by smuggling them out of the country.

In Nashville, in 1960, students at Fisk University trained for nonviolent confrontation before sitting in at segregated downtown lunch counters, returned in waves no matter how many times they were beaten, and started another American revolution.

The Leonard File
Read past reviews by John Leonard.
When Polish workers in Solidarity occupied a shipyard in 1980 and insisted on their right to strike, it was the beginning of the end for police states in eastern Europe.

In martial-law South Africa, an economic boycott spread from black townships to the nations of the West, paralyzed apartheid and led to the first free elections.

In Chile, it wasn't the guerrillas in the mountains who ended Pinochet's dictatorship, but unions, vigils, protest songs, street festivals and plebiscite.

In a book just published as a companion to the public-television series, we also hear about nonviolent resistance in Burma, Argentina and the Philippines. We are even reminded of the new social contract Vaclav Havel and his jailbird friends wrote in the Magic Lantern Theater in Prague (in the middle of the Velvet Revolution) to the muic of the Beatles.

It is everywhere written, in bullet holes and amputations, in shellshock and mushroom clouds, that political science is a clenched fist, power flows from the mouth of a gun, bloodlust is coded in our DNA.

But A Force More Powerful thinks again, at Gandhi's spinning wheel. Look who just said "NO!" to British imperialism, the Third Reich, the Soviet monolith, American apartheid, and tin-pot tyrannies all over Africa, Asia and Latin America. With moral witness, strategic dissent, popular mobilization, and communities of steadfast pride, a principled civil disobedience created a civil society.