The vignette about Chile from the documentary A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, directed by Steve York, focuses on the overthrowing of the dictator Pinochet during the 1980s and the movement to establish democracy in the country. According to the documentary, Pinochet’s ruthless military rule and brutality toward any opposition created a sense of fear, paranoia, and terror among Chilean citizens in their everyday lives. Executions, disappearances, and imprisonments were common tactics employed by his regime that allowed him to retain power over the people for a decade before anyone felt empowered enough to overcome their fear and take action against him. This made me realize that the primary source of government power lies in instilling fear in the people. Once the people are no longer subdued by their fear, the government loses its power to control them.

This is what happened in 1983, when a severe economic crisis occurred in the country, causing the citizens to become desperate for change and feel that they had nothing left to lose. Copper miners began the resistance to the dictatorship by organizing a strike, but when military troops threatened the strikers with violence, they changed strategies and decided to hold a “National Day of Protest” that would mobilize the entire Chilean population. Soon, monthly protests and rallies were held representing various groups all opposing Pinochet, and citizens became hopeful that mass demonstrations alone would be successful in ending his reign.

However, some Communist factions living in extreme poverty began to resort to violence and guerrilla warfare in fighting against Pinochet’s military troops. The documentary highlighted the citizens’ struggle in reaching the point where they faced the choice of how best to proceed with their struggle—either with or without violence.  I found this debate between the two options to be very powerful. Violence had commonly been used in other, previous socio-political conflicts throughout South America, and in every instance it brought with it high levels of bloodshed and destruction. Although it may seem daunting to fight without weapons against an armed opponent, the alternative of fighting violence with violence just doesn’t make any sense. This reminds me of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Thus, this part of the documentary emphasizes how violence is actually a desperate move by the weak to grab power but has no real authority behind it.

Ultimately, the Chileans pursued a nonviolent approach to standing up for their rights by making their voices heard in the 1988 election where citizens could vote “yes” or “no,” indicating whether or not they wanted Pinochet’s rule to continue for another eight years. A campaign supporting the “no” vote was organized, urging citizens to feel safe to vote against the dictator, and television commercials were broadcasted to expose the human rights violations committed by Pinochet and to display how bright the future of Chile would be without him at the head of the government. By the end of the election, the “no” vote had won, and Pinochet accepted the defeat.

The fact that these results were achieved by ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and, most importantly, in nonviolent ways, is a very inspiring example for me demonstrating how nonviolent peacemaking is actually highly effective. The collective participation of seven million people who took a stand for their rights as human beings is what was responsible for these positive changes in Chile, which would not have been possible had violence been utilized. No longer did they stand aside and let a single ruler have the authority to create fear inside them and make them feel powerless over their own lives. By working in solidarity and employing peaceful methods, they were able to reclaim their rights and to dismantle the dictatorship that oppressed them for years in the past so that they could create a better future. By the end of the documentary, I felt empowered that peace really works if you give it a chance.

-Alison Zacharias, MPT Intern

Image

Source:

A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Dir. Steve York. York Zimmerman Inc., 2000. DVD.

Image:

“No” Campaign Infographic. Digital image. Google Images. Infogr.am. Web. 23 May 2013. <>

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About Meta Peace Team

Meta Peace Team pursues peace through active nonviolence in places of conflict. We seek a just world grounded in nonviolence and respect for the sacred interconnectedness of all life. Our Goals: - Educating the public to the vision and practice of active nonviolence, particularly as it relates to nonviolent conflict intervention - Providing training in active nonviolence designed for the specific needs of the participants - Recruiting, training, and placing Peace Teams both domestically and internationally - Cooperating, supporting, and participating with local peace and justice groups, particularly as it relates to our mission

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