Reflections on A Force More Powerful Documentary: Chile Vignette

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

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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. <>

Reflections on A Force More Powerful Documentary: South Africa Vignette

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The documentary A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, directed by Steve York, presents a series of vignettes focusing on specific struggles across the world that have employed nonviolent methods to fighting oppression and brutality. The third vignette concentrating on apartheid in South Africa particularly struck me as a strong example of the power behind active nonviolent peacemaking. People often mistakenly conflate nonviolence with non-action, but this film emphasizes the idea that fighting violence with violence achieves nothing, and there are more beneficial methods of taking a stand for one’s rights that do not involve taking up arms.

Under apartheid, black citizens were forced to live in poor neighborhoods, were not given equal rights, and were treated brutally by police forces for not complying with them. The struggle against this oppression lasted for decades. As the documentary demonstrates, many of the black South African citizens were inspired by the teachings of Gandhi and began to organize a resistance to the apartheid regime using nonviolent methods. The black leaders in Port Elizabeth organized a boycott of the stores in the white townships in order to put pressure on the white community. Without black citizens purchasing products from these stores, the Port Elizabeth retailers became desperate. The boycotts received widespread attention and created a stir throughout the entire nation. What really shocks and inspires me is that, according to the documentary, even though resistance to apartheid had been occurring for decades, this boycott became the most successful and effective technique up to that point in only five days’ time, because it posed a genuine threat to the apartheid ruling party. The black South Africans participating in this boycott were not doing anything illegal (even though many of the leaders and participants were arrested), and they were not using any type of violence, yet their actions catalyzed the movement to end racial segregation in their country more than previous methods had. Their ability to organize the masses to take collective action and to resist their oppressors through Gandhi’s ideas of civil disobedience are what led them to be successful in effecting social change in ways that violence could never have achieved.

Although these boycotts cannot claim sole credit for overthrowing the apartheid regime, they did pave the way for de-legitimizing the apartheid government and for empowering black South African citizens to realize that they had the power to pressure the state into hearing their demands and making changes to accommodate them. Most importantly, using the boycott approach to mobilize the masses is one prime example demonstrating the crucial role nonviolence plays in affording effective results. In 1993, a new constitution was written that guarantees equal rights for all South Africans, and in 1994, national democratic elections were held. It is inspiring to know that the nonviolent actions of the people were responsible for making these positive changes possible.

The South African vignette closed with an idea that I found to be truly moving: Tyrants often believe that arms are the most dangerous threat that they should fear, but really, what tyrants should fear most are the people they rule. As Desmond Tutu said, “When people decide they want to be free, there is nothing that can stop them” from overcoming oppression. There is no weapon more powerful than the human will, and the best results are achieved when people work together in positive and peaceful ways to create change rather than violent and destructive ones. The movement to end apartheid in South Africa is just one of many stories proving that, contrary to popular belief, peace really is a force more powerful than violence.

-Alison Zacharias, MPT Intern

Source:

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

Image:

A Force More Powerful. Digital image. Google Images. Social Uplift Foundation. Web. 22 May 2013. <<http://images.google.com>&gt;

Hello world!

In 2013, Michigan Peace Team will be expanding, and taking on a new name: META PEACE TEAM.  “Meta” comes from the Greek, meaning beyond….and we are moving beyond our self-imposed barriers…

  • …beyond the borders of Michigan, and the United States, to the world
  • …beyond racism, sexism, homophobism
  • …beyond hate and fear and violence

…and To a new world, grounded in peace with justice.  Join us.