War Resisters' International (WRI) is a network of mutual support, where we learn and support each other. Our 'Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns' is a vivid example of the strength and depth of the WRI network. In 2009, WRI published the first edition of this handbook, as a response to a need for a resource on nonviolent campaigning that could be used by grassroots groups in lots of different contexts. The content was based on the experience of many activists in different countries and across generations. After being published, some of the best responses to it came from local groups and people who took on translating the handbook into their own languages. When producing the first edition we thought people might use or translate specific sections; to our surprise, in the coming months and years, translations of its full content were completed in more than 10 languages. Some of them were only being finished as we went to press with this second edition.
By sharing experiences and providing mutual support in WRI, we learn of the power of nonviolent action. There are many dramatic images of nonviolent action; indeed, the ability to dramatise an issue is one of the strengths of nonviolence. Nonviolence allows people to see and act on what often passes unnoticed. However, this drama doesn't just happen. It gestates – in groups or cells of activists, in discussions, in training sessions, in reflecting on previous experiences, in planning, in experimenting, in making contacts. That is why this handbook is grounded in what groups have done and how they have done it. We are not attempting to present a definitive model, but to suggest methods that have worked in various contexts, that can be adapted by creative nonviolent activists in their own situations.
The work of this handbook has been an ongoing project for WRI. We don't see this version as an end in itself. This second edition reflects the thinking and experiences of using and translating the first edition as well as the development of nonviolent campaigning within the network at the time it was written. The printed version of the handbook is what you have in your hands, but the ongoing process of sharing resources on nonviolent campaigns continues on our website.
You will see that this second edition is very much based on the first one. While some of the content remains the same, there is also a lot of new and revised material. The first clear change is that in an effort to simplify and make the handbook easier to use, we have a new structure based on five main sections. The first section, 'introduction to nonviolence' introduces what we mean by nonviolence and incorporates new content on what we understand by violence, conflict and the role of power when dealing with conflict. Power and conflict are not negative words on their own, it is how you engage and deal with conflict and power that matters. The gender piece in this section is completely new and reflects WRI's decision to form a Queer Working Group as well as having a Women Working Group, to challenge a binary approach of men and women; it also looks at how to engender our practices at all levels as nonviolent activists.The second section is called 'developing strategic campaigns' - the key word here being strategic – and includes new pieces on what makes a campaign or group strategic, the experiences learned from mobilisation in Nepal, and a piece on popular education. The third section, 'organising effective nonviolent action', is a rich range of resources on organising effective nonviolent action. The content includes a piece on how to deal with fear in actions and a text introducing the concept of dilemma actions. 'Case studies: stories and experiences' is the fourth section, with new and updated cases that show the strength and diversity of nonviolent action. Finally, the fifth section, 'training and exercises' gives examples of exercises and advice on running training sessions for working with nonviolence. These groups exercises aim to deepen a group's understanding of an issue and each other, or to help groups be more effective in carrying out nonviolent actions and campaigns.
In the spirit of seeing the handbook as an ongoing process, we hope that readers continue to adapt, revise and translate it - when doing so, the glossary, 'do it yourself', and the resources section should help.
In WRI we try to create and distribute all resources, rather than merely providing them. This means that others can gain from reading what you yourselves have learned in your experiences with nonviolent campaigns or training. The resources section shows the extent of this process, as many other groups and people continue to develop and expand their thinking on nonviolent action. We hope that this handbook is another contribution in this joint effort.