Elevate Difference

How Nonviolence Protects the State

Do anti-war protests really stop the United States from invading another country? Do pro-choice marches affect legislation on abortion? Did sit-ins during the Civil Rights movement help to end racism? These are the questions that Peter Gelderloos asks in his new book How Nonviolence Protects the State. With a wealth of experience in anti-prison work, prisoner support organizations,and the anti-war and anti-globalization movements, Gelderloos brings his seasoned perspective to these important issues.

Drawing on large historical events, such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, Gelderloos shows how pacifists and nonviolent protests have not achieved the same results that active resistance has. At a time when everyone in the world, except for the US government, is realizing that US troops need to leave Iraq now, Gelderloos’ book argues how ineffective the current peace movement has been at stopping the war and creating any sort of political change. Before the war broke out over four years ago, “[s]ome groups, like United for Peace and Justice, suggested the protests might avert the war. Of course, they were totally wrong, and the protests totally ineffective. The invasion occurred as planned, despite the millions of people nominally, peacefully, and powerlessly opposed to it.” So how do we switch our peace movement from marching in the streets to actually resisting our government and creating change?

It is this question that Gelderloos has a difficult time answering. How Nonviolence Protects the State _is not meant to change any minds. Instead, it reads as a reassurance for those who already know the ineffectiveness of peace movements. Gelderloos’ language is aggressive at times, as he conflates peace activists with “good sheep.” But perhaps this is his point. Maybe if we started to realize that marches and nonviolent protests were ultimately tools of society to make people feel as if they are creating change, then we would actually find a way to resist our government and create the change we want on our own terms. Covering a diverse range of topics, from how nonviolence is racist to how nonviolence is patriarchal, _How Nonviolence Protects the State is an important book to read for anyone who recognizes the ineffectiveness of peace activism today. And while the text doesn’t provide many answers, it does inspire the reader to reconsider her notions of “activism” and “change.”

Written by: Chelsey Clammer, July 17th 2007

I've seen this book in my local, friendly anarchist bookstore a number of times and thought, "Man, I sure do need this because it sounds just like myself," but I never picked it up. I also never realized anyone reviewed it here until I was going through archives tonight, looking for something else. A solid review that answered questions I didn't even know I had about this book. Thanks!