The Practice of Nonviolence - 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

What nonviolent action is

practice of nonviolence

Nonviolent action is a technique of socio-political action for applying power in a conflict without the use of physical violence. Nonviolent action may involve acts of omission-that is, people may refuse to perform acts that they usually perform, are expected by custom to perform, or are required by law or regulation to perform; acts of commission-that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to preform; or a combination of the two. As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent. These acts comprise a multitude of specific methods of action or “nonviolent weapons.” Nearly two hundred have been identified to date, and without doubt, scores more already exist or will emerge in future conflicts. Three broad classes of nonviolent methods exist: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention. Nonviolent action provides a way to wield power in order to achieve objectives and to sanction opponents without the use of physical violence. Overwhelmingly, nonviolent action is group or mass action. While certain forms of this technique, especially the symbolic methods, may be regarded as efforts to persuade by action, the other forms, especially those of noncooperation, may, if practiced by large numbers, coerce opponents. Whatever the issue and scale of the conflict, nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to wield power effectively. What nonviolent action isn't

  1. Nonviolent action has nothing to do with passivity, submissiveness, and cowardice; just as in violent action, these must first be rejected and overcome.
  2. Nonviolent action is not to be equated with verbal or purely psychological persuasion, although it may use action to induce psychological pressures for attitude change; nonviolent action, instead of words, is a sanction and a technique of struggle involving the use of social, economic, and political power, and the matching of forces in conflict.
  3. Nonviolent action does not depend on the assumption that people are inherently “good”; the potentialities of people for both “good” and “evil” are recognized, including the extremes of cruelty and inhumanity.
  4. People using nonviolent action do not have to be pacifists or saints; nonviolent action has been predominantly and successfully practiced by “ordinary” people.
  5. Success with nonviolent action does not require (though it may be helped by) shared standards and principles, a high degree of community of interest, or a high degree of psychological closeness between the contending groups; this is because when efforts to produce voluntary change fail, coercive nonviolent measures may be employed.
  6. Nonviolent action is at least as much of a Western phenomenon as an Eastern one; indeed, it is probably more Western, if one takes into account the widespread use of strikes and boycotts in the labor movement and the noncooperation struggles of subordinated nationalities.
  7. In nonviolent action there is no assumption that the opponent will refrain from using violence against nonviolent actionists; the technique is designed to operate against violence when necessary.
  8. There is nothing in nonviolent action to prevent it from being used for both “good” and “bad” causes, although the social consequences of its use for a “bad” cause may differ considerably from the consequences of violence used for the same cause.
  9. Nonviolent action is not limited to domestic conflicts within a democratic system; it has been widely used against dictatorial regimes, foreign occupations, and even against totalitarian systems.
  10. Nonviolent action does not always take longer to produce victory than violent struggle would. In a variety of cases nonviolent struggle has won objectives in a very short time - in as little as a few days. The time taken to achieve victory depends on diverse factors - primarily on the strength of the nonviolent actionists.

Source: Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 Vols.), Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973.


Far too often people struggling for democratic rights and justice are not aware of the full range of methods of nonviolent action. Wise strategy, attention to the dynamics of nonviolent struggle, and careful selection of methods can increase a group's chances of success. Gene Sharp's researched and catalogued these 198 methods and provided a rich selection of historical examples in his seminal work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 Vols.) Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973.

Formal Statement

  1. Public speeches
  2. Letters of opposition or support
  3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
  4. Signed public statements
  5. Declarations of indictment and intention
  6. Group or mass petitions

Communication with a wider audience

  1. Slogans, caricatures and symbols
  2. Banners, posters, displayed communications
  3. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
  4. Newspapers and journals
  5. Records, radio, and television
  6. Skywriting and earth writing

Group Representation

  1. Deputations
  2. Mock awards
  3. Group lobbying
  4. Picketing
  5. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts

  1. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
  2. Wearing of symbols
  3. Prayer and worship
  4. Delivering symbolic objects
  5. Protest disrobings
  6. Destruction of own property
  7. Symbolic lights
  8. Displays of portraits
  9. Paint as protest
  10. New signs and names
  11. Symbolic sounds
  12. Symbolic reclamations
  13. Rude gestures

Pressure on individuals

  1. "Haunting" officials
  2. Taunting officials
  3. Fraternization
  4. Vigils

Drama and Music

  1. Humorous skits and pranks
  2. Performances of plays and music
  3. Singing


  1. Marches
  2. Parades
  3. Religious processions
  4. Pilgrimages
  5. Motorcades

Honoring the dead

  1. Political mourning
  2. Mock funerals
  3. Demonstrative funerals
  4. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies

  1. Assemblies of protest or support
  2. Protest meetings
  3. Camouflaged meetings of protest
  4. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation

  1. Walk-outs
  2. Silence
  3. Renouncing honors
  4. Turning one's back

Ostracism of Persons

  1. Social boycott
  2. Selective social boycott
  3. Lysistratic nonaction
  4. Excommunication
  5. Interdict

Noncooperation with social events, customs & institutions

  1. Suspension of social and sports activities
  2. Boycott of social affairs
  3. Student Strike
  4. Social disobedience
  5. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from Social System

  1. Stay-at-home
  2. Total personal non-cooperation
  3. 'Fight' of workers
  4. Sanctuary
  5. Collective disappearance
  6. Protest emigration (hijrat)

Actions by Consumers

  1. Consumers' boycott
  2. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
  3. Policy of austerity
  4. Rent withholding
  5. Refusal to rent
  6. National consumers' boycott
  7. International consumers' boycott

Action by Workers & Producers

  1. Worker's boycott
  2. Producer's boycott

Action by Middlemen

  1. Suppliers' and handlers' boycott

Action by Owners and Management

  1. Traders' boycott
  2. Refusal to let or sell property
  3. Lockout
  4. Refusal of industrial assistance
  5. Merchants' "general strike"

Action by Holders of Financial Resources

  1. Withdrawal of bank deposits
  2. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
  3. Refusal to pay debts or interest
  4. Severance of funds and credit
  5. Revenue refusal
  6. Refusal of a government's money

Action by Governments

  1. Domestic embargo
  2. Blacklisting of traders
  3. International sellers' embargo
  4. International buyers' embargo
  5. International trade embargo

Symbolic Strikes

  1. Protest strike
  2. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes

  1. Peasant strike
  2. Farm Workers' strike

Strikes by Special Groups

  1. Refusal of impressed labor
  2. Prisoners' strike
  3. Craft strike
  4. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes

  1. Establishment strike
  2. Industry strike
  3. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes

  1. Detailed strike
  2. Bumper strike
  3. Slowdown strike
  4. Working-to-rule strike
  5. Reporting "sick" (sick-in)
  6. Strike by resignation
  7. Limited strike
  8. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes

  1. Generalized strike
  2. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures

  1. Hartal
  2. Economic shutdown

Rejection of Authority

  1. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
  2. Refusal of public support
  3. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens' Noncooperation with Government

  1. Boycott of legislative bodies
  2. Boycott of elections
  3. Boycott of government employment and positions
  4. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
  5. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
  6. Boycott of government-supported organizations
  7. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
  8. Removal of own signs and placemarks
  9. Refusal to accept appointed officials
  10. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens' Alternatives to Obedience

  1. Reluctant and slow compliance
  2. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
  3. Popular nonobedience
  4. Disguised disobedience
  5. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
  6. Sitdown
  7. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
  8. Hiding, escape, and false identities
  9. Civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws

Action by Government Personnel

  1. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
  2. Blocking of lines of command and information
  3. Stalling and obstruction
  4. General administrative noncooperation
  5. Judicial noncooperation
  6. Deliberate inefficiency and selective

Noncooperation by enforcement agents

  1. Mutiny

Domestic Governmental Action

  1. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
  2. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action

  1. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
  2. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
  3. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
  4. Severance of diplomatic relations
  5. Withdrawal from international organizations
  6. Refusal of membership in international bodies
  7. Expulsion from international organizations

Psychological Intervention

  1. Self-exposure to the elements
  2. The fast
    a) Fast of moral pressure
    b) Hunger strike
    c) Satyagrahic fast
  3. Reverse trial
  4. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention

  1. Sit-in
  2. Stand-in
  3. Ride-in
  4. Wade-in
  5. Mill-in
  6. Pray-in
  7. Nonviolent raids
  8. Nonviolent air raids
  9. Nonviolent invasion
  10. Nonviolent interjection
  11. Nonviolent obstruction
  12. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention

  1. Establishing new social patterns
  2. Overloading of facilities
  3. Stall-in
  4. Speak-in
  5. Guerrilla theater
  6. Alternative social institutions
  7. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention

  1. Reverse strike
  2. Stay-in strike
  3. Nonviolent land seizure
  4. Defiance of blockades
  5. Politically motivated counterfeiting
  6. Preclusive purchasing
  7. Seizure of assets
  8. Dumping
  9. Selective patronage
  10. Alternative markets
  11. Alternative transportation systems
  12. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention

  1. Overloading of administrative systems
  2. Disclosing identities of secret agents
  3. Seeking imprisonment
  4. Civil disobedience of "neutral" laws
  5. Work-on without collaboration
  6. Dual sovereignty and parallel government