How to Build a Nonviolent Movement in Under 45 Minutes!

Democracy works because citizens are willing to engage with the government and create grassroots change. In our experience from working in more than 50 countries, building a nonviolent movement in your country is a crucial part of ensuring a successful transition to a democracy or to defend pillars of democracy in the situations where it may be under threat.
Building a movement to defend democracy may sound like “tough work” but here are CANVAS basics in how to do it – and you can learn those basics in less than an hour – meanwhile also having fun by watching amusing animating cartoons.

Subtitles in: Khmer, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish and English

Step 1: Create Your Vision of Tomorrow

Every journey starts with the same step – by building a roadmap to decide where it is that you want to go. The first step in launching a successful movement for change is answering a single question: “How would society be different if we win?” Remember that your Vision should work not only for you or your friends but also cater to a larger spectrum of constituencies you want to mobilize and recruit for your movement!

Step 2: Build Unity

After you’ve cultivated a Vision of Tomorrow, it is important to use it to unite the different groups that you seek to mobilize. Building unity within the movement is vital to ensuring that those who oppose your movement cannot utilize a “divide and conquer” strategy. Learn how to foster a sense of community and cultivate group identity to ensure that your nonviolent movement can become a force to be reckoned with in this video!

Step 3: Understanding Power in Society and Pillars of Support

In order to create political and social change in a society, you must understand how to gain power and authority. Change is achieved by swaying institutions and organizations that we call “pillars of support.” These are organizations that are currently supporting the “status quo,” but can be swayed through societal pressure into becoming vehicles for change. Remember: no matter how “hopeless” a situation may seem, people can always learn how to wield social pressure to meet their goals – and change a society.

Step 4: Fight Fear and Apathy by Breaking its Core Engine

Two factors fuel the maintenance of the status quo: apathy of the population and the weaponization of fear in authoritarian environments. In both cases, there are large reasons why people obey – and learning how to break these obedience patterns can turn a large number of your fellow citizens into brave and committed activists.

Step 5: Plan your strategy and tactics

There are only two types of movements in history: those that are “spontaneous” – and those that are successful. Success means that you need plan, plan, and plan on various strategic and tactical points of your activities. So get serious and start planning how to address the right pillars in the right order to create effective nonviolent action.

Step 6: Communicate Effectively and Defeat Your Opponent’s Propaganda

Successful movements know how to communicate their messages to both people who they aim to turn into supporters and people who are supporting their opponent. Successful movements also know that once they start becoming successful their opponents will use propaganda against them. Learning how to communicate clearly and discredit your opponent’s propaganda is a “make-or-break” principle of nonviolent movement.

Step 7: Make Your Movement Cool, Witty and Funny

Humor and political satire are at the core of successful social change movements. Not only can you make creativity and humor part of your movement’s identity, but you can also use it to force your opponent into looking stupid or weak. Remember: you want your movement to be cool. Everybody wants to hang around cool people and cool activities.

Step 8: Understand and Use Social Media

In this day and age, new media has become vital for any activists seeking to grow their movement. Learn about how you can use new media for the benefit of your movement, as well as the potential negatives and dangers of its use.

Step 9: Prepare for Oppression – and Make It Backfire

Not all the societies in the world are made democratic. If you are fighting for democracy from within an autocracy, get prepared for your opponents to act oppressively. Successful movements know not only how to defeat fear and oppression, but also how to turn their opponents’ use of oppression against them. Learning to make oppression backfire makes you a jiu-jitsu master of social change.

Step 10: Always Finish What You Start

From the Arab Spring to human rights and anti-corruption campaigns, history is full of examples where movements successful initiated change – but haven’t been able to turn it into a long-lasting new normal. Your vision becomes reality only if your change becomes part of the institutions and culture. So it’s not only about winning – it’s also about how to facilitate transition after that victory.

Toolbox for Successful Movement

Non-violent movements have certain aspects and elements that are crucial to their success. From making sure that you can fund the activities of the movement and negotiate effectively, to ensuring you protect your network and remain inclusive, we cover some of the most relevant tools needed for founders and participants to accomplish the goals set out. Effective strategies need to be implemented from the beginning in order to make the movement successful – and adapted to various stages of a movements cycle. The basic building blocks of organizing- and importantly preserving – a successful movement are explained in the videos below. Let’s get started!

Fundraising 101

The number one question we receive from activists is how to fundraise – especially when no one knows who you are, and you are just starting out! This video explains five steps to get your fundraising underway and is particularly helpful for a movement in its early stages. It covers starting from involving your network, to making sure all those donors can visualize where their support is going, to celebrating your success.
Afterall, everyone loves a good reason for a party!

Negotiation – The Inevitable Ending to Non-Violent Movements

Whether it is for a non-violent movement or pretty much any aspect of your life – having good negotiation skills is a great asset and comes in handy when you are making considerable progress in your movement and are getting close to implementing change. Our workshop blends the analysis of historically successful and unsuccessful negotation outcomes with an academic perspective from experts in the field and case studies we have worked on in the past to make sure you are ready to handle all the tough compromises that come your way.

Grassroots Movements and Climate Change

Most people are familiar with the effort governments and big corporation put into sustainability – from promoting clean energy to the much-loathed paper straws that are now a familiar sight at every café franchise. However, the key to boosting global environmental movements may not be big corporations or governments, but rather developing movement building skills to help an already mobilizing band of young people refusing to pay for the actions of previous generations- and save the earth while they’re at it.

Activism in Pandemic

Many authoritarian governments used the emergency powers granted through a pandemic as a way to track opponents and limit democratic freedoms. However, while this posed some challenges, many movements adapted their advocacy to the public health measures in place and were able to still reach people from all corners of the globe. Many of us remember viral protests that were unique and memorable while brining attention to important issues that we may not have heard of otherwise! This video highlights how pandemic-era movements successfully modified their tactics and what we can learn from them.

Three Elements for Non-violent Movements

The first element is the vision you have for the movement, which needs to be something that people can relate to and want to see. This is followed by having a plan to implement the vision into reality across the different stages the movement goes through. As the saying goes – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! Last, but not least – we have non-violent discipline. It is vital that this is a clear and distinguishing factor of the movement.

The Journey

Starting the journey to building a successful movement is no small feat! Here, we outline three steps to successfully completing this journey. Step one is having a clear end goal and mission statement to guide your movement in the right direction from the beginning. This is followed by mapping your journey – you want to clearly understand how the target community will look after you achieve your goals. Finally, gather your team! This is not a one-person journey and recruitment is an important part of it.

Visual Communication

Despite doing everything right and having great strategies, some movements are still unsuccessful because they fail to communicate their vision effectively. To avoid this, you need to successfully inspire your audience to get involved and make them have the desired emotional reaction to your message. A strong brand identity is needed, one which aligns with the movement’s purpose and fits well with the message and goals that you want to achieve. This workshop explores how to do this effectively using different aspects of the movement and highlights successful examples that have done this admirably.

Cyber Security for Activists as individuals

Many of us have our entire lives on our phones and computers. While this has made many things easier, it also comes with its own set of problems such as cyber security breaches. Having all of our data in one place is dangerous, and you don’t want information about you or your movement falling into the wrong hands! Digital security training and knowing what to look out for in a cyber breach are important aspects of building and protecting a movement.

Cyber Security for Movements and Organizations

Just like individuals, organizations are also susceptible to dangerous cyber-attacks that can be extremely damaging. Organizations protect critical data and infrastructure by having cyber security frameworks in place to minimize the risk of cyber-attacks and data theft. This can be done by outsourcing cyber security experts that meet the specific needs of that organization, educating employees on how they can minimize the risk of cyber-attacks or going big and having a full-on department that monitors all of the digital activity.

Women in Activism

Women are an essential part of activism – and their incredible impact on movements has been felt around the globe. Despite this, there have been many incidents where their roles have been not been given the recognition they deserve – with men put in the spotlight instead. Movements need to be inclusive and bring people from different backgrounds and perspectives –the participation of women is a step in the right direction to achieve this and will play an important role in getting more people involved.

Transition process – Now What?

Having your movement succeed is wonderful – but it doesn’t stop there, and the transition period is important to making sure the movement remains successful in the long term. Once change has come, it is important for non-violent movements to hold the people in power accountable. Furthermore, advocacy that makes sure the whole society is benefiting from the change is important – and activists must continue to ensure that inclusivity is prioritized during the transition. Finally, activists must not be afraid to get involved in the political institutions and continue to advocate from within – fighting to make them strong and independent tools of democracy.

Bringing Down A Dictator

Bringing Down a Dictator:This film by Steve York presents the story of OTPOR!, the movement that, through nonviolent action and protest, brought down Serbia’s dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of OTPOR, founded CANVAS.

The Power of Laughtivism

Srdja Popovic uses stories about activists in Serbia, the US and Syria to illustrate the power of laughtivism: using humour in nonviolent action and activism.

Erica Chenoweth – Managing Repression

Erica Chenoweth (born April 22, 1980) is an American political scientist as well as a faculty member and Ph.D. program co-director at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Chenoweth is also the Director of the university’s Program on Terrorism and Insurgency Research and a researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). Within the international relations community, she is known for her work on civil resistance movements and political violence.

Everyday Rebellion, The Art of Change

Everyday Rebellion is a cross-media documentary about creative forms of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience worldwide. Everyday Rebellion is a tribute to the creativity of the nonviolent resistance. The project studies the consequences of a modern and rapidly changing society where new forms of protest to challenge the power of dictatorships and sometimes also global corporations are invented everyday. Everyday Rebellion wants to give voice to all those who decide not to use violence to try changing a violent system. Because, as Ghandi said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” 

Visit their website here.

Insight with Gene Sharp – From Dictatorship to Democracy

More and more, people are taking to the streets across the world, as in the Middle East and North Africa, to demand an end to tyranny and oppression. As a result, unprecedented regime change has taken place. The extent to which the protesters were influenced by the 83-year-old political scientist, Dr. Gene Sharp, is unknown. His comments are a staple of the process, however, and his book From Dictatorship to Democracy has previously been utilized as a blueprint by democratic movements from Serbia, to the Ukraine, Guatemala to Indonesia, in their fight to overthrow oppressive regimes.

Nadine Bloch – The Arts of Protest: Creative Cultural Resistance (webinar)

This webinar takes a critical look at Creative Cultural Resistance: the broad use of arts, literature, and traditional practices in the service of protest and political and social actions. Join Nadine Bloch, artist, nonviolent practitioner and facilitator, in teasing out the strategic powers of cultural resistance. Through compelling examples, this talk covers the immense diversity of methodologies that have been employed in resistance, from 2-D and 3-D arts, to sound/music and theater/movement arts. 

Burma VJ

Oscar-nominated and honored with over 50 international awards, this film on Burma’s secret video reporters is one of the most prolific political documentaries in recent years. Using smuggled footage, this documentary tells the story of the 2007 protests in Burmaby thousands of monks. 

Read about it here.

The Yes Men Fix the World

Troublemaking duo Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, posing as their industrious alter-egos, expose the people profiting from Hurricane Katrina, the faces behind the environmental disaster in Bhopal, and other shocking events.