Coercion (Nonviolent) — CANVAS

Coercion (Nonviolent)


“A mechanism of change in nonviolent action in which demands are achieved against the will of an opponent because effective control of the situation has been taken away from the opponent by widespread noncooperation and defiance. The opponent may or may not still remain in his/her official positions.”

CANVAS Core Curriculum (2007: 60 & 275), adapted from Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, (Boston, MA: Porter Sargent Publishers), 2005, pp. 543- 552

Coercion occurs when the opponent is forced, against its will, to meet the demands of the nonviolent movement or campaign. Although civilians’ widespread noncooperation and defiance significantly undermines the opponent’s real power, some or all of the opponent’s officials might still preserve their positions and the system has not disintegrated.

According to the CANVAS Core Curriculum (2007: 61), “it is critical to understand that if coercion is attempted prematurely, it may fail and thus undermine the credibility of the nonviolent movement. For example, there are numerous cases in history where nonviolent movements attempted nationwide mass mobilizations in an attempt to coerce their opponent to make changes, but they were not successful because they did not build sufficient strength and organizational capacity beforehand, did not make strategic preparations for the next steps after their opponents were coerced, and/or did not consider countermoves made by the opponent.” Can you think of some examples?

Furthermore, once your movement attempts coercion, there is not way of going back on that. Your opponents will often feel highly threatened by your movement, even if you have failed to coerce them, and they will likely take strong measures against your movement. Hence, the importance of planning and preparation before attempting to coerce.