Sometimes, curiosity leads to an entirely different life path, as Erica Chenoweth, PhD, discovered toward the end of graduate school. A scholar of violent conflict, she attended a workshop on nonviolent conflict at Colorado College as a skeptic, agreeing to participate in research she believed would support her viewpoint.
Instead, she discovered that nonviolent movements from 1900 through 2006 were more than twice as effective as violent insurgencies in accomplishing their objectives. “That was pretty shocking to me because I was coming from a totally different background. Now, that’s what I’m most excited about in my research – sharing that finding with pretty much anybody who will listen, in the hopes that it might change their minds about the best way to pursue what they want,” says Chenoweth, today an internationally- recognized authority on terrorism, counterterrorism, and nonviolent resistance.
Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and the author of three books including “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” Chenoweth believes that the Envision Peace Museum (EPM) can fill a critical void by demonstrating the long-term effectiveness of nonviolent campaigns in producing healthy societies.
“Even when violent campaigns win, they…end up institutionalizing a norm that says that in order to get what you want…you kill people, or torture them, or terrorize them, and most societies don’t end up emerging from that kind of a foundation without a pretty rocky road,” she says. “If you win by the sword, you’re going to rule by the sword. [Conversely], the experience of civil resistance often creates a sense of responsibility, responsiveness, and engagement in a way that violent resistance cannot.”
To a greater extent than their counterparts, nonviolent campaigns rely on the support of thousands of people with a clear consensus to succeed in their mission. Chenoweth says the recent Occupy Wall Street suffers from a lack of agreement that dilutes its effectiveness, with “half the country thinking the real culprit was over-regulation and high taxes, and the other half of the country thinking it was crazy over-spending, and corruption.” In contrast, the Ogoni tribe in Nigeria was successful in curtailing the use of its land for oil drilling, “because of almost universal support from its people,” she says.
Chenoweth’s vision for Envision Peace Museum would be a place where people with very difference experiences, agendas and viewpoints could come together to share the lessons they’ve learned with each other in a public way. These people would find empowerment in learning that “in some of the worst places in on earth, more people choose nonviolent resistance than violence to change what they see as intolerable circumstances. Whether you share with the Envision Peace Museum, which has traveling exhibits…or you have some sort of educational positions, like…fellowships or the person in-residence who will organize events and bring people together to educate the public and others – any of these would be really huge contributions.”
Thank you to our communication subcommittee members- Erica Woods for conducting the interviewing and Claudia Stahl for writing this article.