Individuals and organizations facing restrictive, oppressive and/or authoritarian forms of governance may be able to employ hundreds of nonviolent methods to amplify their voices, challenge power dynamics and press for reform. Tactics include protests, boycotts, sit-ins, civil disobedience and alternative institutions. Nonviolent resistance has been shown empirically to be twice as effective as armed struggle in achieving major political goals. The U.S. Institute of Peace promotes nonviolent approaches through education and training in strategic nonviolent action and movement-building; applied research on such movements and the efficacy of outside support; and publications that inform the work of policymakers to advance alternatives to violence.
Countries worldwide that suffer or risk violent conflicts face a new hazard amid the COVID-19 pandemic: governments’ use of the disease as a pretext to curtail democratic freedoms and punish opposition. As COVID has spread across Africa, Zimbabwe is emerging as one of the countries most vulnerable to the disease—and most illustrative of its threat to peace and democratization efforts on the continent. Two and a half years after a military coup installed President Emmerson Mnangagwa, his government has used the health crisis to arrest members of the opposition and journalists, and divert humanitarian aid to ruling party supporters.
Coronavirus has led to a 70 percent decline in public protests worldwide compared to last year—but this doesn’t mean social movements are going away. “There are literally hundreds of other tactics … to express dissent while still following social distancing guidelines,” says USIP’s Jonathan Pinckney.
As the COVID-19 pandemic expands, many social movements have had to drastically rethink their strategies. Movements that previously relied on the visibility and disruption of street protests have either been forced off the streets by quarantine restrictions or have voluntarily ended public protests to protect public health. Yet, this significant reduction in public protests does not mean that movements have gone away.
The impetus behind SNAP comes from case study research that highlights how grassroots activists, organizers, and peacebuilders engaged in nonviolent action and peacebuilding can use approaches from both fields together to strategically plan and more effectively prevent violence, address grievances, and advance justice. While scholars such as Adam Curle, John Paul Lederach, Lisa Schirch, Veronique Dudouet, and Anthony Wanis-St. John have explored synergies between the two fields for decades, the SNAP guide is one of the first to offer practical modules and exercises meant to help practitioners operationalize the combined approach at the grassroots