Why were non-violent civil rights protests successful in the 1960s? Actions such as bombings or riots would be high-impact, undoubtedly – bombings and riots grab headlines and attention at the local, national, and international levels. The violent actions of extremists, such as the Muslim terrorists responsible for 9/11 and the lynchings and cross-burnings of the Ku Klu Klan, certainly convey their intentions and messages, unequivocally and unambiguously.
These endeavors left their marks and scars in the languages of brutality, violence, and negativity.
However, the efforts of the non-violent protesters involved the civil rights movement also made their marks and conveyed their messages but in languages of discourse, peace, and positivity. Furthermore, not only were the protesters successful in conveying their messages, they were able to accomplish their goals much more meaningfully and effectively. The question is why? There are several answers to this question.
One answer has already been mentioned: discourse. The violent approaches of terrorists often close opportunities for discourse; they often outright reject the perspectives of their opponents. The violent approach does not invite dialogue; it only asserts the point of view of the violent individual or organization. Unfortunately, in the violent approach, depending on its method, there is often no one left to have a dialogue with – suicide bombers do not survive to discuss their motives, their intentions, goals, or even the finer points of their ideology. In contrast, the peaceful protesters chose an approach which invites dialogue; they respected the rights of their opponents to have their say. They used a method which offered them opportunities to describe their ideology, their rationales, and to make reasoned arguments. This meant that an exchange of ideas could occur which was more thoughtful and meaningful and therefore effective.
Another answer is that the peaceful approach gave the protesters a chance to show that their efforts could produce meaningful fruit – in other words, that they could walk the walk of the talk that they’d been talking. They could actively show the benefits of civil rights, the benefits of racial collaboration and integration, and the actual damage segregation and a lack of civil rights was doing. By engaging in non-violent action the protesters also showed that they could employ methods to accomplish their goals which did not result in loss of lives, damage to property, and disruption of the peace. Their actions reflected the peaceful intentions of their efforts; they did not wish to kill people, damage property, or start riots because that was not part of their ideology. Their ideology sought social integration and civil equality as a means of promoting humanity and equality.
There are other answers which could be said to be more politically and/or socially strategic as compared to the heavy-handed and undiplomatic means of violence. However, the two answers offered in this paper boil down to talking the talk and walking the walk. The non-violent approaches of the protesters offered them a chance to discuss their ideology, intentions, and motivations with their opponents, opening up a discourse or dialogue which was far more meaningful and cooperative than bombs. The non-violent approaches also allowed the protesters to show that they truly believed in what they were preaching, so to speak, which strengthened their arguments and allowed them to actually demonstrate the ideas and beliefs they were espousing.