Non-violent protest isn't about being nice, it's about overthrowing a repressive regime and the practice is proving successful, says Gwynne Dyer.
Dyer, a military historian, columnist and popular author spoke to a packed amphitheatre in Duffy Science Centre at the University of Prince Edward Island Monday. Hosted by the faculty of arts, it is part of a cross-Canada speaking tour by Dyer.
"It is not protest," he said. "It is a non-violent technique for coercing oppressive governments into letting go. It's not about being nice or polite."
There has been an increase in the number and success of non-violent protests in the past 25 years, he said.
Non-violent action helped topple the old Soviet Union, all the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and apartheid in South Africa, said Dyer.
"It made Indonesia the world's biggest Muslim country, it brought down Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans, his own people brought him down in 2000, and now the Arab Spring," said Dyer. "This is a global phenomenon.
"Instead of bloody revolution, and guns and bombs, you do it in a more disciplined and actually more effective way which is non-violently," he said.
He acknowledged the problem of Syria, which has moved from non-violent action to civil war.
"Nothing works every time, everywhere, but the track record of this is very, very good," said Dyer.
Dyer is willing to give North America some part of the global non-violent pie, but not much.
"I think that the Occupy Movement used non-violent techniques, not to bring down the U.S. government, or capitalism or something like that but it used it quite successfully to get the visibility to make one really important point, which it did make.
"That whole business about the 99 per cent and the one per cent, it wasn't on the public screen two years ago. It was the Occupy Movement put it there.
"Oh, I remember, politics used to be about the rich and the poor, about the one per cent and the 99 per cent." said Dyer. "That's what the Occupy Movement set out to do. I would say they succeeded."
The true success of non-violent action comes when the alternative is death, he said.
"There are rules and they have been refined over time and people understand them," he said of successful action. "You really have to make sure that nobody in your crowd has a weapon on them."
He remembers seeing Indonesian protesters during the time of Suharto being checked by their own in an "airport-like" security arrangement as they left the grounds of the universities to assemble on the streets.
"You have to discipline your own people that no matter what the provocation, don't use violence," said Dyer. "Not because you are nice, not because you are passive but because that way, you win."