'Nonviolence for a Change', second edition

IssueApril 2011
Review by Gabriel Carlyle

Ten years ago the Quaker project Turning the Tide (TtT) commissioned this short documentary which follows three activists – Trident Ploughshares activist Ellen Moxley, environmental activist Martin Shaw, and student campaigner Alison Matthias – as they take part in a variety of demonstrations and examines some of the core issues around protest, democracy and nonviolence. Can violence be effective? Is property damage justifiable and if so under what circumstances? Is civil disobedience anti-democratic or the life-blood of a healthy democracy?

For this revised edition, the original footage has been condensed and ten minutes of new material added. There are new interviews with Moxley and Shaw, and reflections on the lessons to be drawn from events such as the mobilisation against the invasion of Iraq (where huge marches appeared to have had little or no effect) and the Kingsnorth Climate Camp (where “actively resistant but not aggressive” activists were able to eject police from the site).

Given its origins (TtT run nonviolence workshops) there is big focus on the need for training and preparation. Overcoming fears is another significant thread, and in one of the extras for this new edition Shaw briefly reflects on his experiences in Switzerland in 2003, when he received near-fatal injuries after police cut a rope suspending him from a bridge, and on his current work with the Activist Trauma Support group. The other two extras feature music from wonderful activist folk group Seize the Day.

Featuring articulate activists and a wide range of exciting and amusing footage - from actions against factory farming, GM crops, and the arms trade, to global justice protests in Prague, a variety of naked actions, and the pieing of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson – this is a well-made film, ideal for provoking discussions in the classroom or for folk who are new to protest. To be sure, those already committed to the use of force are unlikely to find much here that will challenge them, but then again they are not really the target audience.