A Persistent Witness

The images leapt to life on our television screens over the past five years. From Manila to Moscow and Berlin to Budapest the nonviolent power of the people toppled governments and international security alliances like so many dominoes. As a result, pundits across the United States rediscovered the political potency of nonviolence. But their "find" still left them a fair bit behind friends south of the border.

As Relentless Persistence, edited by Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach, ably demonstrates, the poor of Latin America have successfully utilized nonviolence for quite some time. Forced to the margins by a political and economic system designed to benefit small numbers of Latin Americans and large numbers of North Americans, the people of Latin America often wage their battles for peace, dignity, and human rights with nonviolence as the central tactic.

Relentless Persistence may be the most important book on nonviolence published in the United States since Gene Sharp's seminal three-volume study, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973). The first section of this book consists of case studies of nonviolent action in Latin America written--for the most part--by those who were in the thick of those struggles.

Here we have revisionist history at its most significant. Not only do the various authors tell the little-known story of Latin America's poor and marginalized, preserving it for a history that would otherwise likely ignore it, but the case studies recall instances of the poor organizing to be personal and collective agents of social change, becoming nothing less than subjects of their own history.

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Sojourners Magazine April 1992
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