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What Is a Resistance Movement?

India's Mahatma Gandhi showed how nonviolent resistance can bring about change.
Martin Luther King Jr led a peaceful resistance movement.
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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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A resistance movement is any form of political protest by an individual, group of individuals, or collection of like-minded groups. In general, the protests are in opposition to occupation of a nation by a foreign presence or to internal government policies and rule. Many causes for and forms of the resistance movement concept exist.

Two of the most basic are organized violent uprisings against a foreign invasion or nonviolent resistance. One of the most famous organized violent uprisings was the multifaceted underground French resistance to German Nazi occupation of France was during World War II. An example of a nonviolent resistance was when the spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi led against British rule in India in the early and mid-1900s. Another example of a largely peaceful and nonviolent resistance movement is the one led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States for civil rights reform, that culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., and ultimately led to King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Civil resistance against an established government is quite common throughout human history, and is often referred to as an insurrection. Insurrections such as those that have occurred in modern times in states like Iraq, Peru, and Sri Lanka often grow to the point where they can be categorized loosely as a form of resistance movement known as civil war. As recent events in the Ivory Coast demonstrate, resistance movements can also be sparked by failed reform attempts when a presidential election results in the defeat of an incumbent president, in this case Laurent Gbagbo, who refuses to step down.

Religious differences often lead to resistance movements as well. The Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish Islamic conflict in Iraq is one example, and the conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India is another. The latter led to the creation of Pakistan, and later Bangladesh in 1971, after India and Pakistan fought a brief conflict there.

Protests against a government, however, can have a more narrow scope and definition, but can still be categorized as a resistance movement. The riots that occurred in Los Angeles, California, in the United States in 1992 were sparked by racial inequality, when the widely broadcast trial of the beating of Rodney King resulted in the acquittal of the four Los Angeles police officers involved. Thousands of mostly young black and Latino males protested the verdict through law breaking, including acts of looting, arson, and murder. This resulted in California's governor dispatching 4,000 National Guard troops to restore government order.

The LA riots of 1992 could be categorized as a youth movement due to the makeup of those who were involved. This gives it some similarity to widespread resistance movements that occurred in Western nations in the mid-1960s. Protests sprung up against everything from corporate air and water pollution, to discrimination against women in the workplace, the nuclear arms race, and belligerent government policies of military intervention in foreign affairs.

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