Political transitions are difficult to understand, especially from the outside, but there are several steps that are clearly indispensible when it comes to organizing a successful nonviolent movement.
1. Have a clear vision of tomorrow
First and foremost, movements must have a vision of what they want to achieve. They need to answer the question: "At the end of this struggle, what will be different, and who will benefit?" There are many facets to this: How will the executive branch be constrained? How will the judicial system be protected from corruption? What rights will the people insist have unequivocal protection? A clear picture of this kind can serve not only as a guide in the struggle against an oppressor, but also as a useful blueprint for building a new democratic government.
Some of the success stories are illustrative. In South Africa, pro-democracy reformers defined the principles for a future society early on. In 1955, the African National Congress (ANC) sent tens of thousands of volunteers to cover the countryside to collect "freedom demands." The result of this massive public campaign was the famous "Freedom Charter," which called for the end of the apartheid government and equality for all citizens. This undoubtedly helped to establish clear principles for the struggle that resulted in the establishment of today's South African democracy.
Then there's the case of Serbia after the nonviolent Bulldozer Revolution of October 2000 and the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic. The movement's leading forces, which included the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, the nonviolent youth movement Otpor, and various civil society groups, also had a clear "vision of tomorrow." They defined it in a 1998 manifesto that outlined the need for free and fair elections, media freedom, freedom of speech, good relations with neighbors Croatia and Bosnia, and a roadmap to EU membership. Today, after facing many challenges (including the 2003 assassination of its first democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic), Serbia continues to follow these original goals.
2. Maintain unity
The three principles of unity, planning, and nonviolent discipline are the keys to success in nonviolent struggles against autocratic regimes. The strategists of the civil rights movement in the U.S. built on the unity of black and white activists. Harvey Milk's campaign for sexual minority rights focused on an alliance of "gay" and "straight." In 2000, it was 18 Serbian opposition parties that joined together in support of a single presidential candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, against the dictatorial Milosevic. Unity was a key component of success in all of these cases.
There are many examples where these alliances were abandoned and old divisions returned, sometimes in a matter of weeks or months after people "left the street." In Ukraine, two leading politicians in the Orange Revolution of 2004 (which peacefully removed the old Soviet-style leadership), Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, clashed within the newly elected coalition. In 2010, both Yushchenko and Timoshenko lost the presidency to Viktor Yanukovich, their original opponent in the Orange Revolution. Likewise, Egypt saw religious violence against Coptic Christians despite the victory over Mubarak's 30-year rule. The lesson to be learned is that building a movement based on fighting a common enemy means that defeating that enemy eliminates the movement's raison d'être and diminishes its capacity to rebuild the system. Keep your eye on the prize: the "vision for tomorrow."