Six Steps to Nonviolent Social Change

Taken from The King Center.

Step One: Information Gathering

To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community or institution, you must do research. You must investigate and gather information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.


  1. Past and present newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television
  2. Organizations or groups that might have expertise in some aspect of the issue
  3. Public library
  4. Discussions with other people and interviews
  5. The Internet

Step Two: Education

It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstanding and gains you support and sympathy.

Step Three: Personal Commitment

Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice.

Step Four: Negotiations

Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the position makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but call forth the good in the opponent. Look for ways in which the opponent can also win.

Step Five: Direct Action

These are actions taken to morally force the opponent to work with you in resolving the injustices. Direct action imposes a “creative tension” into the conflict. Direct action is most effective when it illustrates the injustice it seeks to correct.

There are hundreds of direct action tactics, including:

  1. Boycotts – refuse to buy products
  2. Marches and rallies
  3. Rent strikes and work slowdowns
  4. Letter-writing and petition campaigns
  5. Bank-ins, property occupancy, and financial withdrawal
  6. Political denial through voting

Direct action is most effective when it illustrates the injustice it seeks to correct.

Step Six: Reconciliation

Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, evil and unjust acts, not against persons.

Derived from the essay "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in Why We Can't Wait, New York: Penguin Books, 1963.

The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on Dr. King's nonviolent campaigns and teachings which emphasize love in action. Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolence works hand in hand with these steps for social and interpersonal change.

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