Nonviolence has two (closely related) meanings: (1) It can refer, first, to a general philosophy of abstention from violence because of moral or religious principle (e.g. "She believes in nonviolence."), or (2) it can refer to the behaviour of people using nonviolent action (e.g. "The demonstrators maintained their nonviolence.")[1] Much of the general philosophy of nonviolence has 'active' or 'activist' elements, in that they accept the need for a means of struggle to achieve political and social change. Thus, for example, the Gandhian ahimsa is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of violence, but at the same time sees nonviolent action (also called civil resistance) as an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression or armed struggle against it. In general, advocates of an activist philosophy of nonviolence use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, mass noncooperation civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action and social, political, cultural and economic forms of intervention. German Green Party founder Petra Kelly, who founded the Green Party on Nonviolence, with congressman and famed attorney Otto Schily at press conference. In modern times, nonviolent methods of action have been a powerful tool for social protest and revolutionary social and political change.[2][3][4] There are many examples of their use. Fuller surveys may be found in the entries on civil resistance, nonviolent resistance and nonviolent revolution. Here certain movements particularly influenced by a philosophy of nonviolence should be mentioned, including Mahatma Gandhi leading a decades-long nonviolent struggle against British rule in India, which eventually helped India win its independence in 1947, Martin Luther King's and James Bevel's adoption of Gandhi's nonviolent methods in the struggle to win civil rights for African Americans,[5] and Cesar Chavez's campaigns of nonviolence in the 1960s to protest the treatment of farm workers in California.[6] The 1989 "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the Communist government[7] is considered one of the most important of the largely nonviolent Revolutions of 1989.[8] Most recently the nonviolent campaigns of Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia were able to achieve peace after a 14-year civil war.[9] This story is captured in a 2008 documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell. In an essay, "To Abolish War," evolutionary biologist Judith Hand advocated the use of nonviolent direct action to dismantle the global war machine.[10] The term "nonviolence" is often linked with or even used as a synonym for pacifism; however, the two concepts are fundamentally different. Pacifism denotes the rejection of the use of violence as a personal decision on moral or spiritual grounds, but does not inherently imply any inclination toward change on a sociopolitical level. Nonviolence, on the other hand, is most often associated with the intent to achieve social or political change. Indeed, the desire to pursue change effectively may be a reason for the rejection of violence. Also, a person may advocate nonviolence in a specific context while advocating violence in other contexts.[11] October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi is observed as International Day of Non-Violence.

Advocates of non-violence believe cooperation and consent are the roots of political power: all regimes, including bureaucratic institutions, financial institutions, and the armed segments of society (such as the military and police); depend on compliance from citizens.[12] On a national level, the strategy of nonviolence seeks to undermine the power of rulers by encouraging people to withdraw their consent and cooperation. The forms of nonviolence draw inspiration from both religious or ethical beliefs and political analysis. Religious or ethically based nonviolence is sometimes referred to as principled, philosophical, or ethical nonviolence, while nonviolence based on political analysis is often referred to as tactical, strategic, or pragmatic nonviolence. Commonly, both of these dimensions may be present within the thinking of particular movements or individuals