When is a resistance a true resistance? Does the act have to have a political intention to be a form of resistance or does only the reaction of others count? If nobody acknowledges or even notices a resistance, is it then still one?
Berlin. In the S-Bahn (train). The doors of the train close and a loud voice says “Fahrscheine, bitte” (tickets please). My friend says he doesn’t approve of the prices and the way things are handled with the train tickets for the public means of transport in Berlin. Though he has a valid ticket, he got it from the university, he will not show it immediately to the controllers. Most people will take out their wallet and show their ticket as soon as they hear the controllers, but not my friend. If he has time, he will pretend that he doesn’t find his ticket, the controllers will wait for him and take him out of the train at the next station, and when they get out of the train he will show them his valid ticket. After that he is able to just step on the next train arriving. He says that whilst the controllers are busy with him, waiting for him to show his ticket, he gives somebody else, who might not have a valid ticket, the chance to not get controlled or to find somebody with whom they can ride on the same ticket with. My friend doesn’t say anything about his resistance to the controllers. Mostly because he knows that they just execute orders from above, and he knows that they, too, only want to make money for their living. So he is nice to them, and doesn’t say anything or resists stepping out of the train with them. So for the controllers it might not look like a resistance, only like a somewhat confused student. I ask myself, is my friend performing a silent act of resistance? What if all students in Berlin would act like he does? Then it would be a political statement for sure. So is it just the amount of people or acts that count?
James Scott introduced in his book Weapons of the weak: everyday forms of resistance the thought, that resistance isn’t always visible events, loud demonstrations and violence. He claims that political scientists have focused on such events, and thereby we might have missed important ways of resistance. Susan Thomson bases her research on Scotts idea and she focuses in her article The everyday resistance of Rwandan peasants to post-genocide reconciliation, on Rwanda, where the government has – in a top-down way – introduced a policy of national unity and reconciliation between the Hutu and the Tutsi. This policy however isn’t accepted by all of the people. However, the government forces you to take part in certain memorial days (to remember the genocide). But some do not legitimate the power of the government and Thomson shows how these people act in silence against the governments‘ agenda.
There has been and still is, resistance of ordinary people in their everyday life that doesn’t get a lot of attention and might not count as a resistance for the people who are in charge and have power. But I think it is still an important thing to acknowledge for individuals. I believe and think that a silent resistance in ordinary everyday life can be very helpful for individuals to cope with rules and laws they don’t agree with. Through small silent acts, a person can create a meaningful physiological distance between themselves and the law/authority they do not agree with. It can help people to cope with repression of many kinds.
I’m not saying that my friend lives under repression but according to him, he has no choice but to use the public transport in Berlin. He therefore feels dependent on a business, that according to him, he can’t influence or change. So he, in his everyday life, when going back and forth from the university will silently resist the ways things are handled with the public means of transport in Berlin.
So even though forms of silent resistance and my friends‘ resistance in the train in Berlin might not, and probably will not lead to much structural change or any kind of change in the big picture, I think it leads to something on a personal level. I think researchers and scientists often focus too much on the big picture, on structures and groups of people. Maybe the most important thing for a society is the small acts and the small people. For a person resisting silently, it can be very important to keep performing that act, because it has a certain meaning. And even though it hasn’t any visual effect on a structural level, it has an important meaning to the people performing the resistance. As I said before, it can help a person who feels he/she can’t say or do what they want, who feels repressed, to physiologically cope with that fact and to keep the feeling of self-determination and not loosing their integrity. And who is to say, that an individuals‘ acts won’t affect and motivate other individuals to do the same. And if you feel you can’t change the structures, then this personal level becomes highly important, even though it might not seem that way for an outsider.