Withdrawal From Social Institutions

The resignation of an important figure within an organization can create an impact upon the morale of that group. Similarly a withdrawal of membership by a substantial number of supporters can cripple any group. Simply refusing to attend all scheduled activities can also be used to gain attention. Shunning is painful even for the rich, the famous and the powerful.

The Impact of the Withdrawal

Incorporating withdrawal from social institutions as a means of non-cooperative protest can be very effective, provided the group’s presence or participation is needed, expected or required. The value of resignation or non participation will be weighed against the cost of compliance with the demands. One must also consider how easily the protest group could be replaced by others. Calculating the likelihood of success is a matter of considering what bargaining chips the group has and how to use them most effectively.

The Size and Value of the Withdrawal

Both large group withdrawal and specialized individual withdrawal can be effective. Resignation of a large percentage of the membership or regular attendees is going to impact the group more than a small minority. One must also consider the opposing view point. If compliance with demands would cause withdrawal by an equal or greater number of members, then the protest may not be successful. It is thus necessary to know the demographics involved. Is it a popular cause? Will enough people withdraw to make a difference?

Key members are counted differently than marginal members. Normally a small group would not be missed, unless the small group includes event performers or athletes, group leaders, organizers and avid volunteers. Celebrity members are also important and their absence will be sorely felt. Imagine a concert without musicians or a football game without players. What happens when those normally most involved with the group resign?

The absence of those who are expected organize, plan, and publicize group events is especially effective because without them events never happen and the system falls apart. When those who normally work to promote and manage are suddenly not involved, it is likely the entire organization will start to collapse.

Individual Acts of Conscience

There are times when an individual determines they can no longer be party to a certain condition within the group. Whether these withdrawals gain recognition is not the issue. The purpose is to preserve the will and soul of the lone protester. An individual act of conscience may not change the world, but it does change the person who chooses not to participate. All over the world, people can decide what they will or will not be party to.


When President Jimmy Carter withdrew his membership from the Southern Baptist Church, due to their treatment of women as inferior, he definitely gained and held public attention. Decades later his statements about the situation are still often quoted. His stand is becoming increasingly popular among certain groups. Within the Southern Baptist organization however, little has changed. There has been no mass exodus from the church, but President Carter made a stand. Even when prominent members take a stand, it is up to other members to follow suit or not.

In April of 2012, Yum! Brands, owners of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut withdrew their support of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC, after public attention was drawn to ALEC’s interference with state legislators and unpopular legislation in their model bills. These ultra conservative model bills, written by billionaires not legislators, were being written into law nation wide on a state level. McDonalds, Wendy’s, Mars Inc, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, Intuit, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also dropped ALEC. It is yet to be seen how much impact these withdrawals will have.

Publicity and Grandstanding

Drawing attention to a resignation through publicity, public statements and sensationalizing specific grievances can do great harm to any organization. Resignation for good reason can lead to public outrage if there is significant publicity. The public resignation of one person, at a meeting or event, can make an impact if coupled with a few eloquent words. This kind of drama and sensationalizing is a great tool for attracting support. It’s possible that one might intend to walk off the stage and out of the room alone, only to find the entire crowd leaving as well. Unfortunately, there is also a risk of ridicule if no one happens to agree with them.

Withdrawal can be used by groups or individuals to change society. More importantly, even if society will not change overnight, people have the right to refuse to participate in activities they feel are damaging to their integrity. Almost everyone has done this at one time or another. The secretary who quietly quit because her boss is corrupt, the accountant who refuses to cook the books, the man who declines an invitation to a gathering of friends held at a strip club and the school child who shuns a bully’s birthday party are all exercising their right to withdraw from social institutions they find in conflict with their values.

Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.

Also check out The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part One / Part Two / Part Three.

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