Sanctuary is a means of nonviolent protest through social noncooperation. An individual or a group of people withdraw from society and seek refuge in a place where the opposition cannot go without contravening religious, moral, social, or legal constraints. In order to be successful, the sanctuary movement must cause enough discomfort to and embarrassment for the opposition, so that the protest demands are accepted. In the past, places of sanctuary were usually sacred places or buildings that were believed to be untouchable. Today, places of sanctuary might be more symbolic, such as student unions or administrative offices.
Sanctuary does not necessarily come with legal protection; however, declared acts of conscience may produce their own intrinsic protection as perceived by society. At a Unitarian church in Boston in 1968, 300 men turned over their draft cards to clergymen to protest U.S. military conscription. The support by the clergy fueled the expansion of those opposing the draft so that Harvard Divinity School became a sanctuary. Next,the sanctuary movement spread to non-religious educational institutions, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Persian Revolution of 1905-6 provides many clues about how to use the method of sanctuary successfully. In response to government violence, Persian merchants initially sought sanctuary inside a mosque, but they were forced by the military to flee and relocate. They chose a shrine for sanctuary that was considered more powerfully sacrosanct and lent more credence to their cause. In time, they were joined by respected teachers of the sacred laws and students. The momentum grew until more influential people donated money and food. As the movement increased, new volunteers joined until a group of protesters sought sanctuary inside the British Legation. This action put them under the symbolic protection of Britain. With the help of the British representative, the protesters’ demands were finally addressed by the Persian government.
How to plan for a successful sanctuary movement:
- Plan an outline of the protest. Include goals and demands.
- Consider the seasonal timeframe and potential duration of the asylum action.
- Consider the symbolism of the asylum location.
- Consider the accessibility of the location for receiving supplies. Consider accessibility by the opposition in terms of eviction.
- Seek support from people with credibility and influence. Seek support from the media.
- Request assistance from food banks, charities, and law firms.
- Maintain a directory of people in the network.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.