Declarations of Indictment and Intention are formal public statements listing the specific grievances against an existing authority, and what specific actions the authors will take in response to those grievances. This is similar to a criminal legal proceeding, where a legal representative would present a list of specific charges against an accused person, with specific facts to back up those charges, in order to convince a jury or other body that the accused has indeed committed a crime. The primary difference is that a Declaration of Indictment usually has no legal status, but instead seeks to achieve its goal by promoting public sympathy for its cause. The intended audience is not a jury, but the public at large.
Probably the most well known historic example of a declaration of indictment is the section of the American Declaration of Independence that details specific accusations against King George III. Though that document is remembered chiefly for its flowing rhetoric, the author felt obligated to provide a long list of particular grievances to convince people that some sort of resistance was justified. In Jefferson’s words, “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
Another example is the “Declaration of Charter ‘77”, published by intellectuals from Czechoslovakia while that country was still occupied by Soviet troops. Beginning in paragraph three of that document, the authors called attention to numerous instances where the government in place at the time ignored its own constitution in order to oppress the population and maintain itself in power. By doing this, the authors were showing the world that legitimacy belonged to them, not to the government.
Such declarations are intended to promote popular support, both at home and abroad, for a nonviolent resistance movement by demonstrating that resistance is a rational act, and that actions taken in resistance to oppression are reasonable. Since such documents are designed to convince people and encourage support, they should be clear, and should avoid jargon and excessive dogma. The primary goal is to convince people of the justness of a cause by presentation of the facts.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.