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Posts Tagged ‘how to start a revolution’

I want to give you a quick update on this post, where I described going to the Boston Film Festival and seeing a wonderful documentary about Gene Sharp.

Sharp is an elderly man in East Boston whose writings on nonviolent revolution have helped to overthrow repressive regimes around the world. The film is not being shown in theaters, so try to catch it tonight on television. It’s at 9 p.m. on the American network Current TV.

In an e-mail, Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institute writes, “Last Tuesday evening, the documentary made its television debut in Australia on public television station SBS Australia. The television station has also made the film available on the station’s website for internet users in Australia. It will continue to be viewable for this limited audience until November 26, 2011.”

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I couldn’t resist the pull of Occupy Wall Street yesterday, and I think that was true for most of the tourists in the Ground Zero area.

Everyone had a camera out, and most occupiers were taking advantage of being on display by holding up signs for their causes or handing out flyers. Souvenir buttons were on sale.  A brass band whooped it up. Both occupiers and visitors danced.

I got to thinking about the documentary I saw in September on how to start a revolution. The movie was about the work of 80-something Gene Sharp, an influential exponent nonviolent ways to overthrow despotic regimes. (See my blog entry here.) After the screening, I listened to Sharp as he answered audience questions. One thing he said was that he believed the uprising in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 failed because the organizers were winging it and didn’t have an adequate plan for next steps.

Today’s Occupiers also seem to be winging it. But they are not aiming to overthrow the government, and I’m not sure it matters that a central theme has yet to stand out. I’m willing to wait and see what emerges. In the meantime, here are pictures from Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gene Sharp (founder of the Albert Einstein Institution and the go-to guy on nonviolent revolution) is proof that one and one and 50 make a million. Sharp is one man, but his writings have had a powerful influence on many of the players in the 2011 Arab Spring and democracy movements elsewhere.

Today I went with Jane’s family to see a movie about Sharp at the Boston Film Festival. (Jane’s cousin, Ruaridh Arrow, directed it.) It’s a remarkable film. There were interviews with organizers of nonviolent change in Serbia, Ukraine, Egypt, Syria, and beyond. The documentary was interspersed with news footage and video from recent uprisings around the world. A key message is that change takes strategic planning (you can’t wing it) and is a kind of armed resistance, only people are armed with ideas for undermining the pillars that support an oppressive regime. In addition to conducting research on the subject of nonviolence, Sharp has offered a list of 198 techniques that effect change.

After a standing ovation, a frail Gene Sharp, 83, his assistant, Jamila Raqib, and nonviolent-change trainer Col. Robert Helvey, retired, came up on the stage with the director and took audience questions. Raqib was asked about the funding for the Albert Einstein Institution, which operates out of a small space in East Boston. She said that likely funders back off because the ideas do relate to overthrowing a government. The institution is struggling.

I wish you could have been there to hear a young woman stand up and say that she is Egyptian and took  part in the January uprising. She said the overthrow of the government was easy but the rebuilding is hard. She wanted to know if any studies had been done comparing the transitions to democracy of other uprisings. When Sharp said that studies had yet to be done, I couldn’t help thinking what a good use of new funding such research might be. The film itself was funded by large and small donations from around the world through Kickstarter, which I blogged about here. Perhaps it can kickstart nonviolent change elsewhere.

Update: Gene Sharp died at his home in East Boston on January 28, 2018. He was 90.

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