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Uncut Flashmobs: Undermining the Power Structure Through Humor and Humiliation

The so-called ‘Father of the Egyptian Revolution’ was the shy and relatively unknown former peace activist now turned orchid-grower Gene Sharp.  Now 83, Sharp is slowing down, but is about to publish another book, and must marvel at the success his writings on nonviolent revolution and especially “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” which was used as an overarching guide to revolutions, both successful and failed, around the world, including Serbia, Myannmar, Burma, Tunisia, Egypt and different of the color and blossom revolutions.  A WikiLeaks cable said a year ago that Syrian dissidents were training with Sharp’s work.

He has been the object of various smear campaigns by autocrats including Hugo Chavez and top Iranian officials, one of which included a cartoon video portraying Sharp as a CIA agent teaming up with John McCain and George Soros to overthrow Iran’s government. (grin) Sharp had studied Gandhi and Thoreau and subscribed to their notions that: (from the NYT)

”… power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects’ obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.

In Sharp’s view all effective power structures have systems by which they encourage or extract obedience from their subjects.

States have particularly complex systems for keeping subjects obedient. These systems include specific institutions (police, courts, regulatory bodies) but may also involve cultural dimensions that inspire obedience by implying that power is monolithic (the god cult of the Egyptian pharaohs, the dignity of the office of the President, moral or ethical norms and taboos). Through these systems, subjects are presented with a system of sanctions (imprisonment, fines, ostracism) and rewards (titles, wealth, fame) which influence the extent of their obedience.

Sharp identifies this hidden structure as providing a window of opportunity for a population to cause significant change in a state. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie, that if the subjects of a particular state recognize that they are the source of the state’s power they can refuse their obedience and their leader(s) will be left without power.”

The nonpartisan group International Center on Nonviolent Conflict had gone to Cairo a number of years ago and taught tactics from Sharp’s 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. Now famous activist Dahlia Ziada attended the workshops, tailored flash scenarios to her imaginings, and communicated them widely through Facebook.

They followed Sharp’s dictate that non-violence is best pragmatically, as any violence provokes autocrats to crack down, and “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”

Followers have learned that every autocrat or powerful entity has weaknesses; they provide an opportunity for skewering them with either humor, fact, or outrage, or sometimes all twined together.

Of the 198 tactics listed at Sharp’s A[lbert]Einstein website, some included are: protest parades with flags, lights or symbolic colors, mock funerals, skits and plays in public, walk-outs, vigils, displays of protest art, protest singing, picketing, mock awards ceremonies, leaflets and pamphlets at events, symbolic reclamations of institutions, public disrobing (assumedly as symbolic of suffering or casting-off of oppression)…

So that’s the background.  Now: US Uncut is encouraging and coordinating Flashmob actions around the nation; they seem to have riotous fun delivering their messages.  They really want to let you know that if an action isn’t planned in your area, MAKE IT HAPPEN!  The sky would be the limit, but I do love the production numbers with song and dance, which would obviously take some writing, rehearsal and musicians.  But think of the community-building that would occur during the efforts.  There are other youtubes, but this is the most recent one from San Francisco at our favorite bank: Bank of America.  Cue the production (hope you enjoy it):

(cross-posted at

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