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FDL Movie Night: How to Start a Revolution

Noble Peace Prize nominee Gene Sharp is a kindly, orchid-growing octogenarian who literally wrote the book on non-violent overthrow of dictatorships. Jailed for nine months in 1953 for protesting the Korean War draft, Sharp went on to write The Politics of Nonviolent Action and twelve other books, including the seminal From Dictatorship to Democracy, a 93-page document that lays out 198 steps to toppling dictators. Available for free download in 40 languages, From Dictatorship to Democracy was written in 1993 to aid the Burmese freedom movement.

How to Start a Revolution delves into Sharp’s influence, from  Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Burma, Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan through Egypt and Syria. Leaders in Iran and Venezuela see him as a dangerous man, those who wish to change their governments recognize the profound logic in this theories: Dictators stay in place because of the inaction and acceptance of the populace. Withdrawing cooperation with the government, change can occur. Sharp says:

Psychological weapons, social weapons, economic weapons and political weapons [are] ultimately more powerful against oppression, tyranny and violence.

Sharp’s colleague, Retired U.S. Army Colonel Robert Helvey, who was sent by sent by the International Republican Institute to teach seminars in nonviolent strategy for a group of Otpor students in Serbia, recounts his experiences training the students in nonviolence, while Sharp’s assistant at the Albert Einstein Institute–based on the first floor of Sharp’s Boston townhouse– Jamila Raqib, explains her reason for being so dedicated to Sharp and his work.

Director Ruaridh Arrow, our guest tonight, tells of his trip to Egypt’s Tahir Square during the revolution there:

When I finally reached one of the organisers he initially refused to talk about Sharp on camera. He feared that wider knowledge of a US influence would destabilise the movement but confirmed that the work had been widely distributed in Arabic.

The key to how to start a revolution is more that just printing signs in English and having symbolic colors and logos, all of which are very useful, but rather to remember:

Dictators are never as strong as they tell you they are. People are never as weak as they think they are.

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.