How do ordinary people become revolutionaries? 

In BLUEPRINT FOR REVOLUTION, Srdja Popovic outlines his philosophy for implementing peaceful world change and provides a model for activists everywhere through stories of his own experience toppling dictatorships (peacefully) and of smaller examples of social change (like Occupy Wall Street or fighting for gay rights). Through examples of using laughter and music (e.g., Pussy Riot) to disarm the opposition and gather supporters, to staging a protest of Lego Men in Siberia (when flesh-and-blood people would have been shot), to a boycott of Cottage cheese in Israel to challenge price inflation while organizing around rice pudding to overthrow the dictator of the Maldives, Popovic uses true and sometimes outrageously clever examples of the ways in which non-violent resistance has achieved its means.

Popovic argues in favor of non-violent resistance not for ideological reasons (as persuasive as those are) but because non-violence actually works better than violence. This is an inspiring (and useful!) guide for any activist–and a thoroughly entertaining read for any armchair politico. In addition, the stories Popovic tells here are hilarious, accessible, inspiring, and at times outrageous. Aside from his own experiences, he includes little-known stories from the lives of Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.

You can buy the book here.

Reviews

Popovic goes a long way to defusing my cynicism. Civil disobedience implies a bet on a shared political future. It may not be an appropriate strategy for every conflict, yet if a vision of an improved society can be offered, there is always a possibility of peeling supporters away from the dictatorship. […] Popovic believes in a minimal working democracy, and offers strategies for small winnable victories for the revolutionaries, and reasons to forego violence and negotiate on the part of the authorities.

Nicholas Blincoe

The Telegraph

In very harsh dictatorships, concentrating people in marches, rallies or protests is dangerous; your people will get arrested or shot. It’s risky for other reasons. A sparsely attended march is a disaster. Or the protest can go perfectly, but someone — perhaps hired by the enemy — decides to throw rocks at the police. And that’s what will lead the evening news. One failed protest can destroy a movement.

So what do you do instead? You can start with tactics of dispersal, such as coordinated pot-banging, or traffic slowdowns in which everyone drives at half speed. These tactics show that you have widespread support, they grow people’s confidence, and they’re safe. Otpor, which went from 11 people to 70,000 in two years, initially grew like this: three or four activists staged a humorous piece of anti-Milosevic street theater. People watched, smiled — and then joined.

Nonviolence is not just the moral choice; it is almost always the strategic choice. “My biggest objection to violence is the fact that it simply doesn’t work,” Popovic writes. Violence is what every dictator does best. If you’re going to compete with David Beckham, Popovic says, why choose the soccer field? Better to choose the chessboard.

Tina Rosenberg

The New York Times

Popovic is first and foremost a victor. In 2000, a movement he helped found, Otpor! (Resistance!), successfully overthrew one of the most notorious dictators in recent memory––Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic––who was later tried at The Hague in 2006 for genocide. Moreover, Otpor! achieved its goal through nonviolent means. In this book, Popovic explains how Otpor! succeeded and lists the necessary elements of successful and peaceful social revolutions.

Listening to Mr. Popovic at the Freedom Forum, I was somewhat glad that “revolution” was finally not a US-centric or Euro-centric topic. Even if those living in free societies care deeply about the plight of those under dictatorships around the world, many experiences of the oppressed are not easily relatable.

Yifu Dong

The Politic

Activists have built movements around cottage cheese (Israel), rice pudding (Maldives) and most famously, salt (Gandhi) and tea (US). “Food has a special way of getting people to come together”, and is often low risk – it gets the ball rolling. But there are other small starters too – Harvey Milk’s political career took off when he switched from gay rights to campaigning against dog shit in San Francisco’s parks, recognising “this very important principle of non-violent activism: namely that people, without exception and without fail, just don’t give a damn.” The trick is really listening and finding out what other people care about, even if it’s not top of your priority list.

Duncan Green

The Guardian

Popovic is one of the leaders of the CANVAS (The Centre of Nonviolent Actions and Strategies), the Serbian based organisation that was behind the movement overthrowing Slobodan Miloševi?, and has taken these lessons to help other movements around the world.

It’d be easy to think that the book is only intended for those who are interested in learning about overthrowing dictators, but it’s not. I found the book packed full of practical insight and brilliant stories that are relevant to anyone involved in campaigning.

Tom Baker

Thoughtful Campaigner

Popovic is a strong advocate of what he calls ‘laughtivism’ (he admits it isn’t the best name!); undermining authority through comedy and laughter. Those in power, particularly despots and dictators, are used to being taken seriously, and making fun of them can be a powerful weapon- “the only thing that could trump fear is laughter” (p100). My favourite example (which made me laugh as I read about it) was Otpor!’s idea of painting Milosevic’s face on an old barrel and putting it in a busy public street with a baseball bat and a sign inviting people to “smash his face” (p101-3). Popovic’s love of laughter shines through in his writing; Blueprint for Revolution is a fun and light-hearted read. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, and even gives his personal email address at the end of the book, asking readers to “please keep in touch” (p261).

On occasion Popovic’s relentless positivity can grate slightly. He hopes that the book will inspire some to take action, “to get you on your feet and moving” (p ix). Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced a book can make an activist out of someone, no matter how good it is. This is a minor gripe however; overall the book’s tone is uplifting and did make me feel hopeful, which is not a common occurrence when it comes to politics. Also, the captions for all the illustrations are at the front of the book, so you have to flip back and forth for information about a picture (again, I am nitpicking).

Hannah Awcock

Turbulent London

Rather than attempt to assemble armies and fight Milosevic head on, Popovic used tactics that were resolutely nonviolent (that is, less brandishing, more branding). In just two years, and under the ubiquitous emblem of a clenched fist, Otpor! grew from a ragtag protest group into a full-blown nationwide movement that used humor, irony, imagery, and imagination to unite scattered factions of the populace against the regime, effectively overthrowing Milosevic in 2000.

For Popovic, salt, tea, and cottage cheese serve as far more effective tools of revolution than blades, bullets, or bombs. In “Blueprint for Revolution,’’ he offers a short history of nonviolent protest (from Gandhi’s marches to the sea to harvest salt in defiance of British taxation, to the Putin-punking performances of Pussy Riot) as well as an ideological starter kit for understanding how nonviolent movements can be effective against highly militarized regimes.

Michael Andor Brodeur

Boston Globe

Another recent book on nonviolent activism is Blueprint for a Revolution, by the Serbian activists Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic. The two were leaders of Otpor, a movement that helped topple Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and they went on to found the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (Canvas).

Journalist Tina Rosenberg, who frequently writes about human rights, recently lauded the Serbians’ work in The New York Times. She wonders “what Syria could have been now, had the nonviolent activists in the opposition movement prevailed.”

I wonder what the world could have been if the U.S. had pursued less violent strategies for countering Muslim extremism after 9/11. The U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 have been catastrophic failures. They have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, cost trillions of dollars, made Afghanistan and Iraq even more violent and chaotic and exacerbated rather than quelling Muslim extremism.

Martin Luther King opposed U.S. militarism as well as injustice. Selma shows him briefly, privately, expressing doubts about the Vietnam War in 1965. King hesitated to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, fearing that an antiwar stance could undermine his authority as a civil-rights activist.

John Horgan

Scientific American

Moby recommends Srda Popovic’s Book!

“Required reading for all activists.” “You know who’s going to change the world? You are.” Richard Melville Hall, better known as Moby, wrote to the Twitter, commenting the English language version of “Blueprint for Revolution.” Moby is, by all accounts, an avowed opponent of totalitarian and undemocratic regimes and one of the loudest animal rights advocates in the world.

Žikica Miloševic

Diplomacy and Commerce

From the book

Once Milk found his platform and his grateful audience of average San Franciscans, he was able to get to work on his important issues. It took the national gay rights movement a few decades to catch on to Milk’s strategy, but eventually they did. In the 1980s and 1990s, most of their efforts were directed at organizing their own ranks as an insular political faction, and few people outside the gay community cared enough to join them in their marches or support their legislative efforts. Then, the movement had its Milk moment. It started thinking not in terms of moral absolutes but in terms of individual motivations. And the movement recognized that most people only get involved with issues when they feel directly connected to them. […]

Remember, in a nonviolent struggle, the only weapon that you’re going to have is numbers. Harvey Milk did this when he stopped talking and started listening to his neighbors. He had the whole town on his side and only a few dogs on the other.

Politico

It was early on in our efforts to take down Slobodan Milosevic, and like all novice activists, we had a moment of reckoning. Looking around the room at one of our meetings, we realized that we were a bunch of Serbian kids, and rather than focus on what we had going for us, we began obsessing about everything we didn’t have. We didn’t have an army. We didn’t have a lot of money. We had no access to media, which was virtually all state-run. The dictator, we realized, had both a vision and the means to make it come true; his means involved instilling fear. We had a much better vision, but we thought on that grim evening, no way of turning it into a reality.

Slate