Politico: Harvey Milk’s First Crusade: Dog Poop

Originally published on Politico. As a former leader of the youth movement that overthrew Slobodan Miloševic—and now as somebody who shares his passion about non-violent struggle with everyone from street activists in the Middle East to students at Harvard and NYU—there’s one thing I’ve learned: A big part of a movement’s success will be determined by the battles it chooses to fight, and a lot of that has to do with how well it understands its opponent. Many centuries ago, Sun Tzu reflected on this idea when he told readers of The Art of War how important it is to always put your strong points against your enemy’s weak points. Take Gandhi, who went up against the British army, the most powerful in the world, by attracting 10,000 Indians to march for tax-free salt—a mineral essential for human survival and found in almost every household, no matter how poor. That’s the reason you see so many activists campaigning for better and healthier food: Because no matter what a person’s religion, skin color or political belief may be, there isn’t a single human being out there who doesn’t need to eat. Whether it’s food or some other basic necessity, activists who can identify some everyday thing that speaks to as many people as possible will always have an advantage over those who cling to a much narrower platform. Which brings us to Milk. Harvey Milk, that is. Apologies for the pun, but you may have heard about this pioneering politician who was the first openly gay public official in America. If you haven’t, he is wonderfully portrayed by Sean Penn...

Turbulent London: Book Review: ‘Blueprint for Revolution’

Originally published on Turbulent London. By Hannah Awcock. Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. London: Scribe, 2015. £9.99 Srdja Popovic is particularly well qualified to give advice on the use of non-violent protest tactics. One of the leaders of Otpor!, the non-violent movement that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, he then decided to use his experience to help others and founded CANVAS, a non-profit organisation that gives advice and training to activists all over the world. Blueprint for Revolution is part how-to guide, part memoir, in which  Popovic uses stories of successful activism to illustrate his advice. Many of the stories come from his own experience as an “ordinary revolutionary” (p vi) and protest guru. There is a false notion that only the elites in our societies matter and that all change, progress, or setbacks emanate magically from within their dark and greedy souls…The world we live in worships and respects the strong and the mighty. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that nobody gives enough credit to the weak and the humble. But, as we have learned, even the smallest creature can change the world.” (p260) Some of Popovic’s advice might look more at home in a business manual than a protest one- branding is crucial, for example, and find out what the people want instead of trying to make them care about the same things you do- but it’s good advice nonetheless. As Popovic explains, Harvey Milk was elected on a promise to crack down on dog poo,...

The Politic: A DIY Guide for Overthrowing Dictators

Originally published in The Politic. By Yifu Dong. AFTER RECEIVING A copy of Blueprint for Revolution, my top concern was bringing the book home. If the customs officials at the Beijing airport chanced to order my luggage into the X-ray machine, they would surely ask what books I was carrying. Last December, I told them, “textbooks,” smiling a little, looking confident, a Beijing kid pretending his best. This time, I knew I would say, “novels,” and I rehearsed the line in my mind every day. But as a necessary precautionary measure, I decided to put the book in a plastic bag with clothes, leaving some harmless English novels and Spanish dictionaries on the surface for inspection. Any book named Blueprint for Revolution would definitely not be welcome in Mainland China today, unless the author was Godfather Marx, Comrade Lenin or Dear Leader Mao. Fortunately, my luggage was not inspected this time. The author of Blueprint, Srdja Popovic, is not particularly well-known, but when I heard him speak at Yale’s College Freedom Forum last semester, I knew I had to read his Blueprint for Revolution: How to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other nonviolent techniques to galvanize communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world. (There goes the best subtitle of the year.) Unlike scholars or dissidents, 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...

Scientific American: Selma’s Timely–and Empirically Sound–Message of Nonviolence

Originally published on Scientific American. By John Horgan. Americans are flocking to a film that celebrates a soldier who killed lots of people during the U.S. war in Iraq. Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans want the U.S. to send ground troops back into Iraq to fight ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Scholarship shows that nonviolent tactics, like those depicted in the film Selma, which focuses on the struggle of Martin Luther King and others in the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, have been more effective than violent ones. So now is the perfect time for people to see Selma, which like American Sniper has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Selma celebrates a genuine hero, Martin Luther King, and it delivers a message—backed up by empirical evidence–that our violence-intoxicated era badly needs to hear. Selma dramatizes one of American’s history’s most inspiring episodes, when King and other courageous activists banded together to challenge violent, state-sponsored bigotry and injustice and changed our nation for the better. The inaccuracies that some critics have griped about are nit-picky. Selma hews to the historical record more closely than most historical films (even though the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr., refused to allow Selma’s director, Ava DuVernay, to quote from his speeches). Compared to American Sniper, Selma is True as a Euclidian proof. The film recreates the horror of “Bloody Sunday,” an incident in 1965 when Alabama police beat 600 civil rights protesters marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge (named for a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan). After the bloodied activists retreat to a church,...

Thoughtful Campaigner: Book Review – Blueprint for Revolution

Originally published on Thoughtful Campaigner. By Tom Baker. Preview One of the things I most enjoy about going on holiday is the opportunity to dip into a good book or two. Over the last week I’ve really been enjoying Blueprint for Revolution – How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators or Simply Change the World by Srdja Popvic. Popvic 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 (this is a good read on the work of CANVAS). 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. It’s an easy and enjoyable read, with Popvic mixing a range of stories from his personal experience with lessons from history. I’ll be recommending it to anyone who asks me about what makes a good campaign as it’s packed full of practical wisdom that could be applied to anyone involved in movement building. Here are a few lessons I’m walking away with after reading the book that I’ll be looking to apply in my campaigning; 1 – Focus on small victories to build your movement – those campaigns that focus first on small achievable battles that they can win are more likely to succeed. They understand that victories can help...

New York Times: How to Topple a Dictator (Peacefully)

Originally published in the New York Times. By Tina Rosenberg. Several years ago, before their protest movement was co-opted by violence, a group of young Syrians looking for a way to topple President Bashar al-Assad traveled to an isolated beach resort outside Syria to take a weeklong class in revolution. The teachers were Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic — leaders of Otpor, a student movement in Serbia that had been instrumental in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. After then helping the successful democracy movements in Georgia and Ukraine, the two founded the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (Canvas), and have traveled the world, training democracy activists from 46 countries in Otpor’s methods. These two Serbs start with the concepts of the American academic Gene Sharp, the Clausewitz of the nonviolent movement. But they have refined and added to those ideas. In a new book, “Blueprint for Revolution,” Popovic recounts Canvas’s strategies and how people use them. Photo Srdja Popovic. Credit Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press “Blueprint” strains a bit too hard to be funny, but the title is no exaggeration. Otpor’s methods and signature — a stylized graphic clenched fist — have been adopted by democracy movements around the world. The Egyptian opposition used them to topple Hosni Mubarak. In Lebanon, the Serbs helped the Cedar Revolution extricate the country from Syrian control. In Maldives, their methods were the key to overthrowing a dictator who had held power for 30 years. In many other countries, people have used what Canvas teaches to accomplish other political goals, such as fighting corruption or protecting the environment. I met Popovic and...