June 21, 2017
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, not because of his stance on gay rights.
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).
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 may not be winning any prizes for short titles, but it is a fun read, which cannot be said for a lot of books about overthrowing violent dictators. It may not turn you into a non-violent revolutionary, but it certainly is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.