Five Lessons for Fighting Back After a Disputed Election

The source of the article: Slate

The leader of the movement that brought down Milosevic on what Americans might need to prepare for.

When I was 23, my country’s president lost an election and, not caring for that outcome, decided to annul the results. His name was Slobodan Milosevic—a lovely character sometimes called the “the Butcher of Balkans”—and my homeland was Serbia. In 1996, Milosevic’s party had lost local elections to a united opposition in 15 of the 18 largest cities. It took three months of demonstrations and street protests to make him concede. And that experience changed my life forever.

Four years later, he tried to do it again, after he lost the presidential election in a landslide. But this time, together with my friends in the Serbian student movement Otpor, I led nationwide demonstrations and strikes that inspired hundreds of thousands of my fellow Serbs. Milosevic finally conceded on Oct. 5, 2000, only after our movement had turned out half a million protesters in front of the national assembly and strikes brought the country to a standstill.

For the last 15 years, my organization CANVAS, which specializes in empowering pro-democracy movements, had worked with dozens of groups around the world facing unfair, stolen, and disputed elections. Some of them like Ukrainians in 2004, Georgians in 2005, or Maldivians in 2008 were capable of defending democracy, despite the vast arsenal of autocratic tricks they had to overcome, including bribing voters, ballot stuffing, annulling results in state-controlled courts, and, if that didn’t work, brutal violence and repression.

Last Autumn, I moved to the United States, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that the overwhelming fear of my American friends is that their country may now be on the verge of a disputed election. I may be a newcomer to American democracy, but after my work combating autocracies globally, I believe there are some universal tips that people facing the danger of a disputed election should know.

  1. Win, and win big. Numbers are important, and history teaches us that the larger the turnout and margin of victory, the more difficult it is for anyone to cast doubt on the result.

When Georgia held parliamentary elections in 2003, exit polls and parallel vote tabulations by local nongovernmental organizations showed opposition parties winning by a landslide, while the state-run electoral commission affiliated with long time country’s leader Eduard Shevardnadze claimed the opposite.* International organizations like the OSCE deemed the election neither free nor fair. Soon after, a series of nationwide nonviolent protests known as the “Rose Revolution” brought the county to a standstill, resulting in Shevardnadze’s resignation on Nov. 3 as well as the Supreme Court of Georgia annulling the results of the election. (Americans may not be able to count on their own Supreme Court in this election.)

When a fresh round of elections was held six weeks later, opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili won 80 percent of the vote.* None of this would have been possible if the real winner had not been so clear and obvious from the beginning.

  1. Plan. And do it before the election results are disputed. Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Gambia … basically every case study teaches us that disputed elections are likely to trigger an unprecedented opportunity for mobilization. Remember: Elections are “political” (so they drive “political” people), but election fraud is personal (so it affects everybody). Expect people who have never been active to feel the urge to join. Make sure you have the organization to channel that mobilization, and that’s not something that can be built over a coffee. Successful movements strategically select the institutions that they want to target or defend with nonviolent strategies early, and prepare step-by-step plans and proper tactics for targeting each one of them. Do not wait for the storm to start planning.
  2. Stay nonviolent . Anticipating, preventing, and resisting political violence is always critical to protecting the vote and ensuring the survival of democracy in any country. Remember the iconic photos of smiling women handing flowers to armored members of Ukrainian security forces in 2004? This is exactly what I am talking about. Political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan in their landmark work Why Civil Resistance Works demonstrated that nonviolent movements are twice as likely to succeed as those that fail to prevent looting, rioting, or outright violence. Humor and creativity help also. As my recent research with professor Sophia McClennen shows, wit works far better than anger.
  3. Prepare for the marathon. Bad news: Movements to defend democratic elections rarely end quickly. After Milosevic annulled election results in autumn 1996, Serbian citizens protested for more than 100 days, sometimes in harsh winter temperatures. We learned our lesson well, so when he tried to steal the election again in 2000, we made him concede in less than three months. Even that was less challenging and heroic than the Ukrainians who defended their election victory from November 2004 until January 2005 in a far harsher Ukrainian winter! Gather your warm clothes, persistence, and patience. Tell your kids that you will be out a lot, or even better, embrace the idea that marches and protests are great for building family connections. It’s your democracy to defend—and this may well be the most important battle of your lifetime.
  4. Never, ever take democracy for granted. Ronald Reagan was not my favorite U.S. president, but his warning that “Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction” is unfortunately true. We have witnessed dozens of democracies backslide or slowly die across the globe—from the Philippines to Hungary—because people were either too busy or lazy to defend them. No, defending the vote is not “somebody else’s problem.” It’s your country.

Never forget that democracy is not something granted to you because of your place of birth. Rather, think of democracy like love: You need to practice it every day.

Protest in a Time of Pandemic

Unjust Systems of Power are Solvable

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Episode Description

Host Anne Applebaum speaks with Srdja Popovic about how strategic nonviolent action can bring about lasting and meaningful social change. Srdja Popovic is the executive director of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). He’s a social change educator who draws on his experience as a leader of the student movement Otpor! Optor! is credited with helping to oust Serbian president Slobodan Milošević using creative and strategic techniques that marry humor and coalition building. He is the author of Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. Popovic references a series of short educational videos about nonviolent strategies which can be found at

Protests and Principles

The source of the article: The Wilson Quarterly

In Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, a fire of civil resistance blazed around the world in 2019. And citizens around the world who are awakening to the far-reaching effects of the climate crisis have made the tide of protest truly global with actions such as Extinction Rebellion.

Civilians protested against corrupt regimes, repressive legislation, gross human rights violations, exploitative economies and environmental injustice. However, beyond any immediate trigger events, recent popular mobilizations also are driven by a deep seated, emotional discontent created by years of accumulated grievances and thwarted aspirations for progress. As a result, we have not just protests, but persistent civil resistance within these movements.

The far-reaching and sustained wave of global protest and resistance in 2019 attracted considerable media attention. But do news outlets and social media commentators focus on the actual reasons that citizens are mobilizing? Or do they succumb to misconceptions that attempt to place pervasive social movements into narrow regional, geopolitical or ideological “folders?”

As an organizer, I take a different view. What interests me is what protest movements share in common – and the principles they put into practice as they coalesce. If we focus on those things, we often can predict a particular movement’s prospects, and discover why nonviolent forms of protest have more sustained success in achieving their aims.

The Wrong Optics?

The most popular media explanations for protest often center on ideological or geopolitical factors. For example, the recent protests in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran that had coalesced in 2019, before the U.S. drone strike on commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, were explained as symptoms of Iran’s waning influence across the Levant. Global unrest from Latin America to the Middle East is viewed through an ideological lens, with suggestions that the public reacts negatively to populism on a broad scale, and rejects authoritarian leaders associated with it.

Simply filing protest movements into bins of left and right serves both sides equally well. In Bolivia, for example, the left sees evil forces of the West back an “imperialist” coup – and counts a battle against social injustice lost. Right-wingers and centrists applaud a “democratic outbreak” in the same country. Even a global force such as the climate movement often is explained away by assigning its members allegiances within dominant political narratives.

These explanations have some truth, of course. But frames of thought that deploy political or regional trends rarely offer useful mechanisms to accurately predict the success of any given movement.

As Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, observes, structural conditions “can influence a movement, but they alone do not determine a movement’s trajectory and outcome.” When waves of protest reach not only fragile governments, but also stable democracies and autocracies, it is overly simplistic to point to a single common denominator or trigger.

What does it really tell us that nonviolent movements can be categorized by their motives, such as people organizing against autocracy (Sudan, Algeria, Hong Kong, Bolivia), or people struggling with bread and butter issues (Columbia, Chile, Ecuador, Iran), or people mobilizing against failed and unsustainable systems (Lebanon and Iraq)?

The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl suggests a different frame: Movements should be viewed through the lens of their outcomes, and that many of 2019’s protests have lacked the “revolutionary” impact of 1989 or 2011 protests.

What the protests of 2019 do have in common is that organizers of “people power” have begun to fill the vacuum left by the failure of existing political elites to address public demands. In many (but not all) cases, 2019 demonstrated that the traditional and institutional ways of creating change – elections, legal systems and dialogue with the elites – are insufficiently effective. So protesters have decided to utilize another form of power to force constructive change.

The climate movement is a perfect example of this trend. The United States withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and insufficient progress in tackling the crisis increasingly has mobilized millions of average citizens across the globe with a new sense of urgency to make change.

Organizers of nonviolent movements look especially at outcomes, such as those outlined by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: the Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Where are the “successes?” The movements in which the demands of protesters were fully (or partially) met? Where did protests fail?

Geography and ideology are rarely the determining factors in the success of a movement. The movements that reversed government policies in Chile and Ecuador, won fresh elections after voter fraud in Bolivia, and ousted the Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir can be counted as successes. Algerians who ousted president Bouteflika but remain stuck within the same corrupt system and rule by military elites, or the resignations of prime ministers in Lebanon and Iraq without substantive changes in the status quo, count only as limited successes. And the perception of “failure” has attached to many movements at present, including those in Colombia, Venezuela, Iran, climate and many others.

Sticking to Principles

If geography and ideology don’t determine success, what does? How can organizers understand how turmoil in one place can feed turmoil elsewhere, or how movements are exacerbated by government reactions? Why is nonviolence often the best strategy for channeling the energy of protest into change?

In my experience, there are four key principles to have in mind in order to understand protest, act effectively in using it, and engineer ultimate success in a predictable way.

Principle One: A Vision of Tomorrow

It is not enough to be “angry and against.” Real social change may begin with anger, but it needs a clear vision of the desired change. Movements need a “Vision of Tomorrow.” One must first define exactly what should happen, and precisely what success looks like.

A clear definition of change is a consistent theme of successful movements. Mahatma Gandhi wanted independence from the British. The U.S. civil rights movement pushed for specific legislation. The color revolutions wanted a change in leadership. These movements could build a strategy around these tangible goals.

Even a smaller organizing point will do in the near term. In the Serbian case of the Bulldozer Revolution of 2000, the ultimate objective was to change the system, but a clear intermediate goal was to oust Slobodan Milošević, who earned the title “Butcher of the Balkans” through his decade in power.

A concrete goal is a useful measure. Take the Women’s Marches of 2017. Was the goal of these actions to raise awareness, introduce specific policies, or to spur on impeachment? Those who marched with such great enthusiasm need to ask themselves: If we could wave a magic wand and create change, what specifically would happen?

Failed movements usually lack this clarity of vision. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera noted that the Occupy movement “had plenty of grievances, aimed mainly at the ‘oppressive’ power of corporations,” but “never got beyond their own slogans.” It is not enough to point out what you do not like. What do you want instead?

Clarity does not mean rigidity, however. Movements should listen, and be respectful, to those who do not hold the same views. Yet clarity is essential, so that everyone knows where he or she stands.

Sudan is one country where clarity is working. The movement in that country, led by the Sudanese Professionals Associated (SPA), drafted the Declaration of Freedom and Change in January of 2019. This document made clear demands for reform in Sudan, called for an end to Oman al-Bashir’s presidency, suggesting a four-year transitional government as a sustainable democratic structure, and condemned the mistreatment of peaceful protestors. It was a manifesto for freedom and a blueprint for strategic action. It attracted support from other groups and communities, both domestically and internationally.

Making a comparison between Sudan and Algeria is irresistible. Sudan is in a fragile but indisputable political transition. Algeria’s year of protests ended in a deadlock. According to indicators such as the Transformational Index, one might argue that Algerians had a better starting point for change, and their strongman was arguably more a benevolent figure. Yet Algerians have not articulated what they want, other than “regime change.” After almost a year of protest, the newly elected regime is still working to stifle what is left of democratic and individual freedoms.

Principle Two: It’s the Unity, Stupid

After clearly defining a desired change, activists must examine their potential spectrum of allies. From whom can they expect active support? Passive assistance? Neutrality? Who will offer opposition? As Sun Tzu wrote in his Art of War, “Know yourself, know your enemy, and know the terrain.” In any social conflict, the spectrum of allies is the terrain.

Successful movements do not win by overpowering their opponents. Instead, they gradually chip away at their support. Activists must start at the receptive end of their spectrum of allies, and eventually work their way through higher and higher thresholds of resistance. First, mobilize active allies and core supporters. Then, engage passive supporters and those who are neutral. Once a movement begins to win over the passive opposition, they are on the brink of victory.

When Harvey Milk sought to expand the LGBT movement, he started with gay people on Castro Street, and then moved to convince straight liberals in the San Francisco Bay area. But it was not until long after Milk’s assassination in 1978 that the movement he helped to pioneer won over “traditional opponents.”

When U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservative political figures ultimately shifted their position on the issue in the first decades of the 21st Century, the sexual equality movement was on a path to victory. Attracting your opponents, or simply the people you disagree with on some points, is essential in building successful social movements.

Poland`s Solidarity movement also illustrates this point. What started as a working-class movement in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980 succeeded only when diverse groups came together to stand with workers: intellectuals, youth and students, the middle class and farmers, and even the Roman Catholic Church. They agreed to agree on getting rid of communism, while agreeing to disagree on many other socioeconomic issues.

A clear definition of change is a consistent theme of successful movements. Movements must articulate their values with a clarity that persuades others to join the cause. To win, you need to convince others to defect.

Principle Three: The Key Pillars

If any social change aims to be durable, it requires not only personal change in leadership, but also deep institutional changes. Therefore, while it is crucial to recruit allies from every point along the spectrum of potential support, activists must also identify the institutions that have the power to implement the changes they want. These “pillars of power” can be the police, the media, the education system, government agencies, or social institutions.

In his 2004 book, Strategic Nonviolent Struggle-Thinking on Fundamentals, Robert Helvey observes that in strategic nonviolent conflicts, the primary operational focus for planners is the alignment and capabilities of any pillars of support.

In the series of protests over the past three years in Romania, for instance, targeting the right pillars of society produced a sustained string of small victories that accumulated into overall success. In Bolivia, a coalition of environmental organizations, urban youth, the international electoral mission by OAS, and indigenous groups that were outraged by President Evo Morales’ corruption eventually garnered enough popular support to ensure his resignation. Even the police force came to their side during peaceful protest marches, helping Bolivians achieve legislation that guaranteed fresh elections.

Similarly, Sudanese protesters targeted large business sectors with mass noncooperation tactics, while at same time building international support for civilian-led government via the powerful Blue for Sudan social media campaign. Ultimately, President al-Bashir’s military successors were powerless to rule, so they had to concede.

Venezuela’s protests offer a cautionary tale about pillars. Despite massive international support, the efforts of Juan Guaidó and his supporters were doomed from the moment they decided that the only way to enact change was to focus on only one “pillar,” e.g. to transform military support for Maduro into a coup.

Principle Four: The Power of Attraction

One common element in the current wave of uprisings is that most protestors are opting for nonviolent methods over violence. Research suggests movements that maintain this choice are significantly more likely to achieve their goals over time.

Nonviolent discipline can make and break movements, however. Violence by protestors not only allows governments to justify a crackdown, but it also affects a movement’s reputation, and compromises its ability to mobilize numbers. An example of this danger can be seen in Hong Kong, where numbers at protests fall with increases in violence.

Every movement seeks to correct some injustice, so it is easy to fall into the trap of demonizing the other side. The world is in turmoil, and the temptation to resort to violence is strong – especially when stakes are high and the powers that are being challenged are so pervasive. Practitioners of nonviolent resistance cannot understate its moral essence and its practical effectiveness.

Yet violence is the place where many movements go off the rails. Anger is an effective mobilizer, but anger without hope is a destructive force. Demonstrators must make an affirmative case with affirmative tactics.

This is why it is often best for movements to start with small, achievable goals. Gandhi’s allies questioned his idea to make the salt tax a primary focus of the Indian independence movement, because they favored a plan for comprehensive change. But Gandhi saw that a single issue, even a small one, could unify the nation and break British Raj’s monopoly on power.

Cheap, easily replicable, and low-risk tactics are the most likely to succeed – especially if they are seen as positive and good-humored. Blocking streets and throwing rocks at the police will likely turn off those in the middle of your spectrum of allies, and will make it particularly difficult to gain support from institutions inside the pillars of power.

In Sudan, the SPA meticulously assembled campaigns of consistent nonviolent resistance across Khartoum and dozens of minor cities and towns. Their protest tactics included sit-ins, occupations of major streets, social media initiatives aimed at spreading awareness, and appeals to the international community.

The time invested in these tactics worked. When government forces moved to disrupt protestors at a sit-in on April 6, 2019, many security personnel opted to join the civilians and protect them from al-Bashir loyalists. The SPA maintained a policy of nonviolence throughout the protest period, eroding al-Bashir’s ability to govern, and eventually resulting in his removal from power.

Follow the Roadmap

When civilians rise up to fill a vacuum left by failing institutions and corrupt leaders, attempting to rationalize the movements along merely geopolitical lines or ideological boundaries will not help to make sense of them.

The principles presented above offer a more useful measure, especially for nonviolent movements. Conditions and context matter, but strategic skills matter even more. Are organizers of a particular protest doing these things? If yes, the movement likely will move forward. If no, there is a significant chance it will fail.

We can find make sense of the turmoil of 2019 and predict the paths that these movements will travel, if we direct our attention to whether they possess the substantial and strategic ingredients to achieve victory.

Srdja Popovic is the Executive Director of the Center for Applied Nonviolence Action and Strategies (CANVAS). He has been named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, and is the author of Blueprint for Revolution. He was previously a founder of Otpor!, the Serbian youth movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic. He is also the rector of St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Toppling A Dictator with Srdja Popovic

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Episode Description

Srdja breaks down the elements of what makes a successful movement of resistance and what that looks like in practice.

Srdja Popovic is the Founder and Executive director of the Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS), a non-profit organization based in Belgrade, Serbia that aims to teach the use of nonviolence to make a change.

He was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia), in 1973. Popovic played the guitar in a rock band and graduated from the Faculty of Biology in Belgrade, holding a Master’s degree (MA) in animal ecology. Since his early 20ies, he has focused on activism, democracy and human rights issues.In 1998, Popovic founded the student movement “Otpor!” (“Resistance!”) which played a crucial role in ousting president Slobodan Milosevic, former Serbian dictator accused of war crimes. After Milosevic was defeated in 2000, Popovic was elected to the Serbian Parliament where he served from 2000 until 2004.Following his career in the Serbian Parliament, Popovic went on to found CANVAS, acting as its executive director ever since.

CANVAS was created with the intent of teaching people all over the world about how to be successful in nonviolent conflict. So far, the organization has worked with activists from 46 different countries, spreading the knowledge of the nonviolent strategies and tactics used by Otpor! worldwide.He is currently the 53rd Rector of the University of St. Andrews. He commenced the role of the University Rector for a period of 3 years from 1 November 2017.

Apart from being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, Popovic was listed as one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” of 2011 by the Foreign Policy Magazine. And in 2014 he was listed as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in Davos. Popovic is also the author of the recent book Blueprint for Revolution.

Episode Questions:

• What forms of art have stirred your consciousness? What about this/these work(s) moved you?

• What is the vision of the movements you support or are a part of? What about their vision captivates you? What steps are they taking to see their vision become reality?

• Who are folks who might ally with you in your work for social change? What makes them effective allies?

KEEP IT CIVIL (AND DISOBEDIENT): the power of non-violent direct action, podcast

The source of the podcast: Podfollow

Episode notes

Hello! Is mobilising 3.5% of the population all it takes to achieve political change? As Extinction Rebellion continue their latest action in London, we’re talking about the ideas behind non-violent civil disobedience. We hear from some of those involved in Extinction Rebellion, before spokesperson Zion Lights talks us through their theory of change. Historian Talat Ahmed explains Gandhi’s approach to civil disobedience and how this has inspired movements since. And Serbian activist Srdja Popovic tells us about the principles of effective non-violent strategy that he teaches to campaigners around the world. 

Why a Successful Cultural (R)evolution Requires a Movement

The source of the podcast: Agabajer

Meet Srdja Popovic, an activist who formed the Otpor! movement in 1998 to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic.

Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia during times that he describes as culturally schizophrenic, economically devastating, and historically confusing, Srdja initially didn’t see himself as a change agent.

A bass player in a band, Srdja just wanted to play music and have fun. Like most of his friends, he despised the security police, the terror, and the repression, but he didn’t believe anything could be done about it. That is, until he and his friends realized that activism could be…cool and that it was, in fact, possible to mobilize people to resist Milosevic regime.

Today, Srdja is the Executive Director of The Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies or CANVAS, a Belgrade-based NGO he founded with a handful of other Otpor! members in 2003. He has now advised and trained pro-democracy activists in more than 50 countries, including India, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, Ukraine, Georgia, Palestine, Belarus, Tunisia, and Egypt.

I really wanted to interview Srdja because the principles he developed are extremely relevant to creating change in organizations, especially in evolving organizational culture.

Episode Highlights

In this interview, Srdja and I discuss:

What changed Srdja’s self-perception and allowed him to view himself as a change agent

How Srdja and his colleagues from CANVAS identified the main principles of nonviolent movements

What makes a movement successful

What makes humor such a powerful tool in building movements

How nonviolent action principles can be applied to non-movement organizations (aka: to your company!)

What to do after you have succeeded with the change you were looking to create

Why disruption can be one of the best opportunities to shake things up and improve them

More about Srdja Popovic

Srdja was born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia (then part of Yugoslavia). Popovic played the guitar in a rock band and graduated from the Faculty of Biology in Belgrade, holding a master’s degree in animal ecology. Since his early twenties, he has focused on activism, democracy, and human rights issues.

Apart from being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, Popovic was listed as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011 by the Foreign Policy Magazine. And in 2014, he was listed as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos. Popovic is also the author of the recent book Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World.

Appeal to the 99%: Srdja Popovic, Revolutionary & Author of Blueprint for Revolution – Love Your Work, Episode 179

The source of the article and audio record:

Srdja Popovic (@SrdjaPopovic) is a revolutionary. He played a big part in overthrowing Serbian president Slobodan Miloševi?. He now coaches activists around the world in non-violent resistance techniques, through CANVAS (Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies).

Want to 4x your creative output? Click here for my free toolkit »

This may seem out of left field to have a political activist on the show. It’s not meant to be some thinly-veiled political statement. Rather, I think anyone who is trying to get people on board with their message can learn a lot from the techniques of revolutionaries.

I recently read Srdja’s book, Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World, and was blown away by the inventiveness and deft strategy of the techniques he shared. It’s a fascinating book whether you’re trying to overthrow a dictator, or you’re merely trying to get people to read your blog.

In this conversation, you’ll learn:

We think Rosa Parks’s courageous stand was a spontaneous event. Learn how it was actually a strategic hit, designed for maximum effect.
If you’re trying to get people on board with your message, branding is everything. Learn how a movement like Occupy Wall Street missed a golden branding opportunity.
Effective activists choose tactics that have the most influence, with the smallest risk. Learn Srdja’s brainstorming techniques for homing in on these tactics. It’s a valuable exercise for any influencer.

Listen to the Srdja Popovic Interview .

Take Note: A ‘Laughtivist’ Who Helped Overthrow Milosevic On Nonviolent Activism

The source of the audio record: WPSU

Srdja Popovic is an activist and author of the book “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.” Popovic was a founder of the student movement “Otpor!” or “Resistance!” The movement helped oust the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who was later charged with war crimes. Popovic served in the Serbian parliament and in 2003 founded Canvas, a nonprofit focused on teaching the use of nonviolence to promote human rights and democracy.

Popovic spoke with WPSU while visting the Center for Global Studies at Penn State.

Is It Spring Again?

The source of the article: Slate

Don’t look now, but a wave of youth-driven pro-democracy movements is having an impact across Africa.

There is something going on across Africa. While the world’s media has been focused on the U.S.–North Korea nuclear talks or the tumult in Venezuela, two of the world’s longest-standing dictators decided to take a step back from forthcoming elections amid mass protests.

This marks what many believe to be a new era in two large and geopolitically important countries. The protests surprised the international community and observers of Algerian and Sudanese politics, as the countries had largely avoided the mass rallies held across the Middle East and North Africa during the Arab Spring in 2011.

The people of Sudan took charge against their war criminal president in December, in a protest sparked by fuel price hikes that soon became nationwide movement for Bashir to step down. Employing street demonstrations, graffiti, and social media under the leadership of youth groups like Girifna and professional associations, Sudanese protesters achieved a unity that persevered in the face of crackdowns from security forces that have killed 57 people since December, according to Sudan’s Doctors Syndicate. They successfully brought rural and conservative populations alongside urban and social media–savvy youth, while mobilizing an unprecedented number of women to participate. After trying everything to break up the protests, Bashir reshuffled the government and decided to step back from his plans to amend the constitution so he could run for another term in power.

Then, in February, Algerian President Bouteflika’s announcement that he would seek a fifth term as president sparked anger among Algerian citizens and initiated a grassroots movement in several cities after anonymous calls appeared on social media for people to protest. Protests were soon joined by thousands of students, professional organizations, and the mass participation of Algerian women. The protests occurred spontaneously and outside of the country’s traditional political power structures. Despite a harsh response from security forces, the protests have achieved unexpected success. They grew in geography, numbers, and diversity, and were strategically followed by mass tactics of noncooperation like general strikes.

They swayed parts of the military to abstain from oppression. Last week, Bouteflika was forced to announce that he will step down, but the announcement came with a muddled compromise of the scheduled April 18 elections being postponed. Though we can expect strikes and street protests to continue, this “buying” of time can be used by three dominant groups within the ruling elite—coalitions of parties around the former president, the business community and the military—to regroup and make sure their hand-picked candidate is the front-runner of the election. Even then, popular demands for change are there to stay.

While two oppressive leaders may be close to leaving power, it is still too early to celebrate. The recent history of the Arab world, from Egypt to Syria, proves that dictatorships are best viewed less as one individual occupying an office than a systemic disease that tends to be resistant to popular uprising efforts and finds new ways to survive, transform, and surprise even its own people with its cruelty and oppression.

But Algeria and Sudan seem to be only the tip of the iceberg—over the past several months, some of the longest-standing African autocracies have had their foundations shaken. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Joseph Kabila’s reign of 18 years seems to be wobbling after his hand-picked candidate narrowly won the disputed elections. In Swaziland and Zimbabwe too, unlikely players—namely labor unions, civil society organizations, and professional associations—are shaking the status quo of Africa’s last standing autocratic monarchy and ZANU-PF’s four decades of rule, respectively.

For a decade and a half, our organization, CANVAS, has worked with pro-democracy groups in authoritarian countries. This research has concluded that three main elements lead to successful uprisings: the leading role of youth movements, unity and diversity, and long-term strategies not only to win but to consolidate the path to democracy.