From Istanbul to Brasilia the people are rising up. The media would have us believe that the civic disturbances are merely disgruntled youth but in country after country and in the United States as well, while young people are prominent, the protests are intergenerational. The demonstrations in Turkey were guided by labor unions and the feminist movement objecting to sweatshop working conditions and the subjection of women. In Brazil, it is not a grievance about excess tuition or class scheduling but a deep criticism of a Government that has forgotten the common man and woman. This is not a mere rebellion, it is Revolution.
A guiding role has been assumed by an octogenarian philosopher, Gene Sharp —
Sharp, who has been described as “a revolutionary’s best friend, or, perhaps more accurately, as a dictatorship’s worst nightmare,” and “the Machiavelli of Nonviolence” in 1973 outlined “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” in the first of many of his works that provide a road map for orchestrating protest movements around the world.
Beyond its discussion of tactics as basic as public speeches, petitions, picketing and vigils, Sharp’s list defines how to create a unique and recognizable identity for a movement. It recommends establishing“symbolic colors,” slogans, caricatures, sounds and symbols in service of the greater cause, and draws upon the myriad ways a political party or company creates an identity for voters or consumers to associate with its candidates or products, as McDonald’s has done with its red-and-yellow color scheme, Ronald McDonald and the Golden Arches.
Copies of Sharp’s works have been disseminated around the world despite government bans in nations from Myanmar to Venezuela, and the results are evident even in uprisings where individual protesters may not be familiar with his work, but whose leaders are.
When Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort to force reform in 2005, its leaders tossed around “crazy ideas” about bringing down the government to achieve the movement’s aims, Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist who later played a key role in the successful overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, told the NY Times. Maher said the group stumbled upon Sharp’s writings while examining the Serbian movement OTPOR, which he had influenced, and used them in the Egyptian uprising.
Sharp’s recommendations were also evident in the successful ROSE REVOLUTION in the nation of Georgia in 2003 — an image of a red rose was used to rally supporters under one common symbol — and in the Iranian uprising, which followed the 2009 presidential election and grew out of the Green Movement remembered for its masterful appropriation of the color and for embracing the cry “We Are Neda”after a young girl was killed by government forces.
And, of course, they were evident in the Occupy Movement in the United States, which arose after the financial crash of 2008 to protest systemic financial inequities. Occupy relied on overarching slogans such as “Whose Streets? Our Streets. Occupy Wall Street” with a logo depicting a ballet dancer atop the New York City financial district’s iconic bull statue, as well as the catchy “Occupy [fill-in-the-blank]” franchise. The template for the Occupy Movement was replicated in countries across the world.
At 85, Sharp continues to actively guide young radicals who trek to London to meet with him. The difference, today, is that the tactics of branding have been amplified through the use of common accoutrement and global communications technology, the latter of which is beyond Sharp, who uses neither Facebook nor Twitter.