‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’
- Margaret Mead
Or, as an elf queen said to a hobbit:
‘Even the smallest creature can change the course of the future.’
Photo by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash
Belgrade, Serbia, then Yugoslavia. The 5th of October 2000. President slash dictator Slobodan Milošević is overthrown. Revolutionaries: hundreds of thousands. Weapons used: none. Strategy: two years of public theatre and street acts, rock concerts, demonstrations, rallies, marches, boycotts, strikes, posters, turkeys.
Humour, persistence, numbers, numbers, numbers. A revolution that began with a group of friends drawing clenched fists in a smoke-filled apartment.
‘In the beginning, everybody is a nobody.’
- Srđa Popović,
who in 1998 was twenty-five years old and that nobody in Belgrade. College student, class skipper, and source of the smoke in that small apartment, whose favourite band was rock group Rimtutituki, whose bible was The Lord of the Rings.
Popović and his friends would found and lead Otpor!, the nonviolent resistance movement whose humorous, gutsy, cool campaigns won the Serbian revolution,
then would go on to educate and train other movements around the world: Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma, Venezuela, Ukraine, Georgia, Palestine, Western Sahara, West Papua, Eritrea, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Tunisia, Egypt.
Every country and movement are different and no two causes are the same, but the foundations for change are universal: no violence, a nobody, a plan.
Blueprint for Revolution
You will need:
The perfect battle to fight, ‘big enough that it matters, small enough to win,’ and a very good reason to fight it.
Oppression, corruption, social injustice, economic inequality, are great and worthy, but abstract, daunting causes. Start smaller and more concrete.
Bnei Brak, Israel. The 1st of July 2011. Itzik Alrov, insurance salesman, vs. the economic system:
State privatization over two decades had driven the cost of living up. Big companies flourished but life was too expensive for everyone else. Like cottage cheese, which everyone loved but now nobody could afford. Alrov’s revolution: a Facebook campaign. ‘Boycott it till the prices drop!’
‘The world’s first case of politically motivated lactose intolerance’ began with only thirty-two people, grew to hundreds of thousands,
and brought the dairy industry to its knees, and food and housing prices down.
But back to the blueprint:
You will need a few friends, and in those, a lot of trust. And patience and comfortable shoes; this is not a race, but a march.
Sabermanti, India. The 12th of March 1930. Mohandas Gandhi, nonviolent activist, vs. the British Empire:
The Indians were colonized, and their salt was taxed. Salt: a basic, universal commodity. That was found in abundance, along India’s nearly seven-thousand-kilometre coast. That every household needed every day to survive, regardless of religion, politics, caste.
Gandhi decided to break the law… by walking for a month to the sea, taking seawater and boiling it, and having his salt tax-free.
‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’
The British did ignore, then laugh first at Gandhi and his seventy-seven friends,
till those reached twelve thousand, and the sea, took their salt, and a few years later, independence.
You will need a brand: a logo, something cool that people will recognize. Stickers, graffiti, posters, flags, banners, a slogan that sticks in their heads.
Beirut, Lebanon. The 23rd of August 2015. Citizens with stuffed noses vs. the corrupt government:
Rubbish had been piling up in the streets, uncollected since early July. It was hot; they stunk. The government had no strategy for waste management; since the end of the civil war in 1990 it had been dumping them in landfills, or the sea. Now both were full. The country had no president either, or electricity.
You Stink! an online movement informed its oligarchs slash leaders. The latter failed to see the humorous pun; the rest of the country did.
It caught on, and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate. Lebanon is still corrupt, but at least does not stink, and is holding elections this May.
Blueprint for revolution:
In the face of fear, you will need to laugh. In the face of guns, to be calm. In the face of a mightier opponent, get creative. In the face of compromise, not sell out.
The blueprint is ready. Now you need to act.
The ripples, revolution will follow.
The United States. The 24th of March 2018. Nearly a million people across the country marched to bring an end to gun violence. Movingly, the world also said farewell to Linda Brown that weekend. Yes, Linda Brown, as in Brown vs. Board of Education.