Lessons from the Godfather: Interview with Gene Sharp
Gene Sharp on the power of nonviolent struggle, and how not to screw it up
Zina Saunders / www.zinasaunders.com
The following is part of a series of articles on activism in the United States. For more, read Tea Party Crashers and The New Face of Activism.
When political scientist Gene Sharp published his three-volume study The Politics of Nonviolent Action in 1973, his dream was to seed global grassroots nonviolent movements.
How wildly he has succeeded. Over the past four decades, revolutionaries from Belgrade to Tehran have cited Sharp’s work as a key tool in their struggles. His writings on nonviolent strategy have been translated into 40 languages. All are freely accessible on the website of the Albert Einstein Institution, a nonprofit Sharp founded in 1983 “to advance the worldwide study and strategic use of nonviolent action.”
In 2009 the government of Iran pointed with fury to Sharp’s seminal list “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” calling it the blueprint for the popular uprisings there. The Farsi translation of a more recent treatise, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” which includes the list, was downloaded more than 3,000 times as the protests raged. The Christian Science Monitor recently called Sharp “the godfather of nonviolent resistance.”
Now 82 years old, Sharp carries on his lifetime project. Of late he has finished the manuscript of a “dictionary of civilian struggle,” which he labored over for years, meticulously defining more than 800 terms. Utne Reader spoke with Sharp about lessons activists can glean from centuries of nonviolent struggle around the world.
Explain your enduring obsession with nonviolence. You’ve been wrestling with it for decades.
It has been a long time—because I recognize its fundamental power and what a difference it has made in various parts of the world.
Imagine if Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic countries had risen up using violence. They would have been slaughtered by the Soviet power. Eastern Europeans could still be under Russian control, but they aren’t because people chose a different way to struggle.
And this technique can be refined—it can always be made more effective.
Page: 1 | 2
| Next >>