Lessons from the Godfather: Interview with Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp on the power of nonviolent struggle, and how not to screw it up

| July-August 2010

  • Lessons from Gene Sharp

    Zina Saunders / www.zinasaunders.com

  • Lessons from Gene Sharp

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 non ­ violent 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.

Monica Chelagat
10/15/2012 11:24:18 AM

This is human wisdom. A must read for all people with a sense of resposibility.

alok bajpai
11/2/2010 2:23:16 PM

Gene Sharp is highly inspiring for academics and public activists,both.

Keith Keller
8/11/2010 10:03:37 AM

This is a great article. As a Quaker, we and others protested against both Iraq wars. Although we didn't stop the war, we did change a few minds of those yelling at us. Now, perhaps after they reflect on how much these and other wars are and have cost our Nation, they'll be as vocal. Perhaps someday, those who are "Prolife" will see that war is Prodeath and make it one of the litmus tests for those for whom they vote!

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