THE SECRET SAUCE
NO REVOLUTION CAN AVOID
WRITTEN BY PHIL WILMOT
Some things have been studied for thousands of years: mathematics, philosophy, agriculture. Nonviolent resistance has only been systematically analyzed for the past 50 years.
Perhaps this is because nonviolent resistance on a mass scale—used to oust monarchs and foreign military occupations—is relatively modern. The twentieth century witnessed hundreds of nonviolent mass movements that succeeded in their goals. People power has continued to accelerate after the turn of the millennium. Uprisings are toppling military dictatorships and hindering the profiteering of some of the world’s most powerful corporations.
Some took a keen interest in the powerful weapon of unarmed resistance and began to study and theorize about its intricacies. One such man was Gene Sharp, who in 1973 published a list of 198 nonviolent tactics which is often referenced today.
But many that sought to understand nonviolent resistance did so from a bird’s eye view. Nonviolent tactics were perceived as weapons to wield once a movement was determined to wage its struggle. Little reflection was made at the time on what was required to mobilize and prepare people to take such action.
This has begun to change. Our understanding of people power no longer assumes the presence of a critical mass standing idly by, waiting to be commissioned into battle. One theory that has emerged - the trifecta - identifies three key ingredients for successful revolution: unity, planning, and discipline. We now understand more intimately that there is substantial groundwork to be done with fellow human beings before people power can be effectively practiced.
SO WHO DOES THIS GROUNDWORK?
Unlike military preparation which is made by those at the top of a chain of command who possess tremendous niche expertise on war strategy, preparation for people power is made by average people alongside other average people. One might say, “the more ordinary, the better.” Movements are usually built “horizontally” in a vast (often unclear) web of social relationships between everyday folks like you and me. Often called “community organisers,” these people mobilize neighbors, friends, family, and strangers to take action toward a shared goal—be it rebuilding a speed bump where a driver almost crashed his car or forming an autonomous nation.
Yet even though we understand the need for organising today, much of the knowledge (and training materials!) produced for civil resistance today still takes a bird’s eye view of movements. This blog exists to explore the practical questions that organisers face in their (overworked and un(der)paid) efforts. How do I mobilise people who don’t trust me? How can we encourage our most timid members to take leadership? What can I do about the person I suspect is a spy? Will stubborn members in my group be motivated by peer pressure? How do we grow our numbers when just ten of us can’t seem to reach an agreement?
Occasionally, we’ll also offer instructive insider guides to specific problems based on the real experiences of others who have tried to solve a problem (e.g. how to build a radio station on a slim budget, how to mobilize thousands of people for a street action in less than 24 hours, how to reappropriate funds from a grant for direct action while keeping a conservative donor happy).
In other words, this blog is real talk for organisers, so if you’ve got a particular question you’d like us to explore on this blog, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Organisers make the world go ‘round.
And each time the world goes ‘round, we call it a revolution ;-)
PHIL WILMOT is a co-founder and outgoing director of Solidarity Uganda. He reports extensively on resistance movements and is author of A Wolf Dressed in Sheepskin: A White Guy’s Dilemma in a Ugandan Jail Cell. Phil lives in Uganda.