activism books politics

Blueprint for Revolution, by Srdja Popovic

Sroja Popovic was one of the leading lights of the student movement that brought down the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević. He subsequently set up the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). They train people in the non-violent techniques they used in Serbia, and have supported revolutionaries around the world.

Blueprint for Revolution is a guide to what works, drawn from Popovic’s first hand experience in peaceful revolution, and from working with movers and shakers every day. As the subtitle shows, it’s no dry work of theory – ‘How to use rice pudding, lego men, and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world.’

Just because it’s having fun doesn’t mean it isn’t serious, and that’s actually one of the main lessons. Revolutions should be joyful, attractive, or at least not boring. The book is stuffed with examples of creative protests and dilemma situations for authorities. The Lego men in the title were used in Russia in response to a clamp-down on protests, forcing the authorities into the ridiculous follow-up of having to outlaw toys from protesting. (Greenpeace borrowed the idea a couple of years later.) The rice pudding refers to the Maldives, where people used pop-up rice pudding parties to start conversations about politics.

Other favourites of mine in the book include residents of a Polish town taking their TVs for a walk in wheelbarrows to show that they weren’t at home watching state propaganda on them. Or Syrian trouble-makers who hid USB speakers playing anti-Assad songs in bins and manure piles, so that his hated police enforcers would have to dig around in them to turn them off.

Of course, there has to be strategy amidst the mischief, and the book sets our how to to start small and expand, or how to cast a vision for the future. It talks about how to make oppression backfire, and the importance of remaining committed to non-violence. All of this is explored through stories of real life revolutionary situations, many of which CANVAS has been involved in behind the scenes. Not all of them are successful, and the book draws lessons from what went wrong in Syria or Egypt.

One thing that emerges in these stories is how often people assume that what worked elsewhere won’t work for them. And Popovic insists that while non-violent direct action isn’t any kind of guarantee, it’s statistically twice as likely to deliver long term change than a violent uprising. It works, and there are common threads across successful campaigns that we can learn from.

“As someone who has been part of a movement that did succeed in bringing real change to my country” says Popovic, “I promise you that it is possible to make a lasting difference in this world.”

Blueprint for Revolution is a really good read. It’s funny and irreverent, wonderfully international in scope, and profoundly empowering. It covers all kinds of ground that campaigners need to be familiar with, from how to build unity to the importance of working with elders. Whether you’re plotting the overthrow of an undemocratic government, getting involved with Extinction Rebellion, or say, trying to stop airport expansion in your local town, there is a wealth of inspiration to be found here.

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