by geezer in Paris
Sat Feb 19th, 2011 at 07:55:26 AM EST
He's an old man, a contemporary of Stephane Hessel and Noam Chomsky, a student of Ghandi, an Oxford scholar, writer and political theorist who is almost totally unknown in the world of Western European and American political literature.
He also may be one of the most important men alive today.
From Robert Kuttner, at The American Prospect,Ghandi in East Boston
There is something truly wonderful about the fact than an obscure, 83-year-old American disciple of Gandhi helped inspire and facilitate the Egyptian revolution. When one sentence, buried well down in a New York Times story on Monday quoted a protester recounting that Egyptian activists had studied the work of an American, Gene Sharp, editors everywhere drew blanks and turned to Google. Even most progressives didn't recognize the name.
Sharp turns out to be an Oxford Ph.D, who has spent his life working on the theory and practical strategy of nonviolent resistance. You might think of him as a cross between Gandhi, pacifist A.J. Muste, and the legendary organizer Saul Alinsky.
From the Voice of America site.
The growing demands for political change in the Middle East are focusing new attention on Gene Sharp, a scholar in Boston, Massachusetts, who has spent his life researching non-violent protest and publishing how-to guides for people hoping to move their governments toward democracy. Eighty-three-year-old scholar's works are widely recognized as the inspiration for dissidents in many nations.
Gene Sharp has authored a number of publications, some circulated on his institution's website, including "From Dictatorship to Democracy," which is available in 24 languages. Sharp believes there were two important factors leading to the end of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's rule. The first, he says, was that the people lost their fear. Next, he says, they respected the need for peaceful assembly.
OK, somebody noticed. So he wrote a less aggressive book to complement Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals".
But has anyone tried his stuff out in the streets?
This bit from the New York Times somehow found it's way in among the usual spineless cheerleading:
When Egypt's April 6 Youth Movement was struggling to recover from a failed effort in 2005, its leaders tossed around "crazy ideas" about bringing down the government, said Ahmed Maher, a leading strategist. They stumbled on Mr. Sharp while examining the Serbian movement Otpor, which he had influenced.
When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp's "198 Methods of Nonviolent Action," a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to "protest disrobing" to "disclosing identities of secret agents."
Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp's work into Arabic, and that his message of "attacking weaknesses of dictators" stuck with them.
This, plus Bob Kuttner (whom I admire and read) got my attention, so I went to his web site, and cruised around.
The Albert Einstein Institute
It's eclectic, unassuming, and happily avoids flash for content.
It's a treasure trove for anyone who wants to read rational analysis of what works to change the world today.
That's us, folks. -right? Of course.
So I downloaded a couple things, and read them. It was a pleasure.
He writes in a clear, jargon-free style, his analysis is pragmatic as well as deeply historically literate. After a day of reading around there, I'm surprised that he appeared on the VOA.
It appears to me that, once again, a catalytic thinker has been successfully embargoed in the US, ---but has leaked through, and happily infected a large number of the dispossessed and angry around the world. It is also interesting to note that Amazon.fr does not have his latest book, and has no apparent plans to get it. His new book sells, in the US, for---are you ready for this?--= $445.00 at Amazon.com, in the US.
Sharp largely avoids the code words and syntax of the university elite, as well as the traditional forms of writing in which it is assumed that the more obscure and inaccessible your style, the deeper your thought. But he's not writing for tenure, or for the accolades of his university peers. Gene is writing a How-To book. And we sure could use a few.
One thing that emerges after a while is that his strategies, at their heart, rely on the same assumptions that Ghandi made- that the innate resistance of the human species to slaughter their fellow men, plus whatever component of civilization they posses, will, in the end, emerge as a more powerful influence on actions than the equally innate tendency to do slaughter, with gusto.
Many here will have a solidly fixed opinion of which of those facets of the human psyche (I would say "soul", but it might be misunderstood) is more dominant. But before you allow old ideas to command your perception, I would ask you to read his stuff for a while.
Gene Sharp, like Saul Alinsky, is a deep-down, stone hard revolutionary. And clearly an effective one.
Gene Sharp bases his advice to the streets on the belief that he and Ghandi and King and Nelson Mandela all shared. In the end, the central human need to get- and to give- compassion, coupled with the power of an effectively aroused world opinion, is a workable strategy to dump dictators.
He does NOT say it's a safe one. You may die. But, in the end, you will win.
Is he right? And is anybody really listening?
Here's a snippet from The Daily Beast, which is doing better and better things these days:
Gene Sharp, the 83-Year-Old Who Toppled Egypt
by Samuel P. Jacobs
The young lions of Tahrir Square found inspiration in the writings of an 83-year-old American. Samuel P. Jacobs talks to Gene Sharp about why his calls for nonviolent revolt are catching fire.
There are many roots of the Egyptian revolution. But one of the most unlikely goes back to an East Boston rowhouse, where an 83-year-old named Gene Sharp runs a shoestring operation called the Albert Einstein Institute--and arguably just changed the course of history.
For the last half century, Sharp has been writing about nonviolent protest, and trying to make his ideas accessible to dissidents the world over. No mean feat, given that his signature work, The Politics of Non-Violent Action, weighs in at 900 pages and was published in 1973. But it's working. Thanks in part to a distillation of his ideas entitled From Dictatorships to Democracy, which can be downloaded from Sharp's website in dozens of languages, his gospel of upheaval has apparently become essential reading for budding revolutionaries in Cairo and parts beyond.
Ahmed Maher, a 28-year-old construction engineer, was one of the young Web-savvy upstarts who helped set in motion the protests that last week ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Maher, of the April 6 Movement, looked to Serbia's democratic movements for inspiration. There, he found Otpor, a protest group which helped take down strongman Slobodan Milosevic. From Otpor, the young Egyptians discovered the teachings of Sharp, who urges nonviolent resistance as the most efficient way to topple dictatorships.
Sharp says he hasn't been directly in touch with anyone in Egypt since the uprising began late last month. But he says he is happy to know that his ideas may have had some influence.
"I'm very pleased," he says. "I've been studying this question of dictatorships for many decades. It is a lonely struggle. To get this kind of recognition is very important."
Yes! Now there is a rare bird.
The Beast may be a bit hyperbolic to credit Sharp singlehandedly-- but they often begin with hyperbole, and then do some good reporting.
Something from his many books might be a fitting companion on your shelf, next to Stephane Hessel, Howard Zinn, Chomsky, and many others.
And another sweet note in my discovery of this man is that he is once again evidence that---
Old guys can still be relevant, and that the young, the old, the brave ones who will risk their lives, and sometimes lose them, can read, listen, learn useful thing.
And then act.