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Forum Post: Summaries of Books on Strategizing for Nonviolent Struggle

Posted 2 years ago on April 11, 2012, 8:06 p.m. EST by jlindstrom (2) from South Gate, CA
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Hi all,

I'm over in Occupy Los Angeles and involved with the InterOccupy National Strategy group and just wanted to post links to a couple summaries I did of Gene Sharp's works. I'm sure many of you have already heard of these, but just in case, the summaries are of From Dictatorship to Democracy, which is considered THE how-to book on nonviolent strategy (not just for literal dictatorships, but any form of oppression) and was supposedly instrumental in the Arab Spring, and Self-Liberation, which is basically an expansion on the topics touched on in From Dictatorship to Democracy.

Here are the links:

Summary of From Dictatorship to Democracy (2.5 pages): https://docs.google.com/document/d/12ZIIyf5q4RkFheCyXiQbJk_KOSPZLU7cfDwqej4qe6I/edit?pli=1

Summary of Self-Liberation (13 pages): https://docs.google.com/document/d/19D4Fn66BPYSrAh0VRFGLSQ7Hll1rqn8bhzcUiNO9W4c/edit

The reason I'm posting this here is this: Sharp says the leaders of the resistance movement must become experts in nonviolent struggle. So if this is a "leader-ful" movement, then that suggests that it behooves all of us to become experts in nonviolent struggle.

I want to assure you that I'm not posting this as some sort of passive-aggressive commentary on OWS, e.g. that it needs more strategy or whatever. Although I have my own opinions on that, because I'm not yet an expert on strategy myself, what you guys are doing may be perfect; what do I know? I'm only posting these because I personally found these books to be extremely enlightening and because others may also find them helpful. I'm very new to the whole social movement thing, and so really had no idea how they worked, and when I went to marches and such, I would just feel like, is this really going to accomplish anything? These works really, imo, gave answers and context to those sorts of questions.

The reason I summarized them instead of just posting the links to the works themselves (which are available in full online) is because a) Self-Liberation and all its recommended readings total up to 900 pages, b) not everyone has the time or inclination to do such copious reading, c) in the case of From Dictatorship to Democracy, to entice people to read the full work themselves (it's only about 90pp), and d) to organize all the salient points of these works, since in the full texts, I find that they kind of repeat themselves and blur together such that I found it helpful to distill it all down to better grasp all the major points.

As for the idea that a movement should not "go by the book", Sharp has some stern words about that notion, but I won't fight anyone on this. I feel that the evidence is overwhelmingly in the favor of careful planning. If you disagree, just ignore this thread!

If any of you end up reading the summaries, please let me know if you have any comments or questions. I hope to keep revising them based on feedback.

Thanks, Jack Lindstrom

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[-] 1 points by XenuLives (1645) from Charlotte, NC 2 years ago

I also suggest becoming aware of Sun Tsu's "The Art of War." There are a lot of tactics from that book that are used AGAINST Occupy, and a lot of things that Occupy can use from that text to stay safe from the police.

[-] 1 points by jlindstrom (2) from South Gate, CA 2 years ago

Haha! I totally started reading The Art of War yesterday because Self-Liberation reminded me of it so much. And yeah, I think it's definitely helpful in terms of how THEY think of US as well as an impartial birds-eye view of the conflict. For instance, Sun Tzu says that if he knows how disciplined each army is (as well as other factors), he can tell you which side will win, and I was like, oh crap. ;-)

I forget if Sharp quotes Art of War, but he definitely quotes other military strategists, like Liddell Hart, which I found very enlightening. However, he is careful to clarify which military strategies do not apply to nonviolent strategy (such as the element of surprise, which can alarm the police of military and provoke them to more brutality than otherwise).

[-] 0 points by XenuLives (1645) from Charlotte, NC 2 years ago

I think the "element of surprise" concept translates well to "flash occupations" or "flash protests." I see using that tactic as a good way to circumvent police brutality by protesting at unpredictable times and locations. That way you can get your message out, a good video-op, and then get out of there before the police arrive.

The way events work now, the police have WEEKS to prepare, go through drills, etc. They are more organized than us, BUT that can be to our advantage. They have to go through the same motions every time, i.e. the ones that the commanders orders them to do. We can be fluid and mix up our tactics, rendering police responses moot.

However, this line of action goes against other theory like what is in your summary. Doing a series of covert protests is the antithesis of having a public, open movement. Its hard to know who to trust, and it could easily divide the entire group in "insiders" and "outsiders" factions. For that reason I doubt that a majority of participants would be comfortable with this approach. I think this should be tried with small groups of people that already know each other as a pilot, and then see how it goes from there.

There are already plenty of ways to communicate covertly and avoid surveillance online, so you're just looking at the trust issue. Who would be let into this secret group? How would you know who to trust?

Regarding the main protests, we should be able to respond better to the police. We know they are going to arrive, we know what weapons they are going to bring, and we even know what they are going to do once they show up. They are very British in their formations, moving in straight lines. What we need to be is more like the fighters in the American Revolution, fighting through the trees and using the predictable formations to our advantage. We can use the environment to outpace the police. They can't. We can move in any direction. They are stuck moving forward.

[-] 1 points by jlindstrom (2) from South Gate, CA 2 years ago

Yeah, I'm sure flash mob stuff has its place. For instance, I know an OLA protest went to a bank that already knew they were coming, and so the police were already there waiting for them, so they just went to the closest bank nearby and were able to occupy its lobby with no problem and it took an hour or so for the police to show up. In general, however, I agree that open planning and protests are the way to go, and being prepared for what the police will probably do is definitely a good idea, particularly to help those who don't want to be arrested.

As for secrecy, yeah, Sharp is definitely opposed to that. In his view, you're gonna be infiltrated no matter how secretive you try to be, so you may as well be completely open and transparent in order to attract as many participants as possible, which is really the key to the whole game, and not let paranoia tear the group apart.