What could Libya, Egypt and Syria have used from From Dictatorship to Democracy?


So apparently Libya, in place of its former tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi, is overrun by militias and warlords in lieu of a central state. Now, class, what did the people involved in toppling Gadhafi forget to do in order to ensure the stability of their country post-topple?

That’s right! They forgot to concurrently build an independent society or parallel government to take over once the conflict is over, as advised in From Dictatorship to Democracy. That step eases the transition from the former regime to the new (ideally better) one instead of allowing everything to just devolve into chaos. Now you can see for yourself in black and white (and red…) how important that step is. Remember: don’t create a power vacuum!

Of course, there are a lot of things that “movement” did that also go against the advice in FDTD (e.g. violence), so I’m not saying it’s otherwise a perfect role model of the book’s ideas. Nor am I saying it’s easy to do any of these things. (Obviously, or else Occupy wouldn’t have dissolved into nothingness.)


Now, on that note, what about Egypt? That was a bit different, wasn’t it? Instead of descending into shattered bits of anarchy, there was a coup d’etat by the military. Which Sharpian guidelines could they have benefitted from?

That’s right! Don’t replace one dictatorship with another! (Sharp also flat-out advises against staging a coup d’etat.) If you just end up with another dictatorship (which seems a fair enough term to use for military rule over there), what was the point of all that struggle, right?


As for Syria, I wonder if strictly adhering to non-violence would have benefitted the rebels in the long run. The international community would probably have been decisively on their side instead of the ambivalence they now express, and Assad may have been pressured into standing down. Instead, thousands have died and millions are displaced–and for what?

By way of comparison, look at Ukraine, whose leader fled Kiev for no apparent reason (yeah, I know, the protestors, but that didn’t seem to bother Assad). Obviously there must be some key difference between the circumstances to have provoked this response instead of a violent crackdown. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the class.


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The Grand Strategy — the final piece of the Gene Sharp summaries

This is the final summary I’m leaving here. It’s the second step in the organization of a social movement, where you determine the most strategic ways to launch the conflict and sketch out its general stages.

Before reading about this step, I first recommend reading at least the summaries of From Dictatorship to Democracy and Self-Liberation, or you won’t know what this is all for!

And before actually crafting your Grand Strategy, you should have already completed a Strategic Estimate or you won’t have laid the proper groundwork on which to build the foundation of your movement.


Grand strategy is the master concept for the conduct of the conflict, the conception that serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, etc.) of the population or group to attain its objectives in a conflict. It is an overall plan for conducting the struggle that makes it possible to anticipate how the struggle as a whole should proceed. How can the struggle be won? How is the desired change to be achieved?

In complex struggles, including those against repressive regimes, prior to the initiation of conflict it is usually very difficult, and often impossible, to plan the concrete  implementation of the grand strategy from the first campaign to the last. In these cases, the strategic plan should be as concrete and specific as possible for implementation of the strategy for the initial campaign, but will be necessarily vague for future campaigns. This is because the limited objectives of future campaigns, their strategies, timing, and tactical activities will be determined in large part by changes in the conflict situation that will occur during the first stage or stages of the struggle. Strategists will therefore need to keep a close eye on the progress of the struggle, and develop the concrete strategic plans for future campaigns accordingly, while the conflict is ongoing.

The planners’ first draft of a grand strategy might be initially guided by the thinking of several persons, but the final text may be prepared by a single person or a team. Once drafted, it will need to be critically considered by a larger group, all members of which will need to have studied all of the designated readings.

Initial Questions

Study the Strategic Estimate you’ve drafted up carefully. Determine whether conditions are suitable for nonviolent struggle. They must be ripe if campaigns are going to be successful.

What are the objectives?

Estimate the length of the forthcoming struggle. Will more than one campaign be required? Provision must be made for an error of judgment in the strategic estimate and for contingency tactics if the struggle turns out to be long instead of brief.

Determine which mechanism of change will be necessary:

  • Conversion: Those in the regime have a change of heart. Rare.
  • Accomodation: Both sides come to a compromise. Much more common.
  • Coercion: The resisters have gained so much power that regime must bend to their will.
  • Disintegration: The regime completely falls apart. Rare.

How do the strengths and weaknesses of the contending groups compare?

On what issues will it be extremely important to act?

What are the main leverages to be employed by the resisters?

Do the issues and the available leverages match?

How do the leverages available to the resisters relate to shaping the grand strategy for the resisters?

How do the available leverages of the resisters relate to the identified weaknesses of the opponents?

Which pillars of support for the opponents are potentially vulnerable to application of the leverages available to the resisters?

How might the opponents oppose the nonviolent resistance group’s course of action?


What is the broad conception of how the struggle is to be waged and how are the objectives to be achieved? Which general means of pressure and action might be applied? What is to be the main thrust of the nonviolent struggle against the opponents? Through economic losses? By undermining the opponents’ legitimacy? Through political paralysis? Is the nonviolent struggle group able to weaken or remove most or all of the sources of power of the opponent group?

By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources of power of the opponents be incrementally weakened and severed?

Sketch out the general phases of the struggle. Nonviolent struggle normally includes four phases:

  • Preparation for the conflict
  • Initiation of action to gain the objective(s)
  • Development of the ongoing struggle
  • After success, consolidation of the gains

How can social order be maintained in the midst of the conflict?

How can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of the struggle?

Organizing and Outreach

What ways might there be for the resisting population to mobilize other persons and groups to participate in a struggle over these issues?

How can the real issues be used to advance mobilization of resistance, to shrink support for the opponents, and to change loyalties within the opponent group and third parties?

What types of symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?

How can the oppressed population muster sufficient self-confidence and strength to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way?

How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and defiance be increased with time and experience?

Assess what skills will be needed during future individual campaigns, and whether these skills are already present among expected resisters. If not, then preparations to develop these skills will be a necessary task.

How can participants be trained?

What resources (finances, equipment, etc.) will be required throughout the struggle?

How can the resisting population simultaneously persist in its defiance and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline?


Determine which specific methods of nonviolent action are most appropriate to this particular conflict. This decision will need to be taken in the light of a variety of factors: the issues at stake, the nature of the contending groups, the type of culture and society of each, the social and political context of the conflict, the mechanisms of change intended by the nonviolent group (as to convert or to coerce), the experience of the nonviolent group, their ability in applying nonviolent action, the type of repression and other countermeasures expected, the ability of the nonviolent group to withstand them, and the intensities of commitment to the struggle within the nonviolent group. Can even use methods other than nonviolent resistence to complement the struggle: legal action, public education, publicity, etc.

Choose a limited objective for the initial campaign

The issues for limited campaigns should be ones that can arouse wide support throughout the population. Also, the selected issues should be ones that can be seen to be clearly justified, and be ones that the regime will have difficulty in repudiating. The issues usually should also be ones on which the regime can reluctantly give way or on which the regime might be defeated by empowered people.

How might the long-term struggle best begin?

What might be the objectives of a series of limited campaigns for the resistance to gain strength and limit the power of the opponents?

The End

As victory approaches, how can the resistance continue to build the institutional base of the society after the previous regime has ended to make the transition as smooth as possible?

Formulate a projection of likely long-term consequences of the struggle.


If this or any other of the summaries has been helpful to anyone, please let me know, as a comment or otherwise. (Remember, feedback is an important part of strategy!) Apparently this site is actually getting views from people around the world, and even if a tenth of those views are real people as opposed to spam bots, I’d love to hear if these summaries have been inspiring or played a role in your organization efforts (or if they leave something to be desired!).


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The Strategic Estimate — another Gene Sharp summary

This is a summary of part of Gene Sharp’s book Self-Liberation. Because Self-Liberation is so long and dense, I figured I should give the Strategic Estimate its own summary to aid people in that first step along the road to organizing. 

After completing the Strategic Estimate, the next step is the Grand Strategy, which I also gave its own summary.


The Strategic Estimate

A strategic estimate is a calculation and comparison of the strengths and the weaknesses of the nonviolent struggle group and that group’s opponents, as seen within the broad social, historical, political, and economic context of the society in which the conflict occurs.

In addition to providing the necessary understanding in order to form a grand strategy, the estimate allows the reader to find needed information quickly and will be of great assistance when choosing specific types of methods for use during the conflict. For example, if the opponent group is heavily dependent on the grievance group for meeting certain needs, methods of noncooperation may prove to be highly effective. However, if there is no such dependence, noncooperation is unlikely to be useful.

Update the strategic estimate as the conflict situation changes.

Here are the various domains of the situation and how to assess them:

1. The general conflict situation

Determine the causes of the conflict, list the grievances, formulate desired changes.

Factors that could have a conceivable impact either on the opponent group or on the nonviolent struggle group:

  • Terrain and geography (including land forms and waterways, and how they may assist or impede one or the other side in the conflict)
  • Transportation (including all available means of transportation for either side in the conflict, local and national transportation infrastructure, alternative routes, and how these might impact the capabilities of either side)
  • Communications (all types, access, extent of controls, surveillance, issues of privacy, etc.)
  • Climate and weather (including seasonal variations and their possible impact on transportation, communications, food and agriculture, and activities of either side)
  • Political system and governing regime (including their characteristics and capacities on various levels, from the top echelons down to small units; any variations in central control or local initiatives; and who controls the State and the roles or functions of the State, political parties, and controlled subordinate organizations)
  • Economic system (including both type and condition of the economy, strength and degree of independence of unions and business sectors, and degree of State intervention in the economy)
  • Judicial system (especially the degree to that this remains independent of the control of the State or of the opponent group)
  • Demographics (information about both the total population and the segment of the population related to the conflict, including statistical breakdowns by age groups, gender, population growth and death rates, population densities in varying locations, and literacy rates)
  • Population strata (including socioeconomic classes, ethnicities, religion, language, culture, status of indigenous and immigrant populations, etc.; geographical distribution of such; any variations or differences in these groups in satisfaction, loyalties, or economic interests; and also any conflicts between or among different population groups, whether or not the reasons for such conflicts are related to the nonviolent struggle)
  • Control of economic resources and life support (fuel, food, water, etc., and consequences for dependency of one side on the other)
  • Status of civil society (extent and condition of nongovernmental organizations and social life, including degree of organization and autonomy from the State; and status of other aspects of social life and organization that lie outside control of the political system and/or the regime)

Examine the immediate general political situation. Are special controls, such as martial law or other means of serious repression, in effect? What are the current political and economic currents and trends?

2. The issues and objectives of the contending groups

The issues and objectives of the two contending groups, and how fundamental each side believes them to be, are likely to have important consequences on the actions of both sides during the conflict.  They will likely influence the degree to which the opponent group is determined to resist or repress the resistance, the tenacity of the nonviolent struggle group to persist in the struggle despite repression, and the degree to which third parties or the general population are willing to side with the nonviolent struggle group.

Identify or develop accurate and clear statements of the issues at stake in the conflict from the perspectives of both the opponent group and the prospective nonviolent struggle group, based on declarations by each group or additional information from other sources.

What are the broad issues as seen by each side, and how important are they to the impending conflict?  Have the issues, or has the intensity of commitment to them, varied over time?

Identify the differing primary and secondary, short-term and long-term objectives of the two groups. (The stated  objectives are not always the full story; also include suspected or implied objectives.) To what degree are these objectives compatible or incompatible?

Are the resistance group’s objectives worth a major struggle, and why? What are the main obstacles to achieving the objectives?

3. The opponent group

  • Who are their key leaders?
  • What is their political system?
  • What is their social and cultural system?
  • What is their economic system?
  • Are these systems independent of each other, or closely interrelated? Are they dependent in any way on the political, social, or economic systems of the potential nonviolent struggle group?
  • To what degree are these respective systems controlled by the State structure?
  • What is the nature and importance of any religious, moral, ideological, or other doctrinal beliefs and commitments of the opponent group?
  • What are the demographics of the opponent group? (age, gender, birth and death rates, literacy, educational standards, and geographical distribution, etc.)
  • What is the degree of support for the opponent group’s system or regime among the general population and institutions?
  • What is the ideological situation (the degree of doctrinal support for the opponent group and/or regime, or for the resistance to its policies and controls)?
  • To what degree does the opponent group rely on each of its potential sources of power (authority or legitimacy, human resources,  particular skills or knowledge, psychological or ideological factors, material resources, ability to apply sanctions)?
  • What are the pillars of support of the opponent group (people, groups, and institutions) that supply the needed sources of power? Some of these pillars will require detailed examination. The pillars may include, but are not limited to moral and religious leaders and groups, labor groups, business and investment groups, etc.
  • To what extent are the pillars of support influenced, or actually or potentially controlled, by the opponent group itself? Are any influenced or controlled by the broad grievance group or the potential nonviolent struggle group? Which pillars are the strongest and most durable? Which pillars are the weakest and most vulnerable?
  • Who are the opponent group’s internal (domestic) allies, and what is their extent and reliability?
  • Who are the opponent group’s external (foreign) allies and what is their extent and reliability?
  • Can any of these be considered “natural allies” of the opponent group? (If the opponent is a government or a regime, these might include the army, intelligence services, civil servants, the business community, settlers, foreign governments, certain political parties, etc.)
  • Who are the “natural enemies” of the opponent group? (Examples may include repressed minorities, disaffected youth, the unemployed, workers, political parties, the lower, middle, or upper classes, etc.)
  • Is there any potential or actual support or sympathy for the nonviolent struggle group from within sectors of the opponent group itself?
  • What is the organizational structure of the opponent group (administration, organizational branches, complexity, efficiency, reliability, degree of initiative, degree of centralized controls, etc.)?
  • What is the opponent group’s military capacity (size and types of units, commanders of the important units and their character, etc.)?
  • What is the opponent group’s police capacity? (The same type of information obtained about military forces—as described above—needs to be obtained for police and other security forces as well.)
  • What intelligence organizations, if any, does the opponent group have at its disposal? What are their characteristics, including their known activities and their resources?
  • What is the level of the opponent group’s strategic skill?
  • To what degree does the opponent group have competent leadership?
  • What means of nonmilitary control are wielded by the opponent group (censorship, ownership of radio, television, and print media, financial means to influence behavior, etc.)?
  • What are the political fissures, internal conflicts, and other weaknesses in the opponent group, such as within the leadership group and supporting organizations, institutions, or population groups?
  • Are there any organizations or institutions that normally support the opponent group but might be targeted for transfer of loyalties or for organizational destruction?
  • Is the present leadership of the opponent group disputed or contested from within, through rivalries, power struggles, or other reasons?
  • What other vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the opponents can be identified (vulnerabilities and internal conflicts, ideological bankruptcy, economic crisis, etc.)?
  • How easy or difficult would it be for the opponents to make concessions to the resisters?

4. The nonviolent struggle group (and the wider grievance group)

  • What are the demographics of the nonviolent struggle group and its potential or actual sympathizers, including the general grievance group (age, gender, geographical distribution, literacy rates, and educational levels, etc.)?
  • What is their political system?
  • What is their social and cultural system?
  • What is their economic system?
  • Do these systems operate independently of each other, or are they closely interrelated? To what extent are they identical to, integrated with, or independent of, the political, social, or economic systems of the opponent group?
  • To what degree are these respective systems controlled by the State structure?
  • What is the nature and importance of any religious, moral, ideological, or other doctrinal beliefs or commitments of the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What is the broad ideological situation (the degree of doctrinal support for the nonviolent struggle group, and its ideas, positions, or platforms)?
  • What is the actual and potential degree of support for the nonviolent struggle group from the general grievance population, specific groups, institutions, and contact networks? Which groups can really help?
  • What sectors of the population are most or least likely to provide support or sympathy to the nonviolent struggle group over the course of the conflict?
  • What is the actual and potential degree of support for resistance from third parties or previously “neutral” sectors?
  • Who are the “natural allies” of the nonviolent struggle group? (e.g., students or youth, political parties and associations, religious, ethnic, or minority groups, etc.)
  • Who are the nonviolent struggle group’s current and potential internal and external allies?
  • What are the internal conflicts, rivalries, or power struggles within both the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group (e.g., groups with differing ideological positions or long-term objectives)? Are there any rivalries between important sectors of the grievance group and the nonviolent struggle group?
  • Is there any potential or actual support or sympathy for the opponent group from within sectors of the general grievance group or the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What are the operative or potential sources of power of the nonviolent struggle group? What are the operative or potential sources of power of the general grievance group?
  • What are the pillars of support (people, groups, and institutions) that serve to supply those sources of power?
  • To what extent are such pillars of support for the grievance group or the nonviolent struggle group influenced, or actually or potentially controlled by, the nonviolent struggle group, or by the opponent group?
  • Which pillars are suitable for use in resistance activities? Which ones need to be strengthened? Do any new ones need to be created?
  • What other vulnerabilities and weaknesses can be identified? Can any of these be rectified through deliberate efforts?
  • Does the nonviolent struggle group currently exist as a coherent movement or organization? If so, what is its organizational structure (administration, organizational branches, complexity, efficiency, reliability, degree of initiative, degree of centralized controls, etc.)? Does it have capable and competent leadership?
  • What is the strategic skill level of the nonviolent struggle group and its leaders?
  • Who among the nonviolent struggle group has knowledge of the theory, methods, and practical dynamics of nonviolent struggle?
  • Does the grievance group as a whole, parts of that group, or the nonviolent struggle group have prior experience in using nonviolent struggle?
  • What preparations have already been made for the application of nonviolent struggle in this conflict?
  • What means of nonmilitary control, if any, are already wielded by the nonviolent struggle group or its sympathizers (ownership of media, control of private industry, etc.)?
  • What is the information and intelligence capacity of the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What economic resources are at the disposal of the nonviolent struggle group?
  • What are the communications capacities of the resisters?
  • Are the possible concessions beneficial or harmful to the resisters against the oppression?
  • How easy or difficult would it be for the resisters to make concessions to the opponents?

Provide a general assessment of the struggle capacity of both the nonviolent struggle group and the general grievance group based on the above information.

5. Third parties

Assess the potential roles of third parties on behalf of either of the two sides over the course of a conflict. “Third parties” are defined here as any group, institution, or sector, internal or external, that is not initially a direct party to the conflict. Third party roles may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Assisting public relations (for either side)
  • Providing diplomatic assistance or exerting diplomatic pressures (for either side)
  • Supplying financial assistance (for either side)
  • Providing police and military assistance (for the opponent group); (police or military action intended to assist the nonviolent struggle can instead undermine it)
  • Providing educational and technical assistance (for either side)
  • Providing safe areas (usually for the resisters but sometimes for the opponent group)
  • Applying economic pressures (on either side)
  • Providing knowledge about nonviolent struggle (primarily to the resisters)

Assess which third parties could potentially provide such assistance to either side, and determine which groups already serve as pillars of support to one side or the other. Strategists will later need to determine which third parties should be courted for possible future assistance and which groups should be undermined.

6. Dependency balances

Determine which of the two contending sides is dependent on the other, in what ways and to what degree. These calculations should include the following:

  • The degree of dependency of the opponent group on the resisting population and on the wider grievance group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of dependency of the resisting population and the grievance group on the opponent group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of actual and potential independence of the opponent group from the resisting population and general grievance group for meeting identified needs
  • The degree of actual and potential independence of the resisting population and grievance group from the opponent group for meeting identified needs
  • Does the dependent side, or do the dependent sides, have, or can they create, alternative goods, services and sources of power to replace those that have been shrunk or severed by noncooperation by the other side?


The main point is to know the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, their sources of power, and the likely impacts of the use of the power of both sides in an open conflict. How do those strengths and weaknesses compare with each other? Also, how might the respective strengths and weaknesses of the two sides be changed?


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A Marxist reading of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

A bourgeois fantasy in which servants “live to serve” and don’t run away from their abusive employer the moment they can hit the road as the most amazing sideshow the world has ever seen.

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Summary of Self-Liberation by Gene Sharp

After literally reading through about 900 pages of Self-Liberation by Gene Sharp and all its recommended readings, I have finally emerged with a 13-page summary

Self-Liberation is basically an expansion of From Dictatorship to Democracy, which is considered to be THE how-to book on strategizing for nonviolent struggle and which I also summarized. The great thing about it is that it’s about more general social struggle than dictatorships specifically, making it much more applicable to the situation in the United States (among other countries).

As I mentioned in the summary for FDTD, anyone who wishes to organize a nonviolent struggle must learn this stuff if your actions are going to be effective.

If you have any comments, questions, suggestions or criticisms, please let me know! I hope to keep revising it as needed.

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Stay focused on the target: a lesson learned from F29

Not the actual truck (it was one we stopped earlier), but this is pretty much the scene.

TL; DR: An incident with a truck driver stopped by our F29 action made me realize that during the May 1st General Strike and any other actions, we must let workers of non-targeted companies do their job and get paid—for both strategic and moral reasons.

For the “Shut Down the Corporations” F29 action near Riverside, CA, Occupiers completely blocked the intersection leading into Schneider Logistics, a Walmart distribution center, to prevent trucks from going in or out.

I and a girl I’d been talking to, Bethany, went over to the driver of one such stopped truck—a diminutive Latino guy, maybe about 40 years old, with striking, dark-lined eyes (I feel the need to describe him because when I hear “truck driver,” the image that comes to mind is a 300-lbs white dude)—who had come out of the cab to reason with us. We filled him in on why we were there and showed him a couple pieces of propaganda. He insisted that he worked for a company called Ferguson, not Schneider Logistics. His plain truck—unemblazoned with any logo, unlike the Walmart trucks a block over—seemed to confirm that. Nevertheless, our goal was to “Shut Down the Corporations”—not just Walmart, even though that was our target. I looked up Ferguson on my iPhone and found that it was a major plumbing supply company.

I figured he’d be paid even if we blocked him, since after all, this wasn’t his fault. We were like, an act of god. But I asked him just to be sure. “What will happen to you if you don’t get there?” He looked away with a shrug and said, “I don’t know.” He was near tears.

An argument now whipped up between the people lying in front of the truck and others who were trying to get them to let the guy through. One woman declared, “I came out here to shut down business as usual! If we let this guy through, are we gonna let the next guy through? Where does it end?” A mini-GA erupted, with people getting on stack and everything, and people bickered at each other passionately as a Spanish-speaking girl spoke with the truck driver, seeming to either be explaining us to him or reassuring him.

Bethany said, “I’m torn,” and I admitted I was, too. We both agreed that this protest was in the truck driver’s interest as well, and that technically he should join in, if anything. It occurred to me that the central issue here was money (isn’t it always?), and wondered aloud if we should take up a collection for the guy—as a sort of reimbursement for the inconvenience. Bethany readily agreed (although she added that it wouldn’t help much if he was fired over this) and between the two of us and a random guy we asked, we gathered $50. I was worried that the truck driver wouldn’t accept it, so I folded it in a piece of propaganda and handed it to him. He refused, thinking I was just giving him the propaganda, so I had to open it up to show him the cash inside. He seemed to restrain himself from crying yet again and took it with only a bit of reluctance and seemingly with some relief as well.

As the bickering continued, the driver got back into his truck, backed up, and turned into a parking lot, which I realized had an outlet to the main road. Thank god, he (or the Spanish-speaking girl) had found a “third way”: a resolution to the problem that didn’t include either us having to back down or him being stuck there for god knows how long. Later on, a fellow protester explained that a similar thing had gone down at another similarly blocked intersection around the corner, and that he thought it was fucked up since these guys don’t get paid unless they make the delivery. At that moment, my heart toppled right off the fence into the realization that what we had done was very, very wrong.

I’m sure some people, as they read this account, must have immediately pegged me as naïve and full of white privilege. And they’re right. Although I grew up in the lower-middle class and put in a year working at the bottom rung of a corporate retail operation, my thoughts and actions in this incident clearly reveal my lack of knowledge of what it’s really like to be in the lower class, let alone an immigrant. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like if I did, I would have known the risks we were exposing him to by our blocking him and would have urged everyone to let him go. The idea that we were blocking him for his own good would have struck me as totally arrogant and insensitive.

Apparently this had been a major issue in the ports action as well: many workers were pissed off  at the port shut-down since it made them lose out on a day’s pay. It perpetuated the cliché that Occupy largely consists of middle-class, college-educated whites who are completely out of touch with the rest of the 99%, even though they claim to speak for them.

There is, of course, an obvious solution to this: plan actions WITH the workers. To their credit, Occupy Riverside informed and even got the blessing of the workers union at Schneider Logistics. That’s great, and we should continue to do the same for future actions, but you can’t plan for everything. It may not have even occurred to the event organizers that other truck companies used the inlet into Schneider Logistics. If something unplanned like this happens—if we have the power to deprive a worker of a day’s pay against their will and without advance notice so they can make any necessary precautions—we must let them go. It’s only fair; I took measures myself to ensure that I could participate in the action without any repercussions. I didn’t just ditch work that morning; I cleared the day off with my boss like two weeks in advance (and since it was a vacation day, I even got paid for it). Why should we penalize those who don’t have the same opportunity? We must make sure everyone in the 99% is taken care of while we change the system as a whole. During the Montgomery bus boycott, people weren’t forced to stop riding the bus; the organizers coordinated car pools to both achieve the objectives of the boycott AND fill the needs of the participants.

However, even in cases where we do invite workers to participate well in advance, take steps to provide for their immediate needs, yet they decline, we must still let them do their jobs. You may be thinking, “What?? Why?? Then what’s the point of even doing the action?” This is basically the argument of the woman who insisted that we can’t let one go through because then we may as well let them all go through, which is classic slippery-slope fallacy, which we accuse conservatives of using all the time. “You can’t legalize gay marriage! Then you may as well legalize bestiality! Where will it end?” The fact is that the maximum number of trucks we had the opportunity stop was four. I know for sure at least three of them were from different companies. Three entirely different national or even multi-national companies aren’t going to care if we stop one of their trucks for even a couple hours. The power of a strike comes from the involvement of ALL workers in ONE company; not one worker from each company. The fact that Schneider Logistics was our target matters. Only by throwing all our weight at that one target were we able to—before we even got there—shut it down for half the day. If during an action we come across any opportunities besides our target, we may as well let it slide because otherwise those efforts will be too scatter-shot; the company won’t give a shit, but it’ll make all the difference in the world to the worker—precisely the opposite effect we intended.

The time may come when preventing people from working against their will may be strategically crucial (blocking union scabs come to mind), but that will be when we have reached a certain critical mass that we have not yet achieved. We’re still in the process of winning over the hearts and minds of the people in order to reach that critical mass. And if we aren’t able to win over someone’s heart and mind by explaining how our action is to his benefit, we’re certainly not going to win him over by docking his pay.

However, beyond the debate as to whether blocking him is in the best interest of the movement, the fact of the matter is that letting him go was the flat-out right thing to do. Many of us, myself included, have gone into activism because we’re driven by our moral centers, outraged by all the injustice and devastation in the world. How ludicrous and ironic, then, for us in our efforts to save the world to unleash cruelty ourselves? This guy almost started CRYING after we’d stopped his truck for five minutes. What sort of situation must he be in to have had that reaction?And how can we not react mercifully in response? I, for one, must do so, if I ever witness something like this again.

One of my favorite attributes of activism is that it has real-world consequences, that it’s important, unlike, say, watching reality TV. But it has a dark side: we’re fucking with people’s lives here. I know that may seem like, “duh,” but there’s a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing something viscerally, and this incident suddenly made me feel, down to my core, the weight of what we’re doing.

The thought of a situation like this one being duplicated all over the country by the hundreds during the May 1st General Strike or other actions sickens me. From what I’ve read, the organizers of the General Strike are already reaching out to labor, and I hope that in doing so, they’re attempting to prevent things like this from happening, but, as I mentioned, because some things just can’t be planned or controlled, I implore individual protesters to allow workers who are not participating in the action to do their job and earn their pay. We have a long fight ahead of us. Instead of gunning for the short-term, let’s take care of each other while we fight for the long-term, and in doing so, hopefully, we’ll have won over more members of the 99% for next time.

[A post-script: I’m not entirely convinced that rounding up $50 to give to the trucker was the right thing to do. A guy that Bethany told about it gave her a high-five, but I’m still worried that I offended or shamed him. It also smacks of bribery to me; of the apparent belief of the 1% that money is the solution to everything, that every man has his price. The only barometer I really have as to whether it was right or not is how I think I would have felt in the truck driver’s shoes, and frankly, I think I would have appreciated it (or most likely, given his reaction, immensely relieved). When I got a Christmas bonus from my company, I sure as heck appreciated it. If, during the year I slaved away at Starbucks, a customer had given me a $50 tip, I would have been thrilled. I know those are different situations, but my point is that I’ve never not appreciated or been offended by unexpected cash. So I think it was okay.]


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From Dictatorship to Democracy — summary

TL; DR: Competent strategic planning of political defiance is necessary in order to take down a dictatorship. To be as effective as possible, this strategy must target the dictators’ most important sources of power at their weakest points.

Why strategy is essential:

You are more likely to end up where you want to go

Need to maximize resources since the dictatorship has so much more

Ensures that the current dictator isn’t just replaced by a new one

Keeps you on the offenses instead of just responding to whatever the dictatorship does

Otherwise may just be wasting energy; just doing whatever you feel like doing isn’t likely to be enough to take down the dictatorship. It may even increase the dictatorship’s strength.


The movement must be nonviolent.

By using violence, you attack the dictatorship at its strongest point (i.e. military).

Don’t worry about infiltration.

Since it’s bound to happen whether you strive to maintain secrecy or not, you gain more from including as many people as possible than being closed off and allowing paranoia to destroy the resistance group.

Can’t plan just to dismantle the dictatorship; have to also plan the democratic system that will replace it or else another dictator will.

The dictatorship’s power lies in:

Authority: the belief among the people that the regime is legitimate and that they have a moral duty to obey it.

The assistance of the people

Material resources (incl. financial)

Punishment of those who are disobedient

How to dismantle these bases of power:

Delegitimize the regime’s authority (e.g. through symbolic acts)

Overcome the people’s fear and habit of obedience; increase their desire and ability to withdraw cooperation by disseminating stories that illustrate this process

Strengthen social groups independent from dictatorship (isolated individuals not members of groups usually are unable to make a significant impact)

Use strikes, boycotts, economic autonomy, etc. to restrict dictators’ material resources

First plan grand strategy, then strategies for selected resistance on particular issues, then tactics for each strategy and the methods you will use.

Grand strategy: the basic framework for coordinating resources to attain objectives.

Strategy: how best to achieve particular objectives within the grand strategy (and how to measure success).

Tactic: a limited action employed to achieve a specific objective.

Method: specific means of action (from small-scale dissent, e.g. stalling or dressing a certain way, to large-scale protests)


How to figure out grand strategy:

Figure out the weaknesses of the dictatorship and how to exploit them.

Sketch out the broad strokes of the entire conflict

Make the grand strategy widely known (more people will be willing to participate when they see that taking down the dictatorship is actually possible and how to do it)

Once you’ve decided on a grand strategy, do not deviate from it to emotions of the moment or minor moves by the dictatorship.

How to plan campaign strategies:

Acquire a thorough understanding of the workings of nonviolent struggle.

Decide which campaigns will best move the grand strategy forward.

Each campaign should involve different segments of the population to avoid burnout.

Determine how to preserve order and meet the needs of the people during the conflict.

Reevaluate and develop alternative courses of action as needed.

While implementing campaigns:

Disseminate guidelines to participants on when and how to withhold cooperation.

Warn participants what the risks of various actions are

Maintain nonviolence through pledges, leaflets; boycott pro-violent people

Keeping reporting strictly factual. Exaggerations will undermine credibility.

Determine how to withstand countermeasures by the dictatorship

Celebrate ALL successes, including small ones, to keep up morale.

Campaigns in the beginning of the struggle differ from those towards the end

In the beginning, choose attainable objectives since victories raise morale.

Weaken the people’s support of the dictatorship (e.g. reveal brutalities of the regime and

disastrous economic consequences from their policies)

In more advanced stages, restrict dictators’ power with mass popular noncooperation, then sever power completely to disintegrate dictatorship.

HIGH PRIORITY: It will be exceptionally difficult, or impossible, to disintegrate the dictatorship if the police, bureaucrats, and military forces remain fully supportive of the dictatorship and obedient in carrying out its commands. (However, the goal is NOT a coup d’état.)

Assess loyalty of military. What factors might make them vulnerable to democratic subversion?

Military can help through safe forms of disobedience: being inefficient, ignoring orders, offering safe passage.

Must concurrently build independent society/parallel government

Will take over once dictatorship falls.

Determine which aspects of the government need to be abolished and which just need to be revised.

Make sure it preserves civil liberties.

Plan ahead what to do with the former dictators (avoid a bloodbath!)

After fall of dictatorship:

Celebrate, but do not reduce vigilance. Utopia will not just suddenly appear. This is only the beginning point for long-term efforts to improve society.

Block attempted coups the same way you took down the dictatorship (deny legitimacy, withhold cooperation)

The formerly oppressed will now have more self-confidence in dealing with future problems.



If you would like to know more, I also have summaries of Gene Sharp’s other, more detailed works:

Self-Liberation: an expansion on From Dictatorship to Democracy, focusing more on general social struggle than dictatorships specifically, making it much more applicable to the situation in the United States (as well as other countries).

The Strategic Estimate: the first step an organization must take to lay the best possible grand strategy for a social movement.

The Grand Strategy: the second step in the organization in a social movement: determining the best ways to launch and continue the conflict.


The story behind this summary:

From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp is known as THE how-to book on taking down a dictatorship. It’s been banned in many countries (so you KNOW it’s gotta be good 😉 ) and has guided multiple movements, including the Arab Spring. Since I think the 1% qualifies as a “dictatorship” at least enough for this book to be helpful, I recommended it constantly to the strategic national committee of Occupy.

Although I highly recommend reading the entire book (available in full online!), I made this summary so that anyone who hasn’t read it can easily check out its contents, as well as for quick reference for those who have already read it. It’s very helpful, for me, to see the sort of tightly organized blueprint of these points for a birds-eye-view on it–exactly what this sort of strategizing entails.

Even if you end up just thinking all this stuff through on your own rather than discussing it with anyone else, let alone using it to coordinate actions (although I think that would be ideal), I think that’s still of huge benefit. You’ll be able to pick activities with the confidence that they are the best use of your limited time and energy. To me, there’s nothing worse than taking a whole day out of your life to go to a march without knowing if you made any impact at all or even what impact you were supposed to be making, and what it was supposed to lead to.  Moreover, by not thinking this stuff through yourself, you’ll have left it up to the organizers of actions and just following along like sheep, which is exactly the sort of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place, or, perhaps worse, not even the organizers will have thought this stuff through and the event is completely useless or even counter-productive.


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The irony of Hugo Cabret: the importance of cinema over child hunger

In honor of Hugo having garnered the most Academy Award nominations this year (11), here is my socialist rant about it.

TL; DR: Audiences have spent millions of dollars watching a multi-million dollar spectacle about a fictional orphan struggling with hunger while millions of real children struggle with hunger in real life.

A key component of Scorsese’s latest film, Hugo, is the destitute situation the title character finds himself in: orphaned, squatting in a train station, twice pushed into slave labor, pilfering croissants in the station café for food and avoiding detection so he won’t be shipped off to an orphanage. The movie never, of course, so much as touches on the systemic reasons behind this poverty, but that’s too much to be expected of a mainstream film. In that case, I suppose the film is to be applauded for making a case for mercy on those who are so poor they must steal for their sustenance, but while watching it I couldn’t help but wonder how much was spent on creating this romanticized depiction of poverty as opposed to actually feeding starving children.

Every film has this problem of opportunity cost, but Hugo’s subject matter renders its existence particularly ironic and insulting. Scorsese (and, presumably, the author of the book) treats the loss of silent films as more tragic than hunger, orphanages, and war, which are treated as necessities of the plot and as foils to the wonders of escapist cinema. It’s as if the creators of this film have concluded that since these problems can never be solved, all we can do is retreat into a fantasy land. The fact that this is a kid’s movie, and thus shouldn’t be expected to treat those things seriously, is besides the point. Every film contains implicit messages that deserve to be examined—perhaps especially if it’s a kid’s movie, given that children in the audience absorb these messages as fact, which serves to form their understanding of the world.

One could argue that the film’s depiction of a starving child will inspire people to donate money they wouldn’t have ordinarily, thus justifying the vast expenditures to make this film. But I highly doubt it. Unlike Slumdog Millionaire, which did result in a spike in donations, Hugo takes place not only in 1930s Paris—an era long-gone, whose problems we assume must have been surpassed as far as steam engines, at least for white people—but an ethereal, surreal version of it: one where children repair clockwork robots and gain entrée into the lives of famous filmmakers.

So how many children in Hugo’s situation could have been saved if the money that had gone toward them instead of the creation of a three-dimensional spectacle? The precise budget of the film has not been released, but according to the LA Times, it’s “under $150 million.” Meanwhile,  according to UNICEF, “Undernutrition contributes to five million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries.” Deaths. Not just so hungry they’re driven to steal croissants; there aren’t even any croissants within stealing distance. They just die.

With that amount of money, each now dead child could have had at least $25 in food. Given the fact that the average family in the developing world lives on $1.25 a day (and yes, that’s after conversion to purchasing power within the United States), I imagine $25 would go pretty far. If you reason that that still may not have saved their lives in the long run, then that’s like saying the station inspector would have been right to snatch back the croissant and milk Hugo stole and reason that he’d die soon anyway.

Oh, I know, this movie is a business venture just like any other, and everyone’s gotta make a living somehow, but that just passes the moral imperative onto the consumer. So far, people have spent, worldwide, around $53 million on seeing this spectacle. If every single one of those people had sacrificed a couple hours of amusement and donated the same amount to world hunger organizations, they could have saved actual children in the same exact predicament as the fictional character they would have watched.

Yes, I saw the movie myself, which makes me culpable, too. However, because I’m starting to feel that film and television are literally immoral in this world of mass starvation (an idea inspired by Peter Singer’s incredible must-read on the ethics of charity in The Life You Can Save), going forward, I may have to cut those things out of my life completely. And would that really be such a great loss? According to Hugo, it would be tragic. But humans survived just fine for thousands of years without film. In fact, for a great deal of our existence, the only form of story-telling was oral recitation (which, by the way, costs nothing to produce), and I doubt that modern humans are able to be happier than pre-historic hunter-gatherers due to access to motion pictures. And I’m sure that those in the anti-media backlash that has existed practically since the advent of the television would agree that I’d be better off getting outside, being with friends and family and reading books instead anyway.

Not according to Hugo, though. Hugo goes even beyond saying movies make you happy: it equates cinema with our dreams, with the pursuit of our very purpose in life. With that line of thinking, it becomes difficult and annoying to think about those real-life children starving out there instead. However, burying one’s head in escapism leads to the destruction of not just the dreams of children, but their very lives. The creators and spectators of this film, however, seem to think it was worth it.

(Btw, if you’re looking for a good charity to donate to, I highly recommend checking out Givewell.org, which analyzes charities in great depth to determine which the most effective are. The current #1 rated charity is Against Malaria Founation.)

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My mom, the anarchist

In an effort to combat my own “myside bias”, I decided that I should probably talk politics with a centrist (not a conservative; I figured that would be too unrealistic a jump to expect from myself) with a really open mind, for them to explain why they were a centrist to see if perhaps my socialist ideas were in fact misguided. I even posted a request for such a thing on Craigslist. I got three responses:

1. “So how do you feel about capitalism?”

I was like, ?????? I explained what socialists typically think of capitalism for his edification, but he was obviously incapable of providing the rigorous intellectual conversation I was looking for.

2. “Why are you trying to label people’s ideas, blah blah.”

Some people really have issues with “labels.” They sound like commitment-phobic “non-boyfriends” to me. Clearly, I would not get along with this person.

3. “You are looking for the impossible. Centrists are centrists because they’re either unintelligent or misinformed.”

I wrote back that I knew for in fact that this was not the case, since I knew several “passionately” centrist people who were very intelligent, and my mom was one of them. The only reason I hadn’t asked them to do this little interview with was because the friends had moved away and I already burdened my mom so much with my political rants that I thought I’d give her a break on this one.

But after the disappointing responses to my Craigslist post (I know, big surprise), I decided that I’d have to subject my mom to my questioning after all. I reasoned that, actually, I should have done a little more listening and a little less ranting while talking politics with her anyway, and this would be a great start. So I told her the whole saga.

She seemed a little wary, weary of my political discussions. I was like, “I’ll just ask you one question, I promise.”

Her: Okay.

Me: So why do you like capitalism?

Her: Well, I don’t know any other way, really.

Oh great, I thought. Maybe Craigslist guy #3 was actually right after all.

Her: You know what I think would be ideal? How the Native Americans lived. Everyone was provided before, but if someone didn’t want to go hunting that day, they just didn’t go hunting, women were pretty much just as respected as the men. I don’t know how it would work in modern society, but…

Me: …

Me: Mom, those were basically anarchist socialist societies.

Her: Hm.

Noam Chomsky once said that “Most people are anarchists.” I’m starting to wonder if he might actually be right.

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An open letter to my representatives re: SOPA and PIPA

Please feel free to use this to send to your representatives yourself! (Just remember to use PIPA for your Senators and SOPA for your congressmembers.)


As one of your constituents, I am adamantly opposed to PIPA/SOPA and urge you at least not to support it and ideally to do everything you can to stop it completely.

Here are a few quotes that explain the grave implications of this legislation and why so many of your constituents are against it:

“If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.”


“We’re often told that we shouldn’t worry so much because it’s only targeted at “rogue sites” and thus wouldn’t impact any legitimate sites…. And yet, as we’ve seen with the list of “pirate” sites that GroupM put together with help from the music and movie industries, their definition of a “pirate” site is expansive in the extreme. It included the Internet Archive, Vimeo, Soundcloud and a ton of blogs and news sites, including the famed Vibe magazine.

“…On Monster Cable’s own list of ‘rogue sites,’ eBay and Craigslist top the list…. Retailing giant Costco is on the list. As is Sears. There’s also PriceGrabber and ComputerShopper — popular legitimate sites for comparison shopping and computer purchases. These are not ‘rogue sites.'”


In the fight against piracy–both in intellectual property and stolen goods–this bill brings a nuclear weapon to a knife fight. It completely violates due process by shutting down entire sites with no questions asked and will destroy the perfectly innocent freedoms of the internet.

Please stop this horrific legislation from moving forward.

Thank you,
Jack Lindstrom

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