It’s amazing how few climate organizations have read Gene Sharp, therefore it’s also no wonder so many of them are so clueless. Nonviolent movements have a great history. They haven’t all been successful, but considering that virtually all of them were making things up as they went along, it’s astonishing how successful these movements have been.
Some 50 years ago Gene Sharp dedicated his life to studying nonviolent struggle groups, and he’s amassed an incredible body of knowledge regarding just how these groups have been able to succeed and what tactics they’ve used. His pamphlets have helped train not only nonviolent struggle groups, but also were instrumental in helping tiny Baltic states with histories of being occupied draft into their constitutions methods designed to make their nations more unconquerable through noncooperation.
Next summer in Turkey, 350.org will be training youth from around the world in how to successfully create a movement. In Sharp’s latest book, Self-Liberation (read it yourself here), he and his assistant Jamila Raquib note that “groups that received…lectures, courses and workshops have remained themselves unable to plan grand strategies for their conflicts. Those groups have usually been unable even to to prepare strategies for smaller limited campaigns intended to achieve modest goals.”
(I recognized I’ve been a little hard on Bill McKibben and 350.org of late, but we’re running out of time to SAVE THE WORLD, and if I see them moving too slowly or proposing things that people with experience say doesn’t work, I will call them on it. In McKibben’s Do the Math presentation, he includes a film clip of Van Jones saying McKibben's activists “did not come to Washington to pull the president down, but they did come to push him to be who he said he could be”. I’d say we Pissed-Off Polar Bears have the same attitude toward McKibben, we’re rooting for him, and pushing him as best as we can to be a more effective leader.)
The analysis in Self-Liberation continues “The training the trainers approach is highly questionable for advanced purposes…this approach trivializes the amount of knowledge needed by a person who attempts to plan strategies. It also assumes that the necessary knowledge and understanding can be successfully trained verbally twice and then applied in strategic planning.”
What does work? “Careful study of printed presentations and analyses…Printed materials can be studied slowly when needed, repeated, and reviewed…Significant study is required of selected printed studies of the operation of nonviolent struggle and the analyses of its potential…wide dissemination and study of the recommended public texts on nonviolent action is encouraged. Such wide dissemination and study can counteract any possible tendencies toward elitism…This alternative route to knowledge, if followed carefully, should eventually enable persons and groups to become capable of self-reliantly preparing a grand strategy for a major conflict.”
So buy your Sharp and read it, all of it. It’s thousands of pages and his writing doesn’t always jump off the page, but the ideas are sound and we’ve got a world to save, so do it!
In the coming weeks and months, I will share stuff I’ve highlighted from reading his canon, not as a substitute, but hopefully as inspiration for you to buy the books yourself!