Half a world away from Cairo’s Tahrir Square, an ageing American intellectual shuffles around his cluttered terrace house in a working-class Boston neighbourhood. His name is Gene Sharp. White-haired and now in his mid-eighties, he grows orchids, he has yet to master the internet and he hardly seems like a dangerous man. But for the world’s dictators his ideas can be the catalyst for the end of their regime.
Few people outside the world of academia have ever heard his name, but his writings on nonviolent revolution (most notably ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’, a 93-page, 198-step guide to toppling dictators, available free for download in 40 languages) have inspired a new generation of protesters living under authoritarian regimes who yearn for democratic freedom.
His ideas have taken root in places as far apart as Burma, Thailand, Bosnia, Estonia, Iran, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and now in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East as old orders crumble amidst the protests of their disgruntled citizens.
This new film HOW TO START A REVOLUTION reveals how Gene’s ideas work in action. The film uses extended interviews with Gene himself, his assistant, his followers and leaders of revolutionary movements worldwide, as well as user-generated content from around the globe, to reveal the power of nonviolent revolution on the streets.
The film, from first-time director Ruaridh Arrow, profiles Gene and his followers on three continents and has been filmed over the last 18 months.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gene Sharp is one of the globe’s greatest thinkers on nonviolent revolutions. His work over the last 50 years has been groundbreaking.
His seminal book, ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ has been the standard manual for leaders of ‘colour’ revolutions around the globe – it lists 198 steps to nonviolent regime change. He has been called the ‘Machiavelli of nonviolent struggle’, and called much worse by the regimes who have fallen as a result of his work. His book is available free online and has been translated into over 40 languages.
His methods have been used in democratic struggles in the Balkans, throughout Eastern Europe in Georgia, the Ukraine, in Indonesia, Burma and Iran. In 2009 the Iranian government charged protesters with following Gene Sharp’s tactics; the Tehran Times reported: According to the indictment a number of the accused “confessed that the post-election unrest was preplanned and the plan was following the timetable of the velvet revolution to the extent that over 100 stages of the 198 steps of Gene Sharp were implemented in the foiled velvet revolution.”
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION profiles Gene Sharp and his ally Retired U.S. Army Colonel Robert Helvey, who has used Gene’s methods to train activists as far afield as Venezuela, Burma and Belgrade, together with a number of the key leaders of nonviolent revolutions around the world all of who testify to the power of Gene’s work in practice. The film climaxes as the current insurrection in Egypt testifies to the power of Gene’s work as the action as unfolds on the streets of Cairo. Throughout the film is illustrated with user-generated content of protesters and activists filmed on mobile phones in the street in Egypt, Tunisia, Iran, Serbia and elsewhere in the world.
First-hand testimony from key players the Serbian revolution in 2010 to activists involved in the abortive Iranian social unrest in 2010 reveals a decade of Gene Sharp’s work in action on the streets of Belgrade and Tehran.
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION is a portrait of how one man’s thinking has contributed to the liberation of millions of oppressed people living under some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world and how his work in direct action and civil disobedience continues to be used today to topple dictators using the sheer force of nonviolent people power.