Reading a Gene Sharp Book is a Go to Jail Card in Angola


the book club members at sentencing

New Orleans   Many complain that people just don’t read much anymore. Or, at least they don’t read books much. Monitoring devices that people use to read electronic books indicate that men read about 50 to 80 pages of books that they buy and begin to read and women read about 100 pages before abandoning the pursuit for whatever reason.

Other folks might not be reading as much because they lack access, either digitally (geez, am I beating this drum again, and again, and again) or through libraries and the like. And, then there are places like Angola in southwestern Africa along the Atlantic Ocean where reading could be a “Go to Jail” free card. Recently, a group of 17 political activists known as the Luanda Book Club received prison sentences in Angola accusing them of trying to overthrow the government because they were reading and discussing Gene Sharp’s book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, about nonviolence resistance to repressive regimes.

Were they really trying to overthrow the government? I doubt it. Were they trying to make change in Angola? I would bet on it. Was this a danger to the government? Well, that’s an interesting question, but the answer is only if you believe – and many conservatives do for example – that any organization of people involved in – or even thinking about — nonviolent, direct action is a danger to governments, and, if that’s what you believe, then, yes, certainly all organizers and all peoples’ organizations inherently put governments at risk through their thoughts and deeds.

Gene Sharp was a guest a decade ago at an Organizers’ Forum dialogue on tactics and strategy. He later honored me by sending me a half-dozen of his books, and I was grateful to receive them. Sharp, based in Boston is 88 years old now, and in his books, articles, and lectures as well as through his Albert Einstein Institute, he has made a fundamental argument that no government can exist, no matter how allegedly democratic or determinedly autocratic, without a high level of consensus from its subjects. The lesson for organizers, activists, and readers like our friends in Angola, is that if you organize and act collectively to reshape or withdraw that consensus, then you have the opportunity to create change. In some situations this change could be revolutionary.

For Sharp a key criteria for such change is founded on nonviolent civil disobedience. In ACORN advanced training sessions we sometimes would distribute and discuss a list that Sharp developed some years ago of one-hundred possible nonviolent tactics. We would ask organizers after reading and discussing the list to see what they might add. The list would quickly lengthen. Were we looking at Sharp’s list today in the current rage of social media, the list would be longer yet.

Undoubtedly, an injustice is being done to the seventeen activists preparing for their prison sentences in Angola, but a simple protest in solidarity might be as easy as reading one of Gene’s books or even taking a minute and making your own list of nonviolent actions that might make sense and work in these days and times.


Luaty Beirão aka Ikonoklasta was one of those sentenced.  Video of Ikonklasta’s Nós e os Outros