Dilemma Actions: Wild and Powerless Tactics?

Organizing Protests

blue bucketeNew Orleans Gene Sharp, the nonviolence expert, shared a list with that we maintain on the Organizers’ Forum website (www.organziersforum.org) of effective nonviolent tactics useful in authoritarian regimes.  Judging from an excellent and encouraging piece in the New York Times by Ellen Barry, Gene may have to update the list, because people are coming up with some interesting tactical expressions.

The additions to the list found in Barry’s article would include the following:

  • Belarus:  Phones set to simultaneously beep, buzz, and play music
  • Belarus:  Clapping protests – regular gatherings that then clap.
  • Russia:  “Blue Buckets” – using beach toys affixed to cars and bodies to protest special driving privileges to the elite
  • Azerbaijan:   Flash mobs where people converge and then folk dance or sword fight
  • Ukraine:  Young women of the group Femen protests pension reform and other issues by meeting in public in a different time of “flash mob” by baring their bosoms.

According to Barry, the profs call these “dilemma actions” and many of the governments have absolutely no sense of humor about such actions and totally understand they threaten the regime:

“Social scientists refer to these as “dilemma actions,” because they force the authorities to choose between two equally distasteful alternatives: to stand back and allow such activities to continue, taking the risk that they will build into something significant; or to impose harsh punishment on people who are engaged in a seemingly benign activity.

The latter route can result in a public backlash, as when Azerbaijan imposed two-year prison sentences on the so-called donkey bloggers, or when Russian authorities prosecuted Voina, a radical art collective best known for painting a 210-foot penis on a St. Petersburg drawbridge.

Belarus has opted to take a hard line. About 1,830 people have been detained by the police since June, when a small group of activists living in exile initiated the clapping protests, said Tatyana Revyako, who works for Vyasna, a human rights group. Upward of 500 people have received sentences of 5 to 15 days, she said.”

Are they effective?  Have they built a mass base?  Did refusing to move to the back of the bus or leave a lunch counter make a difference?

The real point is that all of this is better than nothing, and the more protest of any kind, the more the promise of power and change in the future.