Egypt’s Protests and Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp in his office
Gene Sharp in his office

San Pedro Sula Newspapers, as the saying goes, write the rough drafts of history.  In Egypt is is fascinating to watch the 20-day process of rewriting, revising, and re-framing that is already taking place in papers like the New York Times.

The first drafts desperately wanted this to be a Facebook or Twitter revolution…young and hip, and that’s still the hope in the rewriting now, because that supposedly had helped drive the Tunisia overthrow only days before.  Then there was the effort to try and find the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nobel Laureate wherever possible, though it was hard to do, since neither were on the scene in many situations and seemed almost uncomfortable and disconnected from the masses on the streets.  Finally, as the plot thickened the real organizers, as we have discussed earlier, grabbed the press by the collar and had to break it down for them.

Now, luckily, every day we get to see behind the screen a little more clearly.

Maybe?

Today’s lead story purported to once again sand the story down.  Maybe the story is even accurate but I worry that we are getting spun again by someone somewhere behind the screen.

The line today was back to the Balkans and earlier overthrows from the state, particularly the role played Optor years ago.  There the Times had wanted to credit text messages and other communications devices as if all the tools were the same as the carpenters.

It was nice to see that Gene Sharp once again got to make an appearance.  He has been a relentless advocate and theorist of non-violence and one of the unparalleled heroes behind many of the most dramatic efforts to win popular voices a place against firmly entrenched dictatorships.  His has been thankless work, so when he is anywhere near a success, the world is frankly a better place.  When I read the Times piece on Optor, I tracked down Gene at his Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he not only agreed to speak at one of the first dialogues of the Organizers’ Forum, but sent me a copy of his books developing his theories on non-violent organizing, which I found fascinating.  That’s the good news.

The other piece of the news is the way that it is so important for victories to have a thousand fathers is that often Gene’s work and many of these efforts have been funded by various arms of the US government, like National Endowment for Democracy and others.  Given that Secretary of State Clinton had been busted for being off message, I wonder if others are lining up to make sure that they get some accolades for the next funding cycle.

So, good work Gene, and all props to the organizers and the Egyptian people, and we’ll have to look for the future reports as we find the real story in future drafts.

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Diplomats and Democracy Need Wikileaks: Tunisia Case Study!

Reuters+Tunisia+protesters+posters+480New Orleans As organizers we learn to accept the fact that even when our members don’t win exactly what they demanded, change often comes behind the lines of our demands, because of our active and aggressive pursuit of the issues:  a half-a-loaf cannot be won without a fight for the whole loaf.  But in the struggle for political change not every actor in the great drama of life can play the same role.  I would argue that what we are now witnessing in Tunisia is a case study of an emerging opportunity for popular change, maybe even an eventual people-driven democracy, that could not have been accomplished through diplomacy or persuasion of the contemporary powers of imperial America with our conflicted interests, but was triggered by new tools of internet transparency through the revealed cables by Wikileaks and its journalistic partners.

The State Department, Hilary Clinton, Eric Holder, and scores of others should properly continue to howl at the moon in protest at the affronts and embarrassments of Wikileaks, but they have to be celebrating the “people power” in Tunisia that was unleashed only by the release of their cables by Wikileaks and its buddies.  Lord knows they could never do this and have to suck up, lick legs, and apologize for every word of every cable, but they had better also be studying Tunisia and trying to figure out how to use the transparency tool in the future.  We need less of diplomats whispering to each other about corruption and the excesses of autocrats in fancy five star hotel barrooms and more of them figuring out how to slip the information and the solid goods of proof positive to activists with mad internet skills.

Some of the rallies were organized using Twitter and Facebook to get out the word.  That’s nice, but that’s not news.  The National Endowment for Democracy funded flash mobs and cell phone texting rallies for years all over Eastern Europe with abandon, even though in the name of leadership development or youth participation or whatever.  A filmmaker friend sent me a note about Facebook having moved to protect its users in Tunisia from discovery as the temperature heated up there in the wake of the Wikileaks revelations, which is something to LIKE!

The point is that everybody wants and might even be willing to do the right thing, if they have the facts and can move with the conviction of being morally right and therefore politically enabled.  We don’t need a George Bush set of wars for democracy, but we do need a politics and diplomacy that puts solid information in the hands of in-country organizers and activists which is even more powerful than bullets in the guns.

Nothing about the Wikileaks cables has yet shown that the State Department could find such real “freedom fighters” anymore than they could find their asses with two hands or keep their yaps shut in their messages back home to Foggy Bottom, but if they start really studying what is happening in the “Wikileaks Revolution” in Tunisia, maybe they could learn how to use some new tools, work with some different partners, and find a new way to advance the causes of democracy around the world from the bottom up for a change rather than from the top down one level, as the cables are showing over and over.

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