At the historic Conway Hall, the birthplace of Suffrage rights, where the independence of India was settled after Gandhi’s pacifist campaign, outspoken Observer columnist Nick Cohen introduced a full house to what he described as ‘a Serbian agitator’.
Srdja Popovic, a leading figure in the Serbian uprising against Slovedan Milesovic, wrote a ‘Blueprint for Revolution’ in which he stressed the importance of coordination and comedy.
His group – CANVAS – travels from country to country, sharing strategies for effective social change to the Occupies in America and China and the successful movement against Mubarak in Egypt.
Laughter is the best medicine (for government)
In his group, his book, and his speech at Conway Hall, Popovic says the key to revolution is something he calls ‘laughterism’, a tactic that plays upon how seriously people in power take themselves.
The civil disobedience of the punk girl band Pussy Riot, for instance, has made he-man Putin look foolish.
And it’s the job of the proletariat, to speak appropriately archaic-like, to run the revolution. It’s the hobbits, the self-described Tokeinist said, who have a history of successfully bringing about change.
It’s only the mobilized masses that can make a difference, and more often than not it’s triggered by something far smaller, far sillier than the grandeur of civil rights abuse.
It’s dog poop, the campaign winning issue for the gay community in San Francisco.
Spontaneous or successful?
This example also illustrates the other key tenet of Popovic’s strategy: coordination.
He said: ‘There are two non-violent revolutions, spontaneous ones and successful ones.’
To succeed, there needs to be a calculus, and it needs to be flawlessly executed by lots of people who authentically believe in something together, be it gay rights of canine defecation.
But Cohen pointedly asked whether something like this idealistic revolution can happen in oppressive regimes like that of Assad in Syria.
Here, Popovic conceded. Within his movement there is a constant conversation over the conditions in which revolution can happen, and the more brutal autocrats might make it very difficult – not impossible, mind you.
They agreed that a free press – even a limited one – has been vital to social change, but the internet, when properly utilized, can do the trick just as well.
Occupy, the Tea Party and Podemus
They then moved onto Occupy, run by the upscale hobbits of New York and London who have an exceptional understanding of their society’s problems.
‘The thing is,’ Popovic said, ‘anger will only get you so far, you still need hope.’
The wannabe revolutionaries in the world’s financial capitals had no endgame, no vision for the end, and they were preaching to the converted.
From a tactics point of view, they were too singularly focused on their eponymous occupying. It became predictable; it didn’t impact business as usual, and – most importantly – meant only people with nothing to do during the day can participate.
The group’s ultimately damning decision not to be organized stood in contrast to the success of the Tea Party, which succeeded in changing the US political scene by picking leaders, picking battles, and declaring victories.
The progressive western revolution didn’t die with a whimper in Occupy though, it just moved to the austerity tragedies of Greece and Spain.
Podemus in Spain, for instance, gave itself tangible goals: unemployment and forced evictions.
It didn’t limit itself to the internet (it did all forms of media), it chose to be a decentralized grassroots group, and it brought in everyone – the rural people who are needed to break the camel’s back.