The cult of ‘People Power’?

The BBC news page has a commontary by Mark Almond entitled The cult of 'People Power' .  He makes some good points, but doesn't seem to note that a non-violent revolution, even if it leaves many of the same corrupt lower-level pols in power, is significantly preferable to a violent revolution that likely does the same thing, but leaves far more people dead.

He notes:

Revolutions may sometimes be necessary but their
outcomes are always messy. The danger today is that when ordinary
people see the intrigue and backroom deals which accompany People Power
behind the scenes, they plunge from hope to despair. Far from
energising true democracy, People Power's "day after" of cynical
politics as usual causes the people who went on the streets in millions
to sink into apathy for years to come.

The need then is to keep the new leaders feet to the fire with social movements organized outside of the prevaling power centers.  Or perhaps to reject leaders altogether.  Hmmm… sounds a bit like anarchy.  Good.

Introducing Nonviolence to Children

Having a son has made me think about how we can introduce nonviolent action to children in terms they understand.  I have found very few books that help.

However, one book I particularly like is a book called Click, Clack, Moo.  It is a story about cows that learn to type and start making requests of Farmer Brown.  When Farmer Brown refuses to implement their requests, the cows go on strike.  The PBS Show Between the Lions, which is a great show that focuses on reading, has a version of it on-line.  The teaching unit is also on-line.

Here is more info about the book so you can find your own copy:

CLICK, CLACK, MOO: Cows That Type
by Doreen Cronin
Illustrated by Betsy Lewin
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0689832133

Gene Sharp Interview

War by other means

Boston's Gene Sharp learned how to turn nonviolence into a weapon – and helped quite literally change the world.

By Laura Secor  |  May 29, 2005

From the Boston Sunday Globe

A CURIOUS THING started happening in the formerly Communist world in
the year 2000. One after another, hated, repressive governments gave
way to mass movements of nonviolent refusal. First there was Serbia,
then Georgia, then Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. It was as if a virus
were spreading – one that led long abused populaces to wake up to their
own power, which they could withhold from authorities to stunning
effect.

But it wasn't a virus. Among other things, it was an 88-page booklet
by a Boston scholar named Gene Sharp, which has circulated in local
translation at the site of every one of these nonviolent democratic
revolutions.

Called ''From Dictatorship to Democracy," Sharp's booklet lays out a
theory of power that explains the mechanisms of dictatorship and their
weaknesses. It also details the nuts and bolts of nonviolent
resistance: which tools to use in order to undermine a regime's sources
of power, how to sustain discipline in the face of violent response,
and the crucial importance of entering such struggle as one would a
military campaign, with a strategic plan. Tactics include
demonstrations and posters, strikes and sit-ins, boycotts and campaigns
of non-cooperation. Some of these techniques work to paralyze the
society and thus convince rulers that they cannot govern without
budging on the issues at stake – or that they cannot govern at all.

Sharp, now in his late 70s, has a gentle manner and an air of humility
before a vast and complex world in which his ideas have attained
powerful purchase. Since he began his work more than 50 years ago, he
has essentially invented the study of nonviolent struggle. In 1983, he
founded both a program on the subject at Harvard and the Albert
Einstein Institution, which focuses, as he puts it, ''not on pacifism,
not on any mahatma nonsense, but on pragmatic nonviolent struggle." His
books – he has written some 13 of them, including the just-published
''Waging Nonviolent Struggle" – are written almost like textbooks. They
betray no literary pretension; the language is clear but abstract, and
they are designed to be read across cultures.

Even as Sharp's work reaches the height of its influence, the Albert
Einstein Institution, which publishes educational materials, hosts
workshops abroad at the request of foreign activists, and painstakingly
manages and vets the translations of ''From Dictatorship to Democracy,"
has run out of funding and may be forced to close its doors in
September. The staff has already been reduced from four to two
employees, including Sharp.

I caught up with Sharp by telephone to his office last week.

IDEAS: How did you come to this subject?

SHARP: I grew into this topic in the very late 40s and
early 50s. The Second World War was just over, and the Holocaust was
new information. Stalin was still in Russia. There was European
colonialism, racial discrimination in the United States, and the threat
of war with nuclear weapons. And there had to be some better way. And
so I began learning about nonviolent resistance. The literature was
terrible, but the more I read the more I realized there was lots of
substance here – and that we really didn't know much about it. And so
bit by bit, I moved into the field, starting with a heavy study of
Gandhi, not as a mahatma but as a political strategist. I grew
increasingly interested in figuring out what made this kind of
technique succeed or fail, and how it could be made more effective.

Later on I lived in Norway, where I met people who had taken part in
the resistance during the Nazi occupation. One of the big insights I
gleaned was that the pacifist position, which holds that you can just
renounce violence, doesn't work. But if you don't have a realistic
alternative, people will either capitulate in passive submission or
they'll turn to the only kind of struggle they think is available,
which is war and violence.

IDEAS: Which ideas did you modify as you witnessed history?

SHARP: At one stage I shared the view that it's
necessary to have both the religious and the moral belief and the
knowledge of the technique. And later on I realized that was not
necessary at all. You could take only a political approach, only a
pragmatic approach. And in many of the historical cases, that was
indeed what happened.

IDEAS: Where have you seen your theories in action?

SHARP: We did some of them ourselves in very simple
ways as undergraduates, at lunch counter sit-ins in Columbus, Ohio. I
was in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania when their independence-minded
governments were trying to exit the Soviet Union. I met with government
leaders in all three countries, and they drew heavily on a book of mine
that we then had the English page proofs of, called ''Civilian-Based
Defense." I was also in Tiananmen Square with a friend of mine.

IDEAS: What do you think went wrong at Tiananmen?

SHARP: They had no plan, no strategy. It was more or
less an accidental movement that then attracted great support. People
kept flooding into the scene, and once they got there the people who
had been leading it were sort of flooded out. Even after there'd been a
decision to evacuate the square, new people decided to stay on because
they hadn't had a chance to demonstrate yet. But they didn't have a
plan.

People also really didn't understand the essential importance of
withdrawing support from the system. We heard stories when we were
there of civil servants within the government buildings throwing money
out the windows for the resisters. But they didn't go on strike. And
there were reports that some [soldiers] refused to shoot
[demonstraters]. If that had happened on a large scale, it would've
done it.

I was there that night. We'd just been to dinner and were walking back
to the hotel across Tiananmen Square as the troops and the armored
personnel carriers came in. We were inclined to sort of hide around the
corner to look and see what was going on, but the local Chinese people
scurried us out of there, and I guess that's why we're alive today.
There was a lot of killing. It was really terrible.

IDEAS: How did ''From Dictator to Democracy" come into being?

SHARP: That booklet was originally written in 1983, at
the request of a Burmese democratic exile who was living in Bangkok and
editing an exile newsletter. It drew on previous work I had done,
including on weaknesses of dictatorships and the nature of power.

The booklet was only written for the Burmese, but though I had been
illegally in Burma two or three times in the area held by some of the
resistance groups and ethnic minorities, I didn't really know Burma.
You have to be very careful in writing about applying these theories to
a country you don't really know. You can really mess people up.

IDEAS: The manual has been translated into Russian, Farsi, Chinese, Arabic, and other languages. Have you arranged these translations?

SHARP: They come as requests from activists within the
countries. I didn't know at the beginning, but translations are
dangerous. People may not really understand the phenomenon. They may
not really know the equivalent terms in their own language, because the
terms maybe don't exist.

IDEAS: I'm curious what you think about the potential use of training in this technique as a foreign policy tool by the US government.

SHARP: That's dangerous. What the government can do is provide money. And it doesn't.

IDEAS: The Albert Einstein Institution's president,
Robert Helvey, led a workshop in Budapest for Serbian students prior to
the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic. Where else have you held workshops?

SHARP: I did one about three years ago for
Belarussians that had to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania. We did
short-term things for Cuban exiles in Miami. It's been done for
Venezuelans, and for Zimbabwe.

IDEAS: In your book there is a chapter on something
you call political jujitsu, in which a regime uses violence against
nonviolent resistance, and this backfires, creating deeper and more
widespread defiance.

SHARP: When I was starting out this study the belief
was, oh, this is fine for the Indians, they're all Hindus, they all
believe in reincarnation so it doesn't make any difference if they get
killed. Literally! But if you look at the Russian 1905 revolution, it's
the same thing.

Political jujitsu will not work if the people get scared, if they don't
know what to do, or if they don't understand that it's necessary to
hold their ground and risk some danger. Guerilla warfare has huge
civilian casualty rates. Huge. And yet Che Guevara didn't abandon
guerilla warfare because people were getting killed. The same is true
in conventional war, of course. But then they say if you get killed in
nonviolent struggle, then nonviolent struggle has failed. Some people
don't understand what they're doing and they say oh, we have to go over
to violence.

IDEAS: Of course, nonviolent movements don't
necessarily produce democracies. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was by
and large nonviolent.

SHARP: Yes, but they didn't plan for the transition,
and so various people who had their own ideas of what the new regime
should be took over. Now we have this other booklet on the anti-coup,
or how to block seizures of power and executive usurpations. That time
after a successful nonviolent struggle is very dangerous.

Our work has had major influence in Iran, except that it hasn't got a
movement quite succeeding yet. ''From Dictatorship to Democracy" is in
Farsi on our website. The translation was all done inside Iran. That's
dangerous, and people were gutsy enough to do it. But the booklet has
been declared illegal to circulate in Iran. Still, the knowledge is
there, and it fits into Persian history, like in the Constitutional
Revolution of 1906 and then more recently in the struggle against the
shah.

IDEAS: Is there any new insight that has jumped out at you from this recent spate of nonviolent dissolutions of governments?

SHARP: I think what is new is the recognition that
this technique can be learned, and that knowledge about it can be
shared to make the attempt to use it more frequent and more successful.
And I think that's one reason this particular booklet keeps spreading.

Laura Secor is a writer living in New York.

What I learned from our first play test

Even before the game, we were already talking about the how things would play out.  Ed and Ed, both old hats at miniature wargaming, pointed out that since the Palestinians would not use violence, the commander of the initial Israeli company would not be distracted if the Palestinians marched to the settlement, thus causing a serious problem if they attacked the settlers/colonists, or marched to the checkpoint, thus cutting off the Israeli's retreat.

The game tended to play out as such:

  1. The Israelis advance;
  2. The Palestinians concentrate on the bulldozer and mechanized infantry,and stop them;
  3. The Israelis push forward dispersing some of the Palestinians or arrest some of the Palestinians clearing the way;
  4. The Israelis request to increase their level of violence, but failed everytime due to the presence of the two media teams;
  5. Reinforcements arrive and help push forward to the houses and the Mosque.

The Israelis got to the houses after around three hours of game time.  It is likely that they would have demolished at least some of the houses in the remaining six turns if we continued the game.

The after action report

Here are some of the observations on areas I need to modify the rules:

  • Need to model command and control on both sides better.  Perhaps use some form of actions system.
  • The escalation system was not very realistic.  Given past actions, it is likely that the Israelis would have escalated sooner to at least tear gas and rubber bullets.  There needs to be either a flow chart/if-then system (is progressing to objective, # of unshaken units left) or make it easier to escalate at the lower levels of violence.  Another thing would be to subtract a lower value for each media stand up to a certain limit.
  • There is a need to think about what different tactics would be used and how they would play out.  The examples given generally ones of police/military formations such a wedges, etc.
  • There should be a mechanism for the nonviolent actionists to trigger a violent response on the part of police/military forces.  Well someway besides using violence.  Gandhi organized actions that did this and so should the game.
  • There is a need for the nonviolent player to dedicate forces to act as monitors to keep the actionists nonviolent or to deal with violent resistance groups who wish to use the nonviolent resistance group as cover.  Gene Sharp, in his The Politics of Nonviolent Action series notes such a need for monitors.  Likely, the need for monitors would be less as the skill level of the actionist increases.
  • The crowd action and the dissuading/dispersing mechanics need to be simplified.  Half an hour to play a turn is too long.
  • While, initially, the nonviolent actionists could be dispersed, they came back into play immediately on the next turn and the Israelis did not make progress.  This appeared too easy to even the nonviolent actionist players and we added a rule that dispersed stands could only be placed back on the board at a rally point or within the town.
  • The nonviolent actionists concentrated on certain units, namely the mechanised infantry and the bulldozers.  The rules tried to model them as a group, but aided such tactical concentration.  There is likely a need to make it easier to dissuade, but limit the number of nonviolent actionists who can concentrate on any one stand.
  • Need to add rules for maintaining nonviolent discipline.
  • Arresting nonviolent actionists proved to be one of the more effective tactics the Israelis had.  It seems reasonable that each military stand can watch three nonviolent actionists stands, but that police could watch more, perhaps up to six.  However, there needs to be a limit on the number of armored vehicles that can be used to watch prisoners.

The turn sequence

It became clear pretty early on that the turn sequence was overly complex and we modified it by removing the Defensive movement and conflict phases and just had a movement phase and a conflict phase.  The movement phase changed to:

  1. Both sides move units or place hold markers
  2. Move units that have hold markers a half move
  3. Reveal any units that are in sight of an opposing unit

However, even this was not sufficient as having both sides move at the same time would allow a players to react during step 1.

Actions

The Eds suggested that an action point system would work better.  The number of actions would be based on the number of leaders that each group has.  The more actions the more flexibility for the commander.  Such a system would better model a commander's possible decisions.

Possible actions:

  • Move
  • Disperse
  • Breech (?)
  • Rally
  • Block (?)
  • Keep Peach/Monitor
  • Swarm (?)
  • Bring in Reinforcements
  • Escalate Violence
  • Build barricade

Action points would allow the introduction of different leader personalities (passive or firebrand) that could effect which leader gets which task and, possibly, how effective they are at carrying it out.  Other action point systems tend to be a UGO/IGO system, and this slows down play in a multiuser system.  One way around this is to have each side place all of their actions at once with the offensive side going first and the defensive side going second.

Sighting

The sighting rules just tended to get in the way.  Changing to a smaller scale (say 1 inch = 25 feet) makes the sighting rules less necessary.

Suggested Scenario Changes

I purposefully limited the level of violence that the Israelis could use.  They would likely at least start with the ability to use tear gas. 

Others suggested that replacing one of the tank platoons with a border guard platoon would help them since it would give them an increased capability to use arrest the nonviolent actionists.  Additional tanks could be an escalation option.

One thing I forgot

One suggestion I forgot to mention is that as the nonviolent actionists' morale goes down, more reinforcements would arrive, until at some point the morale does down enough that supporters start to leave.

First “With Weapons of Will” Game

I have been thinking about writing a miniatures game that would simulate civilians nonviolently resisting military or police power since 1999. The Battle of Seattle further heightened my interest, but other events over the last few years prevented me from pursuing this game.

In 2004, I decided to try my hand at writing such a game, and finding a manufacturer of 6mm figures that could be used as nonviolent protesters (rioters actually) from Irregular Miniatures only pushed me on.

After several drafts of my game, With Weapons of Will , and with the figures I need painted, I got four folks together to try out the rules.

The scenario is centered on the Palestinian town of A’nata which is being separated from other parts of the West Bank by the Separation Wall. In reality, several houses and a mosque were destroyed to make way for this wall. In this scenario, the Israeli military sends in one company of soldiers and an armored bulldozer to demolish the structures. The Palestinian nonviolent resisters aim to stop them.

A full victory would require the nonviolent protesters to prevent the Israeli bulldozers from destroying the houses and the mosque in 12 turns (6 hours of game time). A partial victory would result if even one house was not demolished. A bulldozer would destroy a house if left to do so for a turn. The mosque would take three turns.

You can find maps of the area here and photos of the game are here. There is a bit of commentary on the progress of the game in the pictures

I’ll list the players’ observations on the rules in another post

For those interested in such details, the Israeli vehicles are GHQ. The houses are either painted monopoly houses or hand built houses provided one of the players. The figures are all from Irregular Miniatures as are the armored bulldozers.

My thanks to Ed for providing a whole bunch of stuff including the hills, trees, houses and the ambulance.

The musings of Jamie O'Keefe: pirate party activist, geek, father and gamer