Blog Archives

Q&A With Leonardo Maccari

by Noah Simon | September 4, 2014

(Screenshot of

(Screenshot of

Leonardo Maccari is an activist and strong advocate of open-source, network neutrality, and community networks. Currently, Maccari is designing “RiseApp”- a mobile application that would allow activists to share and disseminate content in order to document government repression during demonstrations. The content would be shared using the Tor Browser, widely regarded as a highly secure tool for anonymous browsing, and direct mobile-to-mobile communications.

Maccari is a computer scientist residing in Italy who holds a Ph.D. in wireless network security.

1. What inspired you to create this application? How did you come up with the idea?

I’m a researcher and my field of activity is wireless distributed networks. I’m also an activist of an Italian wireless community network ( Mixing these two things, I had the idea of designing an application that can help people that are carrying out a protest by using cryptography and direct wireless communications.

The CHEST Project (  which aims to enable entrepreneurs to address key issues through social innoviation- gave me a chance to focus on the application. Right now I have passed the first phase of the CHEST challenge, which will give me a greater chance of receiving funds to fully develop the application.

2. In addition to using this application, what are some ways in which activists can successfully document government repression?

I think they have to use their own infrastructure for communicating in order to protect their privacy as much as possible, and then try to broadcast their messages on public social networks. But the first priority should be to protect their safety and independence.

3. Do you believe that some governments with powerful cyber capabilities will be able to compromise this application in some way? Will governments be able to monitor the use of the app as they monitor social networks?

Any technology, with enough resources can be hacked. The idea behind this app is to use TOR. TOR is the only network that so far has resisted any large-scale attempt to break its security. Direct wireless communications are intrinsically decentralized and harder to intercept than communication over the Internet.

4. Do you expect any legal obstacles in trying to provide the app?

This is a good question, but I don’t have a specific answer since the application would be designed to be used in many different contexts, with different legal schemes. For instance, I do not know any law that forbids the use of TOR in any European country, but it may well be that TOR is forbidden in some other places.

5.  Is there any other information you would like to provide?

I hope this application will be completed, that is, I will succeed in the second run of funding.

More information about the project for RiseApp can be found here.

The Struggle for Universal Suffrage in Hong Kong

by Noah Simon | July 9, 2014

Hong Kong Activists Stage a Sit-in on July 2 (Screenshot from YouTube)

Hong Kong Activists Stage a Sit-in on July 2 (Screenshot from YouTube).

Civic groups and citizens of Hong Kong struggling for universal suffrage have begun to heighten their campaign.

On July 3, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers staged a mass walkout from a parliament session against the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, accusing him of “willful ignorance of the people’s call for real democracy”. Many lawmakers held banners and demanded Leung’s resignation.

One day earlier, police arrested over 500 protesters who staged a sit-in following the city’s annual pro-democracy rally. Police sprayed fire extinguishers at protesters and forcibly removed them from the ground. Demonstrators were arrested for illegal assembly, and for obstructing police officers.

The rally drew one of the largest crowds in the city’s history. An estimated 510,000 participated in the rally, which marks the year Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred back to China from Great Britain in 1997.

These events follow a recent unofficial referendum held by the group “Occupy Central”, in which roughly 800,000 citizens expressed their support for the public nomination of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

In earlier statements, Occupy Central’s leaders Dr. Benny Tai, Professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming estimated around 10,000 possible participants would occupy Hong Kong’s central business district. Given the massive turnout for the pro-democracy rally and the unofficial referendum, the number of potential sit-in participants could greatly exceed 10,000.

Anticipating the Shut Down of Hong Kong

Many in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China fear economic and security repercussions in the event of a shut down. The Global Times, a Beijing newspaper, claims that Hong Kong could turn into Ukraine or Thailand if Occupy Central supporters flood the business district.

Benny Tai, the founder of the movement, does not believe Occupy Central poses a catastrophic threat to the economy. In terms of economic repercussions, Tai compares a city shut down to a typhoon. Tai says, “The whole city may have to be closed down. There would be maybe one day people would not go to work. That would not be really substantial. We have many typhoons every year”.

With over 500 arrested during the pro-democracy rally on July 1, more arrests could be imminent if Occupy Central decides to shut down Hong Kong’s business hub. Chan Kin-man, another leader of the Occupy movement, has already made it clear that supporters should not resist arrest. Chan says, “We will line up and march to the police station to surrender. We are not going to challenge [the] rule of law. We will accept the punishment”.

Domestic and International Opposition

Several firms have spoken out against a potential city shut down. The world’s largest four accounting firms ran a newspaper ad publicizing their concern about Occupy Central.

Recently, HSBC told investors to sell stock of Hong Kong companies because of the planned protest. In their quarterly report, HSBC analysts wrote Occupy Central “could sour relations with China and may hurt the economy”.

In June, “Silent Majority”, a pro-Beijing group based in Hong Kong, published a video depicting complete chaos in the event of a Hong Kong shut down.

What Comes Next

Occupy Central has said a possible occupation of the city’s central business district would take place in late August when Beijing will release a framework for the 2017 Chief Executive election.

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More information on Occupy Central’s campaign for universal suffrage in Hong Kong can be read here.

The Use of Nonviolent Action in Response to Tragedies

by Noah Simon | May 26, 2014

Nigerian Women March Against Boko Haram Violence

Nigerian Women March Against Boko Haram Violence (Wikimedia Commons)

Following several national disasters and tragedies in recent months, citizens have used nonviolent action to convey an array of grievances towards governments. Many have staged demonstrations, sit-ins, marches, and strikes to denounce government inaction, corruption, and lack of transparency. Often times, the public responses that follow these tragedies serve as platforms for citizens to promote and advance existing struggles against governments.

Turks Gather in the Wake of the Soma Mine Accident

Public demonstrations were organized immediately after a mine explosion in western Turkey that killed 301 people on May 13.

Students planned a march to the Energy Ministry in Ankara to denounce the Soma mine disaster on May 14. However, police fired tear gas and water cannons at a group of 800 students, preventing them from leaving their campus. A sit-in was also held in the garden of the Soma Coal mining company.

In a Taksim metro stop, a group of youth lay on the ground to symbolize the dead.

On May 14, an angry crowd heckled and booed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during his visit to Soma. During this visit Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to Erdogan, kicked a protester who was being held down by two soldiers. The incident was photographed and made headlines around the world.

On May 15, several unions and organizations staged a one-day strike. Many union members believe that the privatization of the mining sector in Turkey led to dangerous working conditions, claiming that mining companies are prioritizing profits over workers’ safety.

A statement from Amnesty International said that accident could have been averted, and that Turkey was “playing with people’s lives” as it failed to adequately investigate past work-related accidents.

On May 21, workers and families staged a sit-in outside of the courthouse in Soma asking for an investigation into security measures at mining sites. For several days, production at some mines owned by Soma Coal Mining Company stopped. Some workers have now returned as they cannot endure further days without collecting paychecks.

Nigerians Reprimand Their Government After Kidnappings

Before the April kidnappings of over 300 of girls at a school in Chibok that drew immense media coverage, citizens in Nigeria were already demonstrating to raise awareness about violence carried out by Boko Haram. On March 6, women held a “mother of all protests” demonstration in Lagos, Abuja, and several other cities following a Boko Haram attack in Yobe.

A group called Women Arise, led by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, an “activist and social crusader”, organized the demonstration.

Following the April 14 kidnappings, citizens and family members demonstrated daily, calling for greater government effort to return the girls safely.

Many protesters directed their anger at the government inaction after the kidnappings.

On May 4, Patience Jonathan, the First Lady of Nigeria allegedly ordered the arrest of two women who had organized demonstrations in Chibok. The women were released the following day, but the arrests have led to further government criticism and continued demonstrations.

On May 14, demonstrators marched in Lagos to mark the one-month anniversary since the girls were kidnapped.

While the search continues for the missing girls, demonstrations continue. On May 22, the Nigerian Union of Teachers closed schools across the country to allow teachers to participate in nationwide rallies.

South Korean Families Seek Justice After Sewol Ferry Sinking

On May 9, relatives of the passengers aboard a ferry that sank last month organized a sit-in outside of the president’s office in Seoul. Many parents held portraits of the children they lost in the disaster. Police blocked the demonstrators, preventing them from entering the presidential building. Over 200 were arrested for trying to reach the presidential office.

The relatives campaigned for justice to be brought for those responsible, as well as an explanation for what they believed were inexcusable delays during the initial rescue attempts.

President Park Guen-hye addressed some of these issues during an address on May 18. The president vowed to disband the Coast Guard, and instead use a different agency in an effort to carry out rescue operations more swiftly.

President Park also vowed to fight against poor safety standards that result from corrupt government and business regulations. Investigators highlighted this corruption culture as a cause of the disaster, citing that the Korean Shipping Association ruled the ferry to be safe despite the fact it was overloaded with cargo.

Families March to the Malaysian Embassy in Anger During the Search for Flight MH370

In China, families of the Malaysia airlines flight passengers organized demonstrations during the height of the search for the missing aircraft.

On March 25, the relatives of flight MH370 passengers marched in Beijing to the Malaysian embassy. They accused the Malaysian government of withholding information about the flight, and demanded proof that it crashed in the Indian Ocean.

Police stopped a group of buses transporting protesters, but the protesters got out and pushed their way through police lines. Protesters threw water bottles at the embassy and tried to storm the building. Dozens were holding banners demanding truth from the Malaysian government.

The BBC called it “a very rare street protest in Beijing”. The demonstration was particularly noteworthy because street demonstrations are illegal in China. However, the demonstration was carried out with impunity.

On May 20, Inmarsat, a global satellite communications company, published records of the missing flight. The company decided to release the information publicly after persistent pressure from the families of the MH370 passengers.

Taiwanese Students End Three-Week Occupation of Parliament

by Noah Simon | April 15, 2014

Taiwanese Students Occupying the Parliament Building

Taiwanese Students Occupying the Parliament Building. (Wikimedia Commons)

On April 10, students in Taipei ended their occupation of the parliament building after Taiwan Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng assured them that one of their main demands will be met: a review of the controversial Cross-Straits Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA) will be delayed until an oversight law is enacted that would allow greater transparency over future negotiations and agreements with China.

Chen Wei-ting, a prominent student leader during the campaign, emphasized that their campaign is not over, saying “it’s time for us to return this movement to broader Taiwan society, where we will continue the struggle”.

On April 1, legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan staged a sit-in to block the review of the trade pact reached with China. DPP lawmakers are now working to reach an agreement with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on proposals for the oversight bill. Many of the students who protested support a particular oversight law that would include detailed supervision by the Taiwanese public.

A mass rally on March 30 was held in Taipei after student leaders and activists rejected talks with President Ma Ying-jeou. Student leader Lin Fei-fan explained that the president failed to specify a fixed time or date for the talks, and did not agree to hold the meeting in a public venue.

Police estimated there were roughly 100,000 participants at this rally, but organizers claim there were around 500,000 in attendance. While the number is most likely somewhere in between, it is believed to be the largest demonstration in Taiwanese history.

Protesters carried signs reading “defend democracy, withdraw the trade deal”. Many protesters wore black shirts and yellow headbands to symbolize their struggle, which was dubbed “The Sunflower Movement”.

The movement first began on March 18, when students occupied the parliament building in opposition to the trade pact that would increase economic ties between Beijing and Taiwan. The students say the CSSTA was approved undemocratically because it was forced through a committee in under 30 seconds. Opponents of the pact are also worried that the deal will increase Beijing’s influence over Taiwan, as well as threaten small and medium sized businesses.

It is evident that the occupation of the parliament building required substantial planning. Students used Google drive and Google maps to coordinate where materials were needed, who could supply them, and when they would be delivered. As a result, students were able to gather a large amount of food, water, and medical supplies in addition to laptops, computers, and tablets to maintain their presence online.

Inside the building, protesters piled up large amounts of chairs and tied them together to block entrances, and walls were decorated with pictures of historic democracy activists in Taiwan.

The students went to great lengths to publicize their campaign to international audiences. Live streams of the occupation from within the parliament building were broadcast in English. Some students even answered questions from internet users around the world regarding the purpose of their protest. In addition, students raised money to advertise their campaign in the New York Times, where they informed international audiences about their struggle.

The occupation of the parliament building was unprecedented in Taiwanese history. Albert Lin, a Taiwanese activist, believes that the younger generation realizes this particular case will impact the political future of Taiwan. Lin also believes that the younger generation has a more unified vision, a greater sense of urgency, and that international occupy movements also influenced their recent actions.

While Taiwanese students have achieved one of their main demands, President Ma has insisted that the trade pact will not be cancelled.

Chen Wei-ting, a ‘co-organizer of the movement’, said, “Our next step is to start pressuring local legislators, one at a time, to support our demands”. It is not yet clear what other actions students may take in their campaign to pressure the government to cancel the trade pact with China.


Appeal Letter

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PO Box 455

East Boston, MA 02128 USA

Dear friends,

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Albert Einstein Institution. Since our founding, we have made important progress in our mission to advance the study and use of nonviolent action in conflict. Diverse groups around the world are increasingly recognizing nonviolent action as a powerful means of struggle. However, significant challenges remain. The need for the development and availability of high-quality resources on nonviolent struggle continues and is growing.

In response to increased demand, we have taken a number of important steps to expand our programs and activities. These steps include the creation of a new Research Program, the launch of a re-designed website, contact with new groups requesting our work, further translations of our materials, and the publication of a new book, How Nonviolent Struggle Works.

We have outlined these developments in the enclosed newsletter which is available by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.

Together, we can increase our understanding of realistic alternatives to war and violence and spread this powerful knowledge to people struggling for their democratic rights and freedoms. Your support is critical to the continuation and expansion of our work.

Many thanks and best wishes,

Jamila Raqib, Executive Director

Read Full Newsletter Here

P.S. For your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy of the recently published How Nonviolent Struggle Works by Gene Sharp.

Welcome to the new website

JamailaWe are very pleased to welcome you to our new website!

For more than 30 years, the Albert Einstein Institution’s mission has been to make our resources  available to groups preparing or engaged in nonviolent struggles. 10 years ago, we launched a website featuring these publications.

Since then, the website has served as a useful tool in making available our resources and writings and has been accessed countless times by thousands of diverse individuals and groups from almost every country in the world.

Our new site has been designed to allow easier access to publications and information about nonviolent struggle in 41 languages. These translations are a crucial part of sharing our work and are now carefully organized to facilitate access.

Our new site is also better integrated with our research program, which we have established to monitor and report about nonviolent resistance around the world.

We hope that this information will be useful to resistance groups, academics, and students, media organizations, policy-makers, along with others, and that it will impact how knowledge of nonviolent struggle is understood and transmitted to the people who rely on this information to inform their own activities.

The site also provides information about the mission, history, staff, board, and programs of the Institution.

We will continue to add content to the site regularly so please check back for updates.

We welcome your feedback about our site and hope that you find it helpful in expanding your understanding of strategic nonviolent struggle.

Best wishes on behalf of Gene Sharp and all of our staff here,

Jamila Raqib

Executive Director, Albert Einstein Institution

Gene Sharp Receives Champion of Peace Award

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 17.34.41Jamila Raqib received the Salem State University, Champion of Peace Award on behalf of Gene Sharp on International Peace Day, Friday 21st September.

The citation reads, “Salem State University honors Gene Sharp, For your faith in nonviolent struggle and your forceful authoriship which offer truly creative pathways to peace. The award was presented by Professor Hope of Salem University, Peace Studies Department.


How to Start a Revolution iPad and iTunes

htsar_title_cHow to Start a Revolution is a multi award winning documentary following the work of 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Gene Sharp, the world’s foremost expert on nonviolent action. BAFTA award-winning director Ruaridh Arrow follows the use of Gene Sharp’s work by democracy activists from the streets of Serbia and the jungles of Burma to Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring.

The film is now available on  iTunes and a new multimedia app as well as DVD (NTSC for US/Canada and South America and PAL for Europe/Rest of World) or you can play on Vimeo.


The groundbreaking app is a touch activated documentary embedding analysis, extra video and satellite mapping with four of Gene Sharp’s key books including his famous work, From Dictatorship to Democracy, described as a handbook for revolutionaries. For the first time, the iPad brings together an award winning film and books which have helped nonviolent activists change the the world. Integration with Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution website provides hundreds of pages of additional readings and case studies.

appA Revolution Monitor fuses Google Earth with curated Twitter streams from more than 40 countries. Viewers simply touch a country to follow revolutions in real time and even interact with the activists involved. Tweeted articles, blogs and video are displayed instantly creating a live stream of activist generated news by location.

Part educational resource, part immersive experience – this app is a toolbox of resources for activists and all those interested in democracy and the abolition of violent conflict.

Academic Reviews 

“Will likely challenge and broaden the way people think about the continuing struggle for freedom and constitutional democracy around the world. Indeed, it is rare that a film offers so much to engage with. Unusually provocative and intellectually rigorous, How to Start a Revolution is recommended quite keenly.”
– Libertas Film Magazine

“This excellent film confirms Gene Sharp as the ‘Einstein of nonviolent resistance,’ the singular pioneer in a relatively new field of inquiry and practice, whose influence on social revolutions rightfully stretches across time and place, religion and race. How to Start a Revolution should be required viewing not only in courses on nonviolence and peace studies, but really in any course that examines political change and prescribes remedies for social justice.”
– Michael Nojeim | Associate Professor of Political Science | Prairie View A&M University | Author ofGandhi and King: The Power of Nonviolent Resistance

“For more than half a century, Gene Sharp has studied the power of nonviolent action against dictatorship, occupation, and social and economic injustice and has analyzed why it has become a force more powerful than war. This remarkable documentary tells the story behind the man, working out of a simple home office in a working class neighborhood of Boston, whose writings have inspired popular struggles for freedom and justice worldwide. Anyone who doubts the power of ideas should see this film.”
– Stephen Zunes | Professor of Politics | University of San Francisco

“Rather than being the refuge of the powerless or a form of passivity, this compelling video makes it clear that well-strategized and persistent nonviolent action is a force that can shake the world. How to Start a Revolution highlights the enormous contribution that Gene Sharp has made to showing us, in pragmatic terms, how this force can best be used to undermine dictators and empower ordinary citizens. It is a source of continuing amazement to me that Sharp was not long ago awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
– Lloyd Jeff Dumas | Professor of Political Economy | University of Texas at Dallas

“This is a powerful film about a powerful idea — indeed, perhaps the only idea that is more powerful than violence. It is emotionally engrossing, intellectually compelling, and as fresh and up-to-date as tomorrow’s headlines. It shows how Gene Sharp’s ideas of nonviolent resistance have been — and will doubtless continue to be — central to the most important political changes taking place on our planet.”
– David P. Barash | Professor of Psychology | University of Washington

How to Start a Revolution is a brilliant and timely reminder that not only can nonviolent action be dramatically effective, but that the change it produces is likely to be more enduring than that wrought through violence and bloodshed. And in celebrating Gene Sharp it gives prominence to an unlikely hero of the peace movement, whose work and influence will in time come to be seen as seminal in helping to shape a new path for humankind.”
– Edward Canfor-Dumas | Head of Secretariat | UK Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues

How to Start a Revolution shows how Gene Sharp’s simple tools of nonviolent action have helped people around the world stand up to powerful forces and aggression. The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation was pleased to show How to Start a Revolution, and to honor the work of Gene Sharp and filmmaker Ruaridh Arrow. When someone asks you if it’s possible to stand up to a dictator or overthrow an autocratic regime, tell them to go watch this remarkable film.”
– Susan Hackley | Managing Director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

“At last, a film focused solely on Gene Sharp’s formidable intellectual influence on historical and contemporary conflicts. A brilliant film celebrating a brilliant man. Bravo!”
– Erica Chenoweth | University of Denver | Co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict

New Statesman Article


Gene Sharp: The Machiavelli of non-violence

By John-Paul Flintoff

In a long life of scholarship and dissent, Gene Sharp has been imprisoned and persecuted, but never silenced. His ideas continue to inspire resistance movements across the world.

Gene Sharp is not a typical pacifist. “When I used to lecture, I would always get complaints from the pacifists,” says the academic, who turns 85 this month. “They would say I wasn’t pure. They said that what I was proposing was ‘still conflict’.” Military people often understood him better. A retired US army colonel, Robert Helvey, heard Sharp lecture 20 years ago and persuaded him to visit Burma, where rebels asked Sharp to give them advice.

He wrote a pamphlet. “I didn’t know Burma well,” he recalls. “So I had to write generically: if a movement wanted to bring a dictatorship to an end, how would they do it?” That pamphlet, From Dictatorship to Democracy(1993), contained the idea for which Sharp is now known all over the world – that power is held only by the consent of the people over whom it is exercised, and that consent can be withdrawn. All regimes depend on certain pillars of support and, with a proper strategy, resisters can remove those pillars non-violently.

The book was originally published in English and Burmese. “And I thought that was it,” Sharp says. But it went on display in a bookshop in Bangkok. From there, nobody knows exactly how it spread. But it did – everywhere. “I’m still amazed. It didn’t spread because of propaganda or some sales pitch but because people found it usable, and important.”

“I had no idea how useful it would be,” confirms Srdja Popovic, a leader of Otpor, the movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia in 2000. Others have described the effect of reading Sharp’s work as “mind-blowing”, because it showed that what had seemed impossible might not be impossible after all.

For nearly 20 years, From Dictatorship to Democracy circulated clandestinely in as many as 40 countries. It was being printed in Moscow when the FSB (the successor to the KGB) raided the printer. It later went on sale at two independent Russian bookshops – both of which, remarkably, soon caught fire.

The British film-maker Ruaridh Arrow first heard about Sharp while covering Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. He decided to find out more, and the result of his research was a film, How to Start a Revolution, which has been shown in more than 22 countries and became an underground hit with the Occupy movement.

Now Sharp’s teachings are winning interest from the mainstream, too. FromDictatorship to Democracy finally had its official publication in the UK. The Archbishop of Canterbury invited Sharp to meet bishops from around the world. And the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues asked him to address MPs, peers and senior civil servants at the House of Commons. The room was packed – thanks to a crowd of Occupy activists – and he received a standing ovation. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and early last month in the Swedish Parliament he was presented with the so-called Alternative Nobel, the Right Livelihood Award.

After a lifetime of lonely academic toil, Sharp is suddenly finding that people all over the world are ready to hear his theory of power – and how to seize it. “This is a very strange experience,” he says. But is the acclaim overblown? The Occupy movement has largely fizzled out and the Arab spring has not been quite the success that people hoped it would be. Is he worried that his reputation will fall again? “I don’t give a damn about my reputation. The point is that bringing down one regime does not produce political nirvana. You still have tough times ahead. I have always been very clear about that.

“But people used to say non-violence can’t work. After Tunisia and Egypt, people can no longer deny that non-violent regime change is possible. The old theory of a ‘just war’ is that there must be no viable alternative. I think that’s false now. It’s no longer a theological question – it’s an empirical question.” He quotes Kenneth Boulding: “ ‘That which is, is possible.’ The breakthrough has happened.”

In person, Sharp is frail. We meet on a cold winter morning at a hotel in Westminster. We inspect a military memorial overlooked by one of the windows. He walks slowly, using a stick, and speaks quietly; talking to him, I find it necessary to lean forward to catch what he is saying.

Since 2004 he has run his Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) out of two rooms at his home in Boston near Logan Airport. His desk is piled deep with papers and the rest of the office is cluttered, too. The lack of space is a problem. “You can’t imagine the number of things I can’t find now,” he says. “I can’t find my thesaurus, or The Oxford English Dictionary. I don’t know where my copy of Aristotle’s Politics is . . . They’re in boxes; they’ve been in boxes since we moved here years ago. I miss them all the time. We have maybe 20 or 30 boxes like that. I can’t look through them, because it takes me away from doing something more important.”

It is a modest arrangement that gives the lie to the charge, repeated not infrequently by regimes in Venezuela, Iran and elsewhere, that the AEI is a well-funded front for the CIA. The institute took its name from Einstein because, as a 25-year-old conscientious objector at the time of the Korean war, Sharp opposed the draft using civil disobedience tactics, and Einstein supported him. Sharp was living in New York and writing a book about the Mahatma when he learned that Einstein, too, admired Gandhi. “I wrote to him in Princeton and said I was about to go to jail for resisting conscription and – oh, by the way, I’ve written this book.” Einstein wrote a foreword to it.

In 1953, Sharp was sentenced to two years in prison for draft-dodging. His parents, a pastor and a schoolteacher, were understandably upset. “They tried to get me to be more reasonable by applying to be a recognised conscientious objector, but I was objecting to military conscription itself.” They visited him only once in jail. Much later, after his mother died, Sharp learned that her first great love had been killed in the First World War in France – so she had been a little more understanding about his opposition to military service than his father. “But he came round, too, eventually.”

On his release, Sharp worked as the personal secretary to A J Muste, described by Time magazine as America’s number-one pacifist, then as a typist on Wall Street, and continued his analysis of Gandhi. The motive, one should note, was not sentimental. “I don’t admire Gandhi because he is ‘nice’. He was no fool. He has quotations about power and the need to struggle that, if you read them out of context, could have come from Mao Tse-tung. He was a tough cookie.”

As Muste’s secretary, Sharp had put up a visitor from a British newspaper, Peace News, who recommended him for a job. So he moved to London. Based in King’s Cross, Peace News had a weekly circulation of about 14,000. Sharp reported on demonstrations and Ministry of Defence press conferences. He soon secured an opportunity to study at Oxford for a DPhil. (He already had a BA and an MA from Ohio State University.) And by this time he had developed a general theory of non-violent struggle, based largely on Gandhi’s insights and classical political theorists such as Thomas Hobbes. His supervisor at All Souls College, John Plamenatz, was a philo sopher and a wartime member of the Yugoslav government-in-exile. Plamenatz advised Sharp not to focus exclusively on theory but to consider anecdotal evidence from actual dictatorships and revolutions.

So, living in a shared house on All Saints Road in Oxford, Sharp started to accumulate examples from what turned out to be a vast history of the pragmatic use of non-violent struggle. With hindsight, this may not seem such a remarkable idea, but the eventual effect of his researches was hugely significant.

For Sharp, a principled belief in non-violence was necessary for the techniques to work. Yet his research showed that non-violent struggles were overwhelmingly waged by people who did not have ethical or religious objections to violence. He first became aware of this while sitting in a library and examining newspaper accounts of the use of non-violent protest in India. “I was copying by hand descriptions in Indian or English newspapers of what was happening in one of these conflicts. It became clear that the resisters were acting non-violently without that belief. I stopped taking notes. Should I write that down or skip that part? I wrote it down. In time, I realised this was not a grave problem but an immense opportunity. It will not be necessary to convert masses of humanity to believe in principled non-violence before abandoning violence in conflicts.”

Often people who have tried to make change in the past have done so spontaneously, and intuitively. How much more effective might they have been, he wondered, if they’d had a better idea of what had been done before?

He made it his mission to show how effective non-violent political action has been, and how often – not only in the kinds of conflict that can lead to war but even in relatively small disputes. Over several years he compiled a list, which stalled at precisely 198 methods of non-violent action. In his 1973 magnum opus, The Politics of Non-violent Action, Sharp gives examples of each method, drawn from throughout recorded history and all over the world. No 67, “flight of workers”, could be said to have been used by Moses and the Israelites as a way to register their dissatisfaction with the conduct of Pharaoh.

Number 90, “revenue refusal”, was used in ancient China by unwilling taxpayers who buried their possessions and took to the hills when the tax collector was known to be on his way. Number 57, “Lysistratic non-action”, may or may not have been used by women in ancient Greece to end war by refusing to have sex with bellicose men (as Aristophanes suggests), but Sharp found evidence of the same technique being used by women of the Iroquois nation and in colonial times in what was then called Southern Rhodesia. (It was also used in Kenya in 2009 by female protesters who included the wife of the prime minister.)

Some of the techniques appear almost boringly familiar, such as Number 2, “letters of opposition or support”, but they can still be effective, and in certain contexts even that step requires courage. Others require physical bravery, such as Number 171 – “non-violent interjection”, as practised by that anonymous Chinese man who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Or Number 66, “total personal non-cooperation”. During the Second World War a conscientious objector in the US named Corbett Bishop declined to eat, dress himself or even stand up. His limp body had to be carried in and out of court and a variety of prison cells. He was forcibly fed by tube. Eventually, after considerable newspaper publicity, he was allowed home without agreeing to anything.

Many techniques require the participation of more than one person. Technique 193, “overloading of administrative systems”, was used to great effect in the US during the Vietnam war and more recently to crash government-run computer systems.

Taken as a whole, the list of 198 methods of non-violent action can be divided into three categories. The first comes under the general heading of “protest”, or “raising awareness”. The second is described by Sharp as non-cooperation – ceasing to have dealings with systems or people you dislike (for instance, not buying items made by companies that exploit their workers, or refusing to fly in order to reduce CO2 emissions). The third group comes under the heading of active interventions to disrupt the status quo, perhaps by building alternatives to what is available. These innovations need not be especially “alternative” in the pejorative sense. Nor are they always negative, in the sense of involving withdrawal or hostility. Japanese trade unions, working for employers who used just-in-time delivery, invented the “go-faster” strike to support their demands for better pay. When in 2011 a library in Milton Keynes was threatened with closure because of budget cuts, local people joined forces to withdraw every single book there, leaving the shelves bare: they opposed the planned closure by showing that they did use the library.

The tactic is so elegant that it appears obvious, even unremarkable, but when we view it in this light we can see the ineptness of others who, out of desperation in a similar situation, might have chosen different tactics – throwing paint over the local mayor, for instance, or embarking on a hunger strike.

Sceptics often say that ordinary people’s nonviolent political efforts “could not have defeated the Nazis”. Rather than get bogged down in debate about whether non-violence “might have” beaten the Nazis, Sharp encourages us to consider how the Nazis were opposed non-violently, both in Germany and in the countries that the Germans occupied. His work provides an impressively comprehensive account of nonviolent resistance to the Nazis, often overlooked by military historians. There are too many instances to list here, but the individual examples aren’t important. The point is that, if it hadn’t been for these setbacks, modest though most of them were, Hitler’s regime might have been even worse than it was. To put it another way: if more people had dared to resist, the Nazis’ worst outrages might have been prevented. To say this is not to pass judgement on people living long ago. It is to challenge ourselves, now. Because it’s easy to imagine that we would have acted boldly if we had been in Germany at the time, but Sharp’s litany of examples challenges us to ask whether there is something that we should be doing today, about something that is going on right now.

The challenge is not delivered in glittering prose. Sharp’s work impresses because of its thoroughness, and its sheer bulk. Professor Thomas Schelling, who won a Nobel Prize in 2005 for his work on game theory, tells me that when they first met in Oslo in the 1960s Sharp gave him “about 800 pages of a manuscript to read on airplanes back to London and back to the US”. Schelling offered Sharp a job at Harvard, partly, he told me, in order that Sharp could shorten the manuscript. In fact, he made it longer.

It was at Harvard that he began to distance himself from his origins on the left, perhaps to make the work more palatable to a mainstream audience, by working with people he might once have shunned. He has never hidden the fact that his work at Harvard was partly funded by the US defence department. “Some people may find either the availability or the acceptance of such funds surprising. I have been arguing for years that governments – and other groups – should finance and conduct research into alternatives to violence.”

One of the students Sharp supervised after settling in Boston was Peter Ackerman, who went on to make a fortune on Wall Street. In 1983, Ackerman invested generously in the new Albert Einstein Institution, with offices on Harvard Square and space for up to 12 people. But a decade ago the two men started to disagree. Ackerman’s focus moved from research to disseminating the work. He set up a new body, the International Centre on Non-violent Conflict, to produce and distribute documentaries, books and computer games that promote non-violent action.

“Gene has been one of the most important people in my life,” Ackerman told me, during a lengthy phone interview, “and created the intellectual foundation for my work. But the important thing is not to deify him – it’s to understand the contribution he made and to understand that the field is now very robust.”

As Ackerman withdrew funding, the AEI’s income dropped from more than $1m a year to as little as $160,000. Sharp’s writing, much of it translated and printed clandestinely, generated little additional revenue. (He still gives much of it away as free downloads.)

Sharp’s commitment to the work, and his never-ending struggle to secure financial support, substantially explain why he never married. “I came close two or three times,” he says, “in my late twenties and mid-thirties, in the US and in Norway. I did regret it, but it didn’t happen. Am I devastated? No. Maybe it’s a flaw in my character.”

He has nephews and nieces scattered widely across the US but sees them only rarely. “Sometimes they will come and stay in Boston. And I talk to them on the telephone once in a while. Do I feel lonely? Yes, but it’s no big deal.” He is uncomfortable talking about his personal life. “People pay too much attention to who I am, as opposed to what I’m saying.”

In 2004, to avoid closing down altogether, he moved the AEI into his house. “We had to get rid of some of our office furniture. We left it on the street for people to take if they wanted it. I knew I would carry on, whatever happened, but it was depressing.” Just one other member of staff came with him. Hired just two years previously, Jamila Raqib had fled Afghanistan with her family when she was five years old. She had graduated in business management, but had her own concerns about the world. (“It was an interesting year, 2001,” she says, with some understatement.) She saw an advertisement for the job at the AEI and applied. “I had not heard of Gene before, nor the institution.”

Raqib was warned that there was no job security, but recently completed ten years working with Sharp. “I’m absolutely privileged to be involved in this work,” she says. “I can’t imagine more important work.” She recognised very early that if she wanted to make a contribution she would have to learn a lot. “I began to read almost everything, the big books and the monographs, and a huge amount of other works that are still unpublished. For a decade or more we had quite a number of fellowships doing this work. There is a lot in the files and there is nobody apart from Gene with that institutional memory.”

Now that Sharp has started to become well known, the AEI is inundated with inquiries from the media and from people seeking advice. They struggle to cope with it all. “I always advise people to beware of foreign advisers – including me,” he says. “People need to understand their own situation, understand non-violence, and learn to think strategically.”

Despite adopting this stance, Sharp has been the frequent target of conspiracy theorists. “That’s because he has reached out, over the years, to military people and to Republicans and to anybody who might give credence to the idea that his work is not a soft, squishy, idealistic, pacifist thing,” says Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco. “Unfortunately, in doing so, he has fed conspiracy theories on the far left that he’s part of a US imperialist plot to create soft coups.”

As Sharp sees it, the methods that he documents can be used by goodies and baddies in – terchangeably. He doesn’t see this as a problem. “In the US, during the civil rights struggle, both sides used these techniques. In the bus boycott, when black people organised car-sharing in protest against segregation, their opponents refused to sell them gasoline and cancelled insurance policies on their cars. I don’t think that was a wonderful thing to do, but it’s certainly better than lynching.”

What he hopes for more than anything else is that people will learn to use non-violent struggle to replace military and violent conflict. “Governments won’t have to fight terrorism any more if the people who might have been terrorists learn to use this kind of struggle instead.” (Among those who have bought his books recently, it transpires, are people who used to be members of the IRA.)

Sharp has never said that every use of every method of non-violent action will bring success. “But people who say it can never work at all seem to use a higher standard of success for non-violent struggle than they do for war. How many wars have been lost, how many people have died in wars without getting the results for which they fought?”

John-Paul Flintoff is an author and journalis

Editor’s note: The print version of this article referred to Sharp “holding tenure” at Oxford and Harvard. Mr Sharp tells us that in fact, he studied for a doctorate at Oxford from 1960-1968, and at Harvard he held research appointments in the Centre for International Affairs from 1965 to 1997. The piece has been updated accordingly.

Newsletter Appeal

IMG_0088Since our founding in 1983, the mission of the Albert Einstein Institution has been to provide the best resources possible on strategic nonviolent action to groups struggling for democratic freedoms. Whether the goal is undermining a dictatorship, preventing a coup d’état, defending against an invasion, or achieving social change, the Albert Einstein Institution helps people around the world to consider nonviolent struggle as a means to act in difficult circumstances without the use of physical violence.

In 2011, we witnessed a breakthrough in worldwide recognition of and demand for our work. People facing diverse challenges began to understand that the strategic use of nonviolent action can provide a powerful and effective means of struggle. Since that breakthrough, an increasing number of individuals and groups with a variety of interests have sought our research and analyses to help them understand and effectively use nonviolent action to produce important changes in their societies.

We are pleased to share a number of exciting activities and developments in this newsletter. These developments are further indications of the critical need for the continuation and expansion of our work.

Publicity and New Awareness

As the use of nonviolent action by groups increases globally, so do requests from journalists for interviews about our work and our ideas. This information provides their readers and viewers with important insights on the many complex political developments unfolding worldwide.

There have been a number of important articles about our Senior Scholar Gene Sharp and the work of the Albert Einstein Institution in the international media. These include Germany’s internationally broadcast Deutsche Welle, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, the Russian journal Pravda, Ode Magazine, BBC HardTalk, BBC Russian, the Japanese newspaper Mainichi, and the Chinese online-newspaper China Youth Online (CYOL).

In the US, Mairi Mackay of CNN wrote a significant profile article on Gene which was published in June. Another high-profile article appeared in The New York Times Style Magazine, referring to Gene as a “theorist of power.”


The Albert Einstein Institution’s publications, translations, consultations and workshops continue to help make future applications of nonviolent action more effective than the improvised struggles of the past. This in turn helps to reduce the propensity for violence and powerlessness, and also to increase greater popular control of societies through the use of nonviolent means. Individuals and groups around the world recognize the demonstrated usefulness of our work and seek our assistance in a variety of ways.

Many individuals – from historians and academics to political and social activists, from students and refugees to political leaders – contact our office for in-depth phone conversations or to request in-person consultations. The interests of this year’s visitors varied widely and

included individuals and groups from Cambodia, the Philippines, Cuba, Venezuela, Taiwan, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Kuwait, Mexico, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Kenya, the Maldives, Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Ethiopia, the United States, and Canada. Topics included political and social change, economic inequality, the environment, child welfare, the role of social media and the Internet, and more.

In early July, in response to allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2012 Mexican Presidential elections, the Institution received hundreds of emails, phone calls, and letters, as well as an online petition from Mexican citizens who wanted information on how they could act to correct what they alleged was a falsified election. An online pirated Spanish language version of How to Start a Revolution, the film about Gene Sharp and our work, received over half a million views within a few days.

This was an amazing display of how ordinary citizens could mobilize in response to a problem and explore the ways in which they could address that problem through nonviolent means. The scale of this sudden demand for information about nonviolent struggle in the midst of a crisis was unprecedented, and signifies that groups around the world are increasingly aware that these tools exist, and are seeking these resources when they are needed.

In Afghanistan, we have observed the emergence of significant interest in the potential of nonviolent means of struggle to address the serious political problems there in recent years. At the request of Afghans, we initiated translations of From Dictatorship to Democracy into Pashto and Dari. With grants from the Institution, the texts were printed (a total of 10,000 copies have been printed since 2008) in a combined book format, along with a case study of the 1930s Khudai Khidmatgar Movement, a local historical example of an extremely significant disciplined nonviolent struggle.

The Pashto and Dari editions of From Dictatorship to Democracy are having a notable impact. Our contacts report that during a recent tribal meeting in Jalalabad, in which more than 5,000 tribal elders, district heads, and organizational representatives took part, 4,000 copies of the book were distributed. The meeting included discussions that identified the need for Afghans to explore the potential of nonviolent struggle to address the grievances that people have against both foreign forces and violent groups inside the country.

New Translations and New Writings

In addition to the new Pashto and Dari translations, we have had requests for several other translations. A Japanese translation of From Dictatorship to Democracy was completed by Noriko Takiguchi and published by Tokyo-based Chikuma Publishers. A Norwegian translation of the booklet is being published by Arneberg Forlag Publishing House, and a Turkish translation of the same booklet has been completed and is awaiting evaluation. Several other translations are currently in progress.

Another important translation that has been completed is the Vietnamese edition of Self-Liberation, with all of the readings that accompany it. This is the third translation of Self- Liberation and the second, after Mandarin, to include all of the readings, which total 900 pages. (An Italian language edition of the booklet alone was published last year.)

The text of Gene’s highly anticipated new book, How Nonviolent Struggle Works, has been completed and sent to the printer for formatting. The book is a concise analysis of how the technique of nonviolent struggle can operate in conflicts, even when strong opponents are willing and able to impose harsh repression. How Nonviolent Struggle Works will be published by the Albert Einstein Institution, and will be available in print and for download from our website in both English and Spanish early next year.

How to Start a Revolution

Ruaridh Arrow’s award-winning documentary, How to Start a Revolution, has been making its rounds. The film has been screened on television in twenty-three countries and has been translated into ten languages, including Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese. It has won awards at six international film festivals and a Scottish BAFTA. The film continues to be shown on television and in universities around the world, making an important contribution to the spread of these ideas. The DVD version of the film is now available for sale from

A new application for the iPad has also been developed and released by the team that worked on the film and is now available for purchase from iTunes. The App contains the film as a “touch doc,” along with extra footage, Gene’s writings, resources for activists, journalists, and students, and a “Revolution Monitor” (a live stream of activist-generated tweets by location).

Speaking Events and Conferences

Both Gene and our Executive Director Jamila Raqib were invited to participate in several conferences and seminars, and to make presentations for universities, NGOs, community groups, and government agencies this year.

In February, Gene and Jamila traveled to England and Norway to participate in several important film screenings (including ones at the UK House of Commons and at a training for newly appointed bishops of the Church of England), meetings with politicians and church leaders, and a number of media interviews.

In March, a prominent children’s advocacy group in the US invited Gene and Jamila to participate in a three-day workshop analyzing the potential use of nonviolent action in their advocacy programs. In preparation for the workshop, the attendees read several of Gene’s writings. During the workshop, Gene presented information and led discussions on the potential use of strategic nonviolent action and the need for careful study and planning when using this technique.

In June, Gene and Jamila were invited to participate in a Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs seminar titled “Human Rights Defenders and Peaceful Protests.” Gene presented at the seminar, and he and Jamila had extensive discussions wit

Also in June, Jamila attended the Oslo Forum, a prominent event that invites senior international conflict mediators, high-level decision makers, and key peace process actors to discuss the role of negotiations and mediation in solving deadly conflict around the world.

Additionally, Jamila has made presentations and participated in discussions at several colleges and universities, including Simmons College, Kenyon College, Colby-Sawyer College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and The University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She has also spoken at events organized by various local organizations, introducing many new individuals to the topic of nonviolent action and the work of the Institution.

Awards and Honors

In April, Jamila travelled to The Hague, Netherlands with the film How to Start a Revolution, where she and Gene were nominated for an award by Amnesty International’s A Matter of ACT film festival. The festival focuses on the work of human rights defenders around the world, and consists of a competition of 10 documentaries on human rights defenders or organizations, and a support program where Jamila was able to speak to activists, Dutch parliamentarians, students, and other members of the community.

This year, Gene was the recipient of several prestigious awards and honors.

In April, Gene received the Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice, “to honor a distinguished scholar-practitioner in the field of social justice.” In May, he received a Doctor of Humane Letters from Brown University. Aktive Fredsreiser in Norway selected Gene as this year’s recipient of the Fangenes Testamente (Prisoners Testament) Award, which is given “to the person or persons, who, in writing, speech or action, contribute to promoting better understanding of evil so that we will be enabled to build barriers against it in our own minds.” The Zambrano Foundation awarded Gene with the first annual Distinguished Lifetime

Gene Sharp giving his acceptance speech at the Right Livelihood Award Ceremony. December 2012.

Democracy Award. And, finally, Gene was selected by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation as one of their laureates for 2012. The Right Livelihood Award honors and supports those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.”

What’s Next for AEI?

Our goal this coming year is to substantially strengthen and improve public access to the resources of the Institution. To this end, a number of efforts are underway.

We have recently hired Michael Levy as an assistant to work directly with Gene on his writing and daily correspondence. The AEI staff is pleased to welcome Michael, who joined our staff in mid-October and has already proven to be extremely helpful and effective. This research and administrative support will allow Gene to be more productive in terms of his own work and writing, and will help us to better respond to the massive new demand for our work.

In addition, in order to increase worldwide access to our work, we are building a new website which will be designed to be easier to navigate than our current outdated site, allowing people to more quickly and readily locate the resources they need. We hope to have the new website online by late spring of 2013.

We are also exploring ways in which we can expand our office space in order to better accommodate new staff and volunteers who will help us to more efficiently carry out our work. Additional space will also allow us to meet with larger groups.

Worldwide demand for our resources is very high and is growing. Funding to support new translations and printings of our writings, and to prepare additional material can have significant consequences for the future. It is critical that we respond to this demand and interest by providing the resources that can help people to identify ways in which they can undermine oppression while empowering themselves and others.

We need your help to preserve and expand our important work. We have been grateful for your past support, and are encouraged by the increase in individual contributions and grants that we have seen this year.

It is only through your continued and generous support that we will be able take critical steps to increase worldwide access to and awareness of our resources on the strategic use of nonviolent action as an effective alternative to violence.

Please join us in these efforts.