Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Tribute to Gene Sharp

No. I had never heard of him either. I read about him in the New York Times (the quoted phrases are from that paper) and I am awed.

He writes things. One work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” is a 93-page guide to toppling autocrats (available for download in 24 languages) that has “inspired dissidents around the world, including those in Burma/Myanmar, Bosnia, Estonia, Zimbabwe and … Tunisia and Egypt.”

His “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” was one of the papers distributed to Egyptians several years ago. And apparently demonstrate that ‘ideas have power.’

When Gene Sharp learned that Hosni Mubarak was ousted, he said, “The people of Egypt did that – not me.”

He lives in a modest house in East Boston that “doubles as the headquarters of the Albert Einstein Institution, an organization Mr. Sharp founded in 1983 while running seminars at Harvard and teaching political science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. It consists of him; his assistant … and a part-time office manager/ Golden Retriever mix named Sally.”

He rarely works ‘in the field’ but in the early 1990s, “he snuck into a Myanmar rebel camp” at the invitation of an opposition advisor who remembers, “Here we were in the jungle, reading Gene Sharp’s work by candlelight…. This guy has tremendous insight into society and the dynamics of social power.”

Mr. Sharp is 83, “stoop-shouldered and white-haired. His voice trembles and his blue eyes grow watery when he is tired …” He has yet to master the Internet.

But he has not stopped working. A new book, “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Terminology of Civil Resistance in Conflicts” will be published this fall. He did not select the title; he says, “It’s a little immodest.” And he’s working on another manuscript about Einstein (who wrote the foreword to Mr. Sharp’s first book, about Gandhi.)

Watching events unfold in Egypt, “he was struck by the Egyptian protestors’ discipline in remaining peaceful, and especially by their lack of fear. “That is straight out of Gandhi,” Mr. Sharp said. “If people are not afraid of the dictatorship, that dictatorship is in big trouble.”

And ideas, expressed clearly and well, can change the world.

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