I’ve been advising a large scale digital activism and civil resistance project and am concerned by the lack of importance placed on content. The project’s donor (not implementer) literally thinks that flooding the country in question with mobile phones, for example, will catalyze an effective digital and civil resistance movement. Clearly, they know very little about civil resistance.
Here’s a personal story I often relate during conversations that tend toward technological determinism. I was in the Western Sahara in 2003 doing investigative research on the Polisario guerrilla movement. I made contact with a high ranking guerrilla fighter who had trained in Cuba and Libya and who just defected from the camp’s headquarters in Algeria. He was a wealth of information and we quickly became friends.
One of my most memorable moments was when he recounted what ultimately made him decide to leave the Polisario. “I got a Spanish copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell, and I couldn’t believe it, he described in detail the political nature of the Polisario movement. I did not want this life for my children and my wife. So I left.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely pro self-determination for the Western Sahara which, like many others, I consider to be the oldest colony in Africa. The point of my story, however, is that a simply but brilliant book was enough to make my friend take a huge risk in defecting. Content is key, technology is secondary. (I’m actually reading a neat book, Wasp by Eric Russell, that gets exactly at this disproportionate, asymmetric dynamic vis-a-vis civil resistance).
This brings me to my next point. I have been surprised to find little material that specifically lists the kind of content one would want to smuggle into a country under authoritarian rule. This is not to say we should restrict certain types of information, absolutely not, the first step is to provide full and secure access to all content on the web, for example.
At the same time, it behooves us to place some deliberate “sign posts” to specific content that can educate a closed society about digital activism and civil resistance. This means providing access to international and alternative news, such as mainstream media and GlobalVoices. Providing access to Wikipedia is also a good idea. But there’s a lot more content out there if the goal is to foster a peaceful transition to democracy.
As the Western Sahara story suggests, we would want to provide all of George Orwell’s books in print and/or electronic form. In addition, books on democracy and especially nonviolent revolutions and social movements. History books on civil resistance as well as video documentaries and even audio-books. I would also include multimedia material on nonviolent tactics and strategy.
Finally, I’m interested in computer games, like A Force More Powerful (AFMP); see screenshot above. I’ve also been toying around with the idea of multi-player games on mobile phones that replicate swarm or smartmob-like behavior. Like a treasure hunt of sorts via SMS or beeping.
How You Can Help
The identification of content should be one of the very first steps in this kind of digital activism and civil resistance project. Only after the content is identified, acquired and translated into the appropriate language(s) should one turn to technology as a vehicle for safe and secure transmission using encryption, steganography, etc.
In the meantime, here’s what I have so far:
- A Force More Powerful (book, DVD and game)
- Nonviolent Conflict: 50 Crucial Points (>)
- Waging Nonviolent Struggle in the 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential (>)
- Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the 20th Century (>)
- Unarmed Insurrections: People Power in Non-Democracies (>)
- On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals (>)
- Introduction to Nonviolent Conflict (>)
- Bringing Down a Dictator (DVD)
- Revolution in Orange (Book and DVD)
- There Are Realistic Alternatives (>)
- The Right to Rise Up: The Virtues of Civic Disruption (>)
- Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power (>)
- Civil Disobedience by Hannah Arendt (>)
- War without Weapons (>)
- Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographic Perspective (>)
- Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent (>)
- Power and Persuasion: Nonviolent Strategies to Influence State Security Forces (>)
- Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Lessons from Past, Ideas for Future (>)
- How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (>)
I’m looking for free or paid content. This content can be text, audio and/or video. I’d also be interested in putting a list together of entertaining movies with an underlying message of democracy and nonviolent resistance. The same goes for computer games and games on mobile phones. In sum, any material you think could educate and empower a society closed from the world would be welcome.
Feel free to forward this call for feedback as widely as you’d like. Thank you.