how to start a revolution

GENE SHARP is not a name familiar to the general public. However if you watch Ruaridh Arrow’s documentary How to Start a Revolution you will be in awe of what this man’s work has achieved, and subsequently surprised by the blank expressions you receive when mentioning a film you’ve recently seen about him. Yet the fact that such great things have been bubbling away beneath society’s surface – unknown to most – simply makes Sharp’s story all the more admirable.

A pioneer of non-violent approaches to overthrowing dictatorships, Sharp’s writings have been used across the globe to aid and inspire those that are struggling to free themselves from oppressive governments. His most well known publication ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ has evolved into a standard manual for leaders of revolutions all over the world, from Syria to Indonesia, Bosnia to Iran.

And yet, despite the worldwide underground distribution (and success) of Sharp’s work, he is faced with a constant battle to ensure that what he does is accessible. Dictators – naturally – despise him. Though it also can’t be said that he receives much support from his own (American) government. So Sharp, and his assistant Jamila Raqib, continue to operate out of a tiny two-roomed office within Sharp’s cluttered terraced Boston home, continually fighting for funding.

This may not seem that shocking, until you understand the full impact of Sharp’s influence. Which is where Arrow’s film comes in. As the documentary unfolds, the presentation of situations in which Sharp’s work has proven to have power brings home its importance. Whether he accepts the acclaim or not, it is undeniable that Sharp has empowered people to do the unthinkable: peacefully overturn authoritarian regimes.

Although a film that effectively illustrates how Sharp and his colleagues implement their recommendations for non-violent struggle, How to Start a Revolution is at its core a poignant profile of a humble man. A man who seeks no praise. And who dislikes the term ‘revolution’. And as current events such as the Arab Spring demonstrate his relevance in our society today, it is about time that we learn more about him, and from him.

Fortunately, Arrow’s film is an accessible way in which to do this. And you can catch it at the Raindance Film Festival in London on 2nd and 3rd October, tickets for which can be booked here. I can guarantee that after watching it you will be inspired to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of the magnificence of Gene Sharp.


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