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How To Unseat an Oppressive Regime Using Just Your Wit and Some Messenger Animals

Posted by Leon Neyfakh  November 29, 2012 03:28 PM

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Need to topple a dictator? Here’s something you might not have thought of: enlist a pigeon.

You could also try pranking him. Or sending messenger balloons. Those are among the imaginative approaches outlined in “An Outsider’s Guide to Supporting Nonviolent Resistance to Dictatorship,” a 55-page “how to” packet that was recently assembled by a group of pro-democracy activists after a two-day summit in New York City.

Hoping to give freedom fighters around the world more creative weapons than violence and the “same handful of policy options” used “again and again” by governments and foundations “to little effect,” the group catalogued about 120 tools and tactics that have worked – or could work again – against authoritarian regimes somewhere in the world. The result is a sort of “Anarchist Cookbook” for non-violent protest.

Some entries on the menu are standard fare (email, petitions, Twitter), but others are, well, a bit more exotic. “Some have suggested organizing a global ‘prank a dictator’ day, flooding the phone lines of regime members and loyalists with critical calls,” the authors of the guide write, citing the humiliating joke a pair of Cuban-American radio hosts played on Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez in 2003, when they convinced Chavez he was talking to Fidel Castro.

There are also some whimsical-sounding schemes for surreptitious communication, like using messenger animals (livestock, dogs, cats, and homing pigeons), Ping-Pong balls, and balloons as delivery systems for important information. As the guide points out, a group of North Korean dissidents living in South Korea have long been using balloons – millions of them -- to send USB drives, radios, pens, videos, and leaflets over the border.

Other interesting items peppered throughout the guide: how to use video games to train activists to organize resistance campaigns, how to project messages using lasers, and how to turn toys into regime-fighting tools. (“Footballs, for example, can be emblazoned with the face of a dictator and kicked around in acts of playful defiance.”)
Taken together, the document reminds us just how much we could be doing if only we were motivated enough. It also, perhaps inadvertently, underscores just how little power each one of us has. (h/t Bookforum)

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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