by Rivera Sun
Soft-spoken and humble is the new heroic.
This realization hits me as I interview Jamila Raqib, the Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution. I find myself in awe of her living wisdom as my Occupy Radio co-host and I question her about the strategies of nonviolent struggle, the seminal writings of Gene Sharp, and how this knowledge has been used to end tyranny and oppression. In spite of the enormity of the subject and the depth of her answers, Jamila responds with unwavering humility. She possesses that special wisdom of knowing how little one actually knows in comparison to the complexity of the world. Speaking with her, I am humbled to the core.
My frequent readers will laugh, since this fiery, redheaded writer regards humility as that green leafy vegetable they keep saying is good for me . . . especially since my standard diet is the bread of confidence dipped in the oil of bravado and sprinkled with a certain spice of audacity called chuztpah. (A Jewish boyfriend once called me “a recipe for mishegas” – craziness – and while it’s true, it is also a story for another time.) Suffice to say, humility is a virtue I admire in others and strive for haphazardly in myself.
But this soft-spoken woman utterly and completely humbles me as she explains how people around the planet have used the strategies of nonviolent struggle to topple dictators, resist tyranny, end oppression, prevent military coups, bring enduring democracy to populaces, and create freer, more open societies. As an actress, I strut and parade on stages all the time, but the “theater” of this woman is the globe. The actors are vast populations. The show does not end when the fat lady sings, it goes on and on throughout history, and, when the heroes die, they do not rise to bow in the limelight. Jamila Raqib speaks modestly because her words affect the lives of millions, the stakes are high, and, in truth, a huge company is required to ensure the success of these epics. She describes her role honestly as someone who advances the study of nonviolent struggle and lets the credit fall where it is due . . . on the courageous people who use it.
Do you see why I am humbled?
I dove into the study of nonviolent struggle, particularly the work of Gene Sharp, when I began writing my latest novel, The Dandelion Insurrection. Set in a time that looms around the corner of today, in a place on the edge of our nation, the novel follows – and fictionalizes – the disturbing trends in the United States of corporate control of politics, the rising police state and government surveillance, the restrictions on civil liberties, and increasing authoritarianism. As a writer, I try not to give my characters problems they can’t solve, but by the time one character stated that a closet corporate dictatorship was ruling in the guise of democracy, I thought, forget the characters, how are we, in real life, going to get out of this mess?!
This is where Jamila Raqib, Gene Sharp, and the Albert Einstein Institution come in, quietly and humbly, as if saying, well, Rivera, you (and America) are fortunate. You’re not the first to be in this predicament. Populations around the world have been courageous enough to resist oppressive regimes and there are extensive studies on this . . . including some succinct downloadable manuals.
Hallelujah! I knew there were more sensible ways of going about restoring democracy that my crazy notions. Wiser heads than mine have studied history and current events, derived theories and conclusions, articulated them, and conveniently compiled them into books and manuals for me to study and fictionalize into a novel.
Now it is my turn to laugh and shake my head ruefully. While the Dandelion Insurrection reflects some aspects of this study, as an author I must admit that it comes far short of a portrayal of a well-studied strategic plan of action. It does, however, excel in other ways. The Dandelion Insurrection wonderfully depicts the all-too-common reality of actual movements: great ideas, not quite enough planning, some luck, some miracles, and some hasty emergency actions. If we all read our Gene Sharp and heeded his warnings on the importance of adequate preparation and analysis before engaging in struggle (or fictionalizing such things) a good deal of mishaps, catastrophes, and turmoil could be avoided. In real life, a lack of planning is leads to disaster. In the fictional world, it merely creates drama. For the purpose of the safety of human lives, it is important not to confuse the two.
At one point, I was tempted to place a disclaimer at the front of the novel: This is a work of fiction. No tactics or strategies should be used without consulting a doctor of nonviolent struggle. But the interview with Jamila reminded me that while humility is grounded in a realistic admission of the limits of one’s knowledge, it should never be used as an anemic cop-out to social responsibility. As I listened to Jamila – a woman who is as wise, human, and imperfect as the rest of us – offer the radio listeners a taste of her vast body of information, point to its limits, and still place her wisdom in service of this world, my respect for her grew by the minute.
She also inspired me to not halt at the frontier of my own understanding, but to go beyond it. My earlier research for The Dandelion Insurrection was enthusiastic, but haphazard. I have since learned that there is a succinct manual co-written by Jamila and Gene Sharp, Self-Liberation: a guide to strategic planning for action to end a dictatorship or oppression, that provides a basic overview and lays out a course of study for those who wish to engage in or learn more about nonviolent struggle. During our interview, Jamila mentioned that some people are dismayed to discover this course of study begins with eight hundred pages of recommended reading . . . and then advises even more.
Well, perhaps it is another character flaw of mine, but when I’m told something is difficult, I naturally dive into it. This may get me into trouble someday but, in this instance, it merely challenged me to work my way through the eight hundred pages systematically. I am not a scholar by nature, but discipline is -apparently – another one of those green leafy vegetables that are good for me. If I read twenty-five pages a night, I should complete these readings in about a month. This is hardly a rigorous course of training . . . and the whole day of reflection and thought between readings has led to some interesting insights.
One thing I have learned is that these theories are most effective when the basic principles are broadly understood. That means you, my friend, are invited to peruse at least one of the short manuals that can be downloaded from the Albert Einstein Institution (here) and to listen to the radio interview with Jamila Raqib (here) and to join the conversation in the Dandelion Insurrection group on Facebook (here). As your fellow student, I welcome your thoughts and dialogue. In this time of societal turmoil, it seems important that we all gain a firm grasp on strategic nonviolent struggle. I can think of no other month-long commitment that has such profound ramifications for our communities, our nation, and our planet.
Yours in love and revolution,
Special thanks to David Geitgey Sierralupe, host of Occupy Radio/Occupy the Media Podcast, for the opportunity to cohost. David hosts a regular weekly talk show with an incredible line-up of interesting speakers that I encourage you all to check out. (here) The show is also broadcasted on Wed nights at 7pm (here).
The Dandelion Insurrection will be released on Nov 8th, 2013. It is available for pre-ordering (here). Please join us for the release party on Nov 8th via a live stream broadcast of a reading & performance by author/actress Rivera Sun (here). If you are local to Taos, NM, come on down to Moby Dickens Bookshop and join us in person for dandelion wine, hors d’oeuvres, autographed First Editions, and more!