How To Peacefully Face A Brutal Dictatorship And Win

In chapter three of “Blueprint For Revolution”, Srdja Popovic discusses how people need a Vision of Tomorrow to inspire them to take risks in the streets. So far, this manual on peaceful activism has taught us that nonviolent civil disobedience can work in societies across the spectrum of state-sanctioned violence and repression, and that starting your campaign focused on attainable goals can lead to surges of activism that topple other systems of injustice.

The vision of tomorrow creates a shared understanding of the world that a movement wants to build. Otpor! presented Serbians with a vision that embraced a return to the semi-open society that had existed under the dictator who ruled before Slobodan Milosevic. He wrote, “We just wanted a normal country with cool music. That’s it. We wanted a Serbia that was open to the world, as it had been under [Marshal] Tito.” The vision of tomorrow needs to tread the line between being realistic and being exciting and inspiring for large demographic groups in the country.

Bravery Under A Brutal Dictatorship

Maldives, Male, Island, Nonviolent Direct Action

Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

The chapter revolves around activists opposing a brutal dictatorship in the Maldives in 2005. According to Popovic, the street-level thugs of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom would torture critics of the regime in innovative and horrific ways, the details of which I will spare you. Just to be clear, I would not personally blame anyone for being scared to confront this dictatorship. The activists first got around the fear of the public by hosting rice pudding gatherings. The people could not safely hold political rallies but they could get together to eat a popular national delicacy. And when the police confiscated their cauldrons of rice pudding it made for humorous media opportunities.

nonviolent direct action, nonviolence, political revolution, Maldives

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Maldivian President/Brutal Dictator from 1978-2008. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Members of the Maldivian resistance met with trainers from the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies in 2005 where they were told that, “In order to come up with a vision of tomorrow that might appeal to their fellow citizens … they had to understand what kind of country the average Maldivian wanted to live in.” To understand this the activists dissected Maldivian society and broke it down into the different social groups.

They then roleplayed as members of those groups in order to answer the question: What is most important to this segment of society? Popovic wrote, “The guy playing the policeman, for example, said he needed to be respected and paid on time, and wanted to live in a country with order and stability.” This is a powerful activity in that it encourages you to include a broader audience in your messaging.

One of the Maldivian trainees used this strategy to form an electoral strategy upon returning home. Imran Zahir boated around the most remote islands of the Maldives after the tsunami and noticed that wherever he went, elderly people would be standing on the coast looking out to see. He talked to them and their communities and found out that they were relying on their families financially, and the financial situations of their families had deteriorated.

Zahir leveraged this need into a platform that emphasized old-age pensions and universal healthcare. As his listening project continued he was able to mobilize more groups by promising to end Gayoom’s corruption, create affordable housing, social programs, and new jetties. Their vision of tomorrow was, “A functioning Maldives that took care of its citizens’ needs.”

The campaign against Gayoom managed to usurp him through an electoral strategy but it did not remove the corruption. Gayoom served as President from 1978 to 2008. The 2008 election is commonly recognized as the first impartial, Democratic election in the Maldives. He was replaced by Mohammed Nasheed, an environmental and human rights activist, who would claim that he was forced to resign from power at gunpoint by military and police officials in 2012. Gayoom returned to politics in 2011 as the leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives. His half-brother is currently serving as the Progressive Party’s President of the country. According to the Maldives 2016 Human Rights Report the State still engages in several questionable practices including restricted speech and rights of assembly, holding political prisoners, harassing journalists, and using public flogging as a punishment.

Using The ‘Vision For Tomorrow’

The vision for tomorrow is still a useful tool. To apply it to America would be simple. We would first need to develop a list of segments of the American population. This list could last for pages but it can be made. We would then need to work out the aspirations and needs of these people by engaging them. Then we would use this information to build a vision of tomorrow.

In America we are lucky. The American Dream is an unfulfilled promise. The idea that anybody can come to a land and improve their lives, move up in society, is enviable rhetoric. However it would need to be coupled with rhetoric that ensures that the government protects its people from the ravages of capitalist markets.


This is Part 3 of a series on Srdja Popovic’s “Blueprint For Revolution”

Part 1 Why Liberation From Oppression Can Happen Here And Anywhere

Part 2 Dream Big, Start Small – Initiating Momentum & Victory

Part 4 Topple Your Target With The Help Of Their Financiers


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