In 2000, Serbian police apprehended a rogue oil barrel and hauled it away for having then-president Slobodan Milosevic’s face painted on its side. Bystanders laughed, and after watching the “arrest” on anti-government TV news channels, much of the country joined in. Later that year, more than 60 percent of Serbs voted Milosevic out of office.
For making their revolutionary spirit nationally infectious, the students who painted that barrel credit From Dictatorship to Democracy, a pragmatic guide to nonviolent revolution written by US professor Gene Sharp. First published 20 years ago, the booklet advocates public relations for the people: mockery, symbolic gestures and front-page-worthy acts of defiance. In Egypt, demonstrators used similar strategies during the 2011 overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak, arming themselves with humorous signs such as, “Please leave, my hand is hurting me” and “You must leave because I need to cut my hair,” while activists distributed pamphlets explaining how to protest peacefully: “After Friday prayer, fill the streets in orderly lines carrying flowers and roses.” Others organized a “Sunday of Martyrs” to publicly mourn those who had died during the demonstrations. Egyptian newspapers soon began repeating clever slogans, while film crews discovered fallen heroes from photos that activists carried. Another pamphlet found in Tahrir Square urged: “Draw police and military officers into the ranks of the people.” Once the Egyptian military refused to fire on protestors, Mubarak was finished. It only took 18 days.
Nearly a year after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, soldiers stripped and beat another protester in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Footage of “blue bra girl” went viral online and she became an icon for Egyptians critical of the ruling military junta. But Egyptians without Internet access or satellite television only receive state-controlled news, so media collective Mosireen projects this video onto an outdoor screen, where anyone can see.
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.