social change | February 13, 2013

Srdja Popovic at TEDx: Non-Violent Revolutions Are No Laughing Matter. Or Are They?

"I assume we all love jokes, but what do jokes have to do with revolutions?" Srdja Popovic asks the crowd at a recent TEDx keynote. Some people would argue that revolutionaries should be solemn and serious because they are dealing with serious issues. And, if you look at photos of famous revolutionaries of the past, many of them are. However, that mindset seems to be changing. In his talk, Popovic mentions a recent study which showed that the chance of success for an armed, straight-faced, revolutionary leader stands at about 26 per cent. That percentage doubles when the leader and others in the movement are happier and less obsessed with keeping a serious visage around-the-clock.

Humor, Popovic says, is a powerful weapon in social movements. This is especially true when you are up against some of the world's toughest and most serious dictators. "Humor melts fear...[and] without fear, dictators cannot survive," he explains. Not only that, but most movements that use humor and satire as part of their approach to appear "cool" and become popular quickly. This allows your movement to grow exponentially, and, as Popovic explains, amassing people power is a crucial component to the success of a social movement. It's also difficult for your opposition to reply to a joke or a satirical jab in an intelligent manner. However, not responding is just as risky. This leaves your opponent in a dicey situation and gives you the upper hand.

For a group of Russian activists, this meant staging a protest using toys instead of real people. After the movement went viral, Russian officials tried to put a stop to it—by claiming that the toys were not legal citizens and therefore were not allowed to protest. The response not only fueled the fire for the activists' cause, but it also left the Russian officials in charge looking mighty silly. The power of humor, indeed. Popovic advocates for the use of similar strategies in the form of non-violent movements. Since the age of 19, he has been involved in activist movements seeking to right injustices across the world. Perhaps best known for his role with the youth movement Otpor!, Popovic helped displace the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. In his talks, he shares stories of his own personal experiences to promote the idea that non-violent revolutions work, and can help make the world a more peaceful and democratic place.

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innovation | February 12, 2013