Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How revolution spreads

Marc Herman is back home from Libya and has written up his experiences as a Kindle Single called The Shores of Tripoli. (Be sure to read his recent blog post about the market forces in the magazine industry that led him to choose this outlet.)

It's a fascinating read. One of the points that particularly compelled me was the discussion of the rebellion finally hitting the small mountain town of Nalut. The residents knew of the uprisings in the big coastal cities, and the local loyalist soldiers knew of them, too. And they had all seen videos of the regime slaughtering protesters. But nothing had yet happened in Nalut. As one of the residents says,
"Some guys from school, and some people who are just my neighbors. We decide to do this thing," as he described it. The thing they would do was to walk to the local Nalut office of Internal Security the next afternoon and tender a request that Moammar Qaddafi, Libya's leader of forty-two years, abdicate. They they would stand there and dare the guards to shoot them, hit them, gas them, or, if they preferred, agree with them. They did not reallly think about what would happen after that.
The book offers a case study as to how a movement spreads. Part of it is simply organic - it was just time, and the thing went viral. Part of it is manufactured - a NATO operative plays a role in the local resistance, and the rebels find help from across the Tunisian border. But it nicely connects the local individual stories to much larger social forces. If you're trying to figure out why something like Occupy Wall Street or the Tea Party takes off and other movements don't, here's a nice piece of research for you.

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