Reviewed by Bob Willis
BOB WILLIS is a retired Roanoke Times editorial writer.
The wave of revolutions that began in Tunisia in 2010 took many authoritarian regimes by surprise. Feeling secure behind their walls of oppression and fear, they were overrun by popular uprisings organized by cellphone and Internet connections. Before they could adjust, they were swept from power, to be replaced by — well, we shall see.
Doubtless, these uprisings were inspired by various people’s desires for freedom, perhaps for democracy. But they have not all succeeded to the same degree, nor have they moved in the same directions. And some have encountered detours put up by the oppressors, or by forces that saw an opportunity and moved to hijack the movement for change.
Journalist and editor William J. Dobson sought to find the roots of these movements and trace their courses, as well as ferret out efforts by the entrenched to head off change — e.g., by co-opting technology or devising means to vent popular discontent quietly and safely. Over a span of two years, he logged more than 93,000 miles, visiting dozens of countries in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America — Egypt, Libya, Iran, Russia, China, Burma, Venezuela, etc., etc. — and interviewed hundreds of people, from authoritarians to aspiring revolutionaries.
One of the most interesting outgrowths of the rumble for change is an organization named the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS. This group of practical-minded people holds workshops (Dobson attended one, sworn to keep the location secret) to coach others in what has succeeded for some and how strategies might be adjusted to fit attendees’ own political situations. Existence of such an organization is one reason Dobson emerges from his journeys cautiously hopeful for the future of democratic movements over the world.