Gene Sharp was a giant in the field of civil resistance whose voluminous writings have inspired and informed the work of academics, practitioners, and activists the world over. His role in advancing human rights, fundamental freedoms, and social justice around the world cannot be over-estimated. Few scholars have had such a profound impact on the course of human events as Gene Sharp. He will be greatly missed. 

Gene Sharp at his office in East Boston, where he founded the Albert Einstein Institution by Ruaridh Arrow
Gene Sharp at his office in East Boston, where he founded the Albert Einstein Institution. (Ruaridh Arrow)

I first met Gene 18 years ago while a graduate student at the Fletcher School. I had just seen the documentary film, A Force More Powerful, and decided to dig deeper into how unarmed people could face down brutal tyrants and win. The simple but revolutionary concept that Gene described so clearly, that power is ultimately grounded in the consent and cooperation of ordinary people, was exciting for someone like myself studying internal wars and violent conflict. It didn’t take long before I had an appointment with Gene at the Albert Einstein Institution. 

What struck me most in meeting Gene was the absolute seriousness with which he undertook his research and writing. Documenting the strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle was not a theoretical exercise for Gene. He knew it had profound, real-life implications for those living under the boot of repression around the world. His interactions with activists from Burma, Palestine, Serbia and beyond demonstrably grounded his work. 

I then invited Gene to be the inaugural speaker at the Fletcher Colloquium on Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. Dressed in black from head-to-toe, he explained to students how ordinary people can wield power in conflict without the threat or use of violence. As I began my PhD research on strategies of civil resistance, the breadth of his work became blatantly obvious. The U.S. Institute of Peace, where I work, provided its first ever grant in nonviolent action to Gene Sharp in 1987 to support his research on how nonviolent action can mitigate political violence. USIP now has an entire program dedicated to an area that owes a great deal to Gene’s thought leadership. 

The impact of Gene’s work on those on the front lines is most impressive. I’ve met many activists over the years, from Ukraine to Egypt to Zimbabwe, who’ve told me how Gene’s works, which have been translated into dozens of languages, have guided their freedom struggles. While working at ICNC and later in the U.S. State Department, I’d regularly send activists, civic leaders, and policymakers Gene’s writings, including those famous 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. His From Dictatorship to Democracy is, for activists, a tool of liberation. 

I am grateful to Gene for his groundbreaking and meticulous research, for laying the intellectual foundation for the field, and for providing peoples around world with effective tools to challenge injustices and build more inclusive, just, and peaceful societies. Rest in peace and power, Gene. 

Portions of this blog and the photograph were originally published on the Waging Nonviolence website.

Related Publications

Promoting Peace and Democracy after Nonviolent Action Campaigns

Promoting Peace and Democracy after Nonviolent Action Campaigns

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

By: Jonathan Pinckney, Ph.D.

The ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 was brought about using the tools of nonviolent action, including massive protests and nationwide strikes. Yet the transition that followed showed that initiating change through nonviolent action is no guarantee of a peaceful, smooth path to democracy. This report, based on data on 72 political transitions that occurred between 1945 and 2019, provides key insights into the kinds of mobilization, in terms of tactics and actors, that tend to be most effective in carrying transitions to a democratic outcome.

Type: Peaceworks

Democracy & GovernanceNonviolent Action

In the Struggle for Peace, Four Lessons From a Leader

In the Struggle for Peace, Four Lessons From a Leader

Thursday, May 5, 2022

By: Jonathan Pinckney, Ph.D.

Recent years of declining democracy and rising authoritarianism and violent conflict form what President Biden and others call the “defining challenge of our time.” Biden, like millions of people, see nonviolent struggles for freedom, such as those led by the Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as humanity’s best way to meet this challenge. Last week, though few may have realized it, the world lost a man who, over the last fifty years, helped us to understand and act on that insight: Dr. Peter Ackerman.

Type: Blog

Nonviolent Action

Sowing the Seeds of Nonviolent Action in Sudan

Sowing the Seeds of Nonviolent Action in Sudan

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

By: Marija Marovic;  Zahra Hayder

From 2013 to 2018, Sudanese civil society actors carved out a variety of civic spaces that laid the foundation for Sudan’s 2018–2019 December Revolution. This report assesses the factors that gave rise to this remarkable mobilization—in particular how civil society development ultimately enabled the Sudanese opposition to sustain a decentralized, nationwide, and robust nonviolent campaign characterized by widespread mass participation, unity of leadership and purpose, and a commitment to nonviolent discipline—and what it will take to keep the country’s democratic transition on track.

Type: Special Report

Nonviolent Action

View All Publications