Book Review: ‘Blueprint for Revolution- How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World’

Blueprint for Revolution Front Cover

The front cover of Blueprint for Revolution.

Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. London: Scribe, 2015. £9.99

Srdja Popovic is particularly well qualified to give advice on the use of non-violent protest tactics. One of the leaders of Otpor!, the non-violent movement that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, he then decided to use his experience to help others and founded CANVAS, a non-profit organisation that gives advice and training to activists all over the world. Blueprint for Revolution is part how-to guide, part memoir, in which  Popovic uses stories of successful activism to illustrate his advice. Many of the stories come from his own experience as an “ordinary revolutionary” (p vi) and protest guru.

There is a false notion that only the elites in our societies matter and that all change, progress, or setbacks emanate magically from within their dark and greedy souls…The world we live in worships and respects the strong and the mighty. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that nobody gives enough credit to the weak and the humble. But, as we have learned, even the smallest creature can change the world.” (p260)

Some of Popovic’s advice might look more at home in a business manual than a protest one- branding is crucial, for example, and find out what the people want instead of trying to make them care about the same things you do- but it’s good advice nonetheless. As Popovic explains, Harvey Milk was elected on a promise to crack down on dog poo, not because of his stance on gay rights.

Otpor logo

The logo of Otpor!, the Serbia social movement which toppled Slobodan Milosevic (Source: b92).

Popovic is a strong advocate of what he calls ‘laughtivism’ (he admits it isn’t the best name!); undermining authority through comedy and laughter. Those in power, particularly despots and dictators, are used to being taken seriously, and making fun of them can be a powerful weapon- “the only thing that could trump fear is laughter” (p100). My favourite example (which made me laugh as I read about it) was Otpor!’s idea of painting Milosevic’s face on an old barrel and putting it in a busy public street with a baseball bat and a sign inviting people to “smash his face” (p101-3). Popovic’s love of laughter shines through in his writing; Blueprint for Revolution is a fun and light-hearted read. He comes across as a genuinely nice guy, and even gives his personal email address at the end of the book, asking readers to “please keep in touch” (p261).

On occasion Popovic’s relentless positivity can grate slightly. He hopes that the book will inspire some to take action, “to get you on your feet and moving” (p ix). Call me cynical, but I’m not convinced a book can make an activist out of someone, no matter how good it is. This is a minor gripe however; overall the book’s tone is uplifting and did make me feel hopeful, which is not a common occurrence when it comes to politics. Also, the captions for all the illustrations are at the front of the book, so you have to flip back and forth for information about a picture (again, I am nitpicking).

Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World may not be winning any prizes for short titles, but it is a fun read, which cannot be said for a lot of books about overthrowing violent dictators. It may not turn you into a non-violent revolutionary, but it certainly is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

On This Day: The Death of Blair Peach, 23rd April 1979

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Blair Peach, 1946-1979 (Source: Anorak.co.uk)

Mark Duggan, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes; some people have the misfortune of being famous because they were killed by the Metropolitan Police. Blair Peach is perhaps one of the better known names on that list. Peach died from a broken skull on the 23rd of April 1979, after being struck on the head during a demonstration outside Southall Town Hall. The results of the internal investigation into what happened weren’t published until 2010, three decades after Peach’s death.

Clement Blair Peach was born in New Zealand on the 25th of March 1946. He moved to London in 1969 and started working as a teacher at the Phoenix School in Bow, East London. Peach was no stranger to radicalism and protest; he was a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party, as well as the Socialist Teacher’s Association and the East London Teacher’s Association, both within the National Union of Teachers. In 1974 he was acquitted of a charge of threatening behaviour after he challenged a publican who was refusing to serve black customers. He was also involved in campaigns against far-right and neo-Nazi groups; he was well known for leading a successful campaign to close a National Front building in the middle of the Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane.

On St. George’s Day 1979, the National Front held a meeting in Southall Town Hall. The Anti-Nazi League held a counter demonstration outside the Town Hall. Peach was one of 3000 people to attend. The demonstration turned violent; over 150 people were injured (including around 100 police officers), and 345 arrests were made. Peach was struck on the head by a police officer at the junction of Beachcroft Avenue and Orchard Avenue, as he tried to get away from the demonstration. He died from his injuries later that night in Ealing Hospital.

Blair Peach's funeral

Peach’s funeral was attended by thousands of people (Source: BBC News).

Peach’s death struck a chord amongst the communities he had stood up for, and across the city as a whole. A few days after his death, 10000 people marched past the spot where he was fatally injured. His funeral was delayed by several months, until the 13th of June, but that was also attended by 10000 people. The night before his funeral, 8000 Sikhs went to see his body at the Dominion Theatre in Southall.

Blair_Peach protest

There were multiple protests demanding justice for Peach (Source: The Times)

The Metropolitan Police commissioned an internal inquiry into what happened, which was led by Commander John Cass. 11 witnesses saw Peach struck by a member of the Special Patrol Group (SPG). The SPG was a centrally-based mobile group of officers focused on combating serious public disorder and crime that local divisions were unable to cope with. It started in 1961, and was replaces in 1987 by the Territorial Support Group, which also has a less-than stellar reputation amongst activists.

The pathologist’s report concluded that Peach was not hit with a standard issue baton, but an unauthorised weapon like a weighted rubber cosh,or a hosepipe filled with lead shot. When Cass’ team investigated the headquarters of the SPG, they found multiple illegal weapons including truncheons, knives, a crowbar, and a whip. 2 SPG officers had altered their appearance by growing or cutting facial hair since the protest, 1 refused to take part in an identity parade, and another was discovered to be a Nazi sympathiser. All of the officers’ uniforms were dry-cleaned before they were presented for examination.

Cass concluded that one of 6 officers had killed Peach, but he couldn’t be sure who exactly, because the officers had colluded to cover up the truth. He recommended that 3 officers be charged with perverting the course of justice, but no action was ever taken. The results of the inquiry were not published, and the coroner at the inquest into Peach’s death refused to allow it to be used as evidence, despite making use of it himself. On the 27th May 1980, the jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure. After decades of campaigning by Peach’s partner Celia Stubbs, the report was finally published in April 2010, although the Director of Public Prosecutions decided there was still not enough evidence to bring charges against anyone.

Celia-Stubbs-former-partn-001

Celia Stubbs, Blair Peach’s partner when he died, in 2009. She campaigned for Cass’ report to be published for 30 years (Source: The Guardian).

If I had written this blog post more than 6 years ago, it would look very different. The death of Blair Peach was a public relations nightmare for the Metropolitan Police; a respected and well-liked activist who fought hard for local communities, Peach was a man for whom many people cared about. The Met should have been transparent, finding out what happened and punishing those responsible quickly and openly. Instead, they covered up the cause of Peach’s death for 3 decades, allowing what happened to fester, contributing to a sense of resentment and distrust that continues to this day.

Sources and Further Reading

Casciani, Dominic. “Blair Peach Report: What the Investigation Uncovered.” BBC News. Last modified 17th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8646829.stm  

Editorial.”Death of Blair Peach: The Truth at Last.” The Guardian. Last modified 28th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/apr/28/death-of-blair-peach-editorial

Lewis, Paul. “Blair Peach Killed By Police at 1979 Protest, Met Report Finds.” The Guardian. Last modified 27th April 2010, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2010/apr/27/blair-peach-killed-police-met-report

Metropolitan Police. “MPS Publication Scheme: Investiagation into the Death of Blair Peach.” No date, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at  http://www.met.police.uk/foi/units/blair_peach.htm 

Renton, David. “The Killing of Blair Peach.” London Review of Books 36, no. 10 (2014): 23-26. Available at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n10/david-renton/the-killing-of-blair-peach

Wikipedia. “Death of Blair Peach.” Last modified 28th March 2016, accessed 12th April 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Blair_Peach

Turbulent Londoners: Elisabeth Jesser Reid, 1789-1866

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who contributed to the city’s contentious past, with a particular focus of women, whose contribution to history is often overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. The twelth Turbulent Londoner is Elisabeth Jesser Reid. She was the founder of Bedford College, which is now part of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, my university.


ElisabethJesserReidCropped528x352

Elisabeth Jesser Reid was a formidable woman (Source: Royal Holloway, University of London).

Elisabeth Jesser Reid was a social reformer, abolitionist, and advocate of women’s education. Known as single-minded and tactless, she used her relatively privileged status as an independent widow to further the causes she believed in. This included founding Bedford College, one of the first venues of higher education for women in Britain.

The second daughter of wealthy Unitarian ironmonger William Sturch and his wife Elisabeth, Elisabeth Jesser Sturch was born to a life of relative privilege on the 25th of December 1789. In 1821 she married John Reid, a physician. Dr. Reid owned land on the River Clyde in Glasgow, which became valuable as the port expanded. When John died only 13 months after their marriage, Elisabeth was left with a large, independent income. Historically, widows with an independent income have enjoyed more freedom than other women, being beyond the control of both father and husband. Elisabeth used her freedom to fight for the causes she supported.

Elisabeth was a social reformer. She used her money to support benevolent schemes set up by women, such as Harriet Martineau’s project to enable the poor in the Lake District to buy their own homes. She also sponsored the studies of pupils who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Another of Elisabeth’s passions was abolitionism. She attended the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, where she met female American delegates who had not been permitted to speak, such as Lucretia Mott. She was a member of the Garrisonian London Emancipation Committee, the British branch of an anti-slavery group that held progressive views on gender and racial equality.

Bedford foundation plaqur

A plaque in Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, commemorating the foundation of Bedford College (Source: Plaques of London).

Elisabeth Jesser Reid is best known for her role in the development of female education. In 1849 she founded Bedford College, with a loan of £1500, which she converted to a gift in 1856 when the college was experiencing financial difficulties. The college was first located at 47 Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, moving to Regent’s Park in 1874. Although not the first college for the higher education of women in Britain, it was the first that believed in education for purposes other than vocational training. Bedford College aimed to enable women to improve themselves as they wanted to, not just gain the skills to become a governess.

This philosophy was radical, and Elisabeth was frustrated by the lack of support she received, particularly from prominent men. She expected hundreds of applications when the college opened, and was bitterly disappointed to receive only around a dozen. Nevertheless, she persevered, insisting that 3 Lady Visitors were included in the governing body, which was the first  time women officially shared in controlling the direction of a British institution. She used her social connections to get respected scholars to teach at the college, and eventually the college became successful. Notable early students include  novelist George Eliot, feminist and artist Barbara Bodichon, and Sarah Parker Redmond, the first black woman to do a lecture tour in the UK on the topic of slavery. Bedford College became part of the University of London in 1900, and merged with Royal Holloway in 1985, to become Royal Holloway and Bedford new College. In this form it is still going strong today, with over 8000 students (and a wonderful geography department!)

Graduation Photo of Marian Sherrett

The graduation photo of Marian Sherrett, who graduated from Bedford College with a first class German BA Honours degree in 1886. This photo is held by the archives at Royal Holloway, which holds archival sources about Elisabeth Jesser Reid and Bedford College (Source: Royal Holloway Archives).

I feel a personal connection to Elisabeth Jesser Reid because of the happy and fulfilling times I have spent at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, but even without that I would admire her as a headstrong and opinionated woman who did not let her relative freedom go to waste. She used her wealth and independence to make the world a better place, and she fought hard for what she believed in, significantly advancing women’s education.

Sources and Further Reading

Anon. “Black History Month: Garrisonian Abolitionists.” Oxford University Press Blog. Last modified 27 February 2007, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at  http://blog.oup.com/2007/02/black_history_m4/ 

Anon. “Elisabeth Jesser Reid: Pioneering Education for Women.” Royal Holloway, University of London. No date, accessed 27 February 2016. Available at  https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/aboutus/ourhistory/elisabethjesserreid.aspx

Anon. “Elizabeth Jesser Reid.” Wikipedia. Last modified 13 January 2016, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Jesser_Reid

Anon. “History of Elizabeth Jesser Reid.” Reflex Managed Offices. Last modified 9 September 2015, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at http://www.reflex.london/history-of-elizabeth-jesser-reid/

Colville, Deborah. “Bloomsbury People.” UCL Bloomsbury Project. Last modified 7 April 2011, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/bloomsbury-project/articles/individuals/reid_elisabeth_jesser.htm

Oldfield, Sybil. “Reid [nee Sturch], Elisabeth Jesser.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified May 2011, accessed 25 February 2016. Available at  http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/view/article/37888 (This website is behind a paywall, I had to use my Royal Holloway login to access it).

Pakenham-Walsh, M. ‘Bedford College, 1849-1985’ in Crook J (ed.) Bedford College University of London- Memories of 150 Years. Royal Holloway and Bedford New College: Egham, Surrey (2001): 13-46

London’s Protest Stickers: Anti-Police

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from garunteed.

The Metropolitan Police are a common sight across London today, but for a long time their survival was far from guaranteed (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

London has the distinction of being home to the oldest professional police force in the world. The Metropolitan Police was formed in 1829 in an attempt to impose order on the chaotic and undisciplined city. Their primary purpose was to deter crime, but they became involved in the policing of protest in 1830. Ironically, the first protest in which the police were involved was an anti-police demonstration on the 28th of October 1830. Demonstrators chanting ‘No New Police’ clashed with the boys in blue at Hyde Park Corner. The British people had long been hostile to the idea of a professional police force, so the Metropolitan Police faced an uphill battle convincing Londoners that they were necessary. Ever since then, the Met has had an uneasy relationship with some Londoners. Radicals have always been particularly critical, especially in regard to the policing and control of protest. Disapproval and mistrust of the Metropolitan Police is reflected in London’s protest stickers.

You can see the locations of the stickers on the Turbulent London Map.

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB

One of the most common ways of expressing anti-police sentiment is with the acronym ACAB, which stands for ‘All Cops/Coppers Are Bastards’. In most cases, the acronym’s meaning is not spelled out, but this sticker is particularly obliging, so it seemed like a good place to start the post (Regent’s Canal Tow Path, 20/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker's message (King's Cross Station, 27/05/15).

ACAB crops up frequently, in various fonts and colour schemes. In most circumstances though, you would need to know what the acronym means to understand the sticker’s message (King’s Cross Station, 27/05/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads 'Kill the cop inside you... and then the fun begins' (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The text on this sticker is difficult to make out, but it reads ‘Kill the cop inside you… and then the fun begins’ (Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

The previous two stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

The previous three stickers refer to police in general. This sticker refers to the Metropolitan Police specifically, calling it the biggest gang in London (Gordon Street, Bloomsbury, 12/03/15).

This sticker is even more specific. (King's Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker is even more specific. Henry Hicks died after being chased by two unmarked police cars in December 2014. This sticker is calling for support in the campaign to get justice for Henry (King’s Cross, 06/06/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to the Henry Hicks campaign, but contains much less information (Tolpuddle Street, Islington, 20/05/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. AN inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

This sticker also relates to a specific case. Ian Tomlinson famously collapsed and died after being struck by a police officer at the 2009 G-20 protests. An inquest found that he had been unlawfully killed (Kennington Park Road, 04/06/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

There has been a lot of controversy over the pat few years over the policing of student protest. This sticker refers to a campaign to ban police from university campuses (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Senate House, 17/03/15).

I found this sticker close to Senate House, part of the University of London, which suggests it may also be connected to the controversy over student protest. The writing is not easy to make out; it reads ‘Total Policing- Total Nobs.’ (Senate House, 17/03/15).

(Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

Some stickers feature the logos of the groups who produced them. This sticker was made by the 161 Crew, a Polish anti-fascist group (Malet Street, Bloomsbury, 17/03/15).

(Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

This sticker reworks the logo of the Metropolitan Police, filling it with criticisms of the police force, including terrifying, intimidating, abusive and petty (Westminster Bridge, 20/06/15).

Sources and Further Reading

Ascoli, David. The Queen’s Peace: The Origins and Development of the Metropolitan Police 1829-1979. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1979.