The Citizens Handbook
How to Get Rid of a Dictator

List updated, original from Gene Sharpe, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two, The Methods of Nonviolent Action. See also
The Dictator's Playbook
What Works for Social Movements
Bringing Down a Dictator (documentary about Otpor)

This is a summary of what citizens can do to dislodge an oppressive dictator. It focuses entirely on nonviolent action, because the state almost always has overwhelming superiority when it comes to the use of force. Violent opposition most often leads to prolonged stalemate or prolonged civil war.

The objective of nonviolent action is to undermine those in power, while winning over the general population. The most resistant groups are those who benefit from and support a dictatorship, such as the police, the military, and various elites. As long as these groups continue their support, an oppressive regime can remain in control. But once the middle class and elites defect, and the military and police refuse to use force to suppress opposition, a dictator is finished.

Any group wishing to overthrow a dictator must continually search for ways to encourage people to actively oppose the regime. They must also maintain steady pressure through continuous nonviolent actions. And they need be inventive, rather than settle for the usual placard waving marches. Both dictatorships and democracies have adopted methods for accommodating marches and protests, and view them as a handy way to let people blow off steam with little or no disruption to the business of the state. 

Gene Sharpe is widely regarded as an expert on nonviolent action. He was a valued advisor to Otpor!, the leaderless student group that used funny, entertaining actions to get rid of nasty Serbian dictator Svoboda Milosevic. Sharpe says that the forces of opposition must exert continuous pressure and employ a variety of tactics. Here is his list.

Formal statements
1. Public speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a wider audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displays
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Social media, video sharing, podcasts, blogs, email,
12. Radio, and television
13. Rewriting the lyrics of popular songs
14. Sky-writing and earth-writing

Group representations
15. Deputations
16. Mock awards
17. Group lobbying
18. Picketing
19. Flash mobs
20. Mock elections

Symbolic public acts
22. Display of flags and symbolic colours
23. Wearing of symbols
24. Prayer and worship
25. Delivering symbolic objects
26. Protest disrobings
27. Destruction of own property
28. Symbolic lights
29. Displays of portraits
30. Paint as protest
31. New signs and names
32. Symbolic sounds
33. Symbolic reclamations
34. Rude gestures

Pressures on individuals
35. ”Haunting" officials
36. Taunting officials
37. Creating an online Rogues Gallery
38. Fraternization
39. Vigils

Drama and music
40. Humorous skits and pranks
41. Performance of plays and music
42. Singing

43. Marches
44. Parades
45. Religious processions
46. Pilgrimages
47. Motorcades

Honouring the dead
48. Political mourning
49. Mock funerals
50. Demonstrative funerals
51. Homage at burial places

Public assemblies
52. Assemblies of protest or support
53. Protest meetings
54. Camouflaged meetings of protest
55. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and renunciation
56. Walk-outs
57. Silence
58. Renouncing honours
59. Turning one's back



Ostracism of persons
60. Social boycott
61. Selective social boycott
62. Lysistratic non-action
63. Excommunication
64. Interdict

Noncooperation with social events, customs, and institutions
65. Suspension of social and sports activities
66. Boycott of social affairs
67. Student strike
68. Social disobedience
69. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the social system
70. Stay-at-home
71. Total personal noncooperation
72. Flight of workers
73. Sanctuary
74. Collective disappearance
75. Protest emigration (hijrat)


Action by consumers
76. Consumers’ boycott
77. Non-consumption of boycotted goods
78. Policy of austerity
79. Rent withholding
80. Refusal to rent
81. National consumers' boycott
82. International consumers' boycott

Action by workers and producers
83. Workmen’s boycott
84. Producers’ boycott

Action by middlemen
85. Suppliers’ and handlers' boycott

Action by owners and management
86. Traders’ boycott
87. Refusal to let or sell property
88. Lockout
90. Refusal of industrial assistance
91. Merchants’ "general strike"

Action by holders of financial resources
92. Withdrawal of bank deposits
93. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
94. Refusal to pay debts or interest
95. Severance of funds and credit
96. Revenue refusal
97. Refusal of a government's money

Action by governments
98. Domestic embargo
99. Blacklisting of traders
100. International sellers' embargo
101. International buyers' embargo
102. International trade embargo


Symbolic strikes
103. Protest strike
104. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural strikes
105. Peasant strike
106. Farm workers' strike

Strikes by special groups
107. Refusal of impressed labor
108. Prisoners’ strike
109. Craft strike
110. Professional strike

Ordinary industrial strikes
111. Establishment strike
112. Industry strike
113. Sympathetic strike

Restricted strikes
114. Detailed strike
115. Bumper strike
116. Slowdown strike
117. Working-to-rule strike
118. Reporting "sick" (sick-in)
119. Strike by resignation
120. Limited strike
121. Selective strike

Multi-industry strikes
122. Generalized strike
123. General strike

Combinations of strikes and economic closures
124. Hartal
125. Economic shutdown


Rejection of authority
126. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
127. Refusal of public support
128. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens' noncooperation with government
129. Boycott of legislative bodies
130. Boycott of elections
131. Boycott of government employment and positions
132. Boycott of government departments, agencies and other bodies
133. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
134. Boycott of government-supported organizations
135. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
136. Removal of own signs and placemarks
137. Refusal to accept appointed officials
138. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens' alternatives to obedience
139. Reluctant and slow compliance
140. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
141. Popular nonobedience
142. Disguised disobedience
143. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
144. Sitdown
145. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
146. Hiding, escape and false identities
147. Civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws

Action by government personnel
148. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
149. Blocking of lines of command and information
150. Stalling and obstruction
151. General administrative noncooperation
152. Judicial noncooperation
153. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcers
154. Mutiny

Domestic governmental action
155. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
156. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International governmental action
157. Changes in diplomatic and other representation
158. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
159. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
160. Severance of diplomatic relations
161. Withdrawal from international organizations
162. Refusal of membership in international bodies
163. Expulsion from international organizations


Psychological intervention
164. Self-exposure to the elements
165. The fast
166. Fast of moral pressure
167. Hunger strike
168. Satyagrahic fast
169. Reverse trial
170. Nonviolent harassment

Physical intervention
171. Sit-in
172. Stand-in
173. Ride-in
174. Wade-in
175. Mill-in
176. Pray-in
177. Nonviolent raids
178. Nonviolent air raids
179. Nonviolent invasion
180. Nonviolent interjection
181. Nonviolent obstruction
182. Nonviolent occupation

Social intervention
183. Establishing new social patterns
184. Overloading of facilities
185. Stall-in
186. Speak-in
187. Guerrilla theater
188. Alternative social institutions
189. Alternative communication system

Economic intervention
190. Reverse strike
191. Stay-in strike
192. Nonviolent land seizure
193. Defiance of blockades
194. Politically motivated counterfeiting
195. Preclusive purchasing
196. Seizure of assets
197. Dumping
198. Selective patronage
199. Alternative markets
200. Alternative transportation systems
201. Alternative economic institutions

Political intervention
202. Overloading of administrative systems
203. Disclosing identities of secret agents
204. Seeking imprisonment
205. Civil disobedience of "neutral" laws
206. Work-on without collaboration
207. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

See also Blueprint of Revolution,by Srdja Popovic, published in 2015 by Spiegel and Grau. Popovic was central figure in Otpor!; he is now the director of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).

See also Networked Campaigns

The Citizen's Handbook / Home / Table of Contents
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson /

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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of the handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots wilt, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from Amazon or from New Society Publishers.