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How to Be an Effective Dissident

You’ve decided to protest an unjust political system or organization. Make the most impact with these tips. For more information on social movements, go to "":


  • : Depending upon where you live, dissidents can end up in jail--or worse. Get familiar with local laws and be sure you know your rights.
  • Step 1: Hone your message By definition, a dissident disagrees with an established political or belief system. Try to present positive alternatives, and make sure your argument is informed by the specifics of your local situation.
  • TIP: Concentrate your dissent on one issue and develop it into a brief manifesto you can circulate via public statements and petitions.
  • Step 2: Read up Look to historical role models. Study the methods of famous dissidents like Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • Step 3: Keep documentation Document all human-rights violations and other abuses. Factual, provable information can help your cause.
  • TIP: If possible, post documentation on a blog or web site.
  • Step 4: Use the press Figure out your outreach strategy: The more people hear your message, the more influential you’ll be. Contact the media--print, radio, television, online--whenever possible to tell your story.
  • TIP: If a sympathetic foreign dignitary or organization happens to visit, try to meet with them, or organize a protest to coincide with their arrival, which can get you some international press attention.
  • Step 5: Form influential alliances Seek out influential alliances--human-rights foundations, opposition groups, writers, and religious leaders--who can lend legitimacy, advice, and moral gravity. Certain organizations--and even some democratic governments--may offer funding for your efforts, or legal representation, if necessary.
  • Step 6: Contact expats and exiles Fellow countrymen and women living abroad either in exile or by choice may be able to publicize your cause internationally. They are also a possible source of funding.
  • TIP: Before reaching out, keep in mind that collaboration with the exile community can be a sensitive issue. They may be perceived as out of touch, or linked to unpopular leaders.
  • Step 7: Be careful where you talk In repressive societies, always assume someone is listening. Avoid delicate conversations in your home and on the phone due to the possibility of bugs and wiretaps. Use disposable cell phones and change them every month or so.
  • Step 8: Don’t resort to violence The regime you're opposing may attempt to provoke you into violence. Do not give in! You'll gain more respect, and in the end be more effective by keeping your dissent nonviolent.
  • Step 9: Be daring Being a dissident takes courage. Never lose faith in the justice of your actions.
  • FACT: Famed South African dissident Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison. After his release, he became the country’s first democratically elected president.

You Will Need

  • A message
  • Documentation
  • The press
  • Influential alliances
  • Communication technology
  • Courage
  • Collaboration with exiles

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