"OK, good. You're developing parallel institutions," said Popovic. This was Adam Michnik's strategy for Solidarity in Poland: Don't tear down institutions -- build your own. "You did this to remove bodies after Cyclone Nargis" -- the 2008 disaster that killed more than 138,000 people in Burma -- "when the government would not. Now, what if the municipality doesn't care?"
"We'll dump the garbage in front of the mayor," said a tall man. Popovic laughed. "Or you could choose a lower-risk strategy -- take pictures of the garbage and present them to authorities," he said.
When the next group came to the front of the room, its members were smiling and, oddly, taking off their shoes. Their spokeswoman, a young woman in a pink shirt who was wriggling with excitement, proposed a "Barefoot Campaign," to commemorate the monks of the Saffron Revolution, who do not wear shoes. The idea was to start with 100 young people, contacted by email and social networks. They would do something simple: go barefoot in public spaces. "We can start with the pagodas," said Pink Shirt -- no one wears shoes in a pagoda anyway. And people could walk through paint, Pink Shirt said. "We can easily measure success -- if we see barefoot people and footprints everywhere."
"When the authorities respond with arrests, how will you respond?" Auntie asked. The group had thought through this. "For safety, people can carry a pair of broken sandals in their pocket to show the police," said a cherubic-faced young man. "Or you can say, 'I'm getting ready to go running.'"
The tall man halted their excitement. "If the authorities see you leaving footprints, they will know and arrest you."
"They won't know who it was if we do it at night," said the Cherub. "Let's do it!" He pumped his fist in the air. Everyone laughed.
But the footprints were a problem -- they could quite literally lead the police to their prey. Then a soft-spoken young woman in a gauze shirt spoke up. "There are lots of stray dogs and cats," she said. "We can put a dish of paint in front of where they live so they will walk through it." Cats and dogs as the foot soldiers of democracy! They looked at each other, awed by their own brilliance, and slapped hands all around.
Near the end of the week the group watched Burma VJ, a 2008 documentary by Danish director Anders Ostergaard about a group of clandestine Burmese video journalists, whose footage, smuggled out of the country, is often the only way the outside world knows what is happening in Burma. The film takes place during the Saffron Revolution; it is precious contraband in Burma, and most of the participants had seen it before. It is a document of hope and valor, a record of a few weeks many Burmese consider the high point of their lives. But after a week of CANVAS training, the Burmese were watching it with fresh eyes.
When the film ended, Djinovic walked to the front of the room. "So what did you think?" he said. The Cherub was wide-eyed. "This was not organized!" he said. Suddenly the Saffron Revolution looked very different. It was so brave, so inspiring -- and so improvised, foolish, and irresponsible. "People were going into the streets spontaneously, asking for something that is not achievable," Djinovic told them, perhaps not gentle enough as he razed their heroes. "Our advice," he said slowly, "is that you think about nonviolent struggle totally differently than you have seen in this movie."
Silence fell over the group.
"Then you know what you have to do," he said.