All posts tagged: strategy

Beautiful Trouble!

If you haven’t yet checked out the new book Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution, well, get on it! The book, was assembled by Andrew Boyd, who herded about 70 folks into writing a whole lot of short, outstanding essays about grassroots organizing, creative action, and social change. Beautiful Trouble is “a book & web toolbox that puts the best ideas and tactics of creative action in the hands of the next generation of change-makers, connecting the accumulated wisdom of decades of creative protest to the popular outrage of the current political moment…” It’s a great book! You can order it here! And it’s not just a book — it’s also a fantastic web toolbox. I contributed seven chapters to the book (two of them in collaboration with other contributors). You can check them all out in the Beautiful Trouble web toolbox, and also below. Participating in the project has been delightful. My organization, Beyond the Choir, collaborated with Agit-Pop, The Other 98%, Yes Lab, smartMeme, Center for Artistic Activism, Ruckus Society, Waging Nonviolence, Nonviolence …

how language can limit tactical options

We know that movement groups adopt targets, tactics, and strategies not only because they have a good likelihood of being effective and because they are consistent with the group’s express ideological commitments, but also, often, because they are symbolically associated with people or things that are attractive for other reasons, or are symbolically opposed to people or things that are unattractive for other reasons. —Francesca Polletta,Three Mechanisms by Which Culture Shapes Movement Strategy:Repertoires, Institutional Norms, and Metonymy,(in the book Strategies for Social Change) If we lack a strategy to achieve a political goal (within a social movement group), then by what criteria do we evaluate the success or failure of our tactics? In many of the groups I have worked with over the years, to be frank, we have not evaluated our tactics at all. And when we did, it was often without strategic criteria. Instead we often judged actions by how well they expressed the collective values of our group or subculture, rather than by how they brought us closer to achieving political goals. …

Sunday afternoon rough notes on messaging for populist alignment

Messaging (/symbolic contestation) for populist alignment: very rough notes, pieces of the puzzle, for future exploration… Messages and memes (i.e. carriers of messages) must be potent enough to penetrate the meaning-making processes of existing social aggregations (aka “groups”). Proximate groups are the primary spaces where meanings are processed, judged, opinions shaped, etc. (A “proximate” group is an immediately-experiencable, graspable in size, often-local group. Proximate, as opposed to abstract or imagined, the latter referring to a society, nation, class, religion, etc.) Explicate the modern dis-integration/dispersal of proximate groups; a society of divided selves; identities dispersed across several circles / groups of identity, etc. Explore the “script” and pressure within groups to avoid internal friction, especially subversive challenge; to extricate the political into a distinct group unto itself (e.g. “activism”), and thus to minimize antagonisms within the proximate group, its life and functions. In eras of identity dispersal and unrootedness—and the shrinking of the “tradition-directed” groups and character structures—the opening to frame more potent abstract “groups” (aka imagined communities). The technologies of the mass media (first print, …

when ritual replaces strategy

In utopianism and the would-be political group I explored a layer of utopianism within intense social change movements like Occupy Wall Street, and I suggested that the utopian drive in these situations may be at least as much about immediate participant experience as it is about an envisioned ideal future. That is to say the incarnated utopian space (e.g. Liberty Square) provides an integrated group identity that fills a lack for many core participants. The lack is caused at least partly by the fragmentation of modern existence — the dispersal of our identities across many spheres (e.g. workplace, family, religion, interest, hobby, neighborhood, etc.) and the accompanying anxiety caused by the necessary constant juggling of our selves. Who are we? Each of us contains many selves, many performances, each of which emerges in relation to different groups and circumstances. But those who can step fully into one single radically integrating identity are able to fill this lack and longing—even if temporarily—with an integrated sense of self and of belonging. Out of many identity fragments emerges …

Is government a contestable space?

Yesterday in Revolution! (wait, what are we talking about?), I essentially argued, among other things, that there may be harm in framing our social, economic, and political change efforts in the United States today in a term whose applicability may be historically contingent. The word revolution, I suggested, conjures the idea of overthrowing a government, and as such is descriptive of a particular model of transformation that only applies to the radical overhaul of particular kinds of oppressive governments, e.g. feudalism, monarchies, dictatorships, and colonial governments. The harm, I suggested, comes from the uncritical and unqualified dichotomization of revolution vs. reformism in some activist circles, where the former is exalted and the latter dissed. If we reject revolution vs. reformism as a false dichotomy and embrace that reforms (i.e. winning real improvements in real people’s lives now) are important, then another question arises: Is government a contestable space? If winning reforms is important, the practical consolidation will necessarily involve some kind of government action. And forcing some kind of government action will necessarily involve a …

The Tactic of Occupation & the Movement of the 99%

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If we are to launch from a moment to a movement, we will have to broaden the “us”. We must win in the arena of values, and not allow ourselves to be narrowly defined by our tactics.

A month and a half ago a few hundred New Yorkers set up an encampment at the doorstep of Wall Street. Since then, Occupy Wall Street has become a national and even international symbol &#151 with similarly styled occupations popping up in cities and towns across America and around the world. A growing popular movement has fundamentally altered the national narrative about our economy, our democracy, and our future.

Americans are talking about the consolidation of wealth and power in our society, and the stranglehold that the top 1% have on our political system. More and more Americans are seeing the crises of our economy and our democracy as systemic problems, that require collective action to remedy. More and more Americans are identifying as part of the 99%, and saying “enough!” This moment may be nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together as citizens to take action to address crises that impact us all.

Occupation as tactic

It behooves us to examine why this particular tactic of physical occupation struck such a nerve with so many Americans and became a powerful catalyzing symbol.

On some level we have to separate the reasons for this broad resonance from some things the physical occupation has meant to the dedicated people occupying on the ground. Within Liberty Square there is a thriving civic space, with ongoing dialogues and debates, a public library, a kitchen, live music, General Assemblies, more meetings than you can imagine, and all sorts of activities. In this sense, occupation is more than just a tactic. Many participants are consciously prefiguring the kind of society they want to live in.

But it is also a tactic. A tactic is basically an action taken with the intention of achieving a particular goal, or at least moving toward it. In long-term struggle, a tactic is better understood as one move among many in an epic game of chess (with the caveat that the powerful and the challengers are in no sense evenly matched). A successful tactic is one that sets us up to eventually achieve gains that we are presently not positioned to win. As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire asked, “What can we do today so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?”

By this definition, the tactic of physical occupation in the case of Occupy Wall Street has been enormously successful already. We have, at least for a moment, subverted the hegemonic conservative narrative about our economy and our democracy with a different moral narrative about social justice and real democratic participation. We are significantly better positioned than before to make bold demands, as we can now credibly claim that our values are popular&#151even that they are common sense&#151and connected to a social base.

grassroots communications tips (series)

Someone recently asked me to jot down some communications, media and messaging tips for folks engaged in grassroots social justice organizing efforts and campaigns. So, that’s what I’m doing in this series.  I’ll be breaking down some specific techniques and also exploring deeper communications concepts and frameworks.

This is the landing page for this series.  You can bookmark it and check back for new posts, which I’ll be linking to from this page.

  1. How to pitch reporters
  2. Hooks & messages
  3. Narrative insurgency
  4. Grassroots organizational branding