The section provides information on strategic nonviolence and links to organizations that provide training in nonviolent resistance, effective strategy and creative actions. For more information on a common vision and strategy that unites people into an effective national movement please see our page, about PopularResistance.org
Featured Video: The video to the right is an hour-long presentation on grand strategy given to the Fellowship Of Reconciliation in Olympia, WA. It is a reflection on how organizers can grow social movements to be impactful enough that they can effect social change, and it highlights principles and a theoretical framework that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of actions and tactics.
Organizations and Websites
Recent Articles in Strategy!
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, www.truth-out.org
June 13th, 2013
The fact is, United States and world histories show that an organized and mobilized populace is what has always caused transformational change. This history is not taught in our education system or emphasized in the heroes we idolize in our culture, but it is so significant that it cannot be hidden from view. The country could not operate if the people refused to participate in its corrupt systems. The ultimate power is with us, if we let go of fear and embrace it. Now that there is a history of more than 100 years of modern resistance movements, there is data to show what works and what doesn’t. As a result, we can develop a vision, a strategic plan and tactics that make success more likely than ever before.
All nonviolent struggles are conducted simultaneously in the political and strategic spheres, and these spheres, which are distinct, interact throughout. I have discussed this at length elsewhere.1 Despite this, only rarely have nonviolent struggles been conducted with a conscious awareness of this vitally important relationship. Gandhi’s campaigns were very effective partly because he understood the distinction and relationship between politics and strategy in nonviolent struggle. And the failure of many campaigns can be attributed, in part, to the fact that most activists do not. To illustrate the distinction and the relationship between these two spheres, and to highlight their vital importance, this article discusses them within the simpler context of nonviolent actions.
There’s a well-known quote from Mohandas Gandhi that, like many of his, is now common enough to verge on cliché: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Every so often it describes a situation perfectly. One such occasion was this Monday, reading Matthew Cunningham-Cook’s recent piece “Why the fossil fuel divestment movement is a farce.” The title isn’t as far off in its description as one might think. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary explains a farce as a funny staged production about “ridiculous situations and events.” An economy that can only operate through the extraction of land and labor is a ridiculous situation to find ourselves in as a society; rightfully so, no one is laughing. The climate crisis is one catastrophic symptom of an economic system that has not only driven us to the brink of destruction, but every day destroys millions of communities in our own backyard and around the world. The movement, though, has progressed in a less linear fashion than Gandhi imagined. For its first two years, divestment was largely ignored by university administrations, the media, the investment community, and just about the entire public. It’s been laughed at its fair share already, but — quicker than anyone predicted — is already starting to win. As noted in the article, not only have major cities and institutions committed to divest, but the international conversation on climate change and extraction is already starting to change. Endorsements have come from such unexpected places as the World Bank, and even former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs’ COO Henry Paulson this past week.
The act of writing can be just as excruciating as it can be exhilarating — in this case as part of a process to explore interconnectedness and reclaimed histories as tools we can use toward collective liberation. How often I’ve sat in front of a blank page, the words tangled up in my gut, stuck between tears and broken memories. How often I’ve waited for that thrill when the words are unleashed, when the stories I’ve been dying to tell finally come out in narratives that can be heard and seen by those around me. In this era of media stunts, celebrities and executive directors, there’s something fundamental for us to recognize: that none of these words are ever ours alone. I’ve progressively centered more of my organizing and writing on intersectionality, to which many have contributed through their words and actions. There have been many people with whom I’ve worked through entangled ideas and identities, as we’ve attempted to better understand our undeniable connections and what that means within our social justice movements. A comrade organizing in the ‘hoods of New York City recently reminded me to show gratitude, to give credit to those who’ve shaped me along the way. In honor of that sentiment, I owe deep thanks… … to the undocumented sister who shows me bravery with every fiber of her being, with her unflinching integrity, with her every truth that she speaks to challenge the empire’s narrative.
After a decade of grassroots advocacy, my personal belief is that the greatest obstacle to positive change in the world isn’t corporations, the government, or the 1%, but lack of movement solidarity. And no, I’m not pretending to be some modern day Moses bringing the divine truths down from the mountain. I’m just someone who has participated in the entire spectrum of the environmental movement — from mainstream to “radical,” on both coasts — who has witnessed a lot of unnecessary failures over the years, in large part because people can’t figure out how to work together. Since my work these days focuses on the health and environmental impacts of dirty energy — nuclear, fossil fuels, and biomass/trash incineration — most of the specific examples I give in this article will come from that realm. However, chances are the “Ten Commandments of Solidarity” can also apply to your movement, whatever it is…unless it’s evil. In which case, it won’t, so don’t bother.
Not long ago, same-sex marriage in America was not merely an unpopular cause; it was a politically fatal one — a third-rail issue that could end the career of any politician foolish enough to touch it. The idea that gay and lesbian couples would be able to legally exchange vows in states throughout the United States was regarded, at best, as a far-off fantasy and, at worst, as a danger to the republic. It can be difficult to remember how hostile the terrain was for LGBT advocates in even recent decades. As of 1990, three-quarters of Americans saw homosexual sex as immoral. Less than a third condoned same-sex marriage — something no country in the world permitted. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman and denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, passed by an overwhelming 85-14 margin in the U.S. Senate. Figures including Democratic Sen. Joe Biden voted for it, and Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the act, affirming, “I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages.”
In April, New York University found itself the subject of uncomfortable scrutiny when Michael Powell reported in the New York Times that Daniel E. Straus, owner of the HealthBridge and CareOne nursing home companies in New Jersey and Connecticut and a board member at NYU law school, had subpoenaed the emails, text messages and personal writings of two NYU law students, Luke Herrine and Leo Gertner. The two were part of a growing movement of NYU undergraduates and law students calling attention to working conditions at Straus’s facilities, and they had been helping to circulate a petition to the law school dean asking for a meeting to discuss Straus’s presence on the board. The next day, with somewhat less fanfare, a one-line memo was sent to NYU law students by their dean, informing them that Straus would no longer be on the school’s board. The Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, which Straus has funded since 2009, will close at the end of the year. (Although the timeline of the closure decision is unclear, Herrine, one of the subpoenaed students, believes it was due to the controversy.)
“I think you’re misunderstanding the perceived problem here, Mr. President. No one is saying you broke any laws. We’re just saying it’s a little bit weird that you didn’t have to.”—John Oliver on The Daily Show1 The government is collecting information on millions of citizens. Phone, Internet, and email habits, credit card and bank records—virtually all information that is communicated electronically is subject to the watchful eye of the state. The government is even building a nifty, 1.5 million square foot facility in Utah to house all of this data.2 With the recent exposure of the NSA’s PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden, many people—especially activists—are wondering: How much privacy do we actually have? Well, as far as electronic privacy, the short answer is: None. None at all. There are a few ways to protect yourself, but ultimately, nothing in electronic communications is absolutely protected. In the United States, surveillance of electronic communications is governed primarily by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA), which is an extension of the 1968 Federal Wiretap act (also called “Title III”) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Other legislation, such as the USA PATRIOT Act and the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), supplement both the ECPA and FISA.
Across Spain, everyone has an opinion about Pablo Iglesias. Mere mention of the ponytailed leader of the insurgent leftwing party Podemos (We Can), who is only 35, elicits a barrage of adjectives that range from honest to dangerous. There was the woman in Barcelona who gushed that “he seems like such a decent person” as she explained why she had cast her first vote in a decade and given it to Podemos. Or the worries expressed by the monarchist from San Sebastián who spent hours waiting on a sunny morning in Madrid to catch a glimpse of Felipe VI on his first day as the new king of Spain. “Iglesias wants to turn Spain into the next Venezuela.” In only a month, Iglesias has gone from well-known political pundit to member of the European parliament and one of Spain’s most polarising personalities. Soft-spoken and calm, Iglesias shrugs off the attention. “I’m a normal person,” he said. Active in left-leaning politics since he was 14, he describes himself as “a guy who worked in the university for many years, as a researcher, then as a professor”. Wearing a shirt lined with the red, yellow and purple colours of the Spanish republic, Iglesias pulled loose his ponytail as the interview started, his long brown hair falling over his shoulders for a moment before he tied it back into his signature style.
Fossil fuel divestment would target only major corporations that are listed on the stock market. But pension funds and endowments, the entities largely targeted by the 350.org campaign, invest hundreds of billions of dollars in privately traded securities, such as hedge funds and private equity — vehicles that are invested at all levels of the fossil fuel economy. (In particular, hedge funds and private equity have been found to be the key financial backers of the fracking boom.) Were the Massachusetts divestment bill to pass, state pension funds would invariably still be invested in the fossil fuel economy. The divestment campaign argues that 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies dominate the fossil fuel exploration market. But they ignore that such companies frequently depend on private equity and hedge funds for financing new investments when large banks are uninterested in taking on further risk. The public can rarely (if ever) verify that these types of arrangements take place, even if it is a teacher attempting to verify what her pension fund is doing with her money. Pension funds and endowments have not always invested in the private market. In the 1980s and before, in fact, they were almost exclusively invested in publicly traded securities. Laws such as the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and the Investment Company Act of 1940 allowed the public to verify how the companies in which pension funds and endowments were investing used their funds and provided transparency to investors in order to prevent fraudulent activity.
In Part 1 of the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, I examined today’s global order – or disorder – through the eyes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Adviser and long-time influential figure in foreign policy circles. Brzezinski articulated what he refers to as humanity’s “global political awakening,” spurred by access to education, technology and communications among much of the world’s population. Brzezinski has written and spoken extensively to elites at American and Western think tanks and journals, warning that this awakening poses the “central challenge” for the U.S. and other powerful countries, explaining that “most people know what is generally going on… in the world, and are consciously aware of global iniquities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation.” Mankind, Brzezinski said in a 2010 speech, “is now politically awakened and stirring.” But Brzezinski is hardly the only figure warning elites and elite institutions about the characteristics and challenges of an awakened humanity. The subject of inequality – raised to the central stage by the Occupy movement – has become a fundamental feature in the global social, political and economic discussion, as people become increasingly aware of the facts underlying the stark division between the haves and have nots.
Nothing is more offensive to our innate sense of justice than the continuing freedom of known financial criminals – financier fraudsters who used money as a weapon to commit well-documented crimes, stealing homes and jobs and life-savings from our parents, our friends, our comrades and neighbors. Blankfein et al are jetting around free as birds… and getting richer each fiscal quarter. Meanwhile we fear our piling up bills, pull our hair and wonder aloud, “Why haven’t the guilty bankers been arrested? Why has not a single corporate megabank been put on trial? Why is Goldman Sachs still alive?” only to be reminded that our current system is unwilling, unable and unequipped to dispense justice on mega-banks. If the regulators and the police and the courts and the President won’t bring justice, then we the people must, right? But how? By what right do “we, the people” have to take the law into our own hands? By what authority can we go out and handcuff the CEOs, put Chase on trial and pass a fair sentence? How do we step outside the established law and use vigilante justice while still being confident that what we are doing is righteous and just?
I have spent most of my life growing up in the U.S. South. I was raised in North Carolina and growing up here meant receiving perplexed looks, condescending questions and upsetting dismissals from non-Southerners because of the many stereotypes that comes with being from the South. Needless to say, I have learned a lot about how other people perceive this region. While most of these conversations have been between friends, comrades and allies, most of these perspectives — whether well-intentioned or not — are misguided. Oftentimes, it has been heartbreaking to find out what non-Southern organizers think they know about organizing in this region. Many have told me that organizing in the South isn’t worth it or assume that there actually isn’t any organizing happening in the South at all. And perhaps the one perspective that has been the most infuriating to me is the idea that Southern organizers need to be rescued from the supposedly most backward region in the country. What I want to speak to is how we start moving towards actually building relationships with each other across political, geographical and cultural lines.
On a snowy weekend in January, activists for social, economic and environmental justice from across the United States gathered in a Chicago union hall to plan a Global Climate Convergence: ten days of action from Earth Day to May Day. Many of these activists had never focused on the climate crisis before, being mired instead in fighting battles that loomed more immediately in their lives. Who has the capacity to worry about climate change when your community is hungry, cold, without shelter, lacks health care or is being poisoned? During that weekend meeting, we transcended the barriers that typically lead to working in narrow silos and treading water while the oceans literally and figuratively continue to rise around us. We stepped outside of our particular areas of advocacy, connected our struggles, and forged a collective effort to take action together this spring and beyond. The rallying cry was that the time has arrived to join hands and change course.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the massive organizing project that brought more than 1,000 volunteers to Mississippi and drew national attention to the ongoing civil rights struggle in the South. Freedom Summer was launched as an assault on segregation and inequality on many fronts. Activists set up 30 Freedom Schools as an alternative to the state’s underfunded and segregated education system. The Medical Committee for Human Rights offered free health clinics. While Freedom Summer went beyond electoral politics, a key focus from the beginning was breaking down voting barriers and harnessing African-American political power. Mississippi was chosen in part because less than seven percent of the state’s black voters were registered in 1962, according to the Congress of Racial Equality, and Freedom Summer built on ongoing voter registration efforts. Organizers launched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as a rival to the white-controlled state Democratic Party, and Freedom Summer helped pave the way for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.