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.
Those of us engaged in protesting the current failing system sometimes forget to remember the good things happening in our society, such as solar technology, local economies, and small-scale, organic agriculture. As a result, we can become plagued with a sense of hopelessness and despair as we engage in boycotts, strikes, blockades, and protests.
According to labor journalist Micah Uetricht, it’s high time for trade unions in the United States to decide whether they want to wither away and follow a “business unionism” model of concessions and shrinkage, or follow “social movement unionism,” a bottom-up, democratic organizing strategy that is aligned with social justice movements throughout the country. The Chicago Teacher’s Union [CTU], Uetricht writes in his book, Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity, is a prime example of the latter, a feisty, transparent, activist-led group that is willing to fight the good fight and challenge the entrenched attitudes that have made unions irrelevant to far too many workers. Uetricht makes clear that the CTU was not always a beacon and charts the union’s transition from a staid, top-down organization to one that engages teachers, paraprofessionals, students and neighborhood residents in community betterment efforts throughout Chicago.
The Square digs deeper, showing viewers the anatomy of mass movements and the DIY ethos that drives those within to action. It shows you first-hand that decentralized movements aren’t about the headlines and the talking heads that define them, or, for that matter, the establishments that oppose them. They’re about the people and objectives within that propel them. The Square is an important film– not just about Egypt, but about freedom movements and social change for an entire generation. The Square is a snapshot of a greater uprising, a social shift that is interconnected with Occupy and others like it all over the world. And while some have turned their backs on protesters within both movements, The Square is a vital reminder of the lessons that Tahrir’s revolutionaries taught Occupy and the world, inspiring the disenfranchised to to turn to the streets to amplify their voices.
Enough! Enough of this senseless criticizing of one another. A Dandelion Insurrectionist who is imprisoned and beaten by the police is no more revolutionary than the mother who gets up in the morning and feeds her child. We all have tasks that are imperatives of our times and we must do them with humility. Those of us trying to make change through civil resistance are no nobler than the plumber trying to clear the shit out of the pipes. So, enough of this criticizing one another about who is or is not a revolutionary, a radical, a cop-out, or who isn’t sacrificing enough to the cause, or who is playing it safe, or who lacks courage, or who is too middle of the road, or too extreme, or too cautious, or too colonized, or too oppressed, or who isn’t enough like you to be worthy of your respect. We will criticize ourselves to death.
In the article below, independent author John Stauber writes the recent history of how the Democratic Party co-opts political movements with a particular focus on the occupy movement but also covering the opposition to the Iraq War and advocates for single payer healthcare. These are only the most recent examples of how the Democratic Party has been where movements go to die. One job of the Democrats is to stifle movements that actually challenge the power structure by absorbing them into the party and making them part of the power structure. Labor and civil rights are two examples of many that show how being tied to the Democratic Party, indeed making up its must reliable bloc of voters results in being taken for granted and your constituents becoming worse off, rather than better off. We know there are people in these Democratic aligned organizations that are radicals who see the need for transformation and not reform. The social movement welcomes them and recognizes they bring important value to the movement, but the critical bottom line is the movement for economic, environmental and social justice must be independent of the Democratic Party.
Gene Sharp, an 80-year-old scholar of strategic nonviolent action and veteran of radical pacifist causes, is under attack by a number of foreign governments that claim that he and his small research institute are key players in a Bush administration plot against them. Though there is no truth to these charges, several leftist web sites and publications have been repeating such claims as fact. This raises disturbing questions regarding the ability of progressives challenging Bush foreign policy to distinguish between the very real manifestations of U.S. imperialism and conspiratorial fantasies. Gene Sharp’s personal history demonstrates the bizarre nature of these charges. He spent two years in prison for draft resistance against the Korean War, was arrested in the early civil rights sit-ins, was an editor of the radical pacifist journal Peace News, and was the personal assistant to the leftist labor organizer A.J. Muste. He named his institute after Albert Einstein, who is not only remembered as the greatest scientist of the 20th century but was also a well-known socialist and pacifist.
What we have in the US today is fundamentally a new mode of politics, one wedded to a notion of “power unaccompanied by accountability of any kind,” and this poses a deep and dire threat to democracy itself, because such power is difficult to understand, analyze and counter. The biggest problem facing the US may not be its repressive institutions, modes of governance and the militarization of everyday life, but the interiority of neoliberal nihilism, the hatred of democratic relations and the embrace of a culture of cruelty. I would suggest that what needs to be addressed is some sense of how this unique authoritarian conjuncture of power and politics came into place.
When Pete Seeger died, a sense of the impermanence of life increased my urge to ask Ysaye Maria Barnwell, a Grammy Award winning, 34 year member of Sweet Honey in the Rock, to speak on Occupy Radio about the importance of song in social protest. I had met Ysaye when I attended one of her Building a Vocal Community workshops, where she riveted the room with a warning and an instruction. “Learn the old protest songs and spirituals,” she said. “You’re going to need them.” Ysaye mentioned in our radio interview that when she went to Occupy Wall Street, she found that few people knew the old songs, and there weren’t many new ones, either. Chanting and drum circles dominated the vocal space, but these are different than song.
The very point of the FBI’s COINTELPRO strategy of the 1960s was paranoia, divisive hatred, and ultimately cannibalization of radical opposition movements in the United States. And it was grimly successful. Now that there are signs that US police agencies are reviving such tactics, it is imperative that activists learn from the mistakes of their counterparts two generations ago, and find rational, principled, humane and above all tactically astute ways to respond…COINTELPRO functioned first through surveillance, with the FBI supplying intelligence to local police forces. But infiltration wasn’t merely aimed at information-gathering. It was aimed at creating paranoia about who was an infiltrator. This was consciously exacerbated through the use of false rumors, poison-pen letters and other such “black propaganda.” There was even a term for it back then: “snitch-jacketing”—ruining someone’s reputation by portraying him or her as a government snitch. The aim was to enflame factionalism—preferably to the point of violence. And, again: It worked.
Three years ago this month, the 82-year-old president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down amid historic protests against his dictatorial rule. News of his resignation on Feb. 11, 2011 marked the climax of an uprising that was quickly recognized as one of the most sudden and significant upheavals of the 21st century. As the New York Times reported, “The announcement, which comes after an 18-day revolt led by the young people of Egypt, shatters three decades of political stasis and overturns the established order of the Arab world.” Activists in Egypt, along with sympathizers throughout the world, rejoiced. “We had tried before. But nothing was like this,” said Ahmed Salah, a veteran youth organizer who had worked for years to drum up resistance to the regime. For months, he had been promoting the audacious and improbable idea of a revolution without arms. “I had hopes, but I never really thought that I’d see it,” he explained. “Tahrir brought tears to my eyes.”
We’ve heard it from the bench in Oak Ridge city courtrooms and from state judges in Clinton, Tennessee. And on February 18 we heard it from a federal judge—there are two variations. The first: There are plenty of ways for you to protest and deliver your message without breaking the law. The second: If you people would just put this time and energy into working for the change you want in the political system, you might get the change you seek. Both sentiments are either disingenuous or naïve. When things are really messed up, really—like a nation that preaches nonproliferation to others but is busy building bombs and bomb plants—and no one in power wants to do anything about it, and most people in power actually have disincentives to do anything about it—what is a responsible citizen to do? If the mess up is obvious enough, and distant enough, and done by someone else—trains full of Jews heading for Dachau, for instance—we know what a responsible citizen is to do, and judges and prosecutors, too. We wrote the Nuremberg Code, we the US. But God help the citizen in the United States who sees a terrible wrong being done by the government and tries to raise the alarm.
In multiple industry settings—auto, telecom, trucking, healthcare, and hospitality– “bargaining to organize” has enabled tens of thousands of American workers to join unions without management harassment, threats, intimidation, or job discrimination. Workers get to demonstrate their support for bargaining rights in one of two ways, and sometimes both. Their union card signing majority can be verified by a neutral third party or, less preferably, confirmed in a secret ballot vote engineered, per labor-management agreement, to be “free and fair.” The key element either way is a negotiated pledge of employer neutrality. This, of course, is not binding on third parties in Tennessee or anywhere.
We can turn the tables and ridicule these sorts of reactionary, short sighted, desperate measures with our greatest assets: imagination, humor and the fact that we’re the good guys. The following article, written by Spanish art-ivists Amador Fernández-Savater and Leónidas Martín, offers 12 examples drawn from the last five decades poised to inspire and provoke. And check this out: so many people are eager to learn more about the how-to and history of this approach, that this has been the single most widely Facebook-shared article in eldiario.es’s history! We’ve also included some English hyperlinks to follow up on some of these leads and subtitled the one video in Spanish. Although written in reaction to the passage of the new law in Spain, we believe that their application and appeal is universal. Read on…
The application of basic human stubbornness – the capacity to refuse or withhold obedience when faced by a pressing moral choice – is the most widely-researched topic in the field of nonviolence, from explorations of proven methods of civil resistance to the stories of people who have said ‘no’ to taxes or conscription, torture or betrayal. But non-cooperation clearly has its limits in terms of creating social change. As Gene Sharp points out, people’s capacity for this form of action is embedded in human nature, but it is insufficient to achieve the long-term goals of peace and social justice. We have learned how to topple dictators, but not how to replace dysfunctional political systems so that tyranny does not return. We know how to launch new social movements like Occupy and those of the Arab Spring, but not how to sustain their gains by transforming society at large.
Our movements are revolutionary; their manner of collaborative, horizontal organization is the most natural, organic system on Earth. We terrify the empowered elite because we reflect, in our very structure, the most powerful force on the planet: Life. In what they call our disorganization, we embody the natural systems that the patriarchal, Puritanical European colonizers have been trying to repress and control for thousands of years. Our movements are as frightening to them as a liberated woman, or the pagan religions of old Europe that succumbed to the first invasion of the mentality that now engulfs the empowered elite around the globe. We are organic and uncontrollable . . . and we are, ultimately, unstoppable. Instead of codifying our movements under one name, we must learn to recognize who and what we are. We are a movement of movements, a great multiplicity of motion. We are a thousand points of light. We are Life, itself.