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Thread: Action: From Tactics to Strategy

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Action: From Tactics to Strategy

    From Tactics to Strategy


    • To help participants move from thinking tactically to strategically;
    • Introduction of a cognitive framework;
    • Consideration of the values of different tactics as they fit within a larger strategy.


    1.5 hours


    As activists, many of us love tactics! So here's a tool which uses that to help us think about overall strategy more effectively.



    Hand out letter-sized pieces of blank paper and invite participants to write on it their favorite tactics. (Review the definition of a "tactic" and make sure it is inclusive, not only direct action but also kinds of alternative institutions, or culture work, etc.) Once they have done that, ask them to stand up and mingle, holding their paper in front of them. As they mingle, have them find others who in some way seem similar.

    Once the clusters have appeared, ask them to sit down in the clusters and talk about what they find in common. Invite individuals to feel free to "try out" other clusters if they suspect there might be a better match.

    When they've settled down, ask them to consider that there might be a sequence to the clusters, that some clusters of tactics might better go before others in order to prepare the way or build capacity for later tactics. Ask the clusters to arrange themselves on the floor in sequence. This will be cheerfully chaotic and require some inter-cluster negotiation. A few individuals might shift again, also.

    Then move to the Debrief.


    Invite participants to brainstorm a list of their favorite tactics. (Review the definition of a "tactic" and make sure it is inclusive, not only direct action but also kinds of alternative institutions, or culture work, etc.)

    After a range of tactics are on the list (20 or so is generally fine), get participants in small groups (four or five). In their small groups, have them take a section of the list (you might break it apart) and identify if they would put the tactics in the beginning, middle, or end of a campaign. After working for a couple of minutes, have them share their results in the large group.

    After sharing, have the group notice what are themes. "How might we characterize the beginning stage? The middle stage? The end stage?" Notice major themes. Then move to the Debrief.


    What participants have just done is begin to make a broad, general framework of why certain tactics make sense at certain moments (and less at others). Sometimes tactics are elevated to a status where they are always appropriate or appropriate irregardless of strategy. Not so: tactics should be guided by strategy.

    Invite participants to notice the decisions they already reached; i.e. why they decided certain tactics come before others and build on each other. Notice the tendency of increasing capacity over time (effective strategies build capacity over time).

    At this point, you might begin to introduce a particular framework (such as the 5-stage revolutionary framework developed by George Lakey, the 8-stage framework developed by Bill Moyer or the 6-stage campaign planning framework by Martin Luther King, Jr.). Compare those frameworks with what the group created. Get clarity about the flow.

    Not everyone will agree with any framework (nor needs to) – it's in a spirit of exploring strategy lessons we can use! For more on the different frameworks for social change, see Frameworks for Social Change under Tools on the Training for Change website.


    George Lakey, Training for Change, originally in Holland at an international nonviolence trainers conference in 1992.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Action: 8 skills of a well-trained activist

    8 skills of a well-trained activist

    Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the Highlander Center in 1957. (Pete Seeger)
    As I write this dozens of trainers in Philadelphia near completion of a 17-day intensive called the “Super-T,” a kind of boot camp for trainers. In the 1950s, there was no place I could go to learn this kind of activist facilitation training, even though Paulo Freire was doing groundbreaking work in his “pedagogy of the oppressed” and the Gandhi-influenced Muslim leader Abdul Ghaffar Khan had used training to prepare his Pashtun nonviolent army for combat with the British Empire.

    We’ve come a long way since the 1950s, when the civil rights movement was being seeded by Congress of Racial Equality trainings in church basements and Rosa Parks attended workshops at the Highlander Center in Tennessee. Now even advanced training for activist trainers is available. Training for Change, an organization I co-founded, has led over 20 Super-Ts. These facilitator marathons have attracted activists from dozens of countries on five continents.

    I’m grateful that today’s teenagers don’t need to get lucky and find a mentor, as I did by apprenticing to Charlie Walker in the 1950s. Today the Ruckus Society, Seeds of Peace UK, Pace e Bene, the Centre for Applied Non Violent Actions and Strategies — that is, CANVAS — and many other training organizations exist to help people gain skills. Training organizations in turn use Training for Change to upgrade their own skills and work collaboratively on projects like the Global Power Shift this week in Istanbul. We’ve made major progress just in my lifetime, but much more is needed to meet the multiplying opportunities for change.

    Why more training now?

    The history of training is a history of playing catch-up. Very few movements seem to realize that the pace of change can accelerate so rapidly that it outstrips the movement’s ability to use its opportunities fully. In Istanbul a small group of environmentalists sit down to save a park, and suddenly there are protests in over 60 Turkish cities; the agenda expands, from green space to governance to capitalism; doors open everywhere. It would be a good moment to have tens of thousands of skilled organizers ready to seize the day, supporting smart direct action and building prefigurative institutions. But excitement alone may slacken; as with the Occupy movement, spontaneous creativity has its limits.

    With the right skills, movements can sustain themselves for years against punishing, murderous resistance. The mass direct action phase of the civil rights movement pushed on effectively for a decade after 1955. Mass excitement doesn’t need to fizzle in a year. A movement thrives by solving the problems it faces.

    Anti-authoritarians don’t want to count on a movement’s top leaders to be the problem-solvers, but instead to develop shared leadership by fostering problem-solving smarts at the grassroots. There’s nothing automatic about grassroots problem-solving. How well people strategize, organize, invent creative tactics, reach effectively to allies, use the full resources of the group and persevere at times of discouragement — all that can be enhanced by training.

    Nothing is more predictable than that there will be increased turbulence in the United States and many other societies. Activists cause some of the turbulence by rising up; other turbulence results from things like climate change, the 1 percent’s austerity programs and other forces outside activists’ immediate control.

    Increased turbulence scares a lot of people. It’s only natural that people will look around for reassurance. The ruling class will offer one kind of reassurance. The big question is: What reassurance will the movement offer?

    When students in Paris in May 1968 launched a campaign that quickly moved into nationwide turbulence, with 11 million workers striking and occupying, there was a momentary chance for the middle class to side with the students and workers instead of siding with the 1 percent. The movement, though, didn’t understand enough about the basic human need for security and failed to use its opportunity. That was a strategic error, but to choose a different path the movement would have required participants with more skills. Training would have been necessary. We can learn from this, inventory the skills needed and train ourselves accordingly.

    What is training ready to do for us?

    Here are a few of the key benefits that we should expect to gain from one another through training:

    1. Increase the creativity of direct action strategy and tactics. The Yes Men and the Center for Story-Based Strategy lead workshops in which activist groups break out of the lockstep of “marches-and-rallies.” We need to have a broad array of tactics at our disposal, and we have to be ready to invent new ones when necessary.

    2. Prepare participants psychologically for the struggle. The Pinochet regime in Chile depended, as dictatorships usually do, on fear to maintain its control. In the 1980s a group committed to nonviolent struggle encouraged people to face their fears directlyin a three-step process: small group training sessions in living rooms, followed by “hit-and-run” nonviolent actions, followed by debriefing sessions. By teaching people to control their fear, trainers were building a movement to overthrow the dictator.

    3. Develop group morale and solidarity for more effective action. In 1991 members of ACT UP — a militant group protesting U.S. AIDS policy — were beaten up by Philadelphia police during a demonstration. The police were found guilty of using unnecessary force and the city paid damages, but ACT UP members realized they could reduce the chance of future brutality by working in a more united and nonviolent way. Before their next major action they invited a trainer to conduct a workshop where they clarified the strategic question of nonviolence and then role-played possible scenarios. The result: a high-spirited, unified and effective action.

    4. Deepen participants’ understanding of the issues. The War Resisters League’sHandbook for Nonviolent Action is an example of the approach that takes even a civil disobedience training as an opportunity to assist participants to take a next step regarding racism, sexism and the like. When we understand how seemingly separate struggles are connected, it helps us create a broader, stronger, more interconnected movement.

    5. Build skills for applying nonviolent action in situations of threat and turbulence. In Haiti a hit squad abducted a young man just outside the house where a trained peace team was staying; the team immediately intervened and, although surrounded by twice their number of guards with weapons, succeeded in saving the man from being hung. Through training, we can learn how to react to emergencies like this in disciplined, effective ways.

    6. Build alliances across movement lines. In Seattle in the 1980s, a workshop drew striking workers from the Greyhound bus company and members of ACT UP. The workshop reduced the prejudice each group had about the other, and it led some participants to support each other’s struggle. Trainings are a valuable opportunity to bring people from different walks of life together and help them work toward their common goals.

    7. Create activist organizations that don’t burn people out. The Action Mill, Spirit in Action, and the Stone House all offer workshops to help activists to stay active in the long run. I’ve seen a lot of accumulated skill lost to movements over the years because people didn’t have the support or endurance to stay in the fight.

    8. Increase democracy within the movement. In the 1970s the Movement for a New Society developed a pool of training tools and designs that it shared with the grassroots movement against nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement went up against some of the largest corporations in America and won. The movement delayed construction, which raised costs, and planted so many seeds of doubt in the public mind about safety that the eventual meltdown of the Three Mile Island plant brought millions of people to the movement’s point of view. The industry’s goal of building 1,000 nuclear plants evaporated. Significantly, the campaign succeeded without needing to create a national structure around a charismatic leader. Activists learned the skills of shared leadership and democratic decision-making through workshops, practice and feedback. In my book Facilitating Group Learning, I share many lessons that have evolved from Freire’s day to ours.

    I hope that readers of this column will add to the list of training providers in the comments, since I’ve only named some. My intention is to remind us that this could be the right moment, before the next wave of turbulence has all of us in crisis-mode again, to increase training capacity for grassroots skill-building. We’ll be very glad we did.
    This story was made possible by our members. Become one today.

    George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Action: How to un-do a 'done deal' with Strategy and Soul? George Lakey

    How to un-do a ‘done deal’ with Strategy and Soul

    Tar Sands Blockade lockdown on Sept. 9, 2012. (Flickr/Tar Sands Blockade)
    Something about the campaign against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that inspires me is that the organizers refused to accept that the fight was over. Beginning with front-line groups in Alberta, Canada, where the indigenous were expected to knuckle under and accept yet another abuse of their land, tradition and families, group after group stubbornly refuses to comply.

    In the United States, Nebraskan ranchers and young anarchists and white-haired environmentalists are only some of the groups that won’t go along with the outrage. NASA climate scientist James Hanson has reported that, if the tar sands are fully exploited, it’s “game over” for the climate. Seventy-five thousand people and counting have pledged civil disobedience if President Obama agrees to the pipeline that is planned to carry tar gunk from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries and then off to the rest of the world.

    In 2011 it seemed that the pipeline was all but approved by the White House, going along with a corrupt State Department recommendation written by consultants for TransCanada, the Koch brothers and others who profit from planet-destruction. Now, major investors in the pipeline believe they see the handwriting on the wall; Storebrand, one of the oldest and largest insurance companies in Norway, just announced it is pulling out of the project because it is a bad investment.

    Those of us in the struggle know we haven’t won yet, but we have a fighting chance. How is it that people at the grassroots can succeed in undoing a done deal?

    Don’t trust the politicians

    In Daniel Hunter’s new book Strategy and Soul, we can see unfolding a methodology that gives hope to the grassroots activists in the United States and Europe who are losing battles in the escalating class war on both sides of the Atlantic. Daniel’s writing is unique because he’s so honest about what it’s like to fight uphill, especially when working with people who aren’t self-identified activists and who may lose heart when they hear that the fix is in.

    He tells in revealing detail about the relationship between his campaign and assorted politicians — allies, enemies and in-betweens — and helps organizers to see the nuances that enable us to use politicians instead of the other way around. While reading it I remembered a mistake I made as a young organizer in being too rigid with my instinct of distrust, when I nearly turned a City Council ally into an enemy. We reconciled in his hospital room, and I still wince when I remember how I let my ideology trump my careful analysis of what was going on.

    I’m not alone in my rigidity, I think; many activists are turned off by people naively believing politicians when they say that something is a done deal, forgetting that it’s the politicians’ job to keep us dependent on them. I find it especially irritating because so many people tell pollsters they don’t trust politicians, only to turn around and trust them in moments of crisis.

    Daniel’s narrative — which kept me turning the pages even though I knew the end of the story from personal experience — shows how he, Jethro Heiko, Anne Dicker and others in the heart of the campaign against casinos initiated moves that influenced politicians to reverse themselves and get on the bandwagon. Instead of repeatedly asking the politicians for help, which Jethro called “feeding the monster,” the campaigners got the politicians to come to them.

    The crisis that provided the opportunity was the state deciding to impose on Philadelphia neighborhoods huge big-box gambling casinos across the street from houses and schools. Pennsylvania intended to force the city to suffer the crime and economic loss associated with millionaire-operated gambling.

    Because state legislators knew how outrageous the plan was, the legislation was passed in the dead of night just before a holiday weekend. Of course, when the neighborhoods heard about it they would protest, but so what? Like so many protests against schools and libraries closing, food stamps being taken away, mountaintops being blown up or a tar sands pipeline being planned, politicians try to pacify the grassroots by assuring them that, sadly, nothing can be done.

    The millionaire investors, supplemented by a Chicago billionaire, finally got one Philadelphia casino (one-fourth of its projected size) and are at this writing still struggling to get a second. They spent tens of millions of dollars to fight a barely funded grassroots insurgency.

    What makes Daniel’s account a kind of mentor-in-print is that he shows us how to empower ourselves by engaging the power of all three approaches: community organizing, creative direct action, and narrative strategizing. This last element was provided partly by Quebecois activist Philippe Duhamel, one of the architects of the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas — which was once also, according to U.S. politicians, a done deal.

    Defense in crisis as an opportunity

    Visionary activists have a habit of comparing what is with what ought to be and then acting to make a change. It’s one of our gifts to the world. We may forget, however, that most people are too preoccupied with “life” — job, family, kids, friends — to want to look for new causes to take up their time.

    What gets people to prioritize action is when a crisis comes along that invites them to rise to the defense of something they value.

    The breakthrough in Daniel’s campaign — taking he and his fellow activists from being a voice in the wilderness to a force to be reckoned with — arose from just such an awareness. Campaigners caught the state’s gambling commission operating in secret and then launched a mini-campaign within their larger campaign, called “Operation Transparency.” They demanded the agency’s files by a set date, they stimulated the interest of the media and politicians by following their own timeline with a series of imaginative actions, and then they attempted a “citizens’ search and seizure” of the documents, earning them arrest and excellent statewide publicity.

    People in the threatened neighborhoods perked up. They believed their government should be transparent, and the possibility that it wasn’t disturbed them. Allies came forward from around the city and state, and the campaigners found themselves empowered.

    The need to defend fundamental institutions, like public schools, offers a matchless opportunity to move against the 1 percent because it involves masses of people who otherwise will not act. However, the newly-involved enter campaigns full of disempowering messages in their heads, like “trust politician allies” and “it’s not wise to stick our necks out too far” and “protest is about reacting to the opponent’s moves.” Daniel’s phrase for that last one is “ritualizing losing.”

    Indeed, without the contributions of community organizing skills, imaginative direct action tactics and a narrative strategy, communities will, most likely, lose. That’s true for the Keystone XL pipeline fight, as well, but the good news about both Daniel’s campaign and the Keystone campaign is that we can see a learning curve.

    No more marches or rallies

    One way to signal that campaign leadership has run out of ideas is to invite people to a rally or march. For most of us, this is not inspiring. For the media, it’s usually not worth covering. For those reasons Daniel and Jethro made a pact: They would force themselves to be creative by ruling out marches and rallies.

    They didn’t see a problem raiding the treasure trove of other movements’ creativity, however. When facing one of their biggest setbacks — the state’s Supreme Court ruling against a Philadelphia referendum on casino — they went to Daniel’s own tradition for inspiration: the civil rights movement. When African Americans in Mississippi were blocked from running candidates in the racist voting system, they ran their own parallel election. The Philly campaign did the same, generating more city-wide support and state-wide allies, and pulling their neighborhood base back from despair.

    What puts the “soul” in Daniel’s account, for me, is that the unfolding narrative isn’t glamorized and the actors aren’t larger-than-life. The odds were cruelly against them. They bickered and fought and made mistakes. They felt ignored by the trendy mainstream activist community. They courted burn-out. But then they shared their vulnerability and recovered their hearts, and learned lessons of value to us all.
    This story was made possible by our members. Become one today.

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