Sticking around without getting stuck
Somebody has said that half of activism is showing up. True enough. But then much of the other half is sticking around. A glaring strategic difference between conservative and progressive movements is longevity.
Conservatives stick around. Look at how long it took from the earliest days of the religious right (Reagan) until Trump’s fanatical fascism. Progressives get upset about something, have a demonstration, and then disappear. But unless progressivism can glow, and keep the home fires of change warm, it will be outplayed every time by conservatism that knows how to play the long game.
Pop-up groups and flash demonstrations are important. They do the essential things that short-order activism can do. Then, they dissolve until the next new configuration arises. A lot of activism reacts, as it should, to current events and flares up into public victories for the time being.
Organizational longevity is crucial to a healthy activist community. People newly arrived in a region, or newly awakened to an issue, want to know with whom they can join forces. They may turn first to the immediately like-minded, the way a lobbyist against fracking will reach out naturally to a carbon-capper or animal-rights advocate. Co-operation need not stop there, though. An activist alliance may go on to wider friendships with quite different citizen groups concerned about, say, income inequality or the global footprint of the Pentagon.
Mutual support of this lateral kind can and will arise spontaneously across the board of progressive activism. But it needn’t be left to chance.
Emergent activist groups can take advantage of older groups that have been around for a while. Activists that have stayed the course for years tend to know the local lay of the land. They know where the angels and skeletons are in institutional history and what wheels have been invented once or twice already.
How do you get there? Longevity in activist groups is promoted by the thoughtful articulation of principles that create institutional sustainability. An organization that lasts will have persistence built into its mission (statement), will provide (via bylaws or other means) for smooth succession in a working leadership that it recognizes must change over time. Such an organization will on a regular basis consider where it is coming from and where it is going – always including,an exit strategy for shutting up shop and handing off to its heirs – with a view to such changes in tactics as will let the mission, not just the organization, prosper.
In Charlottesville as well as throughout the US, we see a dwindling in progressive organizations. Groups that remained active through the Trump regime have become inactive.
That is exactly what the right wing wants.
Chip Tucker is an English professor at UVA. He has been active in Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice since its founding in the 1980’s. A devoted Quaker, he was one of the last conscientious objectors drafted into civilian alternative service by the US government.
TEN WAYS TO STAGE AN INEFFECTIVE DEMONSTRATION
IGNORE THE MEDIA
You must ensure that the media broadcasts your interpretation of your action. To do this, they have to know what is happening and why. Media is under time pressures, so make their job as simple as possible. Have a press release prepared to give to the media before and after the action. The media can change the public’s perception of your actions. It may be the only way for the public to know that your perspective exists. Get as much media coverage as you can. Durable”household words” result from the frequency of press appearances.
RESTRICT PARTICIPATION IN YOUR ACTIONS
The press is the target of your action and they are most interested in large groups that are demanding change. The smaller the group, the less the coverage. So don’t exclude potential participants. Your success will be based upon assembling the largest, non-violent group possible. Theatrical events, such as die-ins, will attract some media attention, but they do not indicate the support of a mass movement.
FAIL TO PLAN YOUR PUBLIC ACTIONS
When actions are announced at the last minute they will fail to attract the largest possible crowd. They are emotional events, not strategic events.
GET BORING SPEAKERS AND FORGET ABOUT THE MUSIC
The aim of public actions is to draw the largest crowd possible. If the speakers are boring and the action is a silent affair with non-emotional speakers, the masses will not be interested. In these actions, it is the medium that counts the most, not the message.
CRITICIZE THE METHODS OF OTHER ORGANIZATIONS
Unique organizations are born for distinct techniques. Fights between organizations are exactly what the opposition wants. They want you to divert your energy from combating the common foe to fighting with similar organizations. We all need each other and need to be sufficiently open-minded to recognize the value of differing techniques At a book-signing in Charlottesville, Christian Picciolini, the former supremacist leader, expressed that a primary strategy of the supremacists is to splinter the activist organizations.
FAIL TO BROADCAST THE PURPOSE OF YOUR ACTIONS
Signs, banners, etc. must accompany any action. Whether it is a mini-march of 25 or a major rally of thousands, there must be an abundance of visible signage. This is true for any event. Even if you are doing voter registration training, there must be signs on the wall. If the media does attend, their photos will make your point much more strongly than a bunch of people standing around a table.
ENGAGE IN VIOLENT/DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIOR
This often is exactly what the opposition wants. It provides them the opportunity to cast themselves as the innocent victims. Violence allows deflection of attention from the real problem. The public will associate your movement with violence as opposed to the reasons for your protest.
RE-INVENT THE WHEEL
It is far more efficient to learn from the experiences and historically proven techniques of predecessors. Read the works of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Howard Zinn, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, Stokely Carmichael and Mahatma Gandhi and others. Learn from their experiences and observations.
LIMIT YOUR COMMUNICATION TO SOCIAL MEDIA
Due to their oddity, traditional communication techniques can be very attention-getting. Lawn signs, flyers, posters — anything that attracts attention works.
Richard Lord has been an activist since the Civl Rights Movement. He has continued to scream through until today. He was a student leader in the anti-war movement at Boston University, where he worked closely with Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Currently he is focusing upon white supremacy.
The above centers around public actions. Future versions will center around lobbying, letter-writing, etc.
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