Blue wave

Elections in Desperate Times

My Dream (Yours is Probably Different) I don’t believe in representative democracy. I believe in direct democracy. I believe in neighborhood power. Your dream might be different, but if you are an activist you should definitely have one. Like the North Star, a dream can help orient you when deciding on current strategies and tactics. In my ideal society people participate in local, human-scale institutions

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Macedonia protest

No More Boring Protests!

“How about Support the Troops—Bring Them Home Now,” said Margaret, a middle-aged woman who was new to activism. “That’s not really a tactic,” I offered. “Maybe we can think about slogans after we decide on a tactic.” Five of us sat around a rickety table in a musty church basement. It was the first planning meeting for a “stop the war” protest, marking the third

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Storytime cartoon

Telling Stories for Social Change

You watch from the audience as the executive from the giant multinational corporation taps his pen impatiently on the table. You are in a town meeting to discuss a proposal to build a one million square foot water bottling plant in your tiny mountain community, population 1,300. Suddenly your town’s governing board is voting. The proposal passes and the contract is signed on the spot.

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King in front of crowd

The King Who Ruled Nothing

Once upon a time there lived a cruel king who ruled without mercy. He was the most powerful king in the world, with a mighty army and an enormous kingdom. One day the general of his army came to him with some rather bad news. “Your Majesty,” said the general, “my men are tired of war. They are tired of bad food and mud and

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Naked Trump statue

Guerrilla Art: An Interview with INDECLINE

In his book Tactical Performance, L.M. Bogad makes an interesting observation about an axiom of contemporary military strategy and its relevance to social movements. In military parlance, the ground war involves the taking and holding of territory using infantry soldiers. The air war, as you might guess, makes use of aircraft to inflict destruction on the enemy from above. While only ground troops can actually

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Billionaires protest

Use Humor to Open Minds

Civil resistance actions can have many different purposes. But one goal is often to persuade the general public to change their opinions and support your cause. You might try to do this directly or through media coverage. In either case, this is a tough task because many in your “audience” will have pre-formed opinions. Entrenched beliefs and attitudes are the lens through which they perceive

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Trump as clown

Laughing at Authority

A few years ago Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then president of Iran, spoke at Columbia University. I heard a clip from that speech on the radio that stuck in my mind. The authoritarian leader was answering a question about the treatment of gay people in his country. This is what he said: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. (Laughter.) We don’t have that

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Anti-fracking march

Harnessing Grassroots Power

When people band together to engage in smart, strategic activism, they can sometimes compel their government to act in their best interest. That seems to be what happened recently when the Maryland state legislature passed a permanent statewide ban on fracking, against the wishes of a powerful oil and gas lobby.But it didn’t happen by chance, or because the politicians wanted to do the right

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Lone protester

Start Small

Let’s say you’re passionate about fighting climate change. You form a local group to work for a national reduction in carbon emissions. You write letters to congress, hand out leaflets to raise public awareness and organize demonstrations in your town. Meanwhile, more climate-change deniers are elected, coalmines reopened and auto fuel-efficiency standards relaxed. Despite your hard work, membership in your little group gradually wanes to

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PNVA book cover

Sharp on Resistance by Government Workers

Governments, like all large bureaucracies, are run by people. People can be disobedient, uncooperative and stubborn. As a result, governments are vulnerable to noncooperation attacks from the civil servants who are tasked with carrying out their policies. In his famous list of 198 methods of nonviolent action, Gene Sharp includes resistance techniques that have been used by government workers. The methods are categorized as “Political

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