This is the whimsical tale of a cruel king who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist. But when his subjects turn against him, he finds he is completely powerless. The king learns that without functionaries to carry out his orders, or people to obey them, he is no different than the people over which he once ruled.
INDECLINE is an underground collective that creates controversial art projects to shock people out of their complacency. Their escapades often get media coverage, like when they surreptitiously staged nude statues of Trump in public areas around the country. Here I talk with an anonymous INDECLINE spokesperson about what they are trying to accomplish with their actions, and how they measure success.
Trying to persuade people by attacking their opinions head-on, with fact-based arguments, often spurs them to double down on their beliefs. But humorous actions have the potential to jolt people out of their comfort zone by taking them by surprise, and insinuating new ideas before they are able to put up their defenses.
The aura of authority can be one of the main pillars of support for a ruler, a regime or an institution. But the public’s perception of authority can be easily undermined by humor. That is why the high and mighty—political leaders, governments, big corporations—hate being laughed at.
In 2017 Maryland passed a permanent statewide ban on fracking—against the wishes of a powerful oil and gas lobby. The legislation was the result of intense grassroots organizing. Brooke Harper of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) was a lead organizer in the successful campaign. This post features a conversation with Brooke about her approach to strategy and tactics.
To build a social change movement, start with a campaign issue that is tangible, relatable and winnable. Find an issue that is local and addresses everyday problems that people really care about. Taking small steps and achieving incremental victories can build people’s confidence and give them a feeling of accomplishment.
Even democratic governments, especially ones that are moving in an authoritarian direction, are vulnerable to noncooperation attacks from the civil servants who are tasked with carrying out their policies. Gene Sharp’s famous list of 198 methods of nonviolent action includes six resistance techniques that have been used by government workers in the past.
During World War II, the OSS produced a booklet called the “Simple Sabotage Field Manual.” They planned to distribute it to partisans in occupied countries to encourage disruption of the enemy war effort. From the pamphlet, here are the top 15 most interesting (and funniest) nonviolent techniques that workers can use to impede a government bureaucracy.
Anyone who has worked for a large enterprise will understand how easily inherent bureaucratic inefficiency and stupidity can be deliberately amplified to gum up the works. During World War II, the US published a pamphlet to help government employees in occupied countries use this principle to disrupt the enemy war effort. Many of the booklet’s recommendations are funny; some are downright wacky.
A protest march is not a strategy. If you really want to achieve a campaign goal, all your actions should be part of a strategic plan. Thinking in terms of discrete strategic levels provides a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of your campaign. It can also prevent you from confusing tactical and strategic events, which can lead to disastrous decisions.
Random protests do not threaten elite power. Good intentions alone do not guarantee success. Activist groups need to think more strategically. Governments, corporations and the rich have long used detailed strategic plans to increase their control. That same strategic approach is required by activists if they want to effectively challenge those powerful interests.