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.