Is there a new recipe for social change?

“The old model for coordination group action required convincing people who care a little to care more, so they would be roused to adt. What Hanni and Streeting did instead was to lower the hurdles to doing something in the first place, so that people who cared a little could participate a little, while being effective in the aggregate.” —Clay Shirky

picture of recipe card

How does the Internet change the way we cook up social change?

In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky describes the new recipe for community organizing.

Here’s an embellished version of the old recipe: Continue reading →

The importance of a plan

Okay, you’ve researched and you’ve picked a strategy.

Now it’s time to plan what you’ll actually do.

Again to Tools for Radical Democracy by Minieri and Getsos, “Without a campaign plan, you are more likely to engage in unfocused activities that do not contribute to getting targets to meet your demands.”

There are many formats for campaign plans out there. I’m very impressed with the The Just Enough Planning Guide. Which planning format you use matters less than that you create a plan. It should include:

  • Your goals;
  • A roadmap for how you will get those goals met;
  • A timeline with objectives that you can measure your progress against;
  • Your message;
  • What resources you have;
  • What allies you want to bring on board and what adversaries you will have to deal with.

The important this is that after you create this plan, you keep looking back at it.

Yes, it will probably change as you move forward, but looking back at it will make sure you don’t spend three weeks trying to get a visit with a newspaper’s editorial board if your plan tells you that getting the support of union reps is more important.

Research. Choose a strategy. Plan your actions.

Then do!

Choose a strategy based on what outcome you want, not what actions you want to do

Tools for Radical Democracy by Minieri and Getsos has a great chapter on strategy. To define strategy, they explain:

Campaign strategy is the way or ways that a  community power-building organization uses its power to win a demand. . . . If the organization just plunges into action with no clear strategy, it goes from event to event with no deep payoff.

This is key. Choose a strategy based on your best analysis of if it will give you what you want.

Don’t choose it based on what you want to do. Or what another group is doing. Or what you’ve done before.

Of course, this takes research into your issue, your target, and how you can actually have the impact you want.

Rallies and sit-ins can be fun. Media activism can feel empowering. Legal strategies have generated great wins. But this doesn’t mean that any of these are right for your specific issue.

Minieri and Getsos list seven different strategies:

  1. direct action
  2. disruption
  3. legislative
  4. advocacy
  5. alliance-building
  6. media
  7. public education

Each of these  have their own benefits and drawbacks. And no, you can’t do them all at once.

If you’re building a house, you have to know when to use a hammer and when to use a saw. Likewise, when fighting for social justice, you have to know when to sue and when to sit-in.

Should we even talk to the elites, part II

A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Bitch Magazine: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture.

Now, sometimes my reading gets a bit behind, so this issue is from 2004, but it had a great interview with Jennifer Abbot who co-directed The Corporation, a documentary critiquing corporate personhood.

The movie includes a discussion of how Ray Anderson, CEO of the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer, decided to focus his company on ecologically sustainable production.

To me, this shows the danger of the “don’t even talk to the bosses” approach of Jeffrey Shantz in We Are Everywhere.

We do need to talk to them. We do need to pressure them. Abbott tells us that “Anderson’s paradigm shift happened through pressure exerted by customers and employees–so the strategy of applying pressure on a corporation to be environmentally sustainable can have an effect. ”

It’s not the only strategy, but it’s a valuable one.

Decentralized Networks vs. Centralized Leadership

I’ve really been enjoying We Are Everywhere. It has challenged me to seriously consider some of the anti-capitalist analysis that I had previously dismissed.

Their chapter Networks: The Ecology of the Movement is a fascinating analysis of how decentralized networks of activists can create powerful actions, such as the Seattle WTO protest. It disabuses some myths of network-based organizing (such as they create events “spontaneously”).

The authors take their cue from ants: nobody tells them where to go but they are very effective of finding the best food, sharing work, and keeping the colony alive. Looking at ant networks, they propose four rules for effective network organizing:

1. More is different: The power of networks is to have lots of individuals and small groups generating ideas, making discoveries and proposing these actions, and then to interconnect these small actors so that ideas can spread.

2. Stay small: When you get too big, communication breaks down, hierarchies emerge, and the network loses it’s dynamism. So, when groups start to reach that point, they need to divide like an amoeba…or an ant colony!

3. Encourage randomness: Just like an ant’s “random” wanderings may find a new food source, a network and a movement need some randomness to find new ways to adapt, respond, and grow.

4. Listen to your neighbors: Knowledge in a network flows horizontally, not vertically. So, for that to work, you need to connect to your neighbors and share ideas, lessons,  and information with them.

Powerful ideas, and network organizing is certainly an important tool to have at hand. That said, I’m left with some questions:

1. Does network organizing lead people to only do the fun jobs and projects? Door-to-door canvassing, fundraising, reaching out to people who aren’t already on board: none of these are as fun as organizing a reclaim the streets party, but I think they are just as vital for the movement. In a network-based organizing model, is there the structure to get these less glamorous jobs done?

2. Do we have anything in common? In a completely leaderless, flat, non-hierarchical movement, is there enough common experience or language to hold us together? For example, Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Beyond Vietnam speech were two powerful pieces that gave people common frames for discussing the movement. Do we loose this common language in a network-only environment?

Give the article a read. It’s worth a good think.