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Action Communications Links Organization
Goals, Strategies & Tactics
Assessing the big picture, focusing your campaigns, and everything in between.
Communications & Policy
Much of what we do to mobilize others, is to communicate and educate about our
issues and campaigns, to invite wider discussion and participation.
Solidarity-Working with Others
How to work with everybody, and let everybody work with you.
How to recruit volunteers, and make the most of their efforts.
You know why they call us organizers? Because the better organized we are, the
more we can accomplish.
All the things we can do to improve the environment, like recycling, eating
organic, a clean-up, rally, teach-in or civil disobedience.
Goals, Strategies and Tactics
One of the most important factors in success, is picking the right campaign
for the right time.
Broadly speaking, strategies are medium to long-term goals (2-20 years), and
tactics the many steps taken to get there. Both should be thought about carefully,
again and again.
It helps immensely to have justice on your side, because people are inclined
to support a righteous cause. As becomes clearer with each passing year, environmentalists
are on the right side of the issue. That helps.
To a certain extent, tactics are created "on the go" to take advantage
of situations as they arise. But for the most part, tactics are pre-planned
in a timeline that builds momentum.
For example, if an end to clearcutting in BC is the overall strategy, then
some tactics might be a European boycott of clearcutting corporations, securing
local timber licenses, purchasing a forest for a land trust, or a local blockade.
Tactics are short to medium term, one day to a few years.
It pays to constantly be aware of the shifting political framework, and be
prepared to change one's strategies and tactics accordingly. For example, September
11, 2001 changed everything; especially for peace activists.
Here are some of the issues to consider in developing and shifting your strategies
- Campaign management: plan well in advance, evaluate frequently, and
be prepared for changes
- Crisis management: when crisis hits your campaign, and it will, be
prepared to react quickly and thoroughly to minimize the damage, and to turn
misfortune to your favour. This is very hard work, and will require you to
drop everything immediately. Do so, or you may lose it all.
- Know your "enemy". Ok, we don't have enemies, but it really
pays to understand the thinking and activities of your adversaries. When setting
your strategies and tactics, put yourself in their shoes. Choose tactics that
their natural allies will want to embrace. Conquer and divide.
- Assessment, evaluation, change. The political and social landscape
is in constant evolution. It is therefore necessary to be vigilant and to
change carefully thought out plans as circumstances and opportunities present
themselves. Be on the lookout for new ideas, perspectives and trends.
- Achieving focus means narrowing one's goals enough to encourage success
(or a series of successes), but not so much that success is merely symbolic.
- Setting realistic goals ensures success is possible. Winning encourages
your team to move forward to the next success. It is better to achieve limited
success than none at all.
- Power and power sharing. Nothing is easier to erode than centralized
power. Nothing is more challenging to traditional power brokers than decentralized
power. Organize like the Web... anarchic yet coordinated.
- Build on success, or as they say, "nothing succeeds like success."
- Timing is everything. Pay careful attention to all things political,
and that influence the thinking of your many audiences. Do everything when
the timing will maximize your impact and success.
Communications and Policy
There is only so much one person, one group, or one coalition can do. To accomplish
more one must enlist the support of others... the public, allied groups, governments
To reach these broader audiences it is necessary to communicate clearly and
concisely one's vision and campaigns, in a way that reaches these audiences'
hearts and minds.
Good communications are essential. The communications section of this manual
But how do we impact the policies of governments and other organizations to
effect broad change?
To move others in our direction we must understand them, work within their
processes, and adapt our tactics and messages to their needs.
On a broader front, the success of our plans to work with others, and for them
to adopt policies congruent with our aims, is directly related to the level
of support we achieve in the broad public and among a diversity of organizations.
In other words, our work to effect government and organization policy change
goes hand in hand with our public outreach.
Here are some of our policy and communications tools:
- There are a huge number of general-purpose and narrowcast communication
tools. These include the media: newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, Web
and email services; public spaces like posters, banners and leafleting; specialty
audiences such as newsletters, classrooms, conferences and protests; advertising;
and most powerful of all, one on one.
- Policy consultations, papers and round tables can be used to influence
the direction of government, and also as another forum to reach the public.
Always use your policy interventions as an opportunity to engage the media
and expand the limits of public debate. Take the opportunity to issue a news
release and hold a news conference. Provide complete copies of your presentation
to reporters. In public and private interventions frame your issues in a manner
that is intelligible and engaging of the panel. Provide them with challenging
ideas, and also with obtainable policy changes they might actually adopt.
Work with minority opinion within committees. Try to be respectful, and to
work within their processes.
- There is no stronger ally than the converted. Nurture conversion
and befriend the converted. People who are most susceptible to conversion
include the deep thinker, the recently retired and the parent. Try to understand
those with wildly differing perspectives from your own, and try to think as
they do. At heart, you may just find that many of their concerns mirror your
own- but they have reached different conclusions.
- Building visibility and credibility. Visibility is easy- just do
things that will get noticed, be visually oriented in your activities and
news events, and specialize in the dramatic. Credibility is harder, and revolves
around solid thinking, research and presentation; dedicated work; honesty
in conviction and action; and steadfastness of purpose.
- Bureaucrats, researchers, governments and politicians- each has a
different role. Learn how to work with each group. Bureaucrats know the system
inside out and are the grunts that make government work; or not work. They
can help you tremendously, or be a royal pain in the butt. In BC, most bureaucrats
are quite upset at the Liberal government that is laying them off in huge
numbers. (It's a good time to acquire information from BC bureaucrats.) Researchers
are the folks who put together the details of government policy. Feed them
information. Discuss with them the details of government thinking. Politicians
(especially Ministers) are influential in the public arena, and set the broad
strokes of government policy, but can and are thwarted by their own bureaucrats
from time to time. Governments in Canada are run primarily by Premiers and
Prime Ministers, and their loyal Cabinets. Back benchers are useful for nuts
and bolts assistance, but need to speak to their Cabinet buddies to influence
government policy. Talk to them all. Work with them whenever possible.
- Knowledge is power. Injustice hates the light of day. It is always
better to speak from a position of knowledge, than only from the feelings
- If lobbying is a dirty word, then all the governments of the world
better pack it in right now. Lobbying is just another word for politics, and
anyone engaged in work for social change should also spend time lobbying all
levels of government. Like it or not, governments are massively influential
in our society in spending alone. It is worth trying to influence governments
to do the right thing, and to allocate our taxes towards programs that improve
- Get your message out. Say it once, say it twice, say it a thousand
times, and say it again. The positive message is more productive, but the
negative (anti) message is important too. Say who you are, say what you want,
say how to get there.
- Mass media, our media, more media. It is important to hit all sectors
of the media with your consistent message. We meet the mass media on their
own terms, using as best we can this distorting channel to get our message
out. At the same time, we build our own media networks to get our message
out entirely as we want: email, Web sites, newsletters, posters, banners,
public events and more. A media is a way to communicate with others. Be creative.
- Monitoring, exposing leaks, whistle blowing. There are always those
within government and business who are upset at the how things are being done.
The worse things get, the more angry they become, and the more eager to share
their bad news with someone who will expose it to the public light and stop
it. Listen carefully to those you talk with on the inside. Some day you just
may be lucky. Don't let the whistle blower down- help them expose the bad,
thank them for their courage, defend them vigorously if they are caught.
- Political parties. It pays to remember that there are a diversity
of political parties- not just the one in power today. Work with them all.
You will find allies in all political parties, and they are your levers to
within. Use the political parties one against the other, to compete for your
vote and affections, to move your issues forward, step by painfully slow step.
Help the politicians who help you. Parties are made up of people. Work with
- Policy strategies, submissions and shifting. Politics is a constantly
shifting idea, like the flows of water in a vast ocean. Be the wind and current
that moves the water and causes change. Sense the direction, and work with
the flow, moving the debate always closer to your views and positions. Make
your submissions count, but inviting bold thinking, and suggesting practical
ideas. Form alliances with others acting in the policy arena, whether formal
or unknown, to bring forward the big ideas that can gather wide support, and
move the politicians in a new direction.
- Slogans and symbols are powerful motivating factors for people, and
must be easily understood and quickly conveyed for maximum effectiveness.
Think Nike, McDonald's, Red China. Choose your slogans carefully to encapsulate
your strategies clearly. No nukes. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Greenpeace. Find
great artists to work with, who will turn your 1000 words into that one powerful
image. Return again and again in your message to your slogans. Include your
logo in every visual communication. Also include your Web address and phone
- Web sites and email lists are your most powerful communications tools
in the 21st Century. They are cheap, widely accessible, uncensored and under
your control. Use them wisely. Use them widely.
Solidarity-- Working Together
By "solidarity" I mean working with as wide a diversity of people
and organizations as possible. You've heard all the slogans before, and they
are all true
Together we are stronger. The people united will never be
defeated. Divide and conquer.
But working with a wide diversity of interests is difficult and can also be
frustrating. That is why so many coalitions and parties (the "big tent")
fight internally, splinter and fail.
There is usually a tradeoff- between the laser focus of working on a single
issue with a small group, or increasing the breadth of activity and participants,
by watering down to a common denominator. The small cell can work quickly and
efficiently. A coalition is cumbersome and slow to move forward. But in unity
there is strength.
- Working with all ages sounds easy enough, but often we are ghettoed
in ageist clusters, seldom venturing outside the comfortable companionship
of our peers. Mix it up. Listen to your elders. Let the youth take charge!
Befriend one another.
- Identifying and recruiting allies. So often activists complain about
how they work too hard, and how tiring it all is. Perhaps they need to lift
their weary eyes from their burned-out computer monitors for a few days, and
imaginatively look around. When you think about it, you will be surprised
at how many allies you have in the community. Groups, institutions, businesses
and individuals who share some of the same interests as your own. People who
you could be working with. Always listen to what people say. Identify your
allies and approach them with projects that work for you both. Don't neglect
those "strange bedfellows" either. While you may not share broad
interests, you will be surprised at how often diverse groups can come together
over a single issue- like conservation, civil liberties and proportional representation.
- The steering group, coordinating committee, Board of Directors. Every
group has a small core of individuals who are willing and able to devote more
time and energy than others. If you are one of these people, accept your own
leadership position. If you are not in this group, support them where you
can, and offer them your best advice. Let them make decisions for the group,
so that your work can move forward efficiently, not slowed by an anti-democratic
process that makes every trivial decision the burden of a full membership
meeting. Trust one another.
- Coalitions, networks, spokescouncil. A coalition is a formal collection
of organizations and individuals gathered around an issue or campaign. Networks
are primarily information-sharing tools for a large number of individuals
or groups that share a common goal(s). Coalitions such as the BC Environmental
Network are generally formed to last many years. Because the goal of a coalition
is to bring together a wide diversity of organizations in a strong "united
voice", they are slow to build, slow to move, and challenging to sustain.
For short duration projects, a "spokescouncil" is often created.
A spokescouncil is a time-limited and goal-specific version of the coalition.
The spokescouncil is an efficient way to make non-binding group decisions
in a hurry, and has been used with particular effect during large demonstrations
such as the "Battle in Seattle". It is composed of one representative
of each affinity group, which meets to make recommendations that are non-binding
to the members.
- Achieving consensus and avoiding paralysis. There is strength and
harmony in consensus, which is why it is so highly valued by NGOs working
for change. However, consensus can only be built for easy issues, or amongst
those who are respectful of the process, and willing to bend their specific
ideas to the visions of others. Pure 100% consensus is a precious thing that
can easily be spoiled by those not committed to group process, or who actually
want to hinder our work. That is why I advocate a form of consensus that does
not always require 100% acceptance. Many books have been written on the complexities
of group decision making and consensus.
- Coordinating strategies with other NGOs. Often it is desirable to
work in coordination with other NGOs without creating a formal coalition.
This cooperation can take many forms and be explicit, off the public record,
or even implicit. For example, during the BC treaty referendum campaign a
wide variety of strategies emerged on how to respond to the ballot. Greater
coordination amongst the diverse groups would have led to a stronger impact
on referendum day. Cooperation can be facilitated by the leadership, individual
campaigners or entire organizations. It is important to realize that coordination
does not necessarily mean agreeing with everything that others are doing.
For example, there can be implicit cooperation amongst groups working to create
parkland, even between a mainstream conservation group opposed to civil disobedience
and a youth ENGO sitting in trees for the same parkland. The mainstream group
might in such a case present itself to the government as, "you'd better
deal with us or else you'll get more of that." Without realizing it,
the groups would be helping one another. How much more powerful they could
be recognizing their mutual interests and coordinating their activities.
- Cross-cultural work builds strength by drawing together the collective
wisdom and organization of diverse peoples. But it is always challenging,
because it is hard to understand and appreciate the ways of another culture.
We generally think of cross-cultural work in traditional terms like First
Nations-Settler or Gay-Straight, but the concept applies equally to socially-minded
organizations operating in entirely different cultures- for example youth
working with organized labour, or forestry workers with environmentalists.
For such an alliance to be fruitful, both parties must be attentive to each
other, patient and open to new perspectives and ways.
- Delegation and coordination are essential simply because some people
are more involved than others, and some are more skilled at coordinating work
amongst a group.
- I have written about building diversity and solidarity in many of
the above sections, because it always strengthens the movement to grow in
new directions, and add to its vision.
- Being a good facilitator is simply described, but an art to become.
It involves the skills of listening, negotiating, public speaking, meeting
management, and the creative joining of ideas. A good facilitator can help
a small or large group reach better decisions quicker. It is an art worth
- Leadership, leaders and followers. In progressive movements, there
is often a tendency to eschew leadership as the opposite of equality. In my
experience however, I have learned that many solid volunteers (and even staff)
appreciate direction and leadership, and positively want to work to be delegated
- Listening and empathy are important for everything organizers do,
from facilitating, to building coalitions, to engaging governments and those
whose actions we seek to change. There is no contradiction between being a
good listener, and also being a strong advocate for change, or standing firm
for a different way. Gandhi is the prime example of a powerful voice for change,
who was also filled with empathy and concern for those he opposed. We would
do well to emulate his spirit and actions.
- Negotiation, compromise and accommodation. It is tempting to think
of compromise as a dirty word, but without compromise things could only change
through revolution- a course which most people, at most times, are unwilling
to take. So, in the times when revolution is not afoot, we need to take seriously
the need to negotiate, compromise and accommodate a wide variety of needs,
as we move forward in making the necessary changes for the good of society
as a whole.
Volunteers take a lot of time, and add a lot of value. Unless you think you
can save the world by yourself, it pays to learn how to recruit, motivate and
channel volunteers. It is the work of thousands of volunteers that will make
a difference. Properly managed, volunteers will multiply your effectiveness
- A key skill for any youth organization is to manage a high turnover of
volunteers. This boils down to essentially good organization and records.
Many NGOs who are fortunate enough to have an office staffed by volunteers,
keep a log of some sort by the reception/volunteer desk. The log is used as
an ongoing record of who has phoned, what follow-up is required, and what
action has been taken. It is also used to take notes about what other jobs
are in process, and what still needs to be done. Make sure to include a column
indicating who will do what, and another to check off when a job has been
completed. Along with the log, every youth organization would be wise to maintain
a manual for volunteers, complete with a series of relevant volunteer job
descriptions (see below). Written communications and good record-keeping can
go a long way in keeping every volunteer informed about the latest developments,
and steering them in the right direction when they are wondering what needs
to be done.
- Intake is a critical job for the busy activist trying to build their
volunteer base. Intake is the process of screening, placing and introducing
new volunteers to the organization. Volunteers take up a lot of time for the
coordinators, and so I am a firm believer in a careful screening process to
help weed out the volunteer that is not likely to stay for long. If someone
wants to volunteer, I begin by meeting with them for 15-30 minutes to talk
about the organization, learn what kinds of things they are interested in
doing, and determining if there is a good fit. The interview also gives you
an opportunity to assess the needs of the volunteer, and whether they might
be more work than they are worth. After the interview I send them away with
a packet of information and ask them to call back soon if they are still interested
in volunteering. I find this self-selects a lot of people out of the process.
People whom you do not need to spend hours training only to lose a week or
- Job descriptions are a good idea for any organization, and essential
for any organization that is likely to have a high turnover of volunteers,
like youth and student NGOs. Job descriptions should include at minimum the
following: job title, purpose, responsibilities (including reporting), skills
and knowledge required, required time commitment per week or month, location,
benefits and a good job description. Sometimes additional resources are useful
to attach to the job description, such as postering locations, phone scripts,
- The volunteer meeting is an excellent tool to bring a group of volunteers
together to learn a specific set of skills. It is both time efficient for
the volunteer coordinator, and a nice way for your volunteers to meet the
others, build friendships and feel part of a larger team. For your own sake,
try to schedule the training of volunteers together rather than individually.
Of course, some volunteers play a very specialized role in the organization
and will require one on one attention.
- Problem volunteers are present in almost every organization, and
can be expected to apply for volunteer positions on a regular basis. Many
persons are interested in volunteering, at least in part, for the socializing
aspects, and to meet new friends. This is not a bad thing, but if it is the
only motivating factor, you are perhaps better off with that volunteer. As
well, I have found that a certain number of people want to be part of an NGO
as a form of self-improvement, or even therapy. Most NGOs do not exist to
serve their volunteers, and so in most situations you will want to actively
discourage such people from becoming involved. The best way to deal with a
problem volunteer, is to screen them out during intake, or ask them to leave
when they become significantly more work than they contribute.
- Since they are not paid for their valuable contributions, recognition
and rewards is an important aspect of volunteering for most people. Everyone
wants to know that what they are doing is important, a critical component
of the overall organizational goals, and it is the coordinator's job to let
them know. Always thank your volunteers. Again and again. Praise them when
they do a good job. Write them a nice thank-you note on an attractive card.
Whenever possible, thank them publicly- in your newsletter, on your web site,
during your events. Give your volunteers titles. They're free, they convey
information about the volunteer's role, and they can be a source of pride
for many volunteers. Reward your volunteers when possible with small things
like bus tickets, parking money, beautiful posters, t-shirts, presents and
social events or parties. A little thoughtfulness on your part, will go a
long way in motivating your volunteers. And they deserve it!
- Recruitment is an ongoing job for the volunteer coordinator, especially
in youth organizations. Whenever someone expresses interest in your work,
it is an opportunity to recruit a volunteer. Other good places to recruit
volunteers are at information tables, rallies, educational events, meetings
and anytime you are speaking. The sign-up sheet is a useful tool to use, and
should include at least a name, phone numbers, email address and interests.
- Training your volunteers makes them more useful to the organization.
Indeed, it is difficult to get much useful work out of any volunteer without
at least a small amount of training. As well, invest in your best (capable
and faithful) volunteers by rewarding them with extra amounts of training.
Please feel free to copy this manual to share with your volunteers, and please
use the Organizing Tool Kit web site I am creating for volunteers at www.pej.ca.
- The work party functions much like the volunteer meeting (see above),
except the goal is to accomplish a certain task- like a mail-out, writing
letters as part of a lobby, a stream clean-up, etc. Not only do "many
hands make light work", but a work party is also a great way to have
some fun with the people who care about the same things you do.
The best activists are the ones who are well organized. They know how to keep
track of people, priorities and deadlines. They don't need to search again and
again for the same phone numbers, or lose vital pieces of information they have
written on little bits of paper. They know where everything is- in its place.
While good organization won't guarantee success, it is a skill that will give
you an edge. Here are some tips…
- The heart of any effective organization is its people. Good contacts
management is critical to the healthy functioning of your NGO, and it
pays to take the time to organize your contacts meticulously, and to keep
these records up to date. This means at minimum, keeping a master list (preferably
on your organization's computer) complete with name, postal address, phone
numbers, fax and email. Better yet, also include profession, skills, volunteer
interests and a record of their contributions. Don't let any old volunteer
manage these lists for you. Make sure the keeper of the lists is reliable
and accurate. Better yet- manage it yourself. It is an excellent way to keep
in your mind potential volunteers, donors and influential members of your
community. An organization's list is its most valuable resource. It should
be protected and also be considered confidential. BACK UP your contacts list
- If you can afford one, and are comfortable with the technology, I strongly
recommend an electronic organizer, or better yet, a pocket computer.
These handy little devices allow you to manage your contacts list wherever
you are. A good one will also help you manage your tasks, keep your calendar,
take notes and even do a spreadsheet. An office in your pocket. Back up your
Pocket PC frequently, even daily. If you are using your personal palmtop to
manage some of your NGO's files, make sure you back them up to the NGO's computer,
as well as your own.
- The next best thing to a pocket computer, is a pocket memo book.
Or both. The memo book helps you keep everything in one place, rather on the
thousands of scraps that are so easy to lose. My pocket memo book has numbered
and dated pages, each with a "project" title at the top, and an index at the
back. It is a fantastic way of keeping track of a lot of complex information.
It is easy to use and cheap as a chocolate bar.
- Back up your computer! Don't wait until you've lost year's worth
of data to learn this valuable lesson. Back it up at least monthly, and store
the backup at a different home/office than where the computer is located.
That way if there is a fire or a break-in, you will not lose both your computer
and your backup. The cheapest way to back up your computer is on a burnable
CD-ROM or to a remote computer via your modem.
- I don't think there is a more valuable tool for a modern activist than your
email lists. Collect email addresses from everyone you can, phone someone
to get their new eddress when the old one no longer works, and back up your
list frequently. A few tips on the organization of your email address book
Enter everyone using an alias. For example, the "alan rycroft" entry
would point to my eddress of rycroft@SunshineCommunications.ca. Whenever you
email me someone just have to remember their name- not the (frequently changing)
eddress. Keep lots of "lists" of groups of people. For example,
one for your membership, another for your steering committee, another for
other folks interested in your work. Always use the aliases in your lists,
e.g. "alan rycroft", not the actual email addresses. If you do this,
when someone changes their eddress, and they change frequently, you will only
need to update their alias, and all of your lists will automatically know
the new one.
- I am a big believer in using forms and templates. They save time,
they ensure you don't leave out an important piece of information, and they
are uniform in appearance- a big bonus for you and your readers. Use templates
for everything- letters, sign-up lists, volunteer job descriptions, budget
spreadsheets, email signatures, etc. I will be adding many templates to the
Activist Tool Kit at www.pej.ca for you to use.
- Real office management is a good idea. If it's not you or a staff
person, then assign one of your weekly reliable volunteers, one who enjoys
office work, to be the official "Office Manager". (Don't forget
to write up a job description.) The role of the Office Manager is to keep
things tidy, make sure needed supplies are always in stock (keep a running
list of what's needed in the volunteer log), make sure the computer is backed
up and functioning well, and re-organize the office whenever required.
- Phone trees are an extremely useful tool to convey complicated information,
reach those without email, and quickly rally the troops. However, they do
require a Phone Tree Coordinator (job description!) to keep them organized,
phone numbers current and the tree properly functioning. A phone tree is a
pyramid structure that starts with the Coordinator calling several others,
and giving them the information to pass along. In turn, they phone those on
their list, who pass it on to others, and so on, until the entire list has
been called. Each caller can normally contact from three to ten others. As
the tree spreads out, and each participating member calls more, the number
of people who can be reached grows exponentially- in other words, really fast!
Whenever a number goes out of service, or someone wants on/off the list, the
Coordinator must be informed. There is technology to automate the phone tree,
with a computer doing the calls. However, don't put anyone on such a list
without their explicit permission/request. Computer calls are extremely annoying
if you don't want them.
- Mixing staff & volunteers can be challenging. Volunteers can
resent the fact that others are paid to do what they do for free. Donors sometimes
oppose paying staff. Staff can resent the significant amount of their time
that volunteers require. The most effective organizations have staff to think
about and coordinate their work on a full-time basis, and at least one staff
person whose job includes (or consists) of managing the volunteers. As a staff
person, I have always considered it my first priority to put volunteers to
work- assigning jobs and training as required. After all, my efforts are multiplied
the more that others are helping out. But it can certainly be frustrating
to go through a whole day of managing other people's workloads, and not having
a real opportunity to tend to one's own tasks.
- Which brings us to time management. We're called "activists"
for a reason. Because we tend to be incredibly active doing the jobs that
we think are truly important in this world. Time management is the art of
tending to the important and time urgent, and knowing what to let drop. Time
management is also the art of planning your projects, including timelines,
resources required and task dependencies-what tasks rely on other tasks before
they can be completed? Put all complex project plans to paper (or computer).
Be prepared for changes, and plan them out as they arise. Remember also that
some things will never get done, because we always have more ideas than time.
Another crucial aspect to time management, is taking time out. That means
breaks, lunches and vacations. Treat yourself right. In the end, you'll do
a better job. Live a little! The world may be burning up, but that's no reason
for you to burn out.
There are as many actions and activities as there are people. I have categorized
a few of them below. Don't think of this list as extensive, but only as indicative
of the kinds of things we can do with our organizations and issues.
- Boycotts and girlcotts. Everybody knows what a boycott is, but a
"girlcott" is preferential purchasing from those we wish to reward
for their good actions. I have always girlcotted the credit unions, and boycotted
the banks. A boycott, like a strike, is a tactic of last resource, because
it is quite destructive. It should only follow at the end of a long campaign
to allow the guilty party to do the right thing.
- Some of the most profound changes in our society have been through promoting
personal and small-scale change, like recycling, riding a bike or taking
the bus, buying fair-trade and local goods, planting a garden, buying organic,
and cleaning up the neighbourhood creek. What does it tell the world when
an "environmentalist" rides their car everywhere, or always buys
an individually-packaged lunch because they are "so busy" and their
time is "so valuable"? Promote change in your own life, and in those
around you. Address individual actions into all your campaigns.
- Like the boycott, civil disobedience and non-obedience are tactics
of last resource, when all other means have failed. Meaningful actions are
just and easy for the public to understand and therefore support. Civil disobedience
is breaking the law for a greater good. Non-obedience is not doing what your
normally would, such as government workers slowing down to protest the policies
of an unjust government.
- Alternatives and co-ops are powerful ways to effect change that do
not require the assistance of government. The credit unions and caisse populaires
are among the largest financial institutions in the country, and the member
account holders vote for the Board of Directors. Mountain Equipment Coop is
a huge sports retailer, with great products inexpensively priced, that is
owned by its shoppers. Agricultural and food co-ops bring the benefits of
joint selling and purchasing to thousands of communities across Canada. You
don't have to be "anti" to be a great activist and make a huge difference.
- Research, and educating students, teachers and the public is a crucial
job, and is well suited to youth and student organizations. See how much of
this you can do and get credit for in your courses. Work with research/education
organizations like the Public Interest Research Groups on many campuses, or
the issues clubs in many high schools. The key to getting into the classroom
is finding supportive teachers. They will get you in the door. How about a
special school assembly? Public events are more worthwhile if they are widely
advertised, through email, the media, posters and word of mouth. Try not to
put your audience off by presenting a picture far from their understanding-
it is better to begin where they are, and lead them forward.
- Legal and court strategies are hugely expensive unless you happen
to have access to free and competent lawyers; a rarity. On the other hand,
courts of law are the only thing other than voters that can force politicians
to change policies that would otherwise remain in place. This is why great
gains have been made using the legal system for civil liberties and environmental
laws, for example. A court battle should always be a part of a larger campaign,
since there is little for anyone but the lawyers to do using such a tactic.
Whenever possible, try working with legal non-profits that have been set up
specifically to handle these kinds of cases. Groups like the Sierra Legal
Defence Fund, the BC Civil Liberties Union, the West Coast Environmental Law
Association and some Bar Association committees.
- I am not generally a big fan of petitions, postcards, letters and
the like. However, groups like Amnesty International have used these tactics
extremely effectively. Unless they are mass and professionally organized,
these tend to not catch the attention of the politicians. If you are going
to proceed with these kinds of tactics, make sure you use the opportunity
to build up your list of prospective volunteers and donors. Those names and
phone numbers are useful for more than just forwarding to a politician! Promote
these efforts through the media. Stage related events.
- I am keener on polls and referendums, but they too have strong limitations.
Polls cost money and must be done by "credible" third parties, professional
pollsters who are familiar with all the complexities of formulating questions,
selecting random populations, and slicing and dicing the statistics properly.
If you have the money to do a poll, it is a valuable way to ascertain how
a population is thinking, and a piece of information that the media loves
to publish, and that politicians notice. Referendums are best when undertaken
by a government, but can also be organized by those with HUGE numbers of capable
volunteers. However, any NGO-managed referendum is unlikely to be taken seriously
by the public or the influential. So if you want to do a referendum, try to
use the state. Be careful- referendums are often hugely divisive.
- Mass mobilization is a lot of work, makes a big impact on those participating
and to a lesser extent the public, but seldom moves politicians when undertaken
in isolation. You can leverage the power of your protests by asking to sit
down with the politicians before/after the big event. They are more inclined
to listen when they know you are backed by many others. I am a big believer
in inserting the positive and celebratory in our mass demonstrations. Let's
have more music and arts, and less speaking. The people love it.
- Building parallel structures and institutions is a long road seldom
taken. Cooperatives are one form of this pro-active strategy, as are governments
in exile. Mock courts, teach-ins and "model legislatures" are mini
versions. These "quickies" are very instructive for those involved,
and can also be used to gain widespread and sympathetic media coverage for
- If you want your NGO to grow, you need to have interesting public meetings,
and invite the public to attend. Don't make an effort to invite the general
public to boring committee and organizing meetings. There is nothing like
a slow, frustrating meeting to turn off a newcomer. Ease them in slowly, through
educational speakers, films, theatre, protests and other activities. To advertise
your event, use the very brief (30-second) Public Service Announcement, distributed
to your local radio, newspapers, publications with calendars, and cable &
TV stations. Take advantage of your email lists and web sites to promote your
- Protests, vigils and public demonstrations have largely been covered under
"mass mobilizations". The vigil is generally a reflective,
quieter event, that is often repeated on a regular basis- weekly or monthly.
All protests can be used to engage the public, by handing out fliers that
are interesting and readable by the general public, and by carrying large,
simple and attractive banners with creative slogans.
- Schools, universities and colleges are traditional hotbeds of activism,
and places where many people are open to new and even radical ideas. Try to
work with existing clubs in the schools, and promote your events and activities
widely through the available bulletin boards, student publications and community
radio station. Students are interested in learning. Help them learn something
they won't find in the classroom, by sponsoring educational events at their
school. Schools are an excellent recruiting ground for new volunteers, because
young people are often idealistic.
- Sit-ins, occupations, strikes, walk-outs and labour withdrawals are
very effective actions to change an injustice. They are effective because
they strike at the heart of our society- the economy. But they are also hard
to organize because participants can face very heavy penalties for being involved.
Participants can at times face threats, physical harm, jail time, job and
income loss, and seizure of their homes and assets. Slow-downs, work-to-rule
and work inefficiently campaigns are effective and less risky variations on
this theme. Tread carefully, and work with organized labour on these actions.
- Theatre, theatrics and the arts are lots of fun, and a lot of work
to organize. Because they are less threatening than many other ways to deliver
a message, they are useful to reach the unconverted. Since they are colourful,
they can also be used quite effectively for delivering your message through
the mass media. Examples of this kind of activity include radical cheerleading,
raging grannies, giant puppets, stilt walkers and other "carnival-like"
props, plays, concerts, comedians, videos, CDs, games, street acts, art shows,
and other creative events. You will find that, by and large, the values of
artists and activists are very similar. It makes for great synergy.