An activist offers hard-won advice for community organizers.
After the publication of his last book on social and economic reform, Lakey (Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right—and How We Can, Too, 2016, etc.) was often asked for advice about how to mount a successful direct action campaign on many issues. With input from Daniel Hunter, who trains climate change campaigners; Ryan Leitner, activist for environmental justice and now organizer for the Earth Quaker Action Team; and Eileen Flanagan, who teaches online courses about nonviolent direct action, the author lays out movement-building strategies that may be applicable to a variety of causes. “We present ways of working that don’t burn people out,” Lakey writes, “ways that support campaigners to be the best human beings they can be.” The author alerts readers to the difference between a protest and a campaign: a “one-off protest is for venting, not for exerting power.” Campaigns, on the other hand, “are built for sustainability and escalation.” They should have a clear focus rather than a general concern “like climate or war or poverty” or ending racism. Instead, the group should define a specific goal. Rather than focusing “on unlearning prejudice,” the group would do better to focus on “justice issues that matter deeply to many people, regardless of race.” The group should identify its target, “the decider who can yield to your demand,” and create a “strategy arc”—“a series of actions over time that will build power.” One activist designed a Movement Action Plan to highlight the evolution of a campaign, including awakening public support, confronting obstacles and the unexpected, linking the campaign to similar efforts to provide mutual aid, and choosing tactics appropriate to the demographic being targeted. A group’s actions, Lakey cautions, need to make sense to someone outside of the group, to garner support. He underscores the importance of training to foster new ideas, build morale, deepen participants’ understanding of issues, and prevent burnout.
Clear, encouraging, and potentially empowering.