Building a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign

Do you want to feel like what you do is actually having an impact on the issues you care about? In the face of hatred, injustice, and environmental destruction, are you tired of being told simply to call your elected officials? Would you like to emulate the kinds of powerful tactics used by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the campaign for women’s suffrage? If so, this online course will teach you the basics of nonviolent direct action campaigning, a proven method of building people power by shaking up the status quo through tactics that can range from fasting and boycotts to noncooperation and civil disobedience.

During our four classes together online, you will learn how to:
●   Choose an issue where you can actually make a difference.
●   Identify the people who you want to pressure and where they are vulnerable.
●   Develop creative tactics to make your actions effective, press-worthy, and often fun.
●   Build your impact over time, so the people you’re trying to pressure have to take you seriously.

In community with others, you will find support and a chance to strengthen your courage and leadership muscles. Each session will include a mixture of lesson and discussion. Recordings of the class sessions will be available in case you can’t make every one, along with additional materials and suggested homework.

The round of the course beginning Monday, April 17 is now closed. Please sign up for my newsletter to get notice of future classes.

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My Story

I’ve been involved with environmental and social justice activism for thirty years. During that time, I’ve explored a variety of tactics, from letter-writing and peace vigils to knocking on doors. Five years ago, a calling to work for climate justice led me to Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), a group that uses nonviolent direct action campaigns to work for a just and sustainable economy. Through my work with EQAT, I’ve become convinced that grassroots movements could be much more effective on the issues we care about if more people learned the skills involved in nonviolent campaigning.

While serving as EQAT’s board chair, I helped to shape our successful strategy to pressure PNC Bank to withdraw financing for mountaintop removal coal mining, and took an active role in organizing major actions. After winning that campaign, we assessed other issues we might work on, listening to our own inner guidance and analyzing where we felt the potential to be most effective. Since launching the Power Local Green Jobs campaign in September 2015, we have already pushed our local utility, PECO, to increase its commitment to local solar–though we still have a long way to go to get them to our goal of 20% solar by 2025.

I am excited to share the lessons I’ve learned through my own experience, as well as what I’ve learned listening to and reading stories from a variety of social change movements. I’m especially excited to help you step into your own power as you work for a more just, sustainable, and loving world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I can’t make every class?

No problem. Each class is recorded, and I usually send out the recording within 24 hours.

How does an online course work? What equipment do I need?

We will be using the Zoom platform, which is really cool and pretty simple to use. Each week I’ll send out a link, and you can join the group through a computer, tablet, or smart phone. Most devices today come with everything you need, but if you are using an older device and want to test it or your Internet connection, you can do that here. You can also call in from an old fashioned landline, but you’ll miss the class visuals.

What is nonviolent direct action?

There are different definitions, but my favorite is the simplest: it is action that is nonviolent but which puts direct pressure on the decision makers you’re trying to influence. It goes beyond letter writing, phone calls, and other tactics typically encouraged by institutions and shakes things up by actually challenging the status quo. Think of Gandhi, walking to the sea to take salt from the ocean in defiance of the British Empire, which controlled the salt trade. For a fuller definition and more examples, see this piece by Daniel Hunter.

I see you have two online classes. How do I know which class I should take?

We Were Made for this Moment is a basic introduction to how social change works and how to find your place in it while staying grounded. If you feel you need to do something, but you’re not sure what, We Were Made for this Moment is for you. Building a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign is for those who have already decided that they want to use direct action tactics, as opposed to phone calls and letter writing. You do not have to take my introductory course before taking the campaign course.

How many people do we need to make a group? And how do we register as a group?

If you have six people, the group rate for this course will be less expensive than the individual rate. Obviously, the more people you recruit, the less it will cost per person. When you are ready to register, please fill out the registration form and make one payment on behalf of the group. (You all can figure out how to divide the cost among you.) I will send you another form to collect the names of everyone participating (up to a maximum of twenty), so that each participant can have access to all the materials of the course. If you are getting financial support from your faith community or some other organization and need to wait for that to come through, or if you would rather send a check, please send me a message through my site contact page, and we’ll work it out.

What if I don’t have a group, or we only have a few people?

You can certainly take this course as an individual or with a few friends. In fact, understanding direct action campaigns may help you see what kind of group you’d like to form or join. That said, nonviolent direct action is a team sport, so you’ll need a group to carry out the kinds of tactics we’ll be discussing. If you are thinking of rounding up some folks, check out this article by George Lakey about what kinds of skills are needed in a campaign.

What if I can’t afford it?

I want to make the empowering material in this course available to as many people as possible. If you are an individual for whom cost is a barrier, please click here to apply for financial aid. Whether you are an individual or a group, you may have resources in your community that can support you, which will also help your community become more invested in what you’re doing. Groups in particular might consider doing a Kickstarter campaign or other type of fundraising event, both to defray the cost of the class and to help you identify future potential supporters.

Why do you charge for this course? Shouldn’t social change work be free?

After the election I felt called to put aside some of my other work to help people meet this urgent, historic moment. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to do that for free. Even if I were, I believe it’s important for us to value the skills involved in effective social change work, the way we value other kinds of services and training. Here’s an analogy: if I had a bad day and needed a friend to listen to me after work, I would not expect to pay them, but if I went to a professional therapist for sustained and skillful support, I would expect to pay them for their time and expertise. In fact, I would welcome it because I think the world needs more people able to sustain themselves by providing that service, not fewer.