Building a Nonviolent Direct Action Campaign
We’re living in strange times. While many of us are experiencing or standing in solidarity with the immediate suffering around us during the Coronavirus epidemic, we are also aware of the bigger social needs so glaring in this moment of profound rupture. We want to use this time well and build our activist muscles, so we can collectively push for real change on health care, inequality, climate change, and more. That’s why 350.org is willing to subsidize local groups to build their understanding of nonviolent direct action campaigning at this crucial time.
During our four classes together online, you will learn how to:
- Choose a demand that’s ambitious but winnable.
- Identify your target and where they are vulnerable.
- Develop creative tactics to make your actions effective, even during physical distancing.
- Escalate over time in a way that builds pressure and your power.
Each session will include a mixture of lesson and discussion. Recordings of the class sessions will be available in case you can’t make the class live, along with additional materials and suggested homework.
The course will begin Thursday, May 7th and run the four Thursdays of May from 7 to 9pm EST.
The subsidization fund is limited, so sign up as soon as possible. Groups that haven’t received a subsidy before will be prioritized. If the discounted cost is too much of a stretch, let us know, and we’ll work something out. On the other hand, if your group can afford the full registration price, please consider leaving the scholarships for groups that can’t.
During the 30 years that I’ve been an activist, I’ve used a variety of tactics, from letter-writing and peace vigils to knocking on doors, but none of them felt adequate to address the challenge of climate change. Eventually I started to despair that nothing I was doing really made a difference.
Then six years ago, I found a group that uses nonviolent direct action to work for a just and sustainable economy, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT, pronounced “equate”). As I stepped into more edgy action, I learned how to have a real impact, and discovered my own latent leadership gifts.
While serving as EQAT’s board chair, I helped to shape our successful strategy to pressure PNC Bank to stop financing mountaintop removal coal mining. After winning against a $4 billion-a-year bank, we launched the Power Local Green Jobs campaign. Along with our campaign parter POWER, we have 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, with a commitment to equitable access to solar energy and job creation in the neighborhoods that need them most.
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.
How many people do we need to make a group? And how do we register as a group?
If you have five people or more, you can use the group rate and divide the cost between you or pay out of your group budget. When you are ready to register, have one person fill out the registration form and make one payment on behalf of the group. If you would rather send a check, please send me an email, and I’ll send you my address.
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. 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 your local 350.org group is small at the moment, check out this article by George Lakey about what kinds of skills are needed in a campaign.
What does it mean to take the course as a group? Should we all be in the same room?
You can do it different ways. If it’s convenient for you to gather in person, you can watch the presentation part of the class on a screen together and then speak to each other during the small group time. If you are spread out geographically or work schedules make it difficult to meet during class time, each person can take the course from their own device, and then you all can find a time to discuss how the class content relates to your dilemmas at another time. Some have done this follow up in person, while others have set up their own Zoom call right after class to keep the conversation going. If you have questions about the pros and cons or either option, please let me know.