” … an endlessly fascinating and unique guide to actually fighting to win.”

Murray Dobbin, rabble.ca

Principles

Hard-won insights that can inform creative action design.

Anger works best when you have the moral high ground

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Anger is potent. Use it wisely. If you have the moral higher ground, it is compelling and people will join you. If you don’t, you’ll look like a cranky wingnut.


Anyone can act

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Don’t worry about being a lousy actor — you’re a great one.


Balance art and message

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Effective creative interventions require a judicious balance of art and message. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. If the role of the artist is to “deepen the mystery,” what is the role of the political artist?


Beware the tyranny of structurelessness

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Sometimes the least structured group can be the most tyrannical. Counter by promoting accountability within the group.


Brand or be branded

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Branding is one of the more misunderstood communication concepts, especially among anti-corporate activists, who can and should use branding to their advantage.


Bring the issue home

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Creative activists can make an otherwise abstract, far-away issue relevant by making it personal, visceral and local.


Build strength through repetition

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Holding regular events permits activists to build strength through repetition, because with each iteration, the event has the potential to become bigger and better.


Challenge patriarchy as you organize

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Like all other unjust and arbitrary systems of authority and power, patriarchy must be actively challenged in political organizing if we are to achieve collective liberation.


Choose tactics that support your strategy

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Don’t let an individual tactic distract from a larger strategy. Strategy is your overall plan, and tactics are those things you do to implement the plan — a distinction critical for structuring effective campaigns.


Choose your target wisely

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We increase our chances of victory when our actions target the person or entity with the institutional power to meet our demands.


Consensus is a means, not an end

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The two foundational values of consensus decision making are empowering every person’s full participation in decision making, and respecting and accommodating diverse opinions. These values are more important than the form itself, which activists should modify as needed to uphold these values.


Consider your audience

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If a banner drops in the forest and your target audience isn’t around to see it, will it make a difference? Probably not.


Debtors of the world, unite!

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Today the burden of debt unites millions in common struggle, providing the basis of a new mass movement and new forms of large-scale organizing.


Delegate

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In the final analysis, groups don’t get things done, people do. Delegate!


Do the media’s work for them

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Often journalists want to cover an important issue, but can’t for editorial reasons. The right creative action (that you photograph or film yourself) can give them the excuse or materials they need.


Don’t dress like a protester

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If you look like a stereotypical protester, it’s easy for people to write you off. If you look like someone who doesn’t usually hit the streets (the guy next door or an airline pilot in full uniform), people can more easily identify with you. Therefore, don’t dress like a protester.


Don’t just brainstorm, artstorm!

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When seeking to awaken collective intelligence, brainstorming can only get you so far. “Artstorming” invites participants to jump directly into the unmediated experience of creation, engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence. Better ideas, and often amazing creations, result.


Don’t mistake your group for society

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Don’t get too caught up in trying to make your little activist group “inclusive,” “democratic,” or other qualities that we all want for society. Why? Because your group isn’t society.


Enable, don’t command

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Supportive, enabling leaders awaken the creative potential of participants.


Escalate strategically

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If dissident political groups tend to become more extreme over time, then good leaders should help define that ‘extreme’ in constructive ways.


Everyone has balls/ovaries of steel

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Courage is in the eye of the beholder.


If protest is made illegal, make daily life a protest

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When standard dissent is made impossible by overwhelming state repression, find ways to make ordinary acts subversive.


Jury-rig solutions (or, How would MacGyver protest?)

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Fix a problem as best you can to pressure authorities to fix it properly.


Kill them with kindness

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Kindness, smiles, gifts and unicorns (well, maybe not unicorns) can be potent weapons in the struggle against evil-doers.


Know your cultural terrain

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The first rule of guerrilla warfare is to know your terrain and use it to your advantage. This holds true whether you are fighting in an actual jungle or in the metaphoric wasteland of mass culture.


Lead with sympathetic characters

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Good actions tell a good story; good stories revolve around sympathetic characters.


Maintain nonviolent discipline

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Nonviolent action works best when you stay nonviolent.


Make new folks welcome

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Recruitment and retention go hand in hand. A few simple procedures for orienting new participants can go a long way to ensuring their ongoing involvement.


Make the invisible visible

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Many injustices are invisible to the mainstream. When you bring these wrongs into full view, you change the game, making the need to take action palpable.


Make your actions both concrete and communicative

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Concrete tactics have measurable goals and are designed to have a direct physical impact. Communicative ones can be more symbolic. Knowing the difference and planning accordingly is important.


No one wants to watch a drum circle

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Participating in a drum circle is amazing, transformative and fun. Watching a drum circle, on the other hand, is torture. Don’t ask people to watch you have fun: get them involved!


Pace yourself

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Taking care of ourselves and having fun in our work for social change are essential to building stronger, larger, more effective movements.


Play to the audience that isn’t there

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In a hyper-mediated world, often the audience you care about is not the one in the room with you, but the one you’ll reach through mass and social media. Design your action with them in mind.


Praxis makes perfect

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Theory without action produces armchair revolutionaries. Action without reflection produces ineffective or counter-productive activism. That’s why we have praxis: a cycle of theory, action and reflection that helps us analyze our efforts in order to improve our ideas.


Put movies in the hands of movements

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By telling a personal story, documentary film can make an otherwise difficult-to-approach issue accessible. Filmmakers and activists, working together, can collaborate to make a film a story-driven lever for change.


Put your target in a decision dilemma

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Design your action so that your target is forced to make a decision, and all their available options play to your advantage.


Recapture the flag

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Love your country, and fight so that its flag and other national symbols evoke its most egalitarian and noble values.


Reframe

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The easiest way to win an argument is to redefine the terms of the debate.


Seek common ground

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In search of allies and points of agreement, we must grow comfortable adopting the rhetoric of worldviews we might otherwise oppose.


Shift the spectrum of allies

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Movements seldom win by overpowering the opposition; they win by shifting the support out from under them. Determine the social blocs at play on a given issue, and work to shift them closer to your position.


Show, don’t tell

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Use metaphor, visuals and action to show your message rather than falling into preaching, hectoring or otherwise telling your audience what to think.


Simple rules can have grand results

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Movements, viral campaigns and large-scale actions can’t be scripted from the top down. An invitation to participate and the right set of simple rules are often all the starter-structure you need.


Stay on message

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When we stay on message, we communicate exactly what we want our audience to know. We create harmony between our words, visuals and actions and we deliver a clear, powerful and irresistible call to action.


Take leadership from the most impacted

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Effective activism requires providing appropriate support to, and taking direction from, those who have the most at stake.


Take risks, but take care

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Needlessly endangering the safety of you or the people around you hurts the movement. Don’t sacrifice care of self or others for the sake of being “hardcore.”


Team up with experts (but don’t become “the expert”)

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Cultivating a fluid, symbiotic relationship between activists and experts is key to organizing effective interventions into complex issues.


The real action is your target’s reaction

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When taking on a big and well-known target, it is often the target’s reaction to your action that’s the key to success. Therefore, anticipate your target’s reactions and write them into your script.


Think narratively

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Sometimes the best response to a powerful enemy is a powerful story.


This ain’t the Sistine Chapel

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Sky-high artistic expectations can not only slow you down, but can also critically impair execution of your tactic and strategy.


Turn the tables

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Sometimes the most compelling way to expose an injustice is to flip it around and visit it upon the powerful.


Use others’ prejudices against them

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Your enemy’s prejudices about you are a weakness that you can exploit to your advantage.


Use the Jedi mind trick

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The Jedi mind trick worked for Obi-Wan Kenobi, and it can work for you, too. You just have to believe in yourself, and others will, too.


Use the law, don’t be afraid of it

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Talk to more than one lawyer and pick the one whose advice you want to follow.


Use the power of ritual

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Rituals like weddings, funerals, baptisms, exorcisms and vigils are powerful experiences for participants. By adapting sacred and symbolic elements you can use the power of ritual to give your actions greater depth and power.


Use your cultural assets

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By drawing on the cultural assets of the community, organizers can deepen the involvement of participants, disorient opponents, and shift the cultural terrain in their favor.


Use your radical fringe to shift the Overton window

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The Overton window is the limit of what is considered reasonable or acceptable within a range of public policy options. Slide the window of acceptable debate by focusing attention on a position that is more radical than your own.


We are all leaders

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An otherwise healthy distrust of hierarchy can lead to a negative attitude toward all forms of leadership. Actually, we want more leadership, not less.