“Move over Abbie Hoffman, here’s the book you need to read while planning the revolution.”

Wes “Scoop” Nisker, author of Crazy Wisdom

Distributed action

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Common Uses

To demonstrate the breadth, diversity and power of a movement; to swarm a large target in diverse locations.

We use the Internet for news, to be social, and to share information, but it can also be a radical tool for connecting people around the world in service to a common cause. That might mean signing your name to a petition, but it can also involve taking real world action in our own towns and cities. At its best, a distributed action projects the power of the movement and gives activists a sense of being part of a greater whole. This is a particularly useful tactic when a movement is young, dispersed, and minimally networked.

There are a number of ways that distributed action can help propel a campaign forward and bring a critical issue to the fore, but here are a few key elements:

The day of action. A group of people create a call to action, and provide a meme see THEORY: Memes, message, or framework for others around the world to take similar action at the same time. The fact that the events all happen at the same time projects a sense of power and focuses attention on the issue at hand. Days (or weeks) of action can be highly disciplined and structured, or they can be more like a potluck dinner, where everybody brings the dish s/he feels like cooking up. Organizers might choose to invest time and energy in select “flag-ship” locations to help drive the story and take things to a higher level in a few spots.

The call to action. A call to action should resonate not just with your core supporters and networks, but should tell a story that the general public will understand, and motivate new volunteer leaders to take to the streets. Depending on the situation, a call to action might have an embedded demand of political leaders, or it can simply be an expression of grievances, like the call to #occupywallstreet.

Providing the tools. Hard work, a compelling story, and a healthy dose of inspiration are the most important elements of a successful distributed action. But it can be helpful to provide some extra resources for those activists who have never organized an action before. This can be as simple as posting a web link to a few tips, or as complex as offering in-person trainings and downloadable toolkits with posters, checklists, sample press releases and more. Some kinds of actions, especially those that involve nonviolent direct action, will require more support than others see PRINCIPLE: Take risks, but take care.

Key Principle at work

Hope is a muscle

A successful distributed action demands commitment from all involved. It’s easy to feel like nobody is listening. Distributed action runs on inspiration, momentum, hope and hard work. If you tell a story that resonates, pour your utmost efforts into empowering others to take action, and keep a positive and fun outlook, you can pull off a great and successful distributed action.

Potential Pitfalls

By its nature a distributed action is risky. Not physically, but politically: You put out a call, and people you’ve never met respond and roll into action under your banner. Some folks may go way off message or do something foolish that requires you to engage in damage control. This is part of the risk using a tactic with such an open architecture, but should not discourage you from doing it. Most things will probably go swimmingly, but the more you follow the guidelines above — a strong framework, clear call to action, and solid tools to help folks stay on track — the less likely you are to have problems. Many groups also use nonviolence guidelines or a code of conduct that people agree to abide by when signing up online.


Phil Aroneanu has been working on solving the climate crisis since he was sixteen. In 2008, with author/activist Bill McKibben and a small group of fellow students, he helped launch the innovative 350.org campaign. In the lead-up to the 2009 United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen, 350.org pulled off over 5,200 simultaneous public events in 181 countries in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in history.” Since then, Phil has led national and global campaigns to push back against corporate polluters and build an authentic grassroots climate movement. Phil currently serves as U.S. Campaign Director at 350.org.


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