Beautiful Trouble is essential reading for the socially engaged artist.”

Ken Krafchek, Graduate Director, MFA in Community Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art

Action logic

Contributed by and

“Actions speak louder than words.”

Ruckus Society motto
In Sum

Your actions should speak for themselves. They should make immediate, natural sense to onlookers. They should have an obvious logic to the outside eye.

Origins:

Civil rights movement, USA

Have you ever looked at a protest and wondered what the heck these people were so angry about? Perhaps it was a bunch of kids blockading an intersection. Who are they? What do they want?

With good action logic, nobody needs to ask those questions; an outsider can look at what you’re doing and immediately understand why you’re doing it. For example, people doing a tree-sit so the forest cannot be cut down — the logic is clear and obvious. The action speaks for itself.

Action logic creates powerful stories that move hearts and change minds. Not only is it true that actions speak louder than words, but, particularly in a hostile media climate where activists are often flagrantly misrepresented, it’s important that our actions speak for themselves. It may sound paradoxical, but it often requires lots of thought and care to design actions that make intuitive sense.

Civil disobedience actions — for example the lunch counter sit-ins of the American civil rights movement — tend to have inherent action logic because their purpose is to violate an unjust law in order to highlight exactly that injustice. However, other forms of direct action, which sometimes break laws unrelated to their goal, often need to do some extra work to achieve clear action logic.

Communicative actions see THEORY: Expressive and instrumental actions also need to foster action logic. Camp Casey, where Cindy Sheehan camped outside Bush’s vacation ranch until he came out and explained for what “noble cause” her Iraq veteran son Casey had died, had powerful action logic. So did the single moms in Rhode Island who pressured a public housing official for a day care center by not just sitting-in at his office, but bringing their kids with them and, for a few hours, turning his office into the day care center they needed see CASE: Day care center sit-in.

Most successful actions have this kind of inherent, transparent logic. They speak for themselves. When your action has this kind of clarity at its core, then no matter how the target responds or how things play out, the action will continue to make your point and make sense to observers.

MOST FAMOUS APPLICATION: The lunch counter sit-ins during the civil rights movement had remarkable action logic. When legal segregation was enforced, black and white students violated the law by sitting at lunch counters and waiting to be served. Any outsider looking at the act immediately knew why they were there. They didn’t need to carry signs. In fact, their action foreshadowed victory and prefigured the world they wanted to live in: they were living the integration they wanted.


A long-time veteran of creative campaigns for social change, Andrew led the decade-long satirical media campaign “Billionaires for Bush” and co-founded the Other 98%. He's the author of a couple books: Daily Afflictions, Life’s Little Deconstruction Book, and the forthcoming I Want a Better Catastrophe: Hope, Hopelessness and Climate Reality. Unable to come up with with his own lifelong ambition, he’s been cribbing from Milan Kundera: “to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form.” You can find him at andrewboyd.com.

Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer and strategist serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. Joshua has written numerous movement strategy essays, chapters for several books, and a few organizing manuals, most recently Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate the Climate Crisis, with Hilary Moore (PM Press 2011). He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations.


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