“Amongst the best was Andrew Boyd’s compendium-like Beautiful Trouble which brought together some of the most imaginative elements of a movement influenced by a mix of non-violent direct action and the public drama of situationism.”

Mark Perryman, The Substantive

Points of intervention

Contributed by and

In Sum

A point of intervention is a physical or conceptual place within a system where pressure can be put to disrupt its smooth functioning and push for change.

Origins:

Patrick Reinsborough & the smartMeme Strategy & Training Project

Points of intervention are specific places in a system where a targeted action can effectively interrupt the functioning of a system and open the way to change. By understanding these different points, organizers can develop a strategy that identifies the best places to intervene in order to have the greatest impact.

Social movements have traditionally intervened by taking direct action at physical points in the systems that shape our lives, but with the spread of effective labor organizing and the increasing power of media, conceptual points of intervention have become increasingly important.

Truly effective interventions go beyond simply disrupting a system to pose a deeper challenge to its underlying assumptions and basic legitimacy. This holds true whether the intervention targets a physical system like a sweatshop or an ideological system like racism, sexism, or market fundamentalism.

The five types of points of intervention are points of production (for instance, a factory), points of destruction (a logging road), points of consumption (a retail store), points of decision (a corporate headquarters) and points of assumption (a foundational narrative or a place of symbolic importance).

Point of production
Action at the point of production is the foundational insight of the labor movement. Workers organize to target the economic system where it directly affects them, and where that system is most vulnerable. Strikes, picket lines, work slowdowns, and factory take-overs are all point-of-production actions.

Point of destruction
A point of destruction is the place where harm or injustice is actually occurring. It could be the place where resources are being extracted (a strip mine) or the place where the waste from the point of production is dumped (a land-fill). By design, the point of destruction is almost always far from public attention — made invisible by remoteness, oppressive assumptions, or ignorance — and tends to disproportionately impact already marginalized communities. Intervention at the point of destruction can halt an act of destruction in the moment, as well as dramatize the larger conflict.

Point of consumption
The point of consumption is the location of interaction with a product or service that is linked to injustice. Point-of-consumption actions are the traditional arena of consumer boycotts and storefront demonstrations. The point of consumption is often the most visible point of intervention for actions targeting commercial entities. Point-of-consumption actions can also be a good way to get the attention of corporations when lawmakers aren’t listening.

Point of decision
The point of decision, where the power to act on a campaign’s demands rests, is often the most self-evident point of intervention, and therefore one of the most frequently targeted. Whether it’s a slumlord’s office see CASE: Day care center sit-in, a corporate boardroom or state capital, or an international summit meeting see CASE: Battle in Seattle, many successful campaigns have used some form of action at the point of decision to put pressure on key decision-makers.

Point of assumption
Assumptions are the building blocks of ideology, the DNA of political belief systems. They operate best when they remain unexamined. If basic assumptions can be exposed as contrary to people’s lived experience or core values, entire belief systems can be shifted. Actions that expose and target widely held assumptions see CASE: Billionaires for Bush and CASE: Barbie Liberation Organization can therefore be very effective at shifting the discourse around an issue and opening up new political space. Point-of-assumption actions can take many different forms, such as exposing hypocrisy, reframing the issue, amplifying the voices of previously silenced characters in the story, or offering an alternative vision see TACTIC: Prefigurative intervention.

Turning creative action into real change requires careful strategizing. Identifying different possible points to target is a great first step to help design actions that connect to large campaign and social change goals.


Patrick Reinsborough is a strategist, organizer and creative provocateur with over twenty years of experience campaigning for peace, justice, indigenous rights and ecological sanity. Patrick has helped organize countless creative interventions, including mass direct actions that shut down the Seattle WTO meeting in 1999 and protested the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. He is the author of numerous essays on social change theory and practice, including co-writing Re:Imagining Change (PM Press 2010). He is the co-founder of the Center for Story-based Strategy (formerly known as smartMeme), a movement support organization which harnesses the power of narrative for fundamental social change. He lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay area.

Doyle Canning was struck by a tear gas canister in the streets of Seattle in 1999, and has never been the same since. She is a creative strategist with a deep commitment to building broad-based movements for social justice and an ecological future. Doyle is a co-founder of the Center for Story-based Strategy (formerly known as smartMeme). She delivers training, coaching, facilitation and framing to high-impact networks who are taking on greedy corporations, corrupt politicians, racist laws and polluting policies. Doyle is co-author of Re:Imagining Change with Patrick Reinsborough. She lives with her husband in Boston, where she enjoys practicing yoga, cooking, and making music.


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