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Building a Smarter, Stronger Democratic Movement in the Face of Opposition

We need to develop a mass movement committed to ending the rule of money and building power in the people.

Photo Credit: yu liang


As we see each week, the revolt in the U.S. and around the world was very busy on many fronts, from low-wage workers to protests against solitary confinement in support of hunger strikers, to environmental justice and healthcare reform to Bradley Manning and protests in state capitols and so much more. We want to focus on lessons people are learning about effective strategy. Knowing where we are going and how to get there will lift up the actions of all of us.

The following video depicts a protest in the Senate building against solitary confinement and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which resulted in arrests:

As one would expect, the opponents of change have developed strategies to undermine social movements. Steve Horn reports, based on leaked documents from the private security firm StratFor, that their strategy is to divide activists into four groups: Radicals, Idealists, Realists and Opportunists. Opportunists are in the movement for themselves and can be pulled away for their own self-interest. Realists can be convinced that transformative change is not possible and settle for what is possible. Idealists can be convinced they have the facts wrong and pulled to the Realist camp. And finally, Radicals see a corrupt system that requires transformation. They work to isolate and discredit this last group. Using false charges to assassinate character is a common tactic. They divide and weaken movements to protect the status quo. 

There is much discussion of strategy among people in the forces for change as well. Popular Resistance dedicates a page to strategy that will expand as more materials are developed. We published the overall strategy we support in “ History Teaches That We Have the Power to Transform the Nation, Here's How,” which discusses building a mass movement that weakens the power structure by working on two tracks: protesting what we oppose and building what we want.

This week a video called “ Revolution, An Instruction Manual” by Storm Clouds Gathering provided a well-informed basic discussion of strategy. Their approach was very consistent with the strategy we put forward: develop a common vision, build a movement that takes control of the narrative and mobilizes people within a common strategic framework that weakens the pillars of power. Both their approach and ours leaves people with lots of flexibility as there are at least 200 tactics reviewed on various websites that have proven to be effective in other resistance movements. They also recommend further reading to get more in-depth knowledge on strategy and tactics.

Often one of the turning points in a successful resistance campaign is when the security state begins to support the movement.  Regimes have fallen when the police or military refused to follow orders to act against their families and communities. This scene from the recent protests in Brazil of police joining a sit-in while in uniform is the kind of development governments fear most. During the occupation of the capitol in Madison, WI in 2011, the local sheriff refused to deploy his force to guard the capitol, and police would join the protesters after their shifts.

But Egypt teaches us a different lesson: that when a movement gets too close to the security state, it can undermine the movement. It is important to remember the military and police may have their own agenda that is usually not consistent with the movement. Erica Chenoweth reviews the history of how the security state and resistance movements interrelate around the world and points out that the Egyptian slogan, “the people and the military are always one hand,” is mistaken. As we see in the slaughters carried out by the military in Egypt and the return of the abusive SSI secret police, social and economic justice is not on their agenda.