Today marks day 12 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applying it to the climate movement. You really do need to read it all to get properly steeped in nonviolent struggle. There’s so much to know, and all of it will help everyone who wants to help this movement and save our life-support system!
Sharp: “The nonviolent technique operates by producing power changes. Both the relative power and the absolute power of each of the contending groups are subject to constant and rapid alterations. This power variability can be more extreme and occur more rapidly than in situations where both sides are using violence… Usually the results of these complex changes in the relative power positions of the contenders will determine the struggle’s final outcome.”
This is why it’s so important to be fluid. A 5-year campaign is not fluid, and gives the opponents plenty of time to work on the best response. This movement needs to be able to react to immediate changes, like a super hot summer in an election year, and recalibrate their approach for maximum effect. Not do nothing because they’d already been planning on doing something else after the election.
Sharp: “The maintenance of nonviolent discipline in the face of repression is not an act of moralistic naivete. Instead it…is a prerequisite for advantageous power changes. Nonviolent discipline can only be compromised at the severe risk of contributing to defeat.”
It’s so important that people read their Gene Sharp. Actionists need a strong grasp of how nonviolent struggle works most effectively so that, when the rest of the movement doesn’t react to an unfolding situation, they can, and do it in a way that doesn’t make the movement look bad.
Sharp: “The nature of nonviolent struggle makes it possible for the actionists also to win considerable support even in the camp of the opponent and among third parties.”
The third parties are everyone else in society who isn’t part of the struggle group or the opponents. As for inside the camp of the opponents, here’s a quote in Steve Coll’s book about ExxonMobil, Private Empire, from a former Exxon manager: “Don’t believe for a minute that Exxon doesn’t think climate change is real. They were using climate change as a source of insight into exploration.” Here’s a guy who worked “in the camp of the opponent” that didn’t like the smell of what they were doing.
Sharp: “Victory depends on the strength of the nonviolent actionists…if the group using nonviolent action does not as yet possess sufficient internal strength, determination, ability to act, and related qualities to make nonviolent action effective, then the repetition of phrases like ‘nonviolence’ will not save it. There is no substitute for genuine strength and skill in nonviolent action; if the actionists do not possess them sufficiently to cope with the opponent, they are unlikely to win.”
That to me is the biggest problem with this movement. Stunning lack of strength and determination. It’s like even they don’t understand how bad climate change could be. Sure, all the groups say “nonviolence” all the time, but that seems to just mean they’re not going to hurt anybody. Nonviolence done right is meant to “provoke a response”, it’s not standing next to a fence away from the action holding a sign. Some of the groups in the movement get it. Many do not.
Sharp: “Considering the widespread ignorance of the nature and requirements of nonviolent action and the absence of major efforts to learn how to apply it most effectively, it is surprising that it has won any victories at all.”
That’s why, yet again, people need to invest the time and energy into reading Gene Sharp’s books.