To start the New Year we’re moving on to an analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action, applied to the climate movement. For my money this is one of the two most essential Gene Sharp books for climate activists to read. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our planet. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.
Sharp: “An understanding of how nonviolent action “works,” of its dynamics in struggle, and of its mechanics of change is of extreme importance. Without that insight our extensive catalogue of its methods (which I skipped but I’ll get to in the future) will lack the vitality which is characteristic of social change and political conflict, and the view of power upon which this technique rests will remain an exercise for specialists in political philosophy. But with awareness of the dynamics…we can understand the operation of this technique in society and politics, and evaluate intelligently its potential utility in various types of conflict situations."
This book is essential for anyone who wants to give more than just lip service to the term “nonviolence”. It goes from being vague term to being an enthralling and tremendously powerful system.
Sharp: “It is essential to remember that the operation of nonviolent action in struggle is always a dynamic process. It involves continuous change in the various influences and forces which operate in that process and are constantly influencing each other….Also, the process is very complicated...more complicated than conventional military warfare or even guerrilla warfare.”
In other words, it’s a moving, living beast. The activists’ actions are just a part of it, the opponents actions are another part, as is society at large, the media, and, in our case, the weather. Any person or group who decides to play a role in helping lead the climate movement had better have an eye on all these factors, and be willing to engage and evolve on an every-day basis, otherwise they’ll be ineffective. It’s like a football team that goes into a game with a game plan, but doesn’t make any adjustments to react to how the other team is playing during the game itself.
Sharp: “If nonviolent action is capable of wielding power, it must be able with its power to act upon the power wielded by the opponent.
Near as I can tell, our opponents are the fossil fuel industry and the right-wing think tanks, media outlets, and government officials that work so hard to prevent action on climate change. They’re very well-funded, sophisticated, and smart. They’ve mastered the politics of this. They know just how the process works, they know how many senators and representatives they need. They know the state, federal and local laws, they know the constitutional issues, the international treaties. They know what they want to change and they know what absolutely must not be changed. They have friendly judges and justices sitting in courtrooms across the country. They know how the media works and how grassroots political action works and they have the money to pull the strings they want to pull. They’re also completely ruthless. They’ll play hardball in every aspect. We mustn’t fight the fight they want to fight.
Sharp: “Napolean wrote…’Never do what the enemy wishes you to do’.”
“Nonviolent action is capable of striking at the availability of the sources of political power of the ruler; authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and even sanctions themselves…Through various processes which take place in a large-scale nonviolent struggle, the supply of those sources may be threatened, curtailed or cut off.”
The key term here of course being “large-scale nonviolent struggle”. At this point the only leaders of the movement who could direct something on a large-scale don’t seem to fully understand how nonviolent action works. They really need to read their Sharp to see how it’s done. Otherwise this movement’s actions will continue to be little more than desperate darts thrown at a wall, rather than a formidable system that could overwhelm the oppenent’s capacity to respond.