Thursday, January 3, 2013

Power Shifts in Nonviolent Movements are a Roller Coaster Ride

            Day 3 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Struggle, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who is serious about stopping climate change. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.

Sharp:  “The variations in the respective power of the contending groups [in nonviolent conflict} are likely to be more extreme, to take place more quickly, and to have more diverse consequences…The nonviolent group may, by it’s actions and behavior, control the increase or decrease in the relative strength of the opponent group.”

         That’s why you do nonviolent struggle.  It’s obvious by now that the conventional political activism route has had zero effect upon the power of the fossil fuel industry and their allies.  If you want to seriously make an impact, you have to be willing to go “all-in” with a completely different technique.  I think Bill McKibben is well-poised to do this.  His supporters always astound him with their tremendous response to his calls-to-action. But he and his lieutenants don’t seem to have broken completely free of the regular political activism model.  In their Do the Math presentation they asked for everyone to text them so that then they could reach out to us when needed, but only with the promise that that they won’t be annoying about it.

         I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be worried about annoying us.  The fossil fuel industry is what annoys us, we’ll do anything you ask, so don’t hesitate to ask as often as is needed!  And if you don’t ask often enough you’re probably not doing enough.  Don’t hold back on our account, remember how astounded you always are and give us some credit!

Sharp:  “The conflict is therefore not one between two clear-cut groups of fixed composition and strength.  Instead the  power of both groups varies…The strength of the nonviolent group will be strongly influenced by the people who are actually carrying out the action…If they participate fully, and persist despite the punishments meted out to them, the nonviolent movement is likely to be strong."

         The struggle group needs to be fully committed.  The leaders and the participants.  It’s actually a sin to be shy about "annoying" us.

Sharp: “In a given nonviolent campaign the active participants are usually a relatively small percentage of the whole population…The attitudes and activities of that wider population associated with the nonviolent struggle are, however, highly important: its approval or disapproval of the nonviolent campaign may influence the morale and hence the behavior of the active participants.  If sympathetic, the wider group may provide funds, facilities, and supplies, take less dangerous symbolic actions of support, or provide new volunteers.”

         This is a big problem for the movement.  While a majority of the population at large gives lip-service to the problem of global warming, very few think it’s worth getting worked up about.  Our peers don’t seem all that concerned.  To them, we seem a little crazy, misguided, or even unrealistic.  Right now I’d argue that this is our opponent’s greatest source of strength.  As long as the wider population is largely unmoved by climate change, industry's strength shall remain unchallenged.  Awakening the wider population is job one.

Sharp:  “The importance of national and world opinion to the outcome of the struggle varies considerably and can be highly exaggerated.  Such opinion may…influence the morale of the respective groups, and hence the outcome of the conflict.”

         In our conflict world opinion will play a key role.  True, world opinion will not factor as importantly as does American public opinion toward creating political action in this country, but this is a global problem and will require global action.  We need the citizens of the world on our side.  We need them to be every bit as active in pushing their governments to act as we must be here.


I’m including little snippets, but if we’re going to break the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold upon our government's climate  policy, you need to read Gene Sharp’s stuff.  Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action. You can order it HERE.

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