Day 6 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: “Nonviolent action…participants are able to advance their cause in proportion to the degree that the opponent’s desire and ability to maintain the objectionable policy are weakened, and that the nonviolent group is able to generate the will and power to give it the internal strength to effect the change. The skillful choice of the point of attack is important in this connection.”
We Pissed-Off Polar Bears saw the 2012 election, on the heels of this disastrously hot summer, as a breathtaking opportunity to get a lot of people talking about climate change and demanding action. We considered an international treaty to be the best, fastest framework for change (still do), so we wanted to elect as many climate-friendly senators as possible to ratify such a treaty. The rest of the movement did not show up for the fall campaigns at all, so our strategic thinking was for naught.
Bill McKibben, in fact, started his Do the Math campaign the day after the election. As best as I can tell, the divestment campaign he’s calling for are designed to hurt industry’s bottom line (although some doubt that it will have that effect), and to attack a key fossil fuel weakness: they’re jeopardizing young people’s entire futures. This could, in fact, weaken industry’s ability to maintain the objectionable policy by rousing a lot of protest on campuses across the country.
Sharp: “The planners choose the point of attack…which symbolizes the “evil” which is least defensible by the opponent and which is capable of arousing the greatest strength against it. Success in such limited campaigns will in turn increase the self-confidence of the actionists and their ability to move effectively toward the fuller achievement of their larger objectives as they gain experience.”
We Pissed-Off Polar Bears had a “staged campaign” in mind, but we couldn’t get past the first hurdle, getting the movement on it’s feet, so we’re back to square one: How to get a movement up and at ‘em. Whether McKibben or Gore or any other organization in the movement has a staged campaign in mind is unknown to me. It would actually help the movement quite a bit if they could come out with an overall plan. I, for one, am not comfortable just assuming that they are with the fate of the world at stake. They haven’t had one before now, why should we assume they’ve got one now?
Sharp: “It is necessary to publicize the facts, the issues and the arguments advanced by the nonviolent group…The need for such a period of motivational preparation has been long recognized as important to a well-supported and sustained nonviolent movement. For example, in 1769, in correspondence with George Washington…his neighbor James Mason argued it would be necessary to publish ‘something…to warn the people of the impending danger and to induce them to the more readily and cheerfully to concur in the proper measures to avert it.'”
Here’s where Bill McKibben and Al Gore have done a better job than anyone else in the movement. Still, though, as a society we’re a long way away from completely coming to grips with how bad climate change could be. It’s very important that this movement does a much better job of publicizing the worst-case scenarios, which most Americans are completely unaware of (because they get no air-play), and which happen to be highly plausible, by the way.
Sharp: “Inform the public in general of the grievances, encouraging people to feel that nonviolent action is needed to correct them, and finally to enlisting participants for the coming struggle. A very important part of this activity is aimed at arousing the feeling that something can and ought to be done.”
People who think that the president will handle it don’t understand how little political will there is to implement something on a scale that will be necessary to really make a dent in the advance of climate change. Nonviolent action, in the streets on a massive scale, is the only thing that will create that kind of political will.
Sharp: “A properly conducted journal can be of immense help in such a campaign…’Cause consciousness’ must be placed on quality rather than speed or quantity, and strict efforts must be made to avoid exaggerations, distortions, or falsehoods. Neither should feelings of hatred or intolerance be aroused…’Many people are only looking for an excuse not to support the movement.’”
With the need for action on climate change being so urgent, it’s tempting not to put anything before speed, but nonviolent action is most effective because it can work so quickly. Remember what Ivan Marovic of Otpor said, “If it is carefully planned, by the time they start, everything is over in a matter of weeks”.