Monday, January 7, 2013

We’ve Got 40 Million Supporters, Let’s Turn Them Into Quality Actionists

           Day 8 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.

Anybody see Moyers and Company Friday night?  His guest was Anthony Leiserowitz from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.  In a fantastic interview, Leiserowitz identified “six Americas”, each with markedly different perceptions of global warming.   I want to look at one of those groups. 

“The first group that we’ve identified is a group we call alarmed.” Leiserowitz said.  “It’s about 16 percent of the public.  These are people who think it’s happening, it’s human caused, that it’s a serious and urgent problem and they’re really eager to get on with the solutions.

“But they don’t know what those solutions are.  They don’t know what they can do individually and they don’t know what we can do collectively as a society to deal with it…[they] feel relatively isolated and alone.  They say, ‘I feel this way, some of my friends and family feel this strongly.’  But they have no sense that they are part of over 40 million Americans that feel just as strongly as they do.”

“They’ve never been properly organized, mobilized and directed to demand change…that’s what the political system ultimately responds to.  If you basically have a vacuum of people who are demanding change…I mean, there are of course many great organizations that have been advocating for change for a long time.  But it hasn’t been a broad based citizens movement demanding change.  In that situation a relatively small but well-funded and vocal community that says no can absolutely win the day.”

So the good news is there are 40 million of us!  If this movement can stand up as one with 40 million people, we’ll be able to save the world.  The bad news is the movement’s leaders haven’t been doing it right.  We have to change that, and we have to demand that these organizations actually do it right, or they don’t deserve our time or our money.

This crisis cannot be seen as just another political cause.  The organizations of the movement, when they got started, must have looked around at the political landscape and decided to model their strategies after what all the other advocacy groups were doing.  This wasn’t an inherently bad idea, but after a couple decades now with no results I’d say it’s time to try something else.

Enter Nonviolent Struggle.  If we are committed to doing it right, and really learn how it works, we can do great things here.

Gene Sharp makes the case that, as much as you need to have many activists to make noncooperation effective, nothing is more important than the maintenance of high quality in those activists.  “Quality would be contagious and multiply; the number of nonviolent actionists enrolled under Gandhi’s leadership in South Africa, for example, rose from sixteen to sixty thousand.  In contrast, undisciplined numbers would fade away…Even if it were possible for a single individual or a few nonviolent actionists by their own actions to achieve the desired change, it would be wiser, Gandhi felt, for them to use their abilities to educate the masses of the people in the means by which they themselves could right their wrongs…Large numbers not able to maintain the nonviolent discipline, the fearlessness, and other necessary standards of behavior could only weaken the movement, but large numbers capable of maintaining the necessary standards and discipline become ‘irresistable’.”

So if you’re one of the 40 million, understand that there is indeed hope and we can do this.  But also understand that the climate movement as we’ve known it hasn’t known how to go about it.  Don’t just assume they’ll be able to pull this off.  Instead, educate yourself first, become knowledgeable about nonviolent struggle and devoted to its principles.  Become yourself a “quality” actionist, and demand it of others.  That way you’ll much better able to help whichever group you engage with, or you’ll be able to lead your own group in a way that will be more effective than what this movement has yet seen.

It all starts with you buying Gene Sharp’s books and reading them.


Please muster up the $34.85 (plus shipping) and purchase The Politics of Nonviolent Action.  You can order it HERE.

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