Mobilizing bottom-up, digitally empowered organizations
There is an urgent need for effective activism which successfully makes change, including specifically on climate change, rising inequality, a rise in support for authoritarian sentiment (e.g. President Trump), and in general towards societies with greater equality, justice, and democratic structures which maximise participation at all levels.
However, activist groups often seek to ‘reinvent the wheel’ and wind up making the same mistakes which have been made thousands of times before. Effective Activism draws on examples of best practice from current and past campaigns and movements whilst continuing to monitor, evaluate and improve their design. We seek to overcome the tendency to ‘start from scratch’ and instead to have groups learn from what has been proven to work well and use this information to democratically decide how best to organise ourselves. It will train you in taking an experimental mindset to campaign design and in using particularly effective campaign mechanisms.
Winning campaigns requires an intelligent and holistic political strategy. Whilst specific campaign design should be decided democratically by those actually involved in the campaign, history provides us with a wealth of lessons of what an effective political strategy necessarily must consider.
Watch an interview between instructor Roger Hallam and founder Zach Schlosser about the upcoming course.
Cost: To maximize access to the course, there are three pricing tiers:
- Patron: $1000 USD - 2x the cost of producing the course. This allows us to offer scholarships.
- Sustainer: $500 USD - Equal to the cost of production.
- Scholarship: Free and based on need. We can offer as many scholarships as the number of Patrons who take the course.
Dates/Time: Next course start date to be determined
Location: This course will be delivered virtually. You will interact with each other on video chat and an online course forum. You are strongly encouraged to get a local partner or team to join the course as well. Face-to-face collaboration with a partner on the Experiential Learning Projects makes learning the material easier and faster, but this is not absolutely required. The instructor will meet individually with you on skype, phone, or in-person (depending on location) once during the course.
Preliminary Call: If you are interested in joining the course, we would like to speak with you to learn about your needs and help you decide whether the course will be a good fit. Sign up below for a free, half hour conversation.
Roger Hallam is a Ph.D. Student at King’s College London researching the design of effective radical political collective action. He is a long time organiser and trainer in various social movements and for workers co-ops and housing co-ops. He's also a founding member of the Radical Think Tank. Over the past two years he and campaign co-organizers led several significant successful campaigns, including the first successful rent strike in London in 30 years and compelling King's College to commit to fossil fuels divestment by 2020 after a campaign that lasted only 8 weeks. He also contributed to the success of a campaign to bring the cleaning staff of the London School of Economics back in house after having outsourced them to a 3rd party company that treated the staff poorly. He is currently involved in organizing a London wide anti-air pollution campaign for which he and other organizers recently went to jail for non-violent civil disobedience actions. The tactics used to win these campaigns come significantly from Roger’s historical research and will be taught in the course.
"Important and Courageous" - Noam Chomsky on the Life not Money campaign for better salaries and working conditions for the London School of Economics’ cleaning staff."
Of the school’s three learning domains, activism is the one most traditionally focused on collective action and obviously motivated by altruism. However, while activists are often the leading voices of our collective conscience, we are also sometimes narrow minded, angry, and alienating to the broader public. In order for activists to fulfill our role as leading edge instigators of positive collective change, we must learn to think and act flexibly, always with our eye towards effectiveness at making a positive impact. In this respect we are behind the business sector. When we succeed in thinking experimentally and acting effectively in the long term, however, and in such ways that only build collective participation rather than feed antagonism and alienation, we will succeed on a much greater scale.
The general goal is for you to learn to approach campaign goals, strategies, and tactics experimentally, to design and implement hypothesis iteratively, and to evaluate the outcomes of your actions often and appropriately so that you become more effective over time while garnering greater public support and collective participation.
- You will learn to implement small scale rapid escalation campaigns through participatory meetings, conditional commitment campaigns, and strategic escalation of direct dilemma actions from very low to very high commitment levels.
- You will design and implement (or begin) a campaign during the course so that the content is immediately applied and learning is deepened through practice.
The course itself is an experiment. Your feedback during your experiential learning projects experiences will improve our understanding of which types of campaigns are successful in what conditions and how best to teach this material in the future.
Applicants must have a concrete, small scale campaign you are already running or plan to run. Strong applications will be focused on campaigns that can be scaled up to address a large scale social issue which is aligned with the overall mission of the school. Groups already working together are especially encouraged to apply, though the course is also open to individual applicants.
Application: Your application will be evaluated on the basis of how prepared you are to get the most out of the course, when you are planning on starting your campaign (or if you have already started it), to what degree your campaigns aligns with the broad goals of the school, and their potential positive impact.
You should come to the effective activism course who already have some experience mobilizing or participating in the organization of campaigns, though you need not have been successful.
Outline of Course Topics
Session 1: Overview and context
- Various theories of human action – how people get motivated to do things.
- Various theories of social/political change. How participatory meetings, conditional commitment campaigns, and strategic escalation of direct dilemma actions fit in with other models of political action
- Dream your own campaigns in small groups from initiation to the big win. Discussion of some of the ways to get to the win.
- Reading material for next week – psychology of human behaviour and histories of radical political action.
Session 2: Getting started and organisation
- This session will focus on the promotion of post consensus decision making as the means to maximise empowerment, initiative, and growth potential.
- How to organise participatory meetings – small break out groups and other tips. Reiteration about why people choose to act in campaigns – because they are valued, and co-create the campaign themselves.
- Background of hierarchy versus consensus debate and how literature on post consensus transcends this debate by looking at what actually happens in groups as they grow.
- Feedback on people's experiences of groups – successes and frustrations.
- Getting started – thinking about what campaigns to do. Discuss ideas and feasibilities. Make provisional plans in small groups and share with the group. No necessary final decisions at this stage but the aim is to continually be looking at the concrete practice options as part of each session.
- Home work – literature on psychology of groups and participatory decision making.
Session 3: Mobilisation
- Context of the literature on mobilising and organising – slow and fast traditions. Fundamental rule: act first and then mobilise – people respond to actions already taken rather than meetings to plan actions (demonstration effects).
- Use of conditional commitment and group influence to create collective action (collective action problem).
- Use of escalations of actions and specific aims to clarify the campaign and its “theory of change” so as to be more credible.
- Work again in small groups to design a campaign – and a timeline of mobilisation. Share with group. At this stage there should be some clarity on what campaigns are being undertaken. Give each other feedback on your designs.
Session 4: Confrontation
- Literature on nonviolent direct action and the context of its efficacy in the context of blocked political systems.
- Importance of mobilising the whole “curve” of commitments from very low (e.g. petitions) to very high (e.g. civil disobedience).
- The theory of dilemma actions – splitting the opposition so as to bring them to negotiate
- Escalation designs – progressively increasing the pressure to get to the winning line. Using speed and diversity of tactics to disorientate the opposition. Use of art and culture jamming in messaging.
- In small groups these tactics are incorporated into the timeline of the campaign. Take feedback. Final plans are produced. Pilot iterations are planned.
Experiential Learning Project: Running the campaign
- Pilot activities should be undertaken (e.g. questionnaires, mini actions, initial recruitment drives). Then each campaign meets one to one with Roger where you outline your concerns and queries and we discuss these. You will make final decisions on the design of your time lines.
- For the first month of your campaigns you are unable to contact Roger for advice and feedback to force you to make your own decisions and own them. You have to refer to your own notes and the literatures you have been given – and communicate with other participants in the course to get feedback and advice.
- Rest of the campaign: 2-4 months. You can arrange 2-3 feedback/advice sessions with Roger depending upon need.
- Feedback. After 6 months – regardless of the state of the campaign this is a final session to discuss what worked well and why, what lessons were learned for the campaign and for the structure of the course. You will write a few thousand words of feedback.
Session 5: Group Debrief and online party!!
The course will involve 5 sessions of 2 hours. Each session will include presentation of new material, discussion of previous material, small group design of upcoming campaign strategies, and feedback from groups on the implementation of your campaign (successes and frustrations).
Additionally, Roger will meet with each group or individual as needed (except during the month long experiential learning component) to support your campaign implementation.
Between course sessions, you will complete homework, including readings of reference material and researching other campaigns.
You will spend the majority of time on your campaign itself during the month long experiential learning project. How much time you spend on your campaign is determined by your motivation to succeed.
If I have more questions, whom can I ask?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up below. We would love to talk to you.
How do I apply for the course?
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