Wisdom from George Lakey May 20, 2023:
100 events in 16 states, risking arrest for
climate justice, dispatch from S.S. Golden Rule
and 24 ways to strengthen movements!
I’m tired I admit. Yes, it’s stimulating to visit in person 43 cities and towns across the U.S. But . . . I’m 85, and touring gets me seriously tired. No wonder I was relieved that last week, when the legendary protest sailing ship Golden Rule was visiting Philly, I got to ride on it and wasn’t even asked to hoist a sail! During the sail I was inspired to write about how today’s movements can be stimulated by the strategy choices that gave the Golden Rule voyage such immense impact, published here.
Last month I risked arrest for climate justice:
On April 19 near Philly, when Earth Quaker Action Team’s Vanguard campaign needed people to block driveways into the huge headquarters campus of Vanguard, I was there – but grateful I could bring a chair! The police arrested some people to break the blockade of Vanguard’s property, but my team was spared. Here’s my quote on why I care so much, used in the TV news story.
In the tour of a dozen colleges and universities I met a lot of students anxious not only about climate change, but also about the growing political polarization that threatens to destroy their future. I was ready for them: I shared a unique and helpful perspective on how to use the polarization to help us tackle both climate and justice issues like race, gender and class.
I also share this perspective on polarization in my 2018 book How We Win (Melville Publishing). That paperback includes specific strategic and tactical suggestions on how to work with divisive dynamics.
In fact, my tour led to a surprise: the publisher of my new memoir, Seven Stories Press, generously agreed to my promoting How We Win on tour, even though it’s from a different publisher. How We Win sold great at my book tour events, along with the memoir Dancing with History.
Apparently people who come to my events really want to win!
Those who bought both books are lucky: Dancing with History also includes over two dozen ways that lessons revealed in the book’s stories can strengthen today’s movements! (I’ve attached the two dozen ways below.)
I recommend reading Dancing with History with some other activists to internalize the principles that matter most for your circumstances. How We Win is great to read in a group, too. I wrote How We Win with Daniel Hunter, Eileen Flanagan, and Ryan Leitner. My reading of history persuades me that the movements that win are those that have a robust learning curve!
The current book tour is changing its character
You can tell the tour has been intense: 43 cities and towns across the U.S., in 16 states and D.C.!
The hundreds of events I’ve done in those locations have included bookstores, libraries, activist and community groups, interviews on broadcast and print media, Quaker Meetings and other religious congregations, along with colleges and universities.
After a Harvard Book Store event in Cambridge, MA, on May 24, I’ll take the summer off.
I’m finding it too strenuous to continue into the fall going from state to state visiting multiple towns and cities – a typical “tour” schedule, which I’ve been doing. The new pattern will be much shorter trips, with more space in between.
I’ll available in the fall and winter only for trips of short duration, returning home each time to rest. I’ll rely more on Zoom, and radio interview shows that are conducted by phone.
Scheduled for September/October are separate trips to: Penn State University, then Western Massachusetts, then Minnesota. (For specifics, continue to consult WagingNonviolence.org.)
Good news: Shooting is about done for the documentary film about my work, including lessons to share about working for peace and justice! Stay tuned for update.
Two dozen ways Dancing with History can strengthen today’s movements
Increasing a movement’s chance to win
- Tap grassroots capability for radical nonviolent defiance: Ch 9, 11
- Train participants to increase power: Ch 9, 10, 13, 26, 28, 29
- Build in a practice of debriefing to boost your learning curve, on every level: after meetings, leadership initiatives, actions, sequence of related actions, campaigns, while reviewing what other movements have learned: Ch 23, 26, 28
- Create a clear vision of what you want: Ch 18, 23, 29
Empowering the activist
- “Dancing with history” is an alternative to the temptation to “resist history,” reciting grim news promoting anxiety. Resisting reality keeps us stuck. Accept reality, and then work with it – or, accept the invitation to “dance” with it: Title.
- Effectiveness is enhanced by going to demonstrations with teammates or finding an affinity group: Ch 9, Ch 25
- To deal with the fear and despair in oneself and others, generate solidarity: Ch 7, 9, 12
- The relation of taking action to living with anxiety: Ch 23
Choosing impactful tactics
- Use street speaking instead of protests: Ch 1, 10
- Seek creative tactics even in a war zone: Ch 15
- Use nonviolent bodyguards for protection in polarized, violent situations: Ch 27
- Use suspense to enhance a tactic’s power: Ch 14, Ch 17
- Add impact by joining with the energy of the majority before differentiating: Ch 16.
- A campaign gives a chance to win, not a protest: Ch 4, 29
- Violence paradigm prevents pragmatism, so listen carefully for assumptions when people argue for violent tactics: Ch 4
- Nonviolent struggle is not only more likely to be successful, but is far less costly in lives: Ch 14
- Value of the “crunch” mechanism for enhancing activist power: Ch 8
Increasing effective leadership
- It’s empowering and democratic to do participatory democracy but there are times when asserting leadership really pays off, so consider the situation: Ch 2, 23
- Ideology strengthens us only to a point; ask how much does your own ideology support love? Ch 3
Building solidarity and coherence of the movement
- Keep checking yourself for rank and privilege and be ready to acknowledge those; the dynamics around rank and privilege influence community and movement cohesion: Ch 6, 19.
- Take the extra time it takes to connect with diverse populations and invite their participation and leadership in a project you might be initiating: Ch 23
- Reduce splits by encouraging anti-oppression work by homogeneous subgroups formed on basis of difference: Ch 19
- Value speak-outs as an educational tool, with skilled facilitation, in working against oppression in a movement group: Ch 19
- View a social movement as having an ecology in order to support its growth: Ch 4, 29.
- George’s books include:
How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning, by George Lakey, with Eileen Flanagan, Ryan Leitner, and Daniel Hunter
- Dancing with History: A Life for Peace and Justice
- Facilitating Group Learning: Strategies for Success with Diverse Learners
- Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians got it right and how we can, too