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Types of strategies

Different ways of making impact
4 min read
Last update: Feb 23, 2023

In this article, we explain that there are many ways of fighting for change. It is important to choose a campaign strategy for your movement that helps you achieve your goals.

There is a wide variety of strategies and choosing a strategy is not an easy task. The vision and goals of your movement will dictate the strategies (and tactics) you want to choose. Example: If your goal is to increase the number of urban gardens, going on strikes or protest marches isn’t a very useful tactic. The resources spent for mobilizing and securing a protest would be better spent on actual gardening. And if you’re worried about the safety of your gardens, organizing a neighborhood watch might prove a more useful tactic than starting an advocating campaign for increased surveillance.

There are many ways to differentiate between types of campaign strategies. We decided to use two factors: focus on the system (institutions) or communities (people) and whether strategies are more on the radical (disruptive) or lenient (reformative) side of things. You can find a visual representation of this typology below.

Types of strategies, by Activist Handbook (2021)

The reason we didn’t like any of the existing ways to distinguish between strategies is that they heavily focus on political activism and institutional strategies. People building community workshops and giving free classes in sign language are rarely seen or identify themselves as activists.

Learn more about the tactics that you can use for each of these strategies:

You don’t necessarily have to stay within just one of the categories, but make sure that the strategies and tactics you chose don’t clash with each other. If you’re trying to build relationships with the people in your social environment, being seen as “radical” is not a good move. On the other hand, if you really want to make big and fast changes by building alternatives, you are wasting time if you focus primarily on policy making and lobbying, and expecting the government to introduce these alternatives.

The section below needs to be integrated into the rest of the article.

Six types of strategy

1. Conventional activist strategy, including political / organisational / educational / NGO-type

(required for global systems change[s] -see evidence base. Example: Greenpeace)

2. Nonviolent direct action (NVDA) & mass civil disobedience

(required for global systems change[s] -see evidence base. Examples: Extinction Rebellion / MLK) See also Levels and types of non-violent civil disobedience

3. Sabotage (infrastructural) / property damage with no direct harm to life

(worth considering in context -see evidence base. Examples: pulling down statues of racists [ref: 2020] / disabling fracking equipment)

4. Violence -defensive or threat of violence

(may have occasional uses -see evidence base. Examples: Black Panthers / EZLN)

Please note, there is an ongoing discussion on Activist Handbook of whether violence as a strategic activist approach or tactic should be considered at all, or even acknowledged / discussed as a historic reality. To contribute to this discussion please use the comments section on this page.

5. Violence -offensive

(not recommended)

6. Dual Power, as pursued by Social Ecology theory

(‘Building the new society in the shell of the old, without permission’. Could include elements of 1-5, depending on application. Examples: EZLN / Rojava Revolution [Democratic Confederation of Northern Syria])

We should probably create a specific section within the strategy chapter to discuss non-violence in activism (see content below).

(Non-)violence in activism

1) Satyagraha; 'holding firmly to truth' / moral or ‘principled’ non-violence.

Satyagraha is a form of non-violent resistance that was conceptualised and practised by Gandhi. Please add links.

2) Strategic non-violence.

Defined as different to principled non-violence, strategic non-violence is used because it has been understood to work i.e. to be more effective than violence at achieving lasting, large-scale social change.

3) Non-violent property destruction and sabotage / the Shambala Warrior prophesy.

Is it possible to cause property destruction and / or sabotage from a deep place of peace and compassion for those that would benefit from the damage?

Here is one perspective: the Shambala Warrior prophesy. The essence of this Tibetan Buddhist prophesy is that deeply compassionate and well-trained people will enter the centres of power and dismantle the ‘weapons’ that are destroying the planet (these don't have to be literal weapons; they could be destructive machines related to fossil fuels).

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