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Choosing your action tactics

A practical guide for protestors
Last update: Sep 22, 2022
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In our tactics chapter, we have a long list of tactics to get you inspired. But how to choose which one to use? In this guide, we will explain how to choose the right tactics for your protest movement, ensuring it fits within your strategy.

Rebel Hub Accra contributed to the writing of this arrticle during “The International Rebel Assembly”.

Potential impact

  • Reach: in news media, one-on-one conversations
  • Engagement: The more people actively engage with your action (instead of just merely hearing about it or walking by), the more likely you are to recruit new active supporters.
  • Disruptiveness: The more disruptive an action, the more you are forcing decision makers to either respond to your demands or attempt to stop you (eg. by means of police force).
    • You are temporarily taking up a certain physical space, depending on the number of people participating and duration of the march
    • You are creating disturbance with noise
  • Creativity:

Capacity needed

  • Organisers:
  • People willing to act: It is always easy to work with others no matter how small an event may be. It reduces the stress of organising and increases the pace of getting things done.
  • Materials:
  • Financial resources: Finance is also an important factor to consider when organising an event. You need to know if your event requires funding, if you may need to feed those involved and so on. Movement to and from meeting points need to be carefully considered and catered for.

Planning your tactics concrete

“In the world of give and take, tactics is the art of how to take and how to give… how the Have-nots can take power away from the Haves”

- Saul Alinsky (Rules for Radicals, p.92)

This section was based on the chapter 'Using your power' in the Youth Activist Toolkit, by Advocates for Youth (2019). Insight from other authors have also been added.

Here are some quick steps to help you decide what tactics to use. These steps can also apply to strategies, thus, overall plans that include collections of tactics:

  1. Focus on Message: Communicate within your team and to the public the main aim for the event. You are calling upon others to do something, so make sure they understand the message and how to implement your ideas. Also, ensure that there are not so many messages as that may cause confusion.

2. Know your Audience/ Publicity: You must have knowledge about your target audience and how to reach them. Who is affected by this tactic? Who might support your cause? Who has power to decide on the issue? You must also consider which medium will be appropriate for reaching them. This will aid in bringing about the change you seek.

3. Mobilise regularly and create Strategic Partnerships: Act collectively by building an effective team and connecting with other organisations that may help in achieving your goals. There is a possibility you may not achieve your goal after a single tactical action, so make sure to build strong partnerships and team to keep working towards change. This can be done by frequently setting up meetings to update and encourage the team.

4. Engagement with Team: Although you may have all your plans set, allow people to contribute in their own way. Enable supporters to contribute to your cause / tactics / strategy in whatever way they feel comfortable. This will prevent arguments and distraction.

5. Setting Short and Long Term Aims: Your goals must be categorised to place more important tasks ahead of less important ones. This way easier tasks can be achieved quicker. This also allows you to create a vision that goes beyond the immediate cause for social change.

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Choosing your tactics

“In the world of give and take, tactics is the art of how to take and how to give… how the Have-nots can take power away from the Haves

- Saul Alinsky (Rules for Radicals, p.92)

A 4-Step Process

This section was based on the chapter 'Using your power' in Youth Activist Toolkit, by Advocates for Youth (2019). Insight from Gene Sharp has also been added.

Here are some quick steps to help you decide what tactics to use. These steps can also apply to strategies, i.e. overall plans that include collections of tactics:

  1. Make clear within your team and to the public, what the tactical aim is. You are calling upon others to do something, so make sure they know exactly what you want. (Unless you are using deliberately covert tactics and strategy)
  2. Get the attention of your targets. Who are affected by this tactic? Who might support your cause? Who has power to decide on the issue?
  3. Use your power and act collectively. Whatever you do, do it together with others. The harsh truth: you will probably not achieve your goal after a single tactical action, so make sure to build your power every time, escalating to achieve your GSA (see Defining your strategy section above)
  4. Allow people to contribute in their own way. Enable supporters to contribute to your cause / tactics / strategy in whatever way they feel comfortable. You might be willing to chain yourself to a tree to save it, but others might prefer to organise a theatre play to create more awareness about the importance of not cutting trees.

Saul Alinsky's 13 Rules

In his oft-cited book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky includes a chapter on tactics containing 13 rules for choosing your tactics.

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” (p.127)
  2. “Never go outside the experience of your people." (p.127)
  3. “Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy.” (p.127)
  4. “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.” (p.128)
  5. “Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.” (p.128)
  6. “A good tactic is one that your people enjoy” (p.128)
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” (p.128)
  8. “Keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.” (p.128)
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” (p.129)
  10. "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” (p.129)
  11. "“If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counter side; this is based on the principle that every positive has its negative.” (p.129)
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” (p.130)
  13. "“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” (p.130)

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