ORGANIZING: Anatomy of a Direct Action Campaign


When we engage in Direct Action Organizing, we organize a campaign to win a specific issue, that is, a specific solution to a problem. An issue campaign usually goes through this series of stages.

People identify a problem.

The people who have the problem agree on a solution and how to get it. They may define the issue narrowly: “Make our landlord return our rent deposits when we move out.” Or, they may define it more broadly: “Make the city council pass a law requiring the return of rent deposits.”

If the landlord owns only the one building, the tenants may be able to win on their own, but if the landlord owns many buildings around the city, then building a coalition to pass a law might be the best way.

The organization turns the problem into an issue.

There is a difference between a problem and an issue. An issue is a specific solution to a problem that you choose to work on. You don’t always get to choose your problems. Often your problems choose you. But you always choose your issues, the solution to the problem that you wish to win. Air pollution is a problem. Changing the law to get older power plants covered by the same air quality regulations that apply to newer plants is an issue.

Develop strategy. Make a plan.

A strategy is the overall plan for a campaign. It is about power relationships and it involves asking six questions:

1. What are your long and short term goals?

2. What are your organizational strengths and weaknesses?

3. Who cares about this problem?

4. Who are your allies?

5. Who has the power to give us what we want?

6. What tactics can you use to apply your power and make it felt by those who can give you what you want.

Bring many people to face the decision maker.

Use large meetings and actions to force the person who can give you what you want to react. That person is the decision maker. The decision maker is often referred to as the “target” of the campaign. The decision maker is always an individual person or number of individuals, never a board or elected body as a whole. Decision making bodies must be personalized. So, if you are trying to get something passed by the City Council, for example, you don’t say the decision maker is the City Council. Rather you need specific members of the council to vote on our issue. Who are they? Name them. What is your power over them? Do you have members in their districts?

The decision maker reacts to you.

You either get what you want or you have to go out and organize still larger numbers of people for a second round of the fight. Sometimes it takes several rounds before the fight is won. That is why we think of organizing as a whole campaign, not just as a series of one-shot events.

Win, regroup, and go on to next campaign.

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