Friday Sep 20

Achieving Direct Action at Scale: How Do We Scale Courage Fast Enough to Have A Future?

The past two or three years have been overwhelming most of us much of the time with all the horrific things happening under Trump and the billionaires, the giant banks, and corporations now in virtual control of most of America and the world. For some time now my own mantra rant has been, “We need lots fewer writers, and lots more organizers.” Writers, I hope will empathize and not take offense.

Putting it a bit more bluntly, the value we need more today than we have ever needed in our million years history is not intellectual prowess or even insight; it is simply the courage to take a stand for mother nature. As the late great Senator Paul Wellstone put it,

“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.”

It is with some ambivalence that I myself am writing here. But here’s why: writing today is fine, and in fact needed if it inspires us to action, especially wise action, gives us hope, and defeats pessimism. That is my intent here.

Right now, at this exciting and frighteningly pivotal moment in our species history, where we are now closer to either utopia or oblivion than we have ever been, there is at last beginning to be the sort of long overdue strategy and use of powerful tactics, tied to actual movements, which we so desperately need to inspire and to win. Real movements that go beyond petitions, and protests, where all that energy merely goes up into the ether. Movements that are building the potential to effectively shame those in power, as well as a large enough percentage of most parents and teachers, thanks to the phenomenal growth of children’s school strikes worldwide, sparked by a single fifteen-year old, Greta Thunberg. Movements that, most importantly, have the potential to actually shut down the economic system in key cities like London, NYC, San Francisco, Seattle, Hamburg, and Frankfurt with the capacity to win.

What Recent Movements Give Us Hope And Direction

Here are three of the most inspiring movements today:

1) Fridaysforfuture.org or Schoostrike4climate.com

This is a movement that began in August 2018, after fifteen year old Greta Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks, to protest the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral. On the 8th of September, Greta decided to continue striking every Friday until the Swedish policies provided a safe pathway well under two-degrees Centigrade.

The hashtags #FridaysForFuture and #Climatestrike spread and many began to protest outside of their parliaments and local city halls all over the world. During the week of March 15, there were at least 1.6 million school children strikers on all seven continents, in more than 125 countries and in well over 2000 places. A similar strike happened May 24th, a date chosen to affect European Union parliamentary elections. Germany had the highest number of registered school strike events. Recent polls show that voters in that country consider climate change and environmental issues the main problem of the European Union.

FridaysforFuture and SchoolStrikeforClimate are now calling for mass nonviolent civil resistance starting September 20th. Their most recent manifesto, written by Greta and forty-six other youth appeared in the Guardian May 23rd.

2) Extinction Rebellion.org

The second inspiring development, this one relying totally on direct action, was the success of Extinction Rebellion (XR), which had its first major direct actions in November of 2018, and then its much bigger action during Earth Day week, the last week in April, 2019, leading to the arrest of over 1000 direct action volunteers in London, all doing direct action involving the very clever use of super-gluing themselves to banks in London’s financial center, subways, Shell Oil and other oil companies, effectively shutting down much of London for a week.

From mid April through May, XR went viral, spreading world wide, now with over 500 chapters worldwide, including over forty US cities and thirty states.

3) Successful Strikes in the USA and Mexico

60,000 workers in ninety-six maquiladora factories in northern Mexico went on strike in January 2019 and in February won a 20% wage increase and an annual bonus of 32,000 pesos ($1,670) indexed to wage increases. In United States, there was a record setting number of successful teacher strikes in 2018 and 2019.

The Basic Problem, The Specific Challenge

Creating the spread of all these chapters, having millons of students doing one day school strikes, shutting down much of London for a week, and getting your government to declare climate change a “national emergency” is one thing, but actually stopping pipelines for good, keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and expediting the passage of a robust Green New Deal is quite another.

Learning from history, especially in the USA and in Europe, the only tactics that have ever achieved massive social-political-economic changes without violence have required far greater massive direct action, for months and even years, and or large scale strikes, spanning at least months. The real challenge, what these organizers often call the holy grail or “mother of all challenges,” is how do we scale direct action and strikes now in the age of technology so they are large enough and long enough to sufficiently shut down the system long enough to succeed?

How, in other words, do we scale courage, or more specifically and behaviorally, direct action and strikes?

In organizing terms, how can these campaigns recruit, commit and organize vast numbers of volunteers — numbers large enough to have at least an 80% shot at winning?

Who are willing to take direct action and/or strike?

Conversely, how can millions of individuals who would become volunteers and activists find these campaigns and commit to a role with these campaigns?

The Numbers

So since organizing is a science and craft, as well as an art, let’s talk numbers:

It became clear to me more than three years ago, in consultations with top environmental grassroots organizers in the United States, that given the immense power of the fossil fuel industry and their political lackeys, and extrapolating from civil disobedience/direct action tactics used in the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s and the anti-Vietnam movement of the 60s and early 70s, that if there was any hope for the planet, it would require something close to one million volunteers.

These volunteers would need to be willing to do civil disobedience, risk arrest, and take direct action wherever and whenever it made sense.

Furthermore, it would take least three to four million more people in the United States and worldwide supporting them financially, legally, and logistically in addition to conventional electoral organizing and pressure tactics on swing congressional districts to also pass legislation aligning with these movements.

The good news is that one million is only one in 250 American adults, and the three to four million is only one in about sixty or eighty with sufficient moral compass and courage to stand with them.

Our Approach to Answering This Mobilizing Challenge:

The solution my team are trying to beta test we call WinWisely.

WinWisely is a one-stop mobile app whose mission is to recruit and commit vastly more numbers than ever before to save the planet, through direct action or strikes, enough to win. Of course it could also be used for electoral campaigns as well.

To do this it relies on four mechanisms:

• Crowdacting
• Behavioral economics
• Widened role choice
• Peer Bonding

Why These Four Mechanisms:

The short answer: from my own experience, from logic, and from user-testing.

First, I was looking for the solution in technology for these reasons:

This is because, logically, I wanted a solution that could scale quickly.

And rightly or wrongly, because I live in the age of technology, and had a prior Internet startup that proved it could go far to solve a major human problem using software alone, namely saving and revitalizing savable marriages and committed relationships, I set my goal to come up with a mobile friendly app. In the 80s I also had a very positive experience using technology, being among the first to make investigative documentaries to significantly help the anti nuke movement at that time, as well as being sufficiently balanced to air on PBS. And I was also well aware of MLKing saying that the Civil Rights struggle would not have won without their use of television.

I was biased to come up with a solution addressing motivation, probably because for years in developing my couple-help app, I realized that everything people do or don’t do in life was to meet a need. Therefore if we wanted to recruit huge numbers of people to do courageous things, we needed to meet the key needs of most of those people, and conversely, discover what unmet needs were preventing people from committing to action. And frankly, I’ve personally long held a fascination with what all but one of our greatest philosophers agreed was the most important of virtues, the key to all others:

Courage. (One of my favorite quotes, which we hope to have ring through our proposed app solution is this: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”—Anais Nin)

We’ve known for some time now that individual motivators can individually increase an individual’s motivation to get engaged and commit to an action. Each mechanism by itself has its proof of concept. Yet, nobody yet knows what is the right combination of these or possibly other factors that will get high percentages of people to commit to direct action, engage in strikes, or even the most important but time-consuming tasks for winning electoral campaigns. So WinWisely is simply an app based on the rather logical hypothesis that if we can combine these motivators into one place, one app, we will get an even stronger effect than any one of them alone, hopefully at least a significant cumulative effect and maybe even a synergistic one.

I chose the above four motivating mechanisms, because, for the most part, they cost nothing for the campaigns to implement and each has to varying extents achieved a proof of concept. Here’s how each mechanism works.

Crowdacting: Enabling the user to have more confidence in winning, less fear about wasting time and losing.

Having had my own share of civil disobedience experiences, I was fairly confident that most people’s first question before committing to direct action would be, “Who else is joining, or more exactly, how many others are joining?” “Is this going to be just symbolic and get some press (though that is often reason enough), or is there a real chance we might actually be successful?”

My first idea was what is now called “Crowdacting,” as opposed to crowdfunding.

With the WinWisely app, once a user chooses a campaign she is interested in possibly joining, if she needs to have more confidence before committing that their participation might actually lead to a victory, they can then be given the crowdacting option. They can first see how many volunteers willing to risk arrest the campaign organizers have calculated will be necessary to have at least an 80-90% chance of winning based on similar past struggles and other inputs. So if she sees that 150,000 are needed at 10,000 per week for fifteen weeks to have an 80-90% chance to defeat a pipeline, the user can, for example, inform the campaign that once 100,000 (two-thirds of the goal, which leads to a 60% chance of success) others are willing to promise to commit, then she will do so as well. A bigger risk taker might choose a lower trigger, say 70,000 (which the organizers believe is the critical mass needed for the campaign to go national, generating national and even international press), and of course, 5-10% will join in any case out of principle without even needing the crowdacting option. So we say: WinWisely is Kickstarter meets movement organizing.

Widened Role Choice

Later when I discovered another campaign tech startup, developed by a computer scientist and the inventor of speech recognition software, Nelson Morgan with Uprise.org, I latched on “widened role choice.” Uprise is based on the simple idea that if you just give potential volunteers lots more choices of roles (about twenty) rather than the three-to-five that is usually given, you will get much more engagement and be more likely to win. I also already knew this to be true on an intuitive and gut level having been a field organizer one of whose duties was always to recruit more volunteers. Morgan is one of WinWisely’s advisors.

Behavioral Economics:

In other words how can we architect the potential volunteer’s decision making process so it is easier for the individual to chose to get involved, than to decline. Ideally, we seek to make the commitment process actually a dopamine high in itself. So our longed for beta test will really be a scientific investigation as well into discovering what works.

Here’s how our behavioral economics dimension now works:

After an individual chooses one or more roles he or she might consider committing to, we ask them to choose between, “Yes, sign me up,” and “I’m not ready.”

If they chose the latter we then simply ask them what they would need to be ready and present what we know are often main needs:

1. Time (or to at least be able to help from home)
2. Childcare,
3. Financial help with bail in the case of direct action,
4. More confidence that if they join, the campaign will win
5. To be invited by a friend
6. “Other” where we can use the app to discover some of the other most common barriers to commitment, or the campaign can discover its own weaknesses, such as strategy, timing, or say more about its lawyer support, or provide better phone service or FAQ.

We can experiment here as well, for example letting people chose “how it will cost me more in the long run NOT to join the struggle?”

Our Fourth Mechanism Peer Bonding:

In Malcolm Gladwell’s insightful critique in the New Yorker on progressives’ over-reliance on social media, “Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted,” he rightfully points out that technology by itself cannot provide the ingredients critical to successful direct action strategies: strategy, discipline, and close personal connection. However, WinWisely will make use of social media. There is growing evidence of how using social media can improve on discipline and commitment.

We agree with Gladwell that neither social media nor WinWisely can provide the critical element of close personal connection. On the other hand, while WinWisely’s peer-to-peer functionality is presently not able to create the high degree of close connection with other potential participants we saw present in the civil rights movement and in other successful civil resistance movements, it will at least be able to systematically germinate such connections and make such connection far easier to develop, much as Match.com and Meetup.com germinate relationships by enabling users to quickly connect with others based on common hobbies or interests. It will also exploit such connections that already exist by simply making it easy for potential volunteers to invite their closest friends to also join, and then for these friends, if they agree to join, to agree in a way that further increases everyone’s commitment, thereby reducing arguably progressive movement’s biggest enemy-- the flake out factor.

In Summary: WinWisely is essentially Kickstater plus Behavioral Economics Plus Peerbonding meets movement mobilizing.

Conclusion: The Other Key to Winning: Hope.

The other key element we need today for courage to grow and flourish is hope. So three important resources for that which have done much to keep me and I am sure hundreds of thousands of others to remain hopeful and inspired, even in these darkest of times are as follows: Howard Zinn’s classic “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” which makes the best historical argument for hope; Erica Chenoweth’s Why Civil Resistance Works, and Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark.

I mention Chenoweth’s scholarly work for this reason: Though it is not about hope per se, the book makes the best scientific argument we now have for knowing we have the numbers, because thanks to her research, we now know that in her estimation we have an 80-90% chance of actually overthrowing a government. She believes to actually get its military to defect, we only need 3.5% of the population engaged in active civil resistance. The good news is that we don’t need to totally overthrow our government, but only defeat the power of one major industry to save ourselves and the rest of mother nature. I am betting 2% will be enough, or about six million Americans, or one in about 40-50 adults, or if we count teens, perhaps one in 50-60 Americans.

Gary Krane PhD, cofounder, the WinWisely Project, WinWisely.org For more info, and especially to help out WinWisely: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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