Movement Building is a PARTY

Movement Building is a PARTY*

by Bruce Pruitt-Hamm

James Lawson and Martin Luther King at Nashville
James Lawson and Martin Luther King at Nashville

*Well, actually, PARTY(S), because movements are made up of campaigns, and each campaign is, if well organized, a PARTY, but I get ahead of myself.

1 Introduction

This article addresses an overarching lesson, enshrined in a mnemonic acronym, learned while attending the 2019 James Lawson Institute (“JLI”) in Portland, Oregon.  The 90 yr. old Rev. James Lawson is perhaps the closest we get to having access to Martin Luther King, Jr., if he had lived until today.

The Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Ohio at Oberlin College in 1957, while King was lecturing. At the time Lawson, having returned from 3 years of teaching in India, was preparing for graduate work. Lawson explained to King that he had decided while in college that he would become a Methodist minister and go south to dedicate himself to dismantling segregation and racism. Fascinated by Lawson’s experiences in India, King noticed that they were both the same age, 28. He implored Lawson to come south. ‘Don’t wait! Come now! You’re badly needed. We don’t have anyone like you! ‘” Lawson is now 90 yrs. old.

Joining Lawson was Dr. Mary King (not related to MLK), on staff with SNCC in the 1960’s, now serving as Director of the JLI and a professor of peace and conflict resolution at the UN University for Peace. Joined by 17 highly intelligent and experienced presenters and facilitators, the 32 participants spent 4 days of training from 8:30 AM to 8:30 PM at Portland State University April 24-28, 2019.

The JLI had 3 goals, to: 1) learn, from case studies of nonviolent struggles, the fundamentals of how to devise powerful campaigns of nonviolent action to address 21st century issues and circumstances; 2) share insights and research about the “operative techniques” of nonviolent action; and 3) prepare practitioners to create wise strategies, including communication strategies, for the work ahead.

During the Institute, Lawson insisted that the mass movement needed to accomplish the vision of the Beloved Community envisioned by King was going to be made up of strategic campaigns, not just a random assortment of tactics and “one-off” protests. Using theory and tactics inherited and embellished from Gandhi’s campaigns, Lawson revealed that the enormously successful Nashville lunch-counter sit-in campaign in 1959-60 was explicitly planned, not a spontaneous student protest as depicted by the media. We watched a 30 minute documentary (26:24 to see just the Nashville component of A Force More Powerful )about that campaign several times in order to distill its deep wisdom.  We heard academic research and eyewitness anecdotes from Lawson and King that illustrated the “ground crew” of women and non-famous actors whose critical role in planning and preparation of these campaigns has been ignored by popular history. Thus, a primary focus of our time was spent on how to plan, as well as execute, strategic nonviolent campaigns.

What are “the fundamentals of how to devise powerful campaigns” of NVDA that we learned at JLI? After analyzing the Nashville campaign with Lawson and King, participants were asked to consider this question.  In a small breakout group, I offered the mnemonic “PARTY” to help us keep these fundamentals in mind. The mnemonic was shared and appreciated.  Thus, this article attempts to provide further details and resources using the PARTY framework, relevant to “creating wise strategies…for the work ahead.”  Like many frameworks, it appears sequential, but is actually a dynamic process repeated throughout the campaign as campaign organizers adapt to changing conditions. Thus, our mantra: “Plan, Act, Recruit, Train; Learn from What Happens and then Do it Again”…all pointed toward an ultimate YES! that serves as our North Star.

Below each of the 5 parts of this framework are a few tools, many shared during the JLI, some from related resources, followed by a listing of resources for further study by those activists who are serious about becoming “architects of the movement.”

Did the JLI accomplish its 3 goals?  I think so, if nothing else, it taught us to PARTY!


2 Planning and Preparation

Central to the effectiveness of the nonviolent direct action (“NVDA”) campaigns of the 50’s and 60’s in the U.S. black freedom movement, per Lawson, was “planning and preparation”.  Perhaps more than any other lesson, Lawson repeatedly and emphatically advised us to do serious preparation and planning, to strategize, not just “act”. He also saw weaknesses in modern protests that were not part of an ongoing campaign. To heed this advice, we should hereafter stop referring only to NVDA and add references to NVDAC (Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigns).

Lawson warned against getting stuck in reactive protest and encouraged us to strategize and then take the offense, anticipating and planning for the likely responses from opponents, neutrals and allies. The training emphasized the importance of timing or sequencing, and the need to escalate to achieve campaign objectives. Of critical importance was identifying the “target constituencies” who make up the “pillars of support” upon whom the targeted powerholders depend to maintain their power.  Further, to also identify “allies” and “neutrals” in a “spectrum of allies” who could be educated and motivated by communications strategies designed appropriately for the target audience of any tactic used.

2.1      Some Tools

2.1.1                    8 Stages of MAP

2.1.2                    5 stages of Strategy for a Living Revolution

2.1.3                    6 stages of NVDAC by ML King

2.1.4                    Pillars of Support

2.1.5                    Spectrum of Allies

2.1.6                    SMART model

2.2      Resources for Strategic Planning of Campaigns

2.2.1                    Step by Step Guide to Strategic Campaign Building- Marovich

2.2.2                    How We Win- Lakey

2.2.3                    NV Action Handbook- WRI

2.2.4                    Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle

2.2.5                    This is an Uprising

2.2.6                    CANVAS Curriculum

3 Action

NVDA is nothing without “action”.  Then again, building a house is nothing without actually doing some building.  But this doesn’t mean one can dispense with planning or adapting the design as underlying conditions become known.  So too, with campaigns of social change.  We plan, we act. We adapt, plan and act again as our tactics and methods produce reactions.

In JLI we learned that the Nashville organizers used the lunch-counter sit-in tactic very consciously, emphasizing nonviolent discipline (through training and otherwise). However, it was used as an initial tactic to dramatize that what most folks thought was “normal”, i.e. segregation, was deeply immoral and needed to change.  When the anticipated vigilante and official repression ensued, the participants didn’t break ranks or turn violent. The public became aware there was an issue.  When well-dressed students were arrested, their parents and relatives in the community were aroused to action.  Public attitudes started to change.  When the home of the leading black lawyer defending the students was bombed, those who were apathetic or neutral moved toward the movement. The repression backfired and strengthened the campaign.  The campaign escalated to include a boycott of downtown stores.  Ultimately, the “moderate” Mayor was pressed to choose, morally, whether refusing service to a paying customer because of skin color was right or wrong.  He said it was “wrong” and the “silent majority” saw the dikes of Jim Crow were breaking and the lunch counters were soon integrated.  The campaign objective had been accomplished. With it, a significant step taken toward the larger goal of ending explicit Jim Crow segregation, like the apartheid of South Africa, and driving it into the dustbin of history by creating a sea-change in public sympathies.

3.1      Some Tools

3.1.1                    Sharp’s 198 and growing “methods” of NVDAC


3.2      Resources

3.2.1                    AFMP: The Nashville Campaign

3.2.2                    Beautiful Trouble

3.2.3                    Beautiful Rising toolbox

3.2.4                    Waging Nonviolence

3.2.5                    Nonviolence News

4 Recruiting

Researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen have shown that nonviolent campaigns for fundamental changes in governments are twice as likely to succeed as violent campaigns.(Chenoweth study; TED talk )  The key to this difference, they believe, is participation in the movement.  Nonviolent campaigns allow more people to participate in a wide variety of tactics.  Recruiting people to join a guerilla army usually means only young men in good health with few, if any, dependents can even consider participation.

A nonviolent campaign takes full advantage of this and builds recruitment strategies into the campaign plan from the start.  Lawson informed us that most of the students who later came to lead the Nashville campaign and the sit-ins were actually recruited “one on one”.  Thus, the first “action” of a nonviolent campaign organizer is to select and recruit the initial core group, much like union organizers would find natural leaders among the workers they were trying to organize and then support them to emerge as the leaders of the union organizing effort.

Subsequent “recruits” were drawn to the Nashville campaign by the actions themselves, drawing the picture of well dressed, well-behaved, integrated, peaceful young people contrasted with brutish thugs conducting bullying operations while police looked on without intervention. These actions combined the concepts of the “picture demonstration” and the “dilemma demonstration” to great effect.  The media of the day, newspaper and increasingly television, was publicizing that contrast…and the formerly apathetic were choosing sides.

“Branding” and communications strategies in the Information Age must, by necessity, be adapted from the late 1950’s when the Nashville campaign was planned.  At JLI we learned the importance of knowing who your audience is and designing your communications strategy to move them from indifference to action.  As the Serbian activists who nonviolently overthrew the brutal dictator Milosevic summarized:

“The goal of your communications campaigns is to move people from indifference to your movement and your vision of tomorrow, to interest, to knowledge, to dedication, and finally to action for your movement and your vision of tomorrow….In order to communicate messages, you need to decide whom you want to impact (the target), what needs to be said (the message) and how to communicate things that need to be said (the messenger). You also need to know the effect that your message and messenger are having, so you can adjust accordingly (feedback).”

Thus, if your campaign has an event or action of any kind, remember to plan your communication strategy for the target audience. For those who are moved from knowledge to action, find ways to gather contact information and get them involved.  An excellent way to do this is through “training”.

Beyond recruiting targeted populations into the movement, we must also be vigilant for several serious threats to recruitment.

First, we have the problem of “violent flanks”, people who express sympathy for the goals of the campaign, but choose to use violent, offensive or otherwise detrimental tactics that disrupt and/or mitigate the strategic design of our tactics.  Tom Hastings and Phillipe Duhamel each gave excellent presentations on this topic. They emphasized the seriousness of the problem, cited to research about this phenomenon and strongly encouraged campaign organizers to develop and require a nonviolent discipline, emphasized thoroughly through training and communications, to make clear that any violence was instigated by others, not the campaign.

Second, repression, either from vigilantes or from government sources such as police or military, were discussed. The key point was to expect repression, prepare for repression and design the campaign so that when repression occurred, it would backfire and actually make the sympathies of the target population (aka pillars of support) swing to the movement.  In the Nashville campaign, the bombing of a black lawyer’s home proved pivotal in swinging public sympathy toward the campaign, which likely would not have occurred with violent tactics being used before or in reaction to the bombing.

Third, the ranks of campaign activists may be depleted from burnout and alienation. In terms analogized from military campaigns, this refers to “troop morale”.  The “calling out culture”, when it involves “shaming and blaming”, was acknowledged to have detrimental impact, as was a refusal to dismiss the oft-hidden, but powerful, dynamics of “micro-aggressions” that leave people with societally marginalized identities feeling “less than”, “left out” or worse.  The remedies were discussed and key lessons included: 1) conflict avoidance is not the same as conflict resolution; and 2) a model of “calling in” to contrast with “calling out”; bringing an oppression or personal issue to the fore but with the goal of insight, forgiveness and redemption, rather than shaming and shunning.

4.1      Resources

4.1.1                    CANVAS Curriculum, Ch. 9 & 10

4.1.2                    Handbook for Activists, Otpor/CANVAS publication

5  Training

Key to the success of the Nashville campaign was training.  This is as basic to NVDAC’s as it is to military campaigns.  Without training, discipline suffers.  Without nonviolent discipline, repression appears more justified and moving the needle of public attitude and participation becomes more difficult.  Training goes beyond instilling the commitment to nonviolence and preparing participants for repression (official or vigilante). There are special skills needed for the wide variety of tactics employed in a NVDAC.  For example, when participants are trained how to run efficient, democratic (and dare I say “fun”) meetings, you lose fewer participants to burn-out.  When civil disobedience actions include training in what to expect in the legal system, your participants experience less fear and anxiety.

Training is thus important for 3 primary purposes: 1) to increase nonviolent discipline by educating what your code of nonviolence means and why you insist on it; 2) to build morale by creating a sense of community and support among participants while decreasing their fear and anxiety as they consider engaging in actions that involve risk; and 3) to provide knowledge and skills that your participants may lack that will prepare them for involvement and eventually leadership.

5.1      Resources

5.1.1                    Mike Yarrow Peace Fellowship

5.1.2                    Momentum

5.1.3                    Training for Change

5.1.4                    People’s Hub

5.1.5                    East Point Peace Academy

5.1.6                    CANVAS

5.1.7                    Peace and Justice Studies Association- Conflict Resolution degree programs

6 “YES!”

The final part of our mnemonic for NVDAC’s is an affirmation, not a verb.  To illustrate its meaning, we refer back to Lawson’s real-life narration of the Nashville campaign.  Once the Mayor announced publicly that refusing service on the basis of skin color was “wrong”, the white business community and lunch-counter owners came to the campaign leaders to negotiate an end to the campaign.  The campaign offered them a “face-save”; there would be no public proclamation that the lunch counters were no longer segregated, the owners would simply start serving regardless of skin color.  The Jim Crow signs would come down.  In other words, there was no humiliation of the “losers” by the “winners”.  Why?  Because the campaign didn’t lose sight of its long-range vision in the euphoria of a short-term victory.  What was that vision?

From the words of MLK himself:

“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The vision of a Beloved Community is not built by dancing on the graves of your vanquished foes.  Or as Lincoln put it, ““Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

The reminder to us of keeping true to our vision is the word “Yes!”  No is not enough. Tactical wins are not enough.  We shall overcome when the “we” in that phrase continues to grow…and grow…and grow…until everyone is coming to the PARTY.

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