Strategies for Changemaking

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Successful Strategies for Changemaking

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. Dalai Lama XIV
It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nelson Mandela

Identify widespread outrage about injustice that violates deeply held values, such as it’s not fair that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer or that school food is unhealthy. Define the problem: The unfair economic system is the focus of recent activism. People also need to have hope, Obama’s campaign slogan along with “Yes We Can.” Many student groups work on environmental issues. Email me for a list of them.

Reach out to potential activists on social media and with face-to-face meetings. Include incentives such as food, live music and raffle.

Decide on your top priority and action to achieve it. Think of planning a non-violent battle strategy including gaining allies, coalitions, and mentors. Create a power chart of who has control around your issue, such as a principal, school board, or city council. Who are the pillars of support for the power holders and celebrities that you can influence? Soccer fans helped out in uprisings in Egypt and Turkey and Leonardo Decaprio speaks for the environmental movement. Pope Francis told a Brazilian crowd of young people, “The young people in the street are the ones who want to be actors of change. Please don’t let others be actors of change.”

Form a local organization based on an issue: Models are Quebec and Chilean student groups working for affordable education. Study successful campaigns such as the Civil Rights Movement or the campaign for GLBT acceptance. Read Gandhi’s autobiography, and Bill Moyer and Gene Sharp analysis about how to create a sustained movement.
For example, the women’s movement in the US greatly changed attitudes. Betty Friedan named the problem that had no name in The Feminine Mystique. Women and male allies held huge marches and lobbied politicians to change laws. They organized influential groups like NOW and the Moral Majority. They publicized concepts with skilled speakers like Gloria Steinem who advised doing an outrageous act daily. High schools and colleges formed feminist groups.

In organizing, involve people by giving them specific tasks that they report on to the group. Teach skills like how to facilitate a meeting, rotate leadership positions and conflict resolution. Successful groups like immigrant Dreamers provide direct action training. Large meetings can use hand signals such as a twinkle with fingers for approval or thumbs down. People are more likely to get involved if their friends are participating and they think success will result. Celebrate small successes and give praise for good work. Why Civil Resistance Works review of resistance movements indicates they succeed if 3.5% of the population participates and non-violent tactics are the most effective because they invite more participation.

Brand your campaign as if were Nike shoes. What do you want your audience to learn? Educate them. Pick a logo, symbol, color, and slogan. A popular symbol is a flag or a black fist, created by Serbian Otpor to overthrow their corrupt president. Otpor said “We’re trying to make politics sexy.” Quebec students used a red felt square pinned on your shirt to symbolize being in the red. Popular slogans during the recent youth-led uprisings were “Enough” and “We’re the 99%.” Create a “frame” or identity such as it’s cool to be an activist.
Create stickers, posters, flyers and YouTube videos that educate about the facts, graffiti, and T-shirts with your slogan and logo. See the Arab Spring slogans and art at
Create polls and petitions where people give input into decisions and feel they have power.
Get attention from many people and media with marches, demonstrations, boycotts or “buycotts,” strikes, sit-ins, and occupations of public spaces—the main tactic of recent uprisings. Think in terms of photo opps for media with banners, costumes, symbolic actions such as presenting a petition to a city mayor. Environmentalist Bill McKibben advised keep up the pressure, be a pain in the neck, and never give up as did with their campaign against the XL oil pipeline. Organize fun fundraisers such as a race. German high school students raised money with solar panels on their school.

Make activities fun and attractive to media, such as Chilean student demonstrators dressed as superheroes. They also held a kiss-a-thon and danced to Michael Jackson songs.

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Columbia University Press, 2011.
Gene Sharp’s books.
Bill Moyer, “The Movement Action Plan,” Spring 1987.
Mark Engler and Paul Engler. This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century by brothers (2016).
*Photos of global youth and their homes:
*Video interviews with global youth:
*Literacy project in NW Pakistan:


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