From the TUC

New Rules for Radicals?

11 Aug 2011, By Guest

Since my last posting on the blog, I’ve been in the office putting together the skeleton for the organising handbook which will accompany our Diploma in Organising course next year.  I’m finishing that all up to start to make amendments to our courses next week.  Today is my literature review where I’m reading and re-reading journal articles, chapters, and books that not only fit alongside our programme, but also make you think.

One such book is Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era by Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos.

It’s been described as a Rules for Radicals for the 21st Century, helping activists get to grips with what activism is in the digital world and I bought the book a few years, originally thinking it was a ‘how to’ on clicktivism, but instead, it was a series of stories that showed how online activism could work.  Markos describes this book in a posting and the quote that’s been pulled out by others jumped at me too –

‘It’s no secret that I have little love for the old-school street protest model of activism – not because I’m opposed to street theater, but because it’s simply not effective in today’s world. So how do you change the world in today’s world, with its fragmented media landscape, with democratizing technologies, with dramatic changes in how we interact with each other, and with a culture evolving at neck-breaking speeds?’

This year we saw 500,000 people march for an alternative to the austerity measures that are being taken by this Government.  Would Markos say that the march was and would be ineffective?  And by what measure are we gauging effectiveness?

I think it’s a question of what your overall goals are.  For me as an organiser, it’s not so simple as winning on an issue, there and then; it’s about creating a sustainable activism culture that continues to grow and develop.  Clicktivism is great for the short hit of doing something but to really organise people around issues takes some of the ‘old-school’ methods that Markos eschews.  Activism is a buffet, you pick what you need, when you need it.

Be interesting to hear your thoughts on the book.  Even though you have to get it sent from the States it’s worth a read.


5 Responses to New Rules for Radicals?

  1. jayne pinder
    Aug 11th 2011, 9:15 am

    I find social media can be exclusive, particularly for some groups of society who do not have the means to access it. So I suppose you also need to consider your audience. There is no beating it for a quick response but for something sustainable people need a more personal form of interaction to feel part of a group to team. I do like the idea of an activism buffet! Would love to read the book tho!

  2. Jenny Tingle
    Aug 11th 2011, 9:41 am

    I haven’t read the book either but I think there are pros and cons of using social media for campaigns. Whilst it’s a great way of sharing and finding out info very quickly, I think it has produced a lot of ‘armchair activists’. People who will click a button to send an email to their MP about an issue, electronically sign an online petition, comment on a newspaper article etc. These are very worthwile actions but people still need to ‘get out there’ and put a face to their virtual name.

  3. Jamie Brown
    Aug 12th 2011, 10:28 am

    I spotted this book in a second hand shop in Bloomsbury and have almost finished reading it – I’ve found it really interesting / inspirational. I think online trade union activism has a lot of potential. i agree we need to think beyond just ‘click to support’ but Obama’s election success and the Arab Spring uprisings both show that social media can be a vital new tool to organise grass roots activism that starts online but then leads into the real world and taking actions. I think Kos’ emphasis on ‘old school’ traditional street protests still has some resonance – 500,000 people on the street in March but the cuts didn’t stop and the mainstream media only covered the crazy actions of a few anarchists. But I agree it depends on by what we are measuring its success – as a means to galvanise the movement it was good but I didn’t get the feeling many people outside the movement / trade unions were there with us. Online activism can keep pressure on the mainstream media too – I think Tom Watson MP used twitter to good effect and this played a big part in keeping the phone hacking story from disappearing competely off the radar as has 38 Degrees for putting a different type of pressure on the government. I think it would be interesting to research exactly how many people now don’t have access to the internet – I’ve been organising low paid workers and many have email addresses and many mobile phones are now internet enabled – I am careful not to exclude anyone because they don’t have access but email is a better, cheaper, more effective communication tool than snail mail. Check out this amazing online activism training by the BC Federation of Labour – it is explaining ways to harness the power of social media with impressive results. J

  4. Ben Donahower
    Aug 13th 2011, 11:36 am

    In my experience social media has been great for identifying and organizing supporters but less so in identifying and persuading fence sitters or to inform people who aren’t aware.

    I live in Pennsylvania and last week I saw a march by CWA workers that are on strike from Verizon. If anything, activities like that are a galvanizing experience for workers. At their best, they are great visibility for people who aren’t aware of the issue and catalyze undecided people to think about it more lawmakers and Verizon executives included directly or indirectly.

    I’m agnostic as to which communication channels to use; it’s just import to use the right ones. Look at strengths and weaknesses of each and pair that up to the campaigns goals.

  5. Ben Middleton
    Aug 19th 2011, 2:39 pm

    Whilst I think we should always be open-minded as regards new approaches to activism and organising, I think there is also a tendency sometimes to be overly focused on looking for the next ‘new thing’ as opposed to simply getting down to applying those ‘old-skool’ approaches that have been shown to work when properly applied. A powerful lesson for me came through an ITF Summer School which sought to bring home that you should only progress to the next stage of your campaign or plan when the preceding stage is c. 75% completed… this may sound dogmatic but, so often I am frustrated by branches, unions, members or reps, saying that they won’t try something because it doesn’t work when they haven’t even properly tried to apply the approach in the first place. Organising is seldom a quick win and is often the longer way around to a goal that might be achieved faster though less sustainably by other means

    I also think we should maintain a clear view on differentiating between that which constitutes an approach and that which is a tool for achieving an outcome via a given approach – much as in the distinction between tactics and strategies… Clicktivism has much to offer by way of techniques and tools for using new technologies but possibly offers little in the way of genuinely rethinking the kind of fundamental principles which were set out in Alinsky’s Rules… first time around.