FSI09: Strategic Planning & Tactical Choices in Civil Resistance

This was my favorite presentation yet at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009. However, WordPress totally wiped my post half-way through the talk when I tried to save the draft. Grrr. Lesson learned, draft blog posts in a text editor first.

Hardy Merriman‘s excellent presentation drew from Gene Sharp‘s 198 nonviolent tactics, which he classified into three categories: Protest and Persuasion (shift perception); Noncooperation (shift behavior, particularly effective when scaled); and Nonviolent intervention (shift status quo). Tactics can be classified in other ways as well. For example, they can be categorized into intended outcomes; or into concentration and dispersion tactics.

Planning and strategizing is imperative. Many movements fail because they were poorly planned and/or sequenced. In addition, brave actions that get media attention but result in the activist’s arrest are not advised. Tactical innovation is critical such as alternative leadership. This means adapting and keeping the asymmetric advantage.

An interesting conversation ensued regarding the process of defining strategy, operations and tactics in a nonviolent movement.  Unlike the hierarchical, top-down process in the military, resistance movements need to front load the conversation on strategy, to set up a planning committee and de-federalize the decision-making process vis-a-vis operations and tactics. Indeed, these decisions need to be made locally to tap into local knowledge and know-how.

How does one evaluate civil resistance movements? Assess whether tactics advance operational goals and whether the latter converge towards the established strategy. The best case scenario is to devise a series of tactics that don’t appear to be coherent by the adversary but ultimately come together to accomplish the movement’s operational goals and strategy.

The use of technology was also addressed. How does new technology help a civil resistance movement? Does it make tactical decisions easier or more difficult? One participant noted that sometimes one cannot not use these technologies, particularly in countries where physical assembly is illegal.

Another participant cautioned that tactical autonomy is potentially restricted with instant communication between activists engaged in street action and those coordinating the action. He noted a case he was involved in several years ago when he and colleagues took over a police station and secured the police radio equipment. Police officers in the streets who tried to radio for instructions were unable to and were not sure what to do.

One participant also mentioned that activists can use government surveillance to their advantage by spreading misinformation.

The topic of young people came up as well in the context of technology. Young people are often more tech savvy than adults and also early adapters of technology. One participant thus opined that the side with the young people is likely to win over the side without young people.

Another participant referred to the popular book “The Starfish and the Spider” to contrast the organizational structure of repressive regimes versus resistance movements. I’ve got some good notes on this book, so do email me if you’d like a copy of my notes. I’m glad that this book came up as it delves into one of my other passions, the study of complexity science and complex systems.

Patrick Philippe Meier

One response to “FSI09: Strategic Planning & Tactical Choices in Civil Resistance

  1. Pingback: Brokekid.net » Monkey Vs Robot – My Weekly Idealist post

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