Efficient vs Effective vs Resilient Social Movements?

What’s efficient? What’s “effective”? What is hidden in these two terms? What does it mean for campaigning and designing resilience into systems? Two regular visitors to “Dwight Towers” have both written interesting things on these questions of late. Antonio Dias has long meditations on this that I can’t really do justice to, so I’ll just say – go read it. Dias uses systems-thinking to good effect, and links on to many other good thinkers (a good habit of his!).

Meanwhile, Chris “Activism is my rent” Johnston wrote a corking piece about the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, and in the comments section he quoted (with appropriate skepticism!!) comments by Jeff Shwartz, CEO of Timberland

“If Greenpeace wanted to start a dialogue with the footwear industry about how our supply chain might be hurting rain forests, I strongly feel that someone there should have picked up the phone. The organisation could have convened the industry’s CEOs to talk about these issues and craft a solution – and then held a press conference where it took credit for getting us to address the problem. There isn’t one executive in our industry who wouldn’t have wanted to be at that press conference. But phone calls and press conferences aren’t as sexy as an attack campaign and wouldn’t have riled up Greenpeace’s member base, which is part of what drives its revenue. So it came at us instead, leading us to waste a ton of energy fighting a gloopy mess rather than making meaningful progress.”

It would be most “efficient” to do elite lobbying. But that means your supporters don’t get a sense of victory-against-the-odds, and are less available next time, when you might actually NEED them to email their MP/Congressperson, phone their local store etc etc. If they’re not there in the “dissidence” ecosystem because it has been designed to be “more efficient”, then – long term – you’re stuffed. (Of course, we’re stuffed anyway, but DT is trying to pretend otherwise just now…)

Further suggested reading – Saul Alinksy, Harvey Milk.

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3 Responses to Efficient vs Effective vs Resilient Social Movements?

  1. rhizome says:

    And let’s remember that CEOs can only make such claims because organisations have a track record of mobilising activists to force them to the table. Mahatma Gandhi provides a useful model – refusing to call off strikes when factory owners offered talks, instead holding talks whilst strikes were maintained. There’s a power (and empowerment) here that is lacking in Jeff Shwartz’s approach, which is no doubt why he prefers his approach! Top-level talks without simultaneous grassroots action run the risk of an organisation being co-opted. It’s harder to stray from your intended aims when you can hear the chants of the grassroots as you sit round the conference table, or when you have to pick your way past their locked-on bodies to reach the conference room!

    • dwighttowers says:

      Thanks as ever for perceptive comments! Is there any particular book about Gandhi’s life/thought/actions that you would particularly recommend?

      • rhizome says:

        Obvious as it may sound, I’d start with his autobiography: “An Autobiography: Or The Story of My Experiments With Truth”. I certainly found it inspired but also illuminated the man behind the myth (flaws and all) in equal measure. Louis Fischer’s biography is another usual calling point. For those looking for an accessible and humourous way in, I love the Writers and Readers cartoon “for beginners series”. There is a “Gandhi for beginners” and he also features in context in “Peace for beginners”.

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