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Activism 101

Nonviolent direct action”: This bit of political jargon might sound like some kind of anarchist crap, but it’s probably what you’ve been doing since the inauguration if you’re newly politically active. 

Those rallies you’ve attended, phone calls to senators, and petitions you’ve signed are all non-violent direct actions — actions taken by a group with the aim of revealing a problem, highlighting an alternative or demonstrating a solution to an issue. On Feb. 4, 350 Eugene put on a daylong series of training sessions attended by about 150 people to introduce new activists to the frontlines of making change. 

Bonnie McKinlay with the Climate Action Coalition in Portland taught her workshop, “Action Design,” at the Saturday training. According to McKinlay, effective actions require a lot of planning in advance, and they attempt to change a very specific aspect of the larger cause. “We really want to make sure that the actions we design are effective, that we have a definite plan, that we’re aware of who our allies are and we respect them, and that we know where our opposition is coming from,” McKinlay said.

Direct actions are not always in the streets. They can be in the courts or in the form of letters or sit-ins. In an article provided by McKinlay at her workshop, political scientist Erica Chenoweth points out that flexible, innovative and peaceful movements are the most successful. “Movements that rely too much on single methods — such as protests, petitions or rallies — are less likely to win in the end.” So be creative with your movement and direct your campaign with multiple different tactics aimed toward the same goal.

If you have a cause you care about, start by finding a point of intervention that disrupts the current status quo, McKinlay said. “Points of intervention” are various aspects of a system that may be disrupted to great effect, such as a forest that’s being logged, a mill processing the wood or a store selling the goods. 

In the case of making Eugene a sanctuary city, the point of decision may be the best option. In other words, target decision-makers with the action. “This decision-maker could be an individual, it could be a body like the Eugene City Council, or it could be the public,” McKinlay says.

She suggested seeing whether politicians have made promises in the past that you can repeat back to them, or seeing whether they have personal or financial influences that you can reach out to. Act as a member of the public to change their mind. McKinlay says you can call as a voter, form a protest where they work, or contact the media to pitch stories that may influence that decision-maker or the public.

 “You should start with a letter. You should always be open to negotiation with the other side,” McKinlay said. Starting small gives a movement room to build pressure. “Always escalate, continue negotiations, and continue your presence before the public and before the opposition.” 

Perhaps most important, McKinlay said: Be prepared. A good movement is a pre-planned movement. In any case, she says, be active. “Find an organization or some friends and start your own.” 

Even though you missed the 350 Eugene training, plenty of other organizations put them on as well. On Tuesday, Feb. 28 Oregon Wild will host an event at Claim 52 Brewing from 6:30-8:30 pm to help new activists plug in. RSVP at oregonwild.org/events. Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network is hosting a series of four workshops on non-violent direct action on the UO campus, Lawrence Hall room 115 from 3-5 pm on Saturdays, Feb. 18, Feb. 25, March 4 and March 11. Also keep an eye out for future trainings with the Civil Liberties Defense Center and 350 Eugene.