Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet

Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet

Editor‘s note: This review from the book “Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet” talks about why the energy transition from fossil fuels to so-called renewable energy is slow and not that profitable. We at DGR believe it is not a transition – worldwide we see an increase in fossil fuel consumption. But the use of electricity from wind and solar power increases are just as strong, especially by digital companies like Amazon whose carbon emissions go up while powering with electricity. The public should get much more skeptical towards the “energy transition” and question the profit-making energy corporations.

Review of ‘The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet’ by Brett Christophers.

By Simon Pirani/The Ecologist

Wind and solar power projects, that for so long needed state backing, can now provide electricity to wholesale markets so cheaply that they will compete fossil fuels out of the park. It’s the beginning of the end for coal and gas. Right? No: completely wrong.

The fallacy that ‘market forces’ can achieve a transition away from fossil fuels is demolished in The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet, a highly readable polemic by Brett Christophers.

Prices in wholesale electricity markets, on which economists and analysts focus, are not really the point, Christophers argues: profits are. That’s what companies who invest in electricity generation care about, and these can more easily be made with coal and gas.


Christophers also unpicks claims that renewables projects are subsidy-free. Even with renewably-produced electricity increasingly holding its own competitively in wholesale markets, it’s state support that counts: look at China, which is building new renewables faster than the rest of the world put together.

The obsession with wholesale electricity prices, and costs of production – to the exclusion of other economic factors – emerged in the 1980s and 90s as part of the neoliberal zeitgeist, Christophers explains.

The damage done by fossil fuels to the natural world, including climate change, was priced at zero; all that needed correcting, ran the dominant discourse, was to include the cost of this ‘externality’ in prices.

This narrative became paramount against the background of neoliberal reforms: electricity companies were broken up into parts, typically for generation, transmission, distribution and supply; private ownership and competition in markets became the norm.

However prices do not and can not reflect all the economic factors that drive corporate decision-making.


The measure that has become standard, the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE), is the average cost of a unit of electricity produced by different methods. But for renewables, 80 percent-plus of this cost is upfront capital investment – and the fate of many renewables projects hinges on whether banks and other financial institutions are prepared to lend money to cover that cost. And on the rates at which they are prepared to lend.

The volatility of wholesale electricity markets does not help: project developers and bankers alike have to hedge against that. “We don’t like to absorb power price volatility”, one of the many financiers that Christophers interviewed for the book said. “We’ll take merchant price risk – right now we often don’t have a choice – but we’ll charge three times more for it. […] No bank in the world will take power price risk at low returns”.

Christophers writes in an exemplary, straightforward way about markets’ complexities. He details the hurdles any renewables project has to get over before it starts: as well as securing finance, it needs land and associated rights and licences, and – increasingly a problem in many countries including the UK – a timely connection to the electricity grid.

If we confront, confound and supercede capitalism a future in which electricity is used equitably and within bounds set collectively with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change is surely plausible.

Corporate and financial decision-makers are concerned not so much with costs, compared to those of fossil fuel plants, as with “an acceptable rate of financial return”. Does the project meet or exceed that rate?

“The conventional transition model […] assumes an effortlessly smooth trade-off between fossil fuels and renewable electricity sources, just as stick-figure mainstream economics more widely assumes all manner of comparable smooth trade-offs, not least between present and future goods.

“But real-world processes of production and consumption involving real-world businesses do not come even close to approximating to such smooth trade-offs.”


The clearest illustration of the argument that profit is the main driver of investment, not price, is the big oil companies’ behaviour.

Christophers writes: “[T]he returns ordinarily associated with wind and solar power are much lower than those to which fossil fuel companies are accustomed in their core businesses.”

He adds: “The big new hydrocarbon projects still being initiated by the international oil majors in the 2020s, in the face of widespread public fury and dismay, promise significantly higher rates of return – and, of course, on a significantly greater absolute scale – than renewables ever do.”

So tiny renewables businesses are used solely to greenwash the companies’ continuing investment in fossil fuel production. Shell, which in 2020-22 dabbled in slightly larger renewables investments, found that the rate of return for shareholders was the lowest of all its businesses.

“Chastened by Wall Street’s savage indictment of his company’s erstwhile turn – effectively – away from profit, [Shell chief executive Wael] Sawan spent the first half of 2023 pivoting Shell back to oil and gas. Hence the horrific spectacle of a significant revival in upstream exploration activity on the part of the European majors, with Shell to the fore. […] At the same time, Shell and its peers were busily scrapping projects (including in wind) with ‘projections of weak returns’.”

The Price Is Wrong, published by Verso.


Despite all this, renewable electricity generation is expanding. Christophers forensically dissects the economics, showing that ‘market forces’ have played little or no part in this.

Many renewables projects only go ahead when they have signed long-term sales agreements (power purchase agreements or PPAs), that shelter sellers from choppy markets and provide good PR (“green” credentials) for buyers.

In many countries, PPAs with utility companies that provide electricity to households are being superceded by those with corporate buyers of electricity, and above all big tech firms that wolf down electricity for data centres and, increasingly, artificial intelligence.

And then there is state support – not only overt subsidies such as the tax credits offered by the US Inflation Reduction Act, but also schemes such as feed-in tariffs and contracts for difference, market instruments that shelter projects’ income from volatility.

China’s new megaprojects are “about as far from being market-led developments as is imaginable”, Christophers writes. So too are those in Vietnam, mammoths given the total size of the economy, that soared with a special feed-in tariff in 2020, and slumped to zero in 2021 when it was withdrawn.

“That investment plummets when meaningful support for renewables investment is substantially or wholly removed demonstrates precisely how significant that support in fact, and also just how marginal – or even downright unappealing – revenue and profitability prospects, in the absence of such support, actually are.”


Christophers concludes that the state has to champion rapid decarbonisation, and “extensive public ownership of renewable energy assets appears the most viable model”. But this should not be done in a fool’s paradise, where it is presented as a means for taking profits from renewable electricity generators (what profits?!) and returning them to the public purse.

This is how the Labour Party is portraying its proposed state-owned renewable electricity generator, Great British Energy. Labour’s claims that GBE will benefit the state and taxpayers “betray a deep and perilous misunderstanding of the economics of renewable energy, and of the weak and uncertain profitability that actually plagues the sector”.

By way of contrast, Christophers points to the Build Public Renewables Act, passed by the US state of New York in 2021 in response to years of campaigning by climate action groups – which rests on the assumption that it is precisely the market’s failure to produce renewable energy projects on anything near to the timescale suggested by the climate emergency that necessitates state intervention.

All this prompts the question: don’t we need to challenge the whole idea of electricity being a commodity for sale, rather than a requirement of 21st-century living that should be provided as a public service?

Yes, we do, Christophers writes in his conclusions, with reference to Karl Polanyi’s idea of “fictitious commodities”, that under capitalism are bought and sold, but only in markets that are fashioned by “props, rules, regulations and norms”, and are therefore essentially pretences. The description fits the electricity markets ushered in by neoliberalism well.


The commodification of electricity, and other energy carriers, raises the prospect that, with a perspective of confronting and superceding capitalism, it should be decommodified.

Renewables technologies have opened up this issue anew, since they have hastened the trend away from centralised power stations and made it easier than ever for people – not only through the medium of the state but as households, community organisations or municipalities – to source electricity from the natural environment, without recourse to the corporations that control the market. How this potential can be torn from those corporations’ hands is a central issue.

The analysis by Christophers of the “props, rules, regulations and norms” used to bring renewables to neoliberal markets certainly convinced me. So too did his point that the returns from developing oil and gas, relatively higher historically, “are not ‘natural’ economic facts” either.

On the contrary, government economic support has always characterised the oil and gas business: in fact the line between state and business is often blurred.

In many countries they are “the selfsame entities, actively assembling monopolistic or oligopolistic constrol specifically in order to subdue volatility, stabilise profits and encourage investment”; indeed these “established institutional architectures of monopoly power” that scaffold oil and gas are a key distinction between it and renewables.


We badly need a comparative analysis of state support for renewables and for fossil fuels – not just the bare numbers, which are available in many reports, but an understanding of the social dynamics that drive it, and that are deliberately obscured by oceans of greenwash manufactured by the political class everywhere.

Themes that Christophers touches on, such as governments’ failure to phase out fossil fuel plants, even as they make plans to expand renewables need to be developed. The appallingly slow progress of renewables and the weight of incumbency that favours fossil fuels can not be separated.

This understandable book, which brings dry capitalist realities to life so well – and is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why the transition away from fossil fuels is so disastrously slow – raised some questions in my mind about electricity demand.

Take the steep increase in demand for renewably generated electricity from big tech. Amazon is the world’s biggest buyer of solar and wind power under corporate PPAs, and an even bigger promoter of its own “green” image. But its carbon footprint continues to grow, Christophers points out, especially that of its “energy-gorging cloud-computing Web services business”.

A big-tech-dominated fake energy transition? “It would be difficult to conceive of a more ironic statement on the warped political economy of contemporary green capitalism.”


Which is reason to interrogate the way society uses electricity – and the way that capitalist social relations turn use – to fulfil needs, to make people’s lives good into demand – an economic category no less ideologically-inflected than other ‘market forces’.

Amazon and the rest are sharply increasing their electricity demand, which in the US and elsewhere has led to shutdowns of coal-fired power station being postponed – while hundreds of millions of people in the global south still have no electricity at all.

Furthermore: the “green transition” envisaged by most politicians will see the economic sectors in the global north that gulp down the greatest quantities of fossil fuels – road transport, the built environment, and industry – switching many processes to electricity. The classic example is the shift from petrol vehicles to electric vehicles. And this will increase electricity demand.

Christophers takes no view on these issues: “[R]ight or wrong, good or bad, electrification largely is what is happening and what will continue to happen”.

While I agree that, under capitalism, the dominant political forces take this for granted, I think that we should not. To stick with the example of road transport, none of the scenarios that assume swapping petrol vehicles one-for-one for electric vehicles can happen without trashing meaningful climate targets.


The economic transformations that tackling climate change implies must include reshaping – for collective social benefit, and with a view to rapidly reducing emissions – the huge technological systems, like road transport, that account for the largest chunks of fossil fuel use. Simply electrifying them is not enough.

Moreover, with the current level of technology, including the prospects opened up by decentralised renewables, there is potential to establish completely new relationships between production and use – which are currently controlled by big capital, but need not be.

Hopes of energy conservation implied in the International Energy Agency’s latest net zero report “border on the Pollyannaish”, Christophers writes. Yes, granted – if the perspective is limited to one dominated by capital.

But insofar as it is possible to confront, confound and supercede capitalism, a future in which electricity is used less wastefully, more equitably, and within bounds set collectively with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change, is surely plausible.

That is where hope lies – outside the matrix of profit-driven relationships that Christophers skewers so exquisitely.

Title photo by Matthew T Rader/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Simon Pirani is honorary professor at the University of Durham and writes a blog at

Event Alert: The Struggle for Human and Nonhuman Guardians

Event Alert: The Struggle for Human and Nonhuman Guardians

Editor’s Note: Deep Green Resistance promotes a biocentric worldview. We believe in the dignity of the lives of every creature of the world, and nature herself. Human and nonhuman alike are a part of nature, and should live in harmony with her, not against her.

That’s why we invite you to come to the We Are All In This Together Symposium, a series of live-events where friends of nature can learn more about how to get active in resistance and bring the natural world to the center of their lives in a practical and intertwined way.

This is not an event organized by DGR. Therefore, we may not agree with everything in the event. For example, we believe that climate change is only the symptom of a wider problem, which is the destruction of nature. We do not believe it is possible to tackle climate change without tackling ecocide or biodiversity loss in the first place.

We appreciate the organizers for talking about colonization and commodification of the natural world. Human civilization has de-personified the natural world and nonhumans, stripping them of their inherent dignity and rights. Historically, it have treated indigenous people in the same way. Therefore, we understand the need for decolonization of indigenous people, nonhumans and natural world.

Yet, decolonization is not a simple issue anymore, as is exemplified by an increasing number of indigenous peoples opting to lease their ancestral land for mining companies. This has created a blurring of lines between colonizers and colonized. It is not enough to just return the captured land back to its original custodians. It is also important for the formerly colonized to remove the colonizing mentality of civilization, to return to a lifestyle in harmony with the land, and to restore their status as custodians of the land, rather than to replace the settlers as the “owners” of the land. Only then can we claim to have finally decolonized.

We Are All In This Together Symposium

We Are all in this Together Symposium seeks to reposition environmental stewardship and humanities disciplines within an eco-centric framework. Through a series of three virtual events, we are planning to explore the concepts of land “ownership,” and the importance of honoring nature’s more-than-human guardians. The events will first address the settler colonial history, which has brought us to this point of crisis. Then, we will invite the speakers to explore alternatives that honor the needs and interests of all ecosystems. Together, the speakers will join with audiences to consider how to shift the exploitative paradigm that currently dominates and build a future that protects and respects the life of all ecosystems and communities.

The Symposium is guided under the mission and vision of:

Standing up for the Guardians of the Natural World


In a series of three virtual events, we will join to discuss how we can expand the conception of environmental stewardship beyond the human, and unravel the historical roots of the climate crisis. Here you get access to three free live-webinars.

Deconstructing ownership

February 28th @ 6.30 pm EST

This event will grapple with the history of colonization and commodification of the more-than-human world, drawing the connection between settler colonial conception of private property, and the current climate crisis. We will also delve into how we can all shift away from this destructive paradigm and acknowledge the “Rights,” spirit and agency of Land.

The spirits of nature

March 19th @ 6.30 EST

The event will address how communities have, since time immemorial, honored and protected the spirits of the natural world. From communities standing up to defend the guardians of mountains to water guardians that advocate for the spirits of rivers, humans have long acknowledged the existence of the beings who don’t fit into the western empirical conception of nature. These beliefs were and are the foundation of humans’ relationship with the ecosystems they inhabit. In these times of crisis, the event will delve into the historical roots of these relationships, and the importance of celebrating these ancestral worldviews.

Who looks after water

April 9th @ 6.30 EST

This event will focus on how more-than-human beings (such as Trees, Wolves and Eels) are fulfilling their roles and responsibilities towards the ecosystems they call home, while playing their part in maintaining an ecosystem balance that keeps all life flourishing. While the program will delve into the historical nature of these relationships, it will also address how we, humans, can act reciprocally and honor/protect these guardians of water and life.

To participate just click on the links above. For questions contact

Read more about eco-centrism here:

Visual art and storytelling to build resistance

Our roles towards ecosystems of rivers

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

Musings on Organizing

Musings on Organizing

Editor’s note: This piece was written in 2018, and does not reflect DGR strategy. We are not a partisan organization along the U.S. Democrat-Republican divide. Rather, we view both of these political parties as tools of capitalist hegemony–two factions of the ruling class, battling for political and economic control.

However, it is rare to find organizers writing about organizing. This piece is valuable for the same reason that autobiographies of organizers and revolutionary leaders are valuable—not for sweeping statements or ideological platitudes, but precisely because of the unpolished reality they, at times, show. Organizing for change in our society is not simple, and revolutionary change on the scale Deep Green Resistance advocates is titanic by any measure. Any success we find will not play out smoothly like a Hollywood film. Essays like this remind us of the hard grunt work of grassroots organizing that is required for us to leave a better future for those who come after.


I haven’t had much time to write, hence the lack of essays. We’ve been organizing and I can never seem to get in a good writing groove when my schedule is filled with community obligations.

That said, one of the most frustrating things I’ve encountered over the years is a lack of organizing knowledge and information. Groups such as the Highlander Center or Greenpeace provide manuals, but I would guess that over 99% of the articles and essays produced on progressive media outlets focus on what’s wrong, not what people are doing about it.

Part of the problem is that many progressive media outlets aren’t interested in such articles. However, organizers and activists are also to blame as we simply don’t write as often as analysts, professors, or essayists.

Below is a lengthy and unstructured series of reflections on the sort of organizing work I’m currently doing in Northwest Indiana, where I live and work. I hope people will find some of my insights interesting and useful.


Back in January of 2017, hundreds of people throughout the Northwest Indiana region and millions across the United States were regularly attending events, meetings and rallies. At the time, I recognized that such a pace was not sustainable, and for many reasons.

First, it’s hard to replicate large symbolic actions such as protests because those sort of events require a lot of time, resources and manpower. Plus, the utility of large-scale rallies is limited, especially if they don’t take place within the context of broader campaigns and political projects.

Second, it was clear from the start that many groups were quite inexperienced with regard to their basic organizing knowledge. I attended meeting after meeting where basic facilitation skills and meeting structures were completely lacking. People were confusing terminologies and misunderstanding the difference between tactics and strategy, vision and programme.

Of course, all of these things are fixable, but that requires a certain level of humility and trust. If organizations and organizers are insular, it’s difficult to provide advice. Toxic personalities play a discouraging role as well.

Third, many of the groups that popped-up after Trump’s inauguration were tied to groups such as Indivisible and Our Revolution. Both groups, however, have failed to garner serious support or provide a viable path forward. In my opinion, that’s the inevitable result of top-down organizational structures and ideas.

In Northwest Indiana (NWI), where I live, hundreds of people were showing up to town hall events where elected Democrats would essentially give marching orders to those in attendance: “Send more emails to your elected officials!” This strategy, if one could even call it that, has been a great waste of time and energy. Even worse, progressives missed a potentially fruitful political opportunity to immediately orientate thousands of first-time activists.

That said, many progressive groups have formed in NWI and throughout the state of Indiana since Trump’s inauguration. Without question, one of the biggest challenges we face is a lack of coordination between progressive organizations at the local, regional and state levels. Collectively developing vision, strategies and tactics is difficult work, but it’s also essential if we hope to build long-lasting institutions capable of addressing not only our immediate needs, but also our long-term ideals.

Right now, the Michigan City Social Justice Group (MCSJG), which is the organization I’ve been primarily working with since 2017, is going through an internal restructuring process. It’s a needed and welcomed step for an organization that’s existed for a little more than a year. Fortunately, many of the group’s members have embraced and welcomed the process.

As an organization, we’ve had successes and setbacks (as any political organization does), but we’re moving in the right direction and doing all of the necessary and sometimes monotonous tasks that lay a solid foundation for what should become a growing organization.

Should we become a 501(c)3 or a ‘Super Pac?’ If we want to raise money, we have to become more professionalized and that requires legal aid, loads of paperwork ,and serious accountability.

Political organizing work, while fulfilling and empowering, is very trying, stressful and at times, quite tedious. Filing paperwork with the IRS, obtaining state documentation, requesting municipal permits for events, sitting through two hour meetings about risk management and conflict resolution plans, creating websites, managing social media and crafting word documents isn’t exactly the most exhilarating work, but it’s absolutely necessary if people are interested in creating a serious organization that has the potential to grow and significantly change the political, cultural, economic and civic structures of our city, county and state.

The overall scope of such a project is daunting, which is why most people either remain at the level of engaged citizen (but not a member of an organization) or join a preexisting organization (because it’s much easier than starting one from scratch, especially if you’re a precarious worker trying to make ends meet).

For those reasons and many others, including how preexisting organizations treat newcomers, it’s rare to find a group of people who are willing to create something new. I’m grateful to have met such committed and serious folks.


One of the primary challenges progressive organizations faced in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s victory, and still face, is how much time they should spend specifically targeting Trump, and how much time and effort should they spend on local and state-wide efforts. Of course, in an ideal world, all of these efforts would work with each other in a strategic manner, but that’s not always possible.

For example, most of the progressive groups that exist in the state of Indiana are not in contact with one another. Activists, for example, in NWI have very little idea of what’s happening in Fort Wayne or Bloomington. We have friends in those areas, and occasionally discuss ongoing organizing efforts, but not in a systematic fashion.

As I mentioned above, one of our primary challenges at the state level is increasing coordination between existing groups, especially those operating at the grassroots level. The major NGOs communicate with each other, but they’re not actively building independent organizations or coalitions in our state. To be honest, we don’t expect them to. We’re not looking to replicate the structures of existing NGOs — we’re trying to build an independent progressive organization and series of institutions whose primary focus is building power at the grassroots level. 

The question of whether or not groups should respond to each of Trump’s reactionary policy directives or statements cannot be understated. Back in January of 2017, people routinely blew up at meetings when we told them that we weren’t going to put a ton of energy into trying to keep Jeff Sessions from being the Attorney General, or that we weren’t interested in the Russia-Trump scandal.

It’s easy to see how liberal groups and the Democratic Party have been so unsuccessful in recent years: they focus on the issues the corporate media highlights, as opposed to focusing on the needs and interests of working-class, poor people, and the environment. Their focus is also very short-term. Many of these groups have a difficult time imagining politics beyond election cycles.

Without doubt, it makes sense to oppose (when possible) the Trump Administration and the GOP’s most damaging and reactionary excesses. However, it also makes sense to step back, reflect, and determine how we’re going to build the sort of organizations and movements that it will take to win. Trying to take down a president when your group can’t even hold regular and productive meetings is not only a waste of time, it’s laughable, and at worst, it’s a surefire way to burn people out.

On a tactical level, groups can use Trump’s vulgarity and brutish behavior as propaganda, but that’s a short-term outreach strategy. There are simply too many people and organizations who’ve built their ‘resistance’ on an anti-Trump platform, and it’s proven to be wholly inadequate. The tax bill, for instance, provided an opportunity to coalesce around an issue of great importance and one that resonated with ordinary folks (some polls suggest that over 70% of Americans were opposed to the bill). Progressives were unable to capitalize on this moment due to our internal disorganization, lack of vision and capacity.

To be fair, many millions of people are doing their best on a daily basis to stop Trump’s agenda, but they are disconnected, lacking organizational knowledge, and adequate resources.


We’re extremely limited in terms of what we can do at the municipal level in the state of Indiana. For instance, we can’t raise income, corporate or sales taxes (so much for the GOP’s mantra about ‘local control’); we’re also unable to put in place rent control caps or raise the minimum wage above the federal level; sanctuary cities are illegal; and we have limited control over the power company monopolies that exist throughout the state.

These limitations pose great challenges, but they also force us to think about creative alternatives and strategies that can alter existing power relations. Ideally, we would have both a local and state-wide strategy to change legislation in Indianapolis, but that’s rarely the case. More commonly, major NGOs (with limited success) and unions (with even less success) are the groups campaigning at the state level. Outside/independent groups and social movements have limited capacity and as a result, virtually no power to influence state politics.

Electorally, one strategy could be to fill as many local seats with progressives as possible, while simultaneously bolstering local and regional social movement groups and engaging in state-wide efforts when possible. That’s probably the most reasonable short-term strategy I could see for regional groups.

That said, running progressives for elected office is a tricky game. Should they run under a Democratic ticket? Should they run as Independents? Or should they run as Greens? Obviously, there are no easy answers to this question. Context should dictate the answer.

In Indiana, the Democratic Party is an empty vessel. Perhaps with a decent strategy and a committed group of organizers and activists, the local, county and state party apparatuses could be seized and used for progressive reforms (at least in the short-term).

The Democratic Party continues to win in cities like Michigan City because they’ve been around longer than anyone else and our city is 30% Black, working-class, and disproportionately union, hence GOP candidates stand little chance at winning local seats, at least that’s been true historically (Since 2010, the GOP has flourished in our country and state).

At the end of the day, the question organizers ask more than any other is: Do we have the capacity? What is practical with our current numbers? In our small city, we have 20 committed members in the  Michigan City Social Justice Group (MCSJG). How do we build our capacity while engaging in meaningful campaigns that provide real-world results for poor and working-class people? What projects will produce the greatest results over the long-term? These are constant and never-ending questions.

At every level, the primary issue is a matter of capacity and resources. Progressives will accomplish very little at the municipal level in a state like Indiana if we don’t radically change legislation downstate. It’s just that simple. It’s true that we can get creative and potentially develop alternative structures and revenue, but without the ability to raise corporate taxes, income taxes, the minimum wage, or put in place rent controls, we’re severely hampered in the short-term.

The new version of the Poor People’s Campaign is attempting to bring together some of these groups, but their platform is unclear, as they’ve put tactics before strategy (an ongoing and major problem on the Left, especially among antiwar activists and members of the progressive-faith community). There seems to be a persistent and incorrect belief among progressives that simply getting arrested and putting on the largest public spectacle imaginable will bring people into our movements. Sometimes, it’s true: people come along for the ride, but only for a limited amount of time. For the most part, people want concrete results and a clear platform.

Most people also have jobs, families and lives outside of political activism, hence they have limited time and patience for groups and movements, such as Occupy, which was disorganized, unclear in what it hoped to achieve, and isolated from other progressive organizations.

Street theater and protests are nice, symbolic events, and I enjoy them as much as the next person, but they are not an end, nor are they the primary means to our collective ends. Protests and occupations are simply tactics, and over-used ones at that. While occupations such as the ones that took place at Zucatti Park and Standing Rock are more useful than rallies, they’re also completely unsustainable.

At the national level, I’ve been unable to find an organization, movement or campaign that can tie into our existing local or regional organizing efforts. The Poor People’s Campaign would be the closest example, but that’s about it. Again, I’m assuming this varies depending on where one lives. For instance, I’ve heard that some Indivisible groups in Florida are doing great work. I’ve heard the same about DSA groups in Chicago. Again, however, the focus of these organizations is strictly electoral in nature. Here, in Northwest Indiana, the Sanders’ campaign-offshoot, Our Revolution, hasn’t taken off. Bringing Bernie’s supporters back into the mix has been an ongoing and frustrating effort, but also a necessary one. The 2018 midterms should offer an opportunity to reengage this constituency.

With regard to electoral campaigns, it’s important for progressive organizers to obtain contact lists. Thousands of addresses, phone numbers, and email lists are created, then lost or stashed away. It’s a real shame because many of the people who work on electoral campaigns disengage between cycles while grassroots groups remain engaged but have a difficult time gathering contacts.

We’ll be using our community space, PARC (Politics Art Roots Culture), as a primary organizing hub for Democrats during the 2018 midterm election cycle. Elections are one of the few times ordinary Americans are politically active. To me, it makes sense to expose liberals and Dems to leftwing ideas and forms of organizing that take place outside of the electoral sphere, and within the social movement context. As my friend once said, “We meet people where they’re at, but we don’t leave them there.”

PARC will fully support and host phone-banking, canvassing, and fundraising efforts, though it remains to be seen to what degree the MCSJG will engage with the 2018 midterms. Overall, we think it makes strategic sense to get rid of the GOP in the immediate future. They pose an immediate and grave threat to the planet and species and we’re constantly in triage mode when they’re in power. 

In our thinking, progressives can’t afford to ignore the electoral arena of struggle, nor can we afford purity politics. Poor and working-class people across the globe are suffering as a result of Trump and the GOP’s insane agenda, and the Democratic Party’s capitulation, and inability or unwillingness to provide a serious alternative. At the same time, many people on the Left refuse to acknowledge the limitations of the Green Party or the various Socialist parties who stand absolutely no immediate chance at gaining power. 

On the international level, it’s hard to fathom how progressive organizations in Red States such as Indiana can build serious and effective working relationships with organizers overseas if we can barely work together at the local, regional, state or national level. To me, it makes more sense for groups to build their base and create relationships with groups who share similar values and then focus on larger projects. We have to find the issues that can unite progressive groups and go form there (Sanders’ platform provided a model). 

I get calls and emails from folks throughout Indiana who want to start state-wide efforts, yet they have virtually no base of support in their hometowns. How can we project regional or state power if we don’t have power in our cities and towns? It doesn’t make sense, which is why so many groups who engage in meaningful work generate limited results.


From the very start, it was clear to my friend and long-time organizing partner and I that we had to open a community center to serve as a political and cultural organizing space. Having a space to operate in has been essential to MCSJG’s work. It’s also been quite useful for regional and even national groups who want to expand their reach to localities such as Michigan City.

Right now, we have an organizer from the Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign who operates and holds meetings in our space. As I mentioned before, the MCSJG uses our space as their primary hub, as does the PFLAG (Parents & Friends of Gays and Lesbians) – LaPorte County group. Mothers Clean Air Force and Veterans for Peace have held events in our space, as have regional organizations.

We hold bi-monthly live music/cultural events which double as fundraisers and use the center as a space where people can simply come, hang out, have a conversation and a cup of coffee. We have an enormous book collection that anyone can utilize and free Wi-Fi.

This year, we’re going through the process of becoming an NGO. We could remain a LLC, but that would greatly limit opportunities for grants and foundational money. Obviously, the most strategic and sustainable way to fund the space is a small donor program, but that takes time to build. The trick is keeping the overhead as low as possible so if/when the foundational money dries up, the space can remain open.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a space where people can gather, talk, laugh, learn, drink, dance, and create community. It’s also important for organizations and movements to be rooted. In that way, having a space provides a foundation for everything that follows, especially in an era of hyper-alienation.

Over time, we want the space to become a cooperative effort. The idea being that Sergio and I should relinquish control of the space in the coming years and hand over the reigns to a new generation of organizers, artists, and community members who will probably have a different and fresh idea of what the space should become. We welcome the change.

For now, we have all of our regularly scheduled events on the calendar and a few big ones on the horizon. On Saturday, January 20th, 2018, we’re holding a ‘Dump Trump & The GOP’ fundraiser/bash where we’ll have regional musicians performing and local organizers talking about their ongoing work and how people can get involved.

Next month, we have a ‘Medicare For All’ event where we’ll discuss Bernie Sanders’ proposal and how folks can get involved at the local level. I’ve already had a wonderful conversation with a woman form Southeast Indiana who, frustrated with the election results and previously disengaged, took it upon herself to start a free medical clinic in a suburb of Cincinnati where she resides.

I think such projects could be very useful if properly managed. Put differently, it’s clear that certain groups and individuals are simply interested in providing immediate support. Many of the volunteer groups in our city, region, and state focus on providing services, but they rarely, if ever, address the underlying political, economic, and social institutions that perpetuate the very systemic problems they provide immediate relief for. 

In our thinking, progressive groups should be able to do all of the above: provide needed services, oppose and stop immediate threats (development projects, legislation, etc.), and propose reforms while developing long-term alternatives to existing structures (what some would call ‘revolution’). Again, the primary challenges are a lack of capacity, vision, resources, and time. The never-ending question is always: what sort of events will allow us maximum outreach and the ability to gain capacity?


Jane McAlevey makes a clear and important distinction between advocacy, mobilizing and organizing in her latest book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age. The reality is that many groups are actually advocating or mobilizing as opposed to organizing. For McAlevey, advocacy is the lowest form of involvement and the least capable of building serious power. Here, one should think of NGOs battling corporations in court, with lawyers and officials making the important decisions.

Mobilizing is a step-up from advocacy, but still fails to meet McAlevey’s threshold for proper ‘organizing.’ In the mobilizing model, organizations (unions, NGOs, neighborhood groups, etc.) regularly preech to the choir and turn out self-identifying progressives to rallies and major events, but this model easily burns people out and doesn’t provide a long-term path to building power at the grassroots level. Occupy and the ‘Right to Work’ protests in Madison, Wisconsin, are good examples of mobilization efforts.

Organizing, on the other hand, is the highest form of engagement and requires the most time, effort, and strategy. The primary goal of true community organizing is empowering the maximum number of people and providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to win the things they want and need. The aim is to get ordinary people to join existing struggles through identifying “organic leaders” in workplaces and neighborhoods.

To be clear, “organic leaders” are not people who simply show up to every meeting or rally — they are the sort of folks who are highly respected in the community. If an “organic leader” vouches for someone or some cause, people listen. That’s the basic criteria, and people would be wise to immediately identify these individuals as they hold the most valuable social capital.

Right now, we’re capable of small-scale mobilization in Northwest Indiana. We’ve been able to stop GEO from building a private immigrant detention facility in Gary, Indiana. And a new group has formed in Elkhart, Indiana, to stop CoreCivic from constructing a private immigrant detention facility in their county. Currently, we have the power and numbers to mobilize and stop projects or certain pieces of legislation, but not much else.

It would be wise for every organizer in the country to read McAlevey’s book. She highlights and articulates so much of what I’ve encountered and thought about over the past 12 years of organizing with leftwing/progressive groups and movements. It’s truly an amazing piece of work. The only issue that I found in the book is that McAlevey doesn’t necessarily mention what, beyond immediate needs, people should or could be fighting for.

Perhaps this is the limitation of an organizer’s perspective: we have too much to do and not enough time to contemplate what sort of society we’re trying to achieve. But that’s also part of the problem: too many organizers and groups are fighting back, but with little idea of what they hope to create over the long-term. The question remains: what sort of society do we want to live in and how should it be structured?

Those questions shouldn’t only be asked by philosophers or academics — those questions should be answered by anyone and everyone who’s interested in living in a decent world.

I’ll be writing more essays in the weeks and months to come. I hope to keep folks informed of our mistakes and progress, challenges and successes. In the meantime, I hope this finds all of our brothers and sisters in the struggle in good health and spirits. It takes great motivation and discipline to remain engaged in such cynical times.

Vincent Emanuele is a writer and community organizer. He is the co-founder of P.A.R.C. (Politics Art Roots Culture), a political-cultural center in Michigan City, Indiana. He’s a member of the Michigan City Social Justice Group, Veterans For Peace, and the National Writers Union – UAW Local 1981. He can be reached at

Posted on Znet
What Sort of Surveillance Tools Do Police Use?

What Sort of Surveillance Tools Do Police Use?

Editor’s note: People who confront the destruction of the planet find a legal system that prioritizes corporations and not uncommonly become the targets of police surveillance. Unless we take precautions, police surveillance tools can uncover our plans and organizational structures—and can contribute to a culture of paranoia that discourages action.

This training, from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, consists of interactive materials for learning what sort of tools law enforcement agencies use against journalists, but the material is practically applicable for organizers as well. We encourage our readers to study this material and consider appropriate countermeasures.

by Freedom of the Press Foundation

The Digital Security Training team at Freedom of the Press Foundation works with news organizations to better protect themselves, their colleagues, and sources by upgrading their security posture. In an environment where journalists are increasingly under attack, experiencing targeted hacking, harassment, and worse, we want to see systemic change in the way news organizations learn about and address their digital security concerns. While journalists come from many professional backgrounds, one place we can most reliably address this need for digital security education systemically is within journalism schools, where students are already learning many of the skills they will need in a contemporary newsroom. We know many programs feel underprepared for education of this kind, so we built this curriculum to better support J-schools’ goals for digital security education.

Below, we have created modules responsive to a variety of digital security topics. We intend for this resource to be used by journalism professors and educators looking for a starting point for digital security education. Ultimately, it’s our hope that by tinkering with these materials, you might take advantage of the parts most useful or inspiring to you, and make this curriculum your own.

Police Surveillance Tools Training

This section on surveillance tools used by law enforcement is discussion focused, and intends to get students to think critically about the relationship between surveillance, privacy, and transparency. It begins with lecture canvassing a variety of law enforcement surveillance technology, based on research from from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Afterward, the module opens into an activity to investigate surveillance technology used in a location of their choice, followed by a discussion of their interpretation of law enforcement surveillance technologies they’ve discovered.


Threat modeling
Legal requests in the U.S.

Estimated time

60-70 minutes


  • Upon successful completion of this lesson, students will be able to distinguish between technology commonly used by law enforcement to conduct surveillance in physical spaces.
  • Students will be able to identify which of these tools are used in a specific physical location, based on publicly-accessible reporting tools.

Why this matters

The technical capabilities of law enforcement actors may affect journalists’ threat models when conducting work in risky situations. For example, when meeting a sensitive source their location may be tracked through a constellation of surveillance equipment, or their phone numbers and current call or text data may be scooped up when covering protests.


(Before class)

Sample slides

Credit to Dave Maass and the Electronic Frontier Foundation for these slides, with minor modifications.

Law enforcement surveillance tech (Google Slides)


Have students open up Atlas of Surveillance and report back for the group with surveillance technology used in a location where they’ve lived in the U.S. (e.g., where their hometown is; the campus).

Questions for discussion

  • In terms of their ability to compromise journalistic work, which one of these technical law enforcement capabilities is most concerning to you? What makes it concerning?
  • If that’s not especially concerning, why is that?
  • Out of respect for peoples’ privacy, are there any issues you think should be “off the table” for journalistic coverage? If so, what are those issues, and why do you think they should be off the table?
  • We often talk about privacy for people, but transparency for institutions. Why the distinction? Are there times when individual actions demand transparency, and when institutions have a meaningful claim to privacy?

This article was first published by the Freedom of the Press Foundation. It is republished under the CC-BY-NC 2.0 license. Banner image: Police training using bodycams via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Organizing vs. Mobilizing For Effective Social Change

Organizing vs. Mobilizing For Effective Social Change

We’ve covered Vince Emanuele’s work before, and this piece is a useful call to realistic organizing. Effective resistance will not emerge because we wish it to be so. It will only emerge as the result of hard, disciplined work and political organizing to take us from where we are now (A) to where we need to be (Z) via a series of intermediate steps. Emanuele calls for us to learn the difference between organizing vs. mobilizing, and apply those lessons.

We must also note that this piece contains elements we disagree with. This includes a critique of anti-civilization politics. The point is well taken, but if the ecologically necessary is politically infeasible, we must change what is politically possible. The other way around is impossible. We also find Emanuele’s critique of Chris Hedges to be unnecessary; again, his point is well taken, but Hedges has done a great deal to raise awareness of and to support movements for change. This piece will be controversial in other ways as well, as it was meant to be, but it is worth reading. Diversity of thought will produce more effective outcomes than ideological conformity.

By Vincent Emanuele

In 2006, I attended a sizeable antiwar protest in Washington D.C. Tens of thousands of activists filled the streets as far as the eye could see. Office buildings and monuments became our only reliable geographical coordinates. At the time, large protests were the norm: millions of Americans were in the streets opposing Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq (but we couldn’t get many people to speak out about Afghanistan).

A couple of years later, I testified at the Winter Soldier Hearings in Silver Springs, Maryland, where dozens of veterans shared stories about war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I arrived at the venue, an older Vietnam veteran came up to me and said, “Vinny! We’re gonna end this war! Those fuckers in the White House will have to respond to us now. No way they [the media and politicians] can ignore the vets!” He believed in the power of narrative and symbolic protest, a victim of the post-1968 left political culture.

Unfortunately yet predictably, in hindsight, the powers that be did ignore the Winter Soldier Hearings — as did 99% of Americans who never even knew the event happened. Tens of thousands of dollars spent (perhaps hundreds of thousands). Leftwing media abound. The results? Some new donors and members. The strategy? There was none. The whole event was a performative and symbolic spectacle meant to “shift the narrative” — typical NGO babble.

Years later, Occupy kicked off, and the same dynamics played out. Tens of thousands of Americans took the streets and engaged in prefigurative politics. In those days, consensus decision-making and participatory everything was all the rage. Of course, we accomplished very little during Occupy’s heyday. We remained stuck in Mobilizing Mode, speaking only with like-minded people who already self-identified as progressives and radicals. We never expanded our base. Yes, the narrative shifted from austerity to inequality, but actual political power (the state, capital, the courts) moved to the right.

The Tea Party took the house in 2010. Republican governors across the U.S. passed anti-union ‘Right to Work’ legislation and stripped public unions of their ability to bargain collectively. The Supreme Court became dominated by right-wing conservatives. The same in the lower courts and state legislatures. Voter rights were turned back, with hundreds of thousands of black voters disenfranchised. Whistle-blowers were attacked and jailed. NSA surveillance programs expanded. ICE became more powerful, as did the CIA. The drone program expanded, as did the never-ending wars. Fracking, off-shore drilling, and tar sands became the norm. Republicans took back the U.S. Senate in 2014, and Donald Trump was elected POTUS in 2016 — hardly a good period for the left, though some leftists disagree.

Indeed, some of my friends argue that the post-9/11 era has seen a resurgent left. To some degree, that’s true: more organizations, movements, and leftwing electoral campaigns exist today than did in the 1980s or 1990s, and the Democratic Party is surely less neoliberal than it was ten years ago, but that’s a pretty low bar. Many of these efforts are hollow (lacking large numbers of ordinary people) and incapable of wielding substantial power. Unions are on the ropes. Black Lives Matter (BLM) remains amorphous, at best. And groups like DSA, OurRevolution, the Greens, the People’s Party, and various other progressive-left NGOs face the problem every self-selected political group, small or large, faces: namely, the question of how to build and employ power in a non-structure.

In this strategic and methodological vacuum, many leftists opt for a fictional approach to politics. Here, I’m thinking of the anarcho-syndicalists, anti-civilization activists, online leftists, and various others whose politics bear no resemblance to our political and social composition and material conditions. It’s as if people have spent so much time socially alienated that they’ve forgotten that we do, in fact, live in a society (contrary to Margaret Thatcher’s absurd sentiments), one that’s shaped by existing systems and institutions, networks, and relationships.

Many leftists treat politics no different than a role-playing game (RPG). In RPGs, players control a fictional character who navigates a fantasy world defined by specific regulations, settings, norms, and rules. As Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams write in their book, On Game Design, “The [RPG] game world is often a speculative fiction (i.e., fantasy or science fiction) one, which allows players to do things they cannot do in real life.”

Leftists who advocate for revolution, insurrection, or massive uprisings (all common suggestions from left commentators who have virtually no experience organizing actual working-class people) are not only irresponsible and unserious, engaging in a political form of RPG— they’re dangerous and counter-productive.

At its core, politics is about power. And power is wielded through force, coercion, or social control. Since the existing left can’t implement any of those approaches, it makes little sense to suggest that working-class Americans “take to the streets.” Again, calls for people to engage in “mass resistance” usually come from commentators who have little connection to actual working-class political organizations. For example, in a recent article, Chris Hedges writes:

Yet, to fail to act, and this means carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the megamachine, is spiritual death . . . The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, to refuse to cooperate, to wreck the megamachine, offers us the only possibility left to personal freedom and a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped. Rebellion must be embraced, finally, not only for what it will achieve, but for what it will allow us to become. In that becoming we find hope.

Engaging in “mass, sustained acts of nonviolent disobedience” is a tactic, not a strategy. And “smashing the megamachine” isn’t a vision. Such appeals might invoke the spirit of resistance and sound nice on paper, but they mean very little without a clear vision of the society we hope to build, the strategy needed to successfully achieve our vision, or the organizations and structures required to carry out such a strategy. This, again, is the problem with commentators making suggestions about how people should respond to our cascading and multi-layered crises. Punditry is not the same as organizing. Commentating is not the same as strategizing.

Likewise, the religious left’s over-moralizing provides no path forward. What, exactly, does it mean to have the “capacity to exercise moral autonomy?” Yes, we should encourage strikes, or what Hedges calls “refusing cooperation,” but those acts require highly disciplined and organized bases of supporters (ask the CTU), ordinary people, who are engaged, empowered, and sophisticated enough to develop a collective identity. That doesn’t simply happen through people “taking to the streets.” Millions of Americans took to the streets in 2020. The results? Joe Biden barely won the White House; Democrats took a beating in down-ballot races; right-wing protesters attempted a coup; and there’s no evidence to suggest that long-lasting political organizations with a clear, serious, and sophisticated vision have developed as a result of the George Floyd uprisings.

Americans have long been obsessed with the concepts of “personal freedom” and “meaning.” We need a serious discussion about what “personal freedom” looks like in the 21st century. In the context of a rapidly growing global population and runaway climate change and ecological devastation, it’s not entirely clear. In addition, I’m skeptical of any pursuit of “meaning” and agree with Avital Ronnel: the pursuit of meaning has many fascist undertones. Here, the religious left and the fascist right share a common ideological orientation — whereas some of us can function perfectly well operating under the assumption that our existence, our life, our being, carries no inherent meaning, others relentlessly pursue a life of meaning, often accompanied by a dogmatic sense of moral righteousness. “It’s our duty to do the right thing!” No, it’s not. Human beings have no inherent “moral duty,” and surely no collectively decided upon “moral duty” (unless I missed the meeting).

If all the left can offer ordinary working-class people is a set of lofty moral sentiments, vague and non-strategic calls for rebellion, and silly calls for hope, it makes more sense for ordinary people to remain on the sidelines and enjoy themselves until the whole damn system collapses. Without a serious plan, that’s the only rational response to the system we endure and the context in which we live. Rebellion is not its own justification, unless, of course, one believes human beings have a purpose on this planet. I don’t. Rebellion without a serious, viable, and strategic plan is an act of political suicide or fantastical role-playing. Extinction Rebellion is a perfect example of this sort of childish and non-strategic approach to political activism/mobilizing.

The inability to articulate a vision that has a serious connection to material reality or the forces that currently dominate and comprise our political, economic, cultural, and social institutions is a problem the anarcho and religious left has faced for at least as long as I’ve been engaged in political activism and organizing (fifteen years), if not for decades. Appeals to “erode structures of oppression,” which sound pretty on paper, mean utterly nothing to organizers and working-class people who are strategizing on the ground. Further, calls to “erode structures of power” fall into the same failed category of “anti-politics” that the anarcho-left has peddled for years: constantly calling for “dismantling” this, or “abolishing” that, or “resisting,” but never articulating a viable vision for the 7.8 billion people who live on this planet, never building, never winning — always on the defensive; hence, always focused on destruction.

The only way to “keep alive the possibility” that capitalists/bosses and right-wing zealots/fascists (we should name our enemies and targets) can be stopped is by actually stopping them. And the only way to stop them is by engaging in deep-organizing. The left’s current approach to politics isn’t working. Simply repeating the cycle will only engender more apathy and cynicism. Moralizing won’t cut it. And left-wing virtue-signaling is embarrassing. Leftists with a platform have a responsibility to change course.

Hedges should know better. He’s not intellectually lazy. Does he not speak with organizers? Does he not understand the difference between Mobilizing and Organizing? Does he not believe that vision and strategy are essential components to victory? Does he not think about what victory would look like? Does he enjoy writing the same essay over and over again? Wolin. Camus. Conrad. Freud. Arendt. Horrors of society; Nazi reference, followed by small glimmers of hope and vague calls for resistance. Rinse. Repeat.

It feels like I’ve been reading the same Chris Hedges essay for ten fucking years. When I was 25 years old, reading Hedges was provocative, challenging, and interesting. Today, it’s boring, predictable, and unproductive.

I also find it very interesting that a guy who supposedly loathes electoral politics decided to run for U.S. Congress as a member of the Green Party. Why not help develop a serious independent left media entity? You know, instead of a bunch of assholes on YouTube operating as individuals, pushing their individual brands. Why not organize with working-class people with the aim of conducting “massive acts of civil-disobedience?” Turns out, that work is difficult. Turns out, Hedges’ ideology and assumptions about the working-class would quickly evaporate if he had to actually put them to the test.

Talking about politics is easy. Actually doing politics is difficult. Instead of participating in the hard part, Hedges regurgitates decade-old lines about resistance and throws his hat in the ring for elected office, yet has the audacity to talk shit about groups (DSA) and politicians (Sanders) who actually win reforms in the real world. That garbage might impress someone sitting at home, but it doesn’t impress those of us who are actually organizing.

In the end, I don’t believe in hope or moral duty. And I’m very skeptical of the concept of justice, which I think lends itself to a form of punitive politics, often aimed at the wrong people. I believe in the power of ordinary people and their ability to wield it at their workplaces, in their communities, and through the state. I believe in using state power. I believe in material results in the material world. I don’t care about spirituality. I believe in plans, discipline, and individual and collective accountability. I believe in winning. I believe in living.

Everything else, for me, is leftwing Pokémon and I don’t have time for it, nor do any of the organizers I know who spend their days and nights strategizing as opposed to moralizing and sloganeering. We’re in a life or death battle and we need all hands on deck. That means fewer cartographers of the apocalypse and more strategists for the revolution.

Vincent Emanuele is a writer, antiwar veteran, and podcaster. He is the co-founder of PARC | Politics Art Roots Culture Media and the PARC Community-Cultural Center located in Michigan City, Indiana. Vincent is a member of Veterans For Peace and OURMC | Organized & United Residents of Michigan City. He is also a member of Collective 20. He can be reached at

This story first appeared in Counterpunch under the title “Leftwing Pokemon”.

Banner image: Ben Schumin via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

How to Get Started in Political Organizing

How to Get Started in Political Organizing

Politics isn’t a dirty word. It simply means “how we make decisions about the direction of our society.” This process has become mired in corruption. Making political change (and therefore economic and social change) requires that we get organized.

Countless activists through history remind us to “Organize, organize, organize,” to “Join an organization.” In response to the question “what can one person do?” they answer: “don’t just be one person.”

But what does it actually mean to get started in political organizing? This article explains the basics of how to start a movement.

Step 1: Find like-minded people

Meeting of sacred site custodians at Lake Langano, Ethiopia 2015

If you want to achieve social change, it is advisable to think about how you are going to organize yourself in the long term. In many cases, you will not achieve your goal after a single protest. Sometimes movements grow very fast and lose focus. Setting up a proper organization will help you to work more effectively and prevent future problems.

The first step is to find like-minded people.

There are many ways to go about this. Most simply, reach out to your friends. Send messages and emails. Consider using online groups and discussion forums. Then invite people to meet face-to-face.

Step 2: Meet Up

Hopi_women's_dance,_Oraibi,_Arizona,_1879_-_NARA_- What is MatriarchyMake sure to prepare beforehand and decide who is going to facilitate the event. Decide on a location and time at least two weeks before, so that you have some time to promote it.

Share your event with anyone you want to attend, and prepare for all meetings with an agenda. Open-brainstorming is good, but try to keep meetings and groups action-oriented. Don’t get too bogged down in debate.

Collect and exchange contact info: People who are interested in your initiative may not be able to join your meetings. Create a chat group or ask participants of the brainstorm to fill out a form with their email address and phone number. This way you can reach out to them later if you want to organize another meeting.

In the beginning, aim for two solid people. Then three, then four. Small groups can catalyze major changes, if they have sound strategy, dedication, skills, and can assemble resources to support the goal. Small groups that trust each other and collaborate well may be more effective than larger groups that cannot communicate well or work together smoothly, but large numbers of people create momentum of their own.

Step 3: Make a Plan

Groups and organizations thrive on action. Set a goal or a sequence of goals, even if it is small, and start working towards it. Try to ensure every person has a way to contribute, and re-evaluate and modify strategy as you go.

Step 4: Create Structure

How to Get Started in Political OrganizingAny organization should have a core set of widely agreed-upon rules and basic principles. Usually, these rules and basic principles are written down.

For example, together you could write down the demands of your organization. This way, it is clear to both your members and the outside world what your organization stands for.

Consider the following ideas: principles, goals, rules/code of conduct, demands, and organizational structure.

Step 5: Take action

In political organizing, action is the central goal. Everything should be organized to support action. But understand that action can look different, depending on the organization. Action does not refer to direct action alone. Deep Green Resistance, for example, engages in and supports various types of action, including outreach, pressure campaigns, lawsuits, community organizing, and direct action.

Additional resources to help you get started in political organizing

The book Deep Green Resistance is an excellent guide to organizing.

Transcript here

The rest of the Four Part Series is here.

Study Guide for Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age:

Click to access No-Shortcuts-Discussion-Guide-for-DSA-Fund-Website.pdf

Banner Photo by JD Doyle on Unsplash. This content is shared under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. This article is adapted from material at the Activist Handbook. While we don’t agree with everything in that document, it is a useful starting point for beginners.