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In the heat of #FeesMustFall some reflections

In the heat of #FeesMustFall some reflections

 

The #FeesMustFall movement was very diverse and rich with dialogue and conflict.

This is a letter written by a student leader in the heat of the movement from Wits University. He gives a live account of some of the tensions that divided the movement. It talks of the centrality of intersectionality as a core value of #FeesMustFall. He identifies potential ‘saboteurs’ who came into the space seeking to lead the movement in directions that created tension and conflict. And he identifies tensions with the SRC, and the between some more radical students and the student wing of the ANC.

As a text it gives you an insight as to what the students were fighting for, but also the struggle it took to pursue their demands around a transformed education system.

By Anzio Cameron

A letter from the chair of #FeesMustFall occupation at Wits

5 April 2016

Dear comrades:

On Wednesday the 6th of April 2016, a meeting was called for all staff, students and workers who felt marginalized by the protest which took place on Monday the 4th of April 2016. The aim of the meeting was to give voice to those who were marginalized at the protest, particularly those who identify as feminist and/or queer. Many questions were raised during the meeting pertaining to who had organised the protest, and what gave the organisers the right to exclude anybody who is interested and affected by the fight free quality decolonised and insourcing. It became apparent in this meeting that the protest was led predominantly by students who were not members of the Wits community, but who had come from various campuses across the country to protest with the intention of shutting down the university.

The meeting was publicised and open to anyone who felt marginalised; many workers who were called to protest articulated a concern for being used by the leaders of that protest in order to push a political agenda. A call for an open letter was made in the meeting to address several questions which arose from Monday’s protest namely:

  • Who organised the protest?
  • What were the reasons for the exclusion of feminist and queer bodies from the protest?
  • Who called on members from other universities to enter the Wits premises?
  • Why were workers called upon and simply used for numbers?
  • Who mandated the protest?
  • And why was there a secret symposium held over the weekend of the 1st to the 3rd of April?

As marginalized bodies all those party to this meeting condemn the mischievous nature of a rogue protest in the name of #FeesMustFall. Our bodies are not to be used as pawns for political agendas.

This letter is an assertion of the #FeesMustFall space as one which will not be used to build political resumes or to bolster anyone’s public persona. Our interests as #FeesMustFall are clear. Our fight is one for free quality decolonised education and insourcing for all vulnerable members of the university in our lifetime  , and for the emancipation of black subjects who strive for a life of dignity. Our identities have been and continue to be intersectional, and for the purpose of realising a society which provides equal opportunities for all in terms of education.

It is a demand for a response from those who act in our name, and for clarity on the events which unfolded on Monday. We refuse to allow misogyny and patriarchy to oppress bodies which live in oppression, this fight is one for the people of Azania. The same people who have been on the forefront during protest only to continuously be hijacked by political opportunists.

Our response to this show of oppression is #NotMyFMF, we will no longer allow our bodies to be used, no longer will we tolerate oppression, no longer will gender based violence be used to keep us silent. Ours line of march is clear, and we will fight!

On the 6th of  April the university renamed the central administration building Solomon Mahlangu House. We have fought in the spirit of Mahlangu and reaffirm our that our fight is for the love of the people who must, as they have no other choice, continue the struggle for emancipation.

We call on the University of the Witwatersrand to respond to the financial exclusion of students despite numerous statements assuring that no deserving students would bear the brunt of financial exclusion. We know that the time has come for decisions to be made around fees, and say in the same voice as last year #FeesMustFall. We cannot sit idle while workers’ demands for insourcing have not been met. It is not good enough that the university has established a task team, we need tangible results. Workers in the canteen continue to be treated as subalterns, working without  payslips and lunch breaks. Much like the other workers in the university, these are our parents, and for too long have their voices gone unheard. Other companies have been removed and the livelihood of the workers of those companies removed with them. We say #EndOutsourcing, for too long have black families suffered in the myth of the rainbow nation, for two long have black lives been built for prisons, for too long have the elite sat silent while the disparities between rich and poor  #NotInOurNames!

This open letter is a call to action. We realise that while the state is responsible for a reshuffling of funds to meet the demands of students and workers, that the university too is responsible for fixing internal affairs. We call on the university to engage with #FeesMustFall to address the funding crisis, to put our heads together in imagining a completely insourced workforce. We call for a meeting of the insourcing task team to answer questions about their processes. We cannot sit idle. We call on the SRC to stop violating the trust of the students, workers and staff, to stop appearing in our name in the media. The SRC have long been on a parallel campaign, which defeats the purpose of a body which is supposed to be for the students, by the students, come out of your ivory tower, and lead in service, the thousands of workers and students at this university need not your faces, but your hearts and minds. For too long have your actions gone unaccounted for, for too long has your leadership been amiss. We are tired of petty politics, you are students before you are the SRC, come and lead by following. We are not here for names sakes or to appear as the face of this movement. Ours are not concerns with the limelight, we feel betrayed by the Student Representative Council – led by the Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) – the student arm of the African National Congress (ANC) the same party who deploy police armed with weapons to quell dissenting voices in protest – the same ones who violate our bodies, and degrade our mothers through the use of brute force on us during protests, but we cannot win this fight alone. We cannot action such responses in isolation. We call on staff and students, academics and families who have a vested in the protection of all including minority groups, to come together, to engage, to seek solutions to the many problems recently unearthed.

We need accountability, transparency, respect and to reclaim our dignity.

 

Comrade C. Anzio Jacobs

Let the blood of Solomon Mahlangu nourish the fruits of freedom, we will fight until we are free.

How decades of fast food worker organising lead to “The Fight for 15”

How decades of fast food worker organising lead to “The Fight for 15”

By Keith Kelleher, Founder and Former President of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Healthcare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas.

The First Spark
“…On Thursday, May 28, 1981, at or about 11:30 am, a number of off-duty employees, in the company of union organizer, Keith Kelleher,…entered Restaurant 768, …moved toward the back of the kitchen in the direction of the manager’s office. Kelleher asked employees…to join them, and a few, including discriminatee Cynthia Diane Williams …did so.
Williams and… employee Luther Wyatt came to the front of the crowd…and entered the office. Williams told Amato, that the United Labor Unions represented the employees, exhibited to Amato a sheet of paper containing a proposed union recognition agreement, and asked her to sign it. …Amato… refused, saying she had no authority to sign. At this point, the crowd took up the chant, “Sign it, Peggy! Sign It!” and continued this chant for about 20 minutes…”
– Extracted from National Labor Relations Board

So began one of the most exciting actions I’d been a part of since I started fast food worker organizing in Detroit 1981. I had been hired on March, 1st, 1980, by the then-fledgling Detroit local 222 (the “triple deuce!”) of the United Labor Unions (ULU), an independent union, unaffiliated with any larger labor federation but which itself had been founded by the national community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).

In 1980, US Steel and GM were still major American employers, but McDonald’s and other fast food giants were gaining fast. Oil shocks and economic shocks were throwing millions out of stable union work, but one industry gaining fast was non-union fast food.

Then in the early 1980s an unheard of plan began: workers employed by McDonald’s and Burger King in Detroit started organizing for better wages and benefits.

I was a young organizer working alongside this first generation of fast-food leaders at the Greyhound Burger King inside the bus station in downtown Detroit. After three years, workers won a union contract, one of the first union contracts in fast food settled in the United States. But even with that victory, it was clear that management would do anything to fight off workers’ attempts to organize, and they had the money and resources that workers did not.

I’d been doing it tough: after badly losing my first union organizing election at a different Burger King store, miles away, on the southwest side of Detroit we made attempts at organizing others.

We all got an early lesson in the kind of dirty tactics that the fast food bosses would put into action to

A man addresses the crowd at the the Mag Mile Demonstration

stop us organising a union. Some of the workers at my first store called us back one year later and we reorganized around issues of management harassment and mobilized around the first “recognition action” described at the beginning of this article. The Burger King corporation, knowing they would lose the rerun election because of our overwhelming strength in the newly organized unit; SOLD THE STORE to a supposed “franchisee” who just days before had been a human resources director for corporate Burger King! Even we, who by then were hardened veterans of vicious fastfood organizing drives, were stunned that the Labor Board ruled in this huge corporation’s favor and gave it their blessing.

Our vision was ambitious but simple: organize the low-wage fastfood industry, as well as other low wage industries across the United States and organize low-wage workers everywhere to reap the higher wages, benefits, and working conditions that unionization can bring.

We wanted to “build the movement,” to achieve even more radical change throughout the country: through changing labor laws, reigning in the power of public utilities and banks, fighting discriminatory laws in housing, and change the two-party game of electoral politics. We were young and we really wanted to change the world!
Big visions were nothing new to the ULU and ACORN organizers – many of the older organizers who had hired and trained me were veterans of the anti-war, civil rights, welfare rights, womens’ and community organizing movements of the 60’s and 70’s. Skilled organizers committed to organizing low and moderate income working families to build community power, through direct action like recognition actions, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and whatever else worked. ACORN had grown from an idea formed by veteran welfare rights organizers in 1970, to offices in over 20 US states by 1980.

ULU wanted to replicate that growth, but grow faster, by organizing fastfood and other low-wage workers with a new labor organizing model based on community organizing. We would fuse the best of labor, community and political organizing techniques into a hybrid to organize these fast-growing service sector jobs.

By the time, I came on board, ULU was already two years old and had graduated from experiments organizing the unemployed, and household workers, and others and was reaching for something bigger. In two years, they already had four locals in Detroit, Boston, New Orleans, and Philadelphia; and one of the first labor organizing retreats set a goal of organizing 50,000 new workers within the first year!

We were learning on the run and this small effort taught us how the fast-food giants think and that they will stop at NOTHING – even selling a store – to keep wages low, jobs part-time, and zero benefits. Over 30 years later the tactics of McDonald’s have not changed.

I eventually moved to Chicago in 1983 and founded ULU Local 880, which would soon become SEIU Local 880; and eventually organized over 70,000 homecare and childcare providers into Local 880. I also headed up the SEIU Homecare Organizing Task Force from 1996-1998, which eventually led to SEIU organizing over 600,000 homecare workers, as well as organizing another 100,000 childcare providers – one of the largest organizing drives in modern US labor history.

But in 2012, a new generation of organizers and workers took a crack at the industry that had got me into the union movement in the first place– they again wanted to organize fastfood.
I was asked to put together a memo on fastfood organising “best practices” and strategy, gleaned from our early years of organizing fastfood workers in Detroit in the early 80’s – in the hands of the skilled organizers of NY Communitites for Change and Action Now in Chicago, this memo helped guide some of the early thinking and strategy in this new generation of organizers and leaders.

A man addresses the crowd at the the Mag Mile Demonstration

In November 2012 this new generation of courageous fast-food workers called for $15 an hour in Chicago on the Magnificent Mile and then in a one day strike in New York City. Like the earlier effort I was involved in, the workers received critical support from the community— many of them veteran ACORN organizers – this time from SEIU, New York Communities for Change, Chicago’s Action Now and Leadership for the Common Good.
With workers taking the lead and unions and community groups showing support, a movement rose that has expanded to more than 300 cities and tens of thousands of workers. Low wage workers are now organising nationwide for a new minimum wage – $15. Across the country, 20 million workers have won big raises since those brave workers in Chicago and New York City started their Fight for $15 in 2012. The workers in the Fight for $15 are learning the same lesson we learned over 35 years ago—when we fight, we win!

Episode One – Out Now!

Episode One – Out Now!

We are very excited to release Episode One of our new Series the ChangeMakers. You can download this episode from Podcast One in Australia or from Itunes here.

The first two episodes of a new original podcast, ChangeMakers hits PodcastOne Monday 9 October. Hosted by co-founder of GetUp, Amanda Tattersall, ChangeMakers is the first podcast of its kind to mix the story-telling form of This American Life with the topic of social change.

“This represents a new era of big-budget podcasting in Australia. It has been delivered by a team of three researchers, two producers, a script editor and three audio engineers. It shows that the era of podcasting has finally arrived in Australia,” said Tattersall.

The first series of ChangeMakers features stories of people changing the world in 14 countries across the globe. It involved 150 interviews to produce 20 stories across 10 episodes.

“We’ve got a story on anti-Putin activists in Moscow, the pro-Democracy movement in Hong Kong, plus a chilling story about anti-gun campaigners in the United States.”

Tattersall says there are plenty of Australian campaigns that cut it on the world stage. The second episode features the “Lock the Gate” campaign, which has been a template for anti-Gas Drilling campaigns across the globe.

Amanda Tattersall is no stranger to digital innovation, having previously co-founded the digital campaign group GetUp. As an academic, she has written the book on building effective coalitions (Power in Coalition, Cornell University Press, 2009).

Tattersall said: “Whether you’re wanting to stop climate change or defeat the creeping Trumpification of Australia, new ways of change-making are necessary. ChangeMakers is about sharing stories of new strategies that work from across the globe.

Reading & Resources

Reading & Resources

There are almost limitless interesting readings and resources on ChangeMaking. Here are a few of our favourite readings and tools that you might find useful.

We are keen to promote and share interesting resources – so if you have readings you would suggest we share, send us an email to [email protected] or add ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.

DOING ONE TO ONE MEETINGS

Roots for Radicals; The relational meaning by Ed Chambers

Having effective and powerful one to one meetings is the heart of good organising. Its how the most effective teams that we cover in the show build their teams, then build their volunteer base. This whole book is a wonderful guide to relational organising and this chapter gives you a clear understanding of the how and why of the relational one to one meeting.

 

PUBLIC NARRATIVE

What is Public Narrative? (2008) by Marshall Ganz

Storytelling is a critical ingredient of good social change, and that includes telling the stories about why we are compelled to take social action. This is one of the most powerful texts that explains how and why public narrative is important for everyday community leaders for engaging others in action.

 

TAKING ACTION

Faithful Citizens; Assembling in Solidarity  by Austen Ivereigh

There is a world of difference in the power of public action, this text runs through some principles to consider that make public action powerful. Based on the practices of Citizens UK, and in turn the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation, this Chapter provides some useful summaries about a community organising approach to action.

 

BUILDING NETWORKS

Networked Change: How progressive campaigns are won in the 21st Century by NetChange

Social change doesn’t only happen through formal coalitions, it often happens through loose decentralised networks of people and organisations. This report reviews dozens and dozens of campaigns then draws out lessons about what makes them work. It identifies four key practical principles useful for any ChangeMaker.

 

TAKING DIRECT ACTION

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr

(Credit: kingpapers.org)

Non Violent Civil Disobedience is an art and a science and this short letter is a useful explanation about its purpose to facilitate negotiation and transformation. It was written while Martin Luther King Jr was in jail and still has relevance to how we act today.

 

What does it take for everyday people to shift an election?

What does it take for everyday people to shift an election?

Andrew Nikolic … sort of

We traveled to Launceston Tasmania to learn how GetUp worked with locals here to shift the last Australian Federal Election in 2016.

There have been many accusations about how GetUp “removed” a sitting MP Andrew Nikolic, one of the more conservative members of Government. GetUp treats such accusations as applause, as they were very upfront about their strategy to remove so-called “blockers” of progressive policy months before the election began.

But what is little known in the public discussion is how GetUp successfully organised in the seat of Bass.

Bass is an interesting seat as it has characteristics that look like the former industrial heartland of United Kingdom or the United States.

In our visit to Launceston, the heart of the seat, we met with a series of local GetUp activists who told us about how they helped win the campaign. Several factors were key, that will be explored further in Episode 8 of the ChangeMakers Podcast. They include:

  • The power of mixing online and offline: GetUp didn’t have an enormous online
    Michael Fox, local GP and GetUp volunteer

    membership in the electorate to begin with (the membership was in the thousands, but relatively small for a million member organisation), so it needed to expand its offline reach to be effective. It did this by getting people offline to participate in online actions, like posting photos of themselves with a puppet of Andrew Nikolic on their Facebook page. GetUp would then share and amplify these posts. This had the power of growing the base of GetUp in the electorate while sharing a successful message (that Nikolic made himself unavailable to talk to constituents).

  • The power of mixing local with national: Most of the campaign was done by a small group of local organisers and leaders. This was critical for credibility and authenticity – the campaign was locally driven, and had a particular punch when lead by local health spokespeople (as the campaign was predominantly about the hospital). However there was power in bringing the centralised resources of a national campaign into a local place. This included national phone banking and money to hire local organisers.
  • Have the local lead the national: There was some tension in the campaign at times about who called the shots. Using the interviews I collected, it appears that the campaign was most successful with the local activists had control over how the campaign would operate in that local space. This went as far as having organisers from the local area – knowing people, the lay of the land, the local politics was crucial for running a campaign like this, especially when there wasn’t much time for relationship building. It went so far as the local team vetoing campaign content, or organising for campaign materials to be drafted differently so they fitted in with the local context.

 

“Tactics for Mobilisers”: Amanda Tattersall reviews the book “Rules for Revolutionaries”

“Tactics for Mobilisers”: Amanda Tattersall reviews the book “Rules for Revolutionaries”

You have probably heard of Rules for Radicals, an old but still living set of strategies designed for changing the world, written by the grandfather of community organising – Saul Alinsky.

It is that book, or at least its title, that inspired Becky Bond and Zack Exley to write Rules for Revolutionaries following their whirlwind experience working on the Bernie Sanders US Primary Campaign in 2016.

The book is a fast past narrative of that campaign. It is an insiders guide to how they built one of the most expansive field campaigns in US political history. The book documents the way in which these skilled campaigners cleverly intersected digital campaigning, volunteer field efforts, “revolutionary” phone banking alongside some old-school community organising.

But, there are some fundamental weaknesses in the argument it presents. My motivation in writing this review is to caution campaigners, organisers and activists to not take these so called “rules” as gospel.

I have called the review “Tactics for Mobilisers” for a reason. It’s based on my two fundamental critiques of the book. My first concern is that the book’s “rules” can be better described as “tactics” for campaigning. Secondly, I argue that while the book argues that it’s strategy is one of “revolution,” it is much better understood as describing the more familiar strategy of mobilisation.

Lets start with the book’s claim about being a list of “rules.” It’s always bold to borrow from a giant like Saul Alinsky. Bond and Exley’s title bravely makes an allusion to the book Rules for Radicals, and in doing so they imply that they might speaking with the same authority. The 1972 Rules for Radicals is one of the most potent texts about social change written in modern times. This is not because of its occasionally offensive manner or exaggerated stories, but because it sought to identify universal lessons for how we work in public life that can be transported across different contexts. The “Rules” weren’t statements like “hold a rally in this way”, they were more a fundamental commentary about public life – borrowing from social psychology, theology, philosophy, public action and political theory. Alinsky’s rules were statements like “if you push a negative hard enough it will push through and become a positive” or “ power is not only what you have but what your target thinks you have.” The Rules were necessarily obtuse. They required active discussion and translation to make them work. That’s the point of rules; they require interpretation, deep thinking, collective analysis.

The “Rules” in Rules for Revolutionaries do not pass this test. They are instead tactical observations about running a big (electoral) campaign. Don’t get me wrong, they include great tactical observations about how a campaign can be won – but they are not more than that. Rules like “get on the phone,” “the revolution will be funded by small donations” and “barnstorm” are explicitly tactical. That’s not bad. They are a great guide for campaigners who want to run a participatory phone banking system or to organise people into teams using face-to-face town hall meetings. But they aren’t “Rules.” They aren’t concepts that are open to contextual interpretation. They aren’t ideas that can be explored and improved when discussed. They are surface level descriptors of a strategy that was recently implemented. Indeed, I would worry if they were rules because they are internally contradictory and sometimes a little self-righteous.

Take the “Rule” – “the work is distributed, the plan is centralised.” This is an argument for highly coordinated campaigns. That makes total sense in an electoral context where you have one objective – a candidate’s win – over a whole nation. It makes no sense, however, when it comes to running the climate movement. Climate issues don’t operate at a single scale – they run from the neighbourhood, to the state, the nation, the global and to corporations– all have potential targets and there are thousands of potential, integrated campaign strategies. If you “centralised” climate strategy you would risk loosing many of your leaders (at best) if not totally pissing them off. Imagining climate campaigners deciding they were going to centrally coordinate the Standing Rock campaign. Wait, don’t imagine that! Take another example from the US, the amazing living wage campaigns that have raised minimum wages for over 20 years are not “centralised.” They are decentralised to cities and municipalities and only now are scaling out to capture some corporate giants like McDonalds. They would have failed if someone had tried to centrally coordinate all of them from Washington. Yet the Rules for Revolutionaries “rule” argues that this should have been done!

There is a universal rule about how to stage the geography of a campaign, but it doesn’t take a position in favour of “coordination and centralisation” over “localism and autonomy.” The universal is to simply recognise that every campaign has to handle the tension between “coordination versus autonomy” and needs to trade off that tension in how it runs its campaign (Tattersall 2010). Tending towards coordination makes central planning easier, and long term volunteer engagement harder. Tending towards autonomy makes planning more diffuse but meaningful volunteerism easier. Choosing which strategy a campaign needs to emphasise depends on the changing dynamics of the campaign.

The weakness of Bond and Exley’s “rule” played out in the Sanders campaign, if you put it in a longer term context. While the centralisation was able to effectively produce good mobilisation when motivated by a clear electoral goal and a series of transferable tactics, the campaign did not sustain volunteer engagement in an ongoing campaign infrastructure. As Marshall Ganz has noted – it didn’t build long term organising structures, which then lead to the dissipation of the large numbers of people who were initially engaged (Ganz, 2017).

This is a useful segue to my second major concern with the text – and that is its claim about presenting a “revolutionary” method. That too is a bold claim and in the book it is mixed up with a whole bunch of fairly pejorative phases like “big organising” versus “small organising.”

When you call something “revolutionary” you are making a claim that it is new and extremely powerful. The trouble is that the book doesn’t live up to either of these claims. What they describe as new is something I recognise as an older tradition – called mobilising. What they describe as powerful is sadly something that didn’t last (sadly like most mobilising strategies).

Both of these gaps reveal that the authors misunderstand community organising. Indeed the book creates quite a few “strawmen” in order to argue that the Sander’s campaign is something new and different, as compared to the “old ways” of Alinsky style organising.

It’s worth running through some of these gaps.

Firstly, there is nothing new about contrasting face-to-face community organising (“old organising”) and fast paced turn out (“big organising). What is frustrating is that Bond and Exley selectively interpret history to create hard and fast contrasts in this space. For every historical example they use, like Fight for 15 or Black Lives Matter, they use it to prove that big is “better” than small. Sadly there is some inaccuracy and inexperience revealed in their categories. They awkwardly use the term “one on one” to describe relational meetings – yet no community organiser would describe a meeting as “on” someone else (Bond, Exley 2016, 76)! Exley puts union organising and broad-based IAF organising in the same category. As a former union organiser then broad-based community organiser I can categorically tell you they aren’t very similar. What is similar about them is they seek to build organisations, which is a point that is under-explained in the book.

Bond and Exley use the terms “old organising” and “big organising”, but using the traditional terms “organising” and “mobilising” would have better served them. That is what they are describing. Using the term “big organising” confuses the reader. After all, what they describe in the book is how, inspired by an extraordinary candidate, they mobilised thousands of people to work in groups, to undertake fairly simple tasks (mainly phone banking) to turnout people for a primary election.

If they had used less pejorative terms they might have had a more sophisticated analysis. A better way to analyse the difference between organising and mobilising is to say that you need both. The argument, dare I say “rule,” is that there is a time to organise and a time to mobilise. Indeed, any sophisticated analysis of Fight for 15 shows that it was the robust interconnection of one to one work, alongside mass turn out, that made the campaign sing. Indeed, even the Bernie campaign used both one to one organising strategies alongside their mobilising work (for instance much of their phone banking strategy tried to use principles from broad-based organising). Dare I say it, the Sanders campaign used both old organising and big organising!

However, it is also true that both organising and mobilising are not beyond critique. Indeed its quite clear that we aren’t winning and we have some learning to do.

There is a critique to be had of Alinsky style organising. Having set up Australia’s first Alinsky style organisation – the Sydney Alliance – I know too well how hard it can be to turn deep, relational work into campaigns that can move enough people and power to transform the city. We struggled to develop mass action over time. It never felt like we had the time or space to do that work alongside our commitment to putting leaders in charge and training them to lead our work. Indeed, I am currently doing a post-doctoral fellowship exploring this question of what it might take to build bigger organising strategies using a relational approach.

That said, mobilising (so called “big organising”) is riddled with problems too. I felt it in the 2003 Walk against the War movement against the War in Iraq, where in Sydney we had 500 000 people rally against the War, yet they slowly dissipated. We deployed much tactical mastery, including trialling some of the earliest digital organising techniques ever used for activism in Australia, but after the heat went out of the issue and the war went ahead, people’s interest in political activity went too.

This is precisely what happened with the Bernie campaign. While there was passionate interest in his candidacy, when the “heat went out of the issue” and Clinton became inevitable, the people left. The problem is that mobilisation (or “big organising”) uses the issue to organise the people – and when the issue changes and fails, then the people leave. The advantage of community organising (old organising) is that relationships and a broad set of interests engage leaders, and so even if the issues change the people stick around. The obvious sweet spot is having enough people “organised” so that you can “mobilise” a larger number of people around issues – but still – when the issue changes the “organised” group is still committed to ongoing action.

Mobilising strategies are also limited in how they treat people. People are often seen as a deployable army rather than as leaders who have the capacity to create their own destiny. The book, at times, falls victim to the language of seeing leaders as people who “act for you” not “with you.” Bond and Exley argue that you want to find tactics that you can “rinse and repeat.” The idea is that if you find a tactic that volunteers can do and is useful, you just repeat it over and over again. While its understandable that a highly scalable campaign needs patterns of work, the way this is explained in the book raises alarm bells. It implies that “the little people” are out there doing the rinsing and repeating, while the important people sit back and do the important work. It feels mechanical and machine line – it doesn’t feel very dignified let alone revolutionary.

I have strong opinions about this book, and one of them is – its worth a read. This is an interesting tale of a fascinating campaign where a lot of brilliant and creative tactics were used. But you need to take it, and its “rules” with a grain of salt. Don’t hold the categories it presents as “the truth” – bring a critical eye to what you read and use that curious posture to think about the kinds of creative, imaginative, deep and broad organising strategies we need to create a better world.

Breaking bad laws is how good laws get made

Breaking bad laws is how good laws get made

By Amanda Tattersall

The new head of the Australian Union Movement, Sally McManus, came under a fair bit of flak last week after she declared on her first day in the job that she didn’t have a problem breaking bad laws.

The thing is – her comments are exactly the sort of leadership that Australia needs right now. And they reflect an understanding of how democracies negotiate social change.

The reflex action of politicians from both sides of politics to condemn her comments, showed that they were willing to wilfully ignore the key role that civil disobedience has in social change. They did this in order to avoid having to mount an uncomfortable argument – that sometimes breaking a bad law is the only way to change it.

The truth is everyone, even staunch, law-abiding conservatives are the beneficiaries of past law breaking, and MacManus could have provided the perfect opportunity for our leaders to give a Civics 101 lesson on how unjust laws get changed. Instead we got a twitter attack dismissing MacManus’s quip, in order to get it out of the news cycle as quickly as possible.

McManus made her comments specifically about industrial relations laws, and fair enough. It is not widely understood how onerous the laws are on Australian building workers. Building laws currently ban industrial action on safety issues.

Yes, that’s right. There are laws that make it illegal for workers to walk off a job when someone has been killed. So when the union walks people off the job to protect their safety and the safety of other workers, they are breaking the law. A bad law.

But what McManus said about breaking bad laws applies far beyond workplace laws. Over our history, breaking bad laws is how most good laws got made.

Our great, great grandmothers protested and engaged in hunger strikes, often finding themselves foul of the law to win women the vote.

In the 1960s and 70s baby boomer radicals evaded conscription, feeding the Vietnam Moratorium movement that lead to Australian troops withdrawing from an unjust war. Similarly, indigenous and non-indigenous radicals undertook freedom rides to remote NSW, desegregating pools that banned Aboriginal kids from swimming, breaking the law in the process.

Similar tactics were used to fight another unjust law – apartheid – where radicals threw their bodies into harms way to protest the Springbok Rugby Tour, bringing on a sporting boycott than was part of bringing down apartheid in South Africa.

In the 1980s environmental law breakers occupied the giant trees of Tasmania to prevent the construction of the Franklin Dam. And today the Lock the Gate farmers and environmentalists campaigning against coal seam gas are threatened with huge fines and jail terms just for staging political protests.

When Sally McManus says she is with the lawbreakers – these are the people with whom she is standing: generation upon generation of heroes who have skilfully used civil disobedience to agitate for a better world.

And we haven’t run out of bad laws to break. Whether its bad refugee policy, bad planning policy (like WestConnex), inept climate change policy, the failure to adequately recognise land rights or bad industrial relations policy – there is much to be done in pursuit of a better world.

There is substantial evidence from industrial relations scholars that suggests that how a leader comes to power frequently defines their tenure of leadership. Let us only hope that McManus is emboldened by her first day on the job to keep encouraging us all to be more radical in our pursuit of justice.

Our world needs it right now.

What is ChangeMakers?

What is ChangeMakers?

There are 140 million people across the globe engaged in volunteer work or working for non-profits. These are the Change Makers.

The Change Makers podcast is a weekly, 30 min globally focused series that tells the stories about what is working and not working in the world of social change.

Each week, host Amanda Tattersall picks an issue or theme. The theme might be a wicked problem – like climate change or poverty – or a discrete social change strategy – like digital activism or alliance building.

Then she travels across the globe to meet Change Makers who’ve been trying to make an impact in that space. Battle stories are told. Hopes, fears and regrets are shared. Through these stories, lessons about what works – and what doesn’t – are teased out.

With an investigative tone, Tattersall will also visit universities, corporate and political consultancies to bring fresh eyes to challenges that Change Makers face every day.

The program is designed to help Change Makers reflect on what they do, and how they can do it better.

The podcast’s distribution will itself be a lesson in social change best practice. Leveraging Dr Tattersall’s deep, global links in this sector, it will create distribution partnerships with organisations that have over 40 million unique members worldwide.

The host, Dr Amanda Tattersall has written the globally focused “go to” book on coalition strategy (Power in Coalition), set up some of Australia’s most successful social change organisations (GetUp. org.au and the Sydney Alliance) and is still frustrated that while we are doing many things well, we still haven’t turned the corner on creating a world that nurtures the common good.