This is my first review post of This Is an Uprising, an important book by Mark and Paul Engler published in 2016 by Nation Books. Important because it offers insights from many countries that social justice, environmental, and other movements can learn from and apply to their struggles.
In a chapter called “Structure and Movement” early in the book the authors talk about two models for promoting political change and the actions that correspond to each.
[Note, this post was written before the latest bombshell revelations about Trump’s statements to the Russian diplomats in the Oval Office and former FBI Director Comey’s notes about his meeting with the president in Feburary]
With the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the continuing slide of the United States towards authoritarian government, there has been much discussion and hand wringing about how to confront the president and his allies in Congress, who continue to support and enable him for the most part. The problem is that there appear to be few pressure points or ways to significantly weaken some of the administration’s pillars of support.
One way to look at this struggle is in the sphere of public opinion. Although Trump’s approval ratings are dismal in comparison with all other recent presidents, he is still strong among republicans and his other supporters. In a Washington Post article May 12, Phillip Bump presents data showing conclusively that republicans think Trump was correct to fire Comey, have little concern about the accusations of Russian meddling in the US elections, and approve of the overall job Trump is doing.
As a concept, strategy has an exalted lineage, starting from Sun Tzu, through Machiavell to Clausewitz, to name the three most-widely recognized names. While those writers offered some useful insights, I start my exploration here with Gene Sharp, a contemporary theorist and practitioner, who thought very systematically about strategy and tactics in non-violent movements. I’ll be talking a lot about Sharp on this blog, as has written extensively on these topics, but for now, I want to sketch out some broad definitions that will inform a lot of what is to come.