Civil Disobedience Training


Steps to making a Campaign

Most movement programs revolve around organizing single, unrelated events-demonstrations, forums, whatever. Were these activities strung together in an integrated fashion- building on one another -- the impact and potential for success would be magnified dramatically. Such is the advantage of campaign organizing.

The campaign provides an escalating series of actions over a period of time focused on a target in order to achieve specific goals. Persistence and a systematic approach are key ingredients of a campaign.

All this is not to say demonstrations should not be organized on individual dates like Hiroshima Day (August 6), International Women's Day (March 8), Martin Luther King Day, and so forth. But, when possible, actions which are part of campaigns can make a stronger statement.

Planning a Campaign

While a demonstration takes a good deal of careful planning, a campaign requires considerably more attention.

The first step is to do the basic groundwork of self-education on the issues and problems to be combated. This can be accomplished through research, study groups, workshops, and conferences.

The next step is to decide where to focus our initial efforts. What you need to find are weak points in the opponent's "armour," which will provide levers or handles to focus criticism and action.

During one phase of the Indian campaign for independence from Britain, Gandhi selected the British monopoly on salt as the focus for a campaign. At first this appeared to be an insignificant issue to worry about, compared with independence itself. But because salt affected everyone on this rather hot subcontinent, because its cost was a hardship on the masses, and because it was relatively easy to manufacture (and thereby violated the salt laws), it became an ideal symbol of why independence was being sought. The British viewed the Salt Campaign as "nothing less than to cause a complete paralysis of the administrative machinery." In retrospect, the year-long campaign was the most spectacular effort in the 28-year struggle for independence.

The United Farm Workers grape boycott is another example of a well chosen campaign in the struggle to win union recognition and better conditions for farm workers.

One of the most important steps in a campaign, after determining the target or focus, is to choose the short range goals. Long range goals are easy, e.g., world peace or an end to sexism. But sometimes if short range goals are not clearly defined, then the campaign could be stalled. Short range goals should be winnable within the near future (providing a boost and the encouragement needed to keep your group moving toward the longer range goals), measurable (you ought to be able to tell when you have accomplished them), set on a timetable to allow for periods of evaluation, be a significant step towards the long range goal(s).

For example, in opposing the establishment of a Junior ROTC unit in a local high school, your medium (or short) range goal might be to prevent the unit from setting up. A short range goal could be getting the local paper (or student body) to come out against the unit. An example of something which is not a short range goal would be the holding of a forum or having a picket. These represent vehicles toward your goals, rather than goals themselves. Saying that a short range goal is "to educate the student body" has little value as a goal unless it is measurable (e.g., a poll or vote).

In setting goals, you might consider establishing a bottom line on what is acceptable, to guard against being coopted into ending the campaign without making any fundamental change.


After the goals have been set, an analysis should be made to see who the participants in the campaign are and how they can aid the campaign. Who do you need to participate if the campaign is likely to succeed? Who is on your side now? How are those people reached? Write, call, or visit the community groups which are likely to be sympathetic: cooperatives, clinics, some veterans groups, women's groups, Third World groups, student groups, religious organizations, women's groups, and so forth.

Who are the opponents? How can they or their supporters be won over or neutralized. In the example above, the opponents might be the school board or principal. The supporters of the opponents might be the community, PTA, local paper, or clergy.

After this analysis, a plan of action set on a timetable is needed. This plan of action should be in a step-bystep escalation. Escalation is necessary if the pressure on opponents needs to be increased. This does not necessarily mean the previous level of activity is abandoned, but simply that an escalated stage of activity is added to the previous stages. For example, education should be a constant and complementary component of every campaign- never being abandoned. In the campaign above, the first level of action is to approach the school board and ask them to turn down the JROTC application. Should that fail, set up study commissions to analyze the value of a JROTC unit; solicit outside opinions; hold, public forums; write letters to the editor; etc.

Should an escalation be necessary, picketing, leafleting, or boycotts might be next. Beyond that, demonstrations, marches, and rallies could be organized. Then, perhaps, a student strike, and maybe carefully chosen civil disobedience actions.

Organizers should not lightly go from one level of a campaign to the next. Each stage should be evaluated and considered seriously. Remember, shifting to the next stage does not mean activities at earlier levels should always be forgotten (e.g., going from picketing to a sit-in does not necessarily mean picketing should be discontinued).

Step by Step Escalation in a Nonviolent Campaign

Investigation and Research
Checking facts and allegations; building an airtight case against opponents and preparing for countercharges

Negotiation and arbitration
Meeting with opponents to settle conflict before going public; ultimatum issued before moving to next level

Public forums, letters to editor, etc.
Basic public education on issues

Picketing, leafleting, etc.
Public contact with opponents

Demonstrations, rallies, marches
Show of strength by maximizing numbers

Limited strike
Involving those immediately affected

Against company or product in question, if appropriate

Limited noncooperation
By those most immediately affected

Massive illegal actions
Noncooperation, civil disobedience, direct action

General strike

Establishing a parallel government

Analyzing a Campaign

This outline is an expansion of an outline used by Joan Bondurant in her analysis of Gandhian campaigns. It can be used either in evaluation of a campaign or in preparation for a campaign.

1. Dates of the Campaign

2. Goals

Long range
What were the ultimate goals being sought?

Short range
What goals were set?
Were they achievable?
Were they measurable? Can you tell if they've been accomplished? Would reaching them have brought the campaign measurably closer to the long range goals?

Was a timetable set to allow for periodic measurement of progress of the campaign? What was it?

Bottom line
Were there any minimum acceptable goals set in advance, so as to avoid being compromised or coopted?

3. Participants

Who was on "our side" at the beginning?
Who was needed if the campaign
was likely to succeed?
How could those people we needed
have been reached?
Was there a core of people organized and prepared to stay with a sustained campaign so as to provide continuity?

4. Opponents

Who were the opponents? Who was calling the shots in opposition to the campaign?
Was it necessary to win over or neutralize supporters of the opponents in order for the campaign to succeed?
How were supporters of the opposition won over or neutralized?

5. Organization and Constructive Work

What was the organizational structure to carry out the campaign?
How were decisions made?
How was the campaign funded?
Were there parallel institutions to replace those being opposed or any constructive work done during the campaign?

6. Preparation for Action

What research and investigation was done?
Education? Public forums? Mass media?
Training for the main actions?
Was there adequate preparation for anticipated repression (jail, levies, violence)?

7. Preliminary Action

Were approaches made to opponents? Negotiation and arbitration? Petitions or letters?
Was an ultimatum issued? If so, what was the response?

8. Action

What forms of action were used: picketing, leafleting, marches, etc.? Was it necessary to escalate to a higher level of struggle?
Why and when? Were there strikes, boycotts, or limited noncooperation?
Did the campaign escalate to civil disobedience, mass noncooperation or some form of mass direct action? Why?
Why did the action end when and where it did?

9. Reaction of opponents

Were participants jailed? Beaten? Repressed?
Property seized?
Lies spread? Media blackout? Intimidation? Ridicule?
Concessions or coopting attempted? Was campaign basically ignored?

10. Results

Were the short range goals achieved?
Any progress made towards the long range goals?
What happened to jailed or injured people?
Was property returned? Amnesty? Did any of the opponents lose support?
Any property destruction by participants?

11. Analysis

Were appropriate tactics used at appropriate times?
Was the best target chosen?
Was the timetable realistic?
Did the campaign meet the timetable? If not, why not?
Was consciousness raised among the general public?
Did the actions clearly communicate the myths, secrets, and realities of the issues and society?
If short range goals were not achieved, why not?
How could the campaign have been improved?
If there was property destruction, did it help or hinder the campaign? Was the organizational structure adequate to conduct the campaign? Was the decision making responsive to participants?
Were there problems in making decisions or lack of decisiveness? Who had the initiative during the campaign?
Were there any surprises which hurt or helped the campaign?


ACT UP Direct Action Guidelines

History of Mass Nonviolent Action

Nonviolent Response to Personal Violence

Practicing Nonviolence

Nonviolence Training

Affinity Groups and Support

Steps Toward Making a Campaign

Consensus Decision Making

Legal Issues/Risking Arrest

Legal Flow Chart: What Happens in an Arrest and Your Decisions

Legal Terms: What They Mean

Jail Solidarity

see also the following:

The Demonstrator's Manual (crucial)

Marshal Training Manual

Getting Arrested: Why do we do it?