Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Strategy and Tactics in activism?

I thought I’d mull over some things that were presented recently at a conference I was at, but as it turns out, I have done no mulling on my bike rides lately. This might mean I’ve been riding harder! Not faster, somehow.

One of the things I thought I’d mull was Strategy and Tactics. I’m neither a strategist nor a tactician, thus it should surprise no one when I say I’m not a chess player either.

It was a web design conference I was at, and the topic was “Design Lessons in Chess”. I know only the most basic aspects of chess, primarily from watching some coworkers play a 3-D chess game when I lived in Denver, and talking to them as they mulled their next moves. I can understand tactics, but I never really could visualize strategy.

The speaker, Rob Weyerchert, a graphic designer from Philly, had played chess most of his life, but hadn’t gotten interested in it in a serious way until more recently. He read some books on it, and came away with a realization that there is a lot to be said for applying some of the same lessons to web design.

And as he talked, my antennae came to attention, buzzing with the realization that his words apply to the Animal Rights movement as well. And any movement, to be honest. Bike advocacy, environmental rights, whatever it is, this applies.

I’m adding a couple chess books to my ever-growing pile of books to read.

Rob included a quote by Sun Tzu:

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Now, I know I’m saying nothing new to most people. Mary, in fact, posted along these lines about 10 months ago, in an effort to map out a strategy. Except she was calling it a movement, as in what are the elements of a successful movement, and what would an AR organization do?

Typically, it was a conversation or series of conversations that went nowhere fast. Part of me believes that organizing activists is simply doomed to fail.

Another part of me believes wholeheartedly in the power and effectiveness of collectives, such as the Rock Doves.

I really don’t have a clear enough grasp of strategy versus tactics to know whether what the Rock Doves do could be considered Strategy. I think in many ways it is a snapshot of strategy. They have designed a microcosm of the world the want to live in, and so their collective ends up being both Strategic as well as Tactical, even if the effect is localized.

I am beginning feel like I need to learn how to play serious chess so that I can be an effective activist.

I was halfway through a book on strategy in the AR movement before I became distracted by other, less relevant, topics. It was likely a good thing – I’m now in the right mindset to go back and read Melanie Joy’s “Strategic Action for Animals”. Of course then I’ll feel the need to turn around and read Kasparov’s “How Life Imitates Chess“.

No real conclusion here, just my rambling thoughts, and a tenuous connection between web design, war, chess, and activism. Make of it what you will. ymmv.

Ben Harper:


2 responses to “Strategy and Tactics in activism?

  1. Mary Martin October 25, 2008 at 9:09 am

    I’m not sure what the resistance is, but I do think that there’s a fear–or even an expectation–that organizing and strategizing inevitably leads to a PETA-esque or HSUS-esque situation of a large, bloated organization with a diluted mission (or one that changes because donors won’t give unless it’s less “extreme”). I was thinking there’d be more imagination and hypothesizing rather than an immediate “no.” I certainly don’t have the answers, but the the combination of disinterest and dismissing/rejecting was definitely disappointing. Thanks for the mention, though.

  2. Deb October 26, 2008 at 11:27 am

    I’m not sure what the resistance is either, and I feel some of it myself! Maybe it is just that we’re still too newly disappointed in the petas and hsuses.

    I’m not a strategist, so I don’t really expect to have the imagination to see how it could be. I think that there are few among activists who have developed this talent, that might be part of it.

    Perhaps going to chess tournaments and recruiting the winners to our causes would help!

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