By Ed Hedemann

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 and 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), Tax Day (April 15), and so forth. But, when possible, actions which are part of campaigns can make a stronger statement.

Resources for becoming an activist

Student Projects

Starting Your Own Group

Planning Campaigns

Effective Picketing

Rallies and Marches

Conducting a Vigil

High School Organizing

How to Make The News

Demonstration Check List
(PDF format - Adobe Acrobat Reader required)

Planning a Campaign
While a demonstration takes a good deal of careful planning, a campaign requires considerable 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 out 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 violate 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 yearlong 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 no military. 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. And 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 you side now? How are all 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, men’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 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-by-step escalation. Escalation is necessary if the pressure on opponents needs to be increased. This des 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 and 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 levers 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 the next level
  • Public forums, letters to the 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
  • Boycott
    Against company of product in question, if appropriate
  • Limited noncooperation
    By those 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 of in preparation for a campaign.

1. Dates of the Campaign
2. Goals
a. Long range
i. What were the ultimate goals being sought?
b. Short range
i. What goals were set?
ii. Were they achievable?
iii. Were they measurable? Can you tell if they’ve been accomplished?
iv. Would reaching them have brought the campaign measurably closer to the long range goals?
c. Timetable
i. Was a timetable set to allow for periodic measurement of progress of the campaign? What was it?
d. Bottom line
i. Were there any minimum acceptable goals set in advance, so as to avoid being compromised.
3. Participants
a. Who was on "our side" at the beginning?
b. Who was needed if the campaign was likely to succeed?
c. How could those people we needed have been reached?
d. Was there a core of people organized and prepared to stay with a sustained campaign so as to provide continuity?
4. Opponents
a. Who were the opponents?
b. Who was calling the shots in opposition to the campaign?
c. Was it necessary to win over or neutralize supporters of the opponents in order for the campaign to succeed?
d. How were the supporters of the opposition won over of neutralized?
5. Organization and Constructive Work
a. What was the organizational structure to carry out the campaign?
b. How were the decisions made?
c. How was the campaign funded?
d. Were there parallel institutions to replace those being opposed or any constructive word done during the campaign?
6. Preparation for Action
a. What research and investigation was done?
b. Education? Public forums? Mass media?
c. Training for the main actions?
d. Was there adequate preparation for anticipate repression (jail, levies, violence)?
7. Preliminary Action
a. Were approaches made to opponents? Negotiation and arbitration? Petitions or letters?
b. Was an ultimatum issued? If so, what was the response?
8. Action
a. What forms of action were used: picketing, leafleting, marches, etc.?
b. Was it necessary to escalate to a higher level of struggle? Why and when? Were there strikes, boycotts, or limited noncooperation?
c. Did the campaign escalate to civil disobedience, mass noncooperation or some form of mass direct action?
d. Why?
e. Why did the action end when and where it did?
9. Reaction of Opponents
a. Were participants jailed? Beaten? Repressed?
b. Property seized?
c. Lies spread? Media blackout?
d. Intimidation? Ridicule?
e. Concessions or coopting attempted?
f. Was campaign basically ignored?
10. Results
a. Were the short range goals achieved?
b. Any progress made towards the long range goals?
c. What happened to the jailed or injured people?
d. Was property returned? Amnesty?
e. Did any of the opponents lose support?
f. Any property destruction by participants?
11. Analysis
a. Were appropriate tactics used at appropriate times?
b. Was the best target chosen?
c. Was the timetable realistic?
d. Did the campaign meet the timetable? If not, why not?
e. Was consciousness raised among the general public?
f. Did the actions clearly communicate the myths, secrets, and realities of the issues and society?
g. If short range goal were not achieved, why not?
h. If there was property destruction, did it help or hinder the campaign?
i. Was the decision making responsive to participants?
j. Were there problems in making decisions of a lack of decisiveness?
k. Who had the initiative during the campaign?
l. Were there any surprises which hurt or helped the campaign?

Resources on Campaigns

Conquest of Violence, Joan Bondurant, see pp.45-104, 1965. Analysis of five Gandhian campaigns.
Strategy Manual, Carl Zietlow, 21 pp., 1971. Tactics, dynamics, strategy of campaigns.
A Nonviolent Action Manual, William Moyer, 20 pp., 1977. Organizing demonstrations and campaigns.
Resources Manual for a Living Revolution, Virginia Coover, et al., see pp. 221-232, 1977. Outline of campaign organizing.
Shoulder to Shoulder, Midge Mackenzie, 333 pp., 1975. A history of the militant British campaign for women’s suffrage.

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