Why Campaigns Matter

Eileen Flanagan & George Lakey were recently interviewed on NPR-affiliate WHYY. In this 40-minute "Radio Times" interview about the BLAM! campaign, they discuss the power of nonviolent direct action campaigns (different from episodic protest). EQAT learned this from the Civil Rights Movement and spent 5 years putting it into practice. This interview also gives a preview of learnings we'll dive into during the weeks ahead.

If you're hungry for more ...

Diane Nash, a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, talks about the power of campaigns while reflecting on the Selma Campaign.

The New York Times article featuring EQAT sparked some email conversation that shows more about how EQAT connects economic and environmental justice. Here's a snippet from George Lakey:

"What I don't like about the article and would hope we wouldn't buy into is the disparagement of the divestment campaign.  It's not actually true that if somebody prefers apples they must be much better than pears. Setting up one category of target (financial institutions) vs. another (universities, churches, city governments) isn't at all necessary when we take a big picture of what it takes to build a powerful movement.

From our point of view as movement-builders, a huge consideration must be: which campaigns will draw new constituencies into the struggle?  That's because right relationship with the Earth and its people requires massive economic change, and massive economic change can't happen with only environmentalists in the struggle. 

It's analogous to the civil rights movement, which wanted to be (and often called itself) a Freedom Movement -- that is, free from racism.  Quaker Bayard Rustin along with trade unionist A, Philip Randolph and then Dr. King agreed that the U.S. can't move away significantly from racism until it tackles the economy. 

They turned out to be right, as the Black Lives Matter insurrection reveals.  Every mayor and city council in the U.S. could be black and the U.S. remain a highly racist place if the economy doesn't change fundamentally -- that's how tightly capitalism and racism are bound up with each other.  All middle class white people could go to endless workshops on micro-aggression for the next year and the U.S. would remain highly and dangerously racist, because the micro-aggressions don't influence the economy the way the macro-aggression does (Warren Buffett called the macro-aggression "class war"), and the economy is what mainly determines the life chances of black people (and white people, too).

Just as Rustin, Randolph and King knew that other broad constituencies needed to join the civil rights movement for it to become a freedom movement, so we need to remember that other broad constituencies need to join the environmentalists for it to become a climate justice movement. 

So if divestment struggles within campuses, churches, cities and states enroll new constituencies in the common fight, that's truly positive for our end goal. 

I'm not, though, arguing that everything anyone does is of equal strategic value.  Taking shorter showers, recycling, and cleaning up streams are good to do but not strategically valuable because they aren't forms of collective struggle that bring people into the common fight.  They are the equivalent of the workshops on micro-aggression -- they don't build powerful social movements that are the absolute requirement for change against the macro-aggression whether the aggression takes the form of mountaintop removal or mass incarceration. 

As always, the trick is to "keep our eye on the prize" and learn from analyses that support unity rather than set up useless competitions.  Our experience with EQAT so far has been that of seeking unity rather than lapsing into competition, and the result has been growing power consistent with what early Friends used to call the Power."

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