Globally we’ve already won 700+ divestment commitments, worth over $5tn! But this is just a step towards our bigger aim – building a powerful movement to destroy the social acceptance of the fossil fuel industry and tackle climate change. We need to build mass public support and get lots of people confident to take action to build the growing public battle we need to win on the climate.
Escalation takes place throughout a successful campaign and can be anything from a petition delivery to an occupation. Your group should be constantly finding escalation points and ways to build power as your campaign moves forwards.
The more people involved with your campaign and actively supporting it, the more you are already winning! The best way to get people involved is to plan a journey to take them on – not one event but a series, with plans to promote each one and then use it as a platform to attract more people to the next.
Campaigns often are surprised that they don’t win by persuading their opponents. In Umuarama, the team had contacted council members and found two supporters. They had even won nearby cities. But the city would just not move — a powerful state congressmen with fracking interests kept blocking the legislation.
They could have kept hitting their head against a wall meeting with more city council members. But their method of escalation? Holding public events, going to schools and giving presentations, and meeting with community and religious leaders. Eventually they persuaded a well-respected Catholic bishop to join the campaign, along with Aldermans, priests, and leaders of local unions.
With all this support, they staged a march on the day of their vote. Thousands filled City Hall. Overwhelmed by the show of support, the council voted for the ban unanimously — nobody wanted to be left out.
Swarthmore has one of the earliest student divestment campaigns. They started with the common tactics: meeting with the administrators (nothing) and meeting with board members (nothing). The college refused to divest.
They decided to try new actions to build awareness, like getting a petition signed by the majority of the college campus! They dropped banners across campus. They even organized a walk-out where students and faculty walked out of class and went to an all-college teach-in about divestment.
They kept escalating and building awareness, eventually getting the faculty to call for divestment from all fossil fuels.
In the end, they never won on divestment. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t win. Their campaign encouraged other students to run divestment campaigns — and at each step they persuaded and educated new people about the problems with the fossil fuel industry. They got faculty, students, and hundreds of people understanding that the fossil fuel industry is wrecking our climate and our planet.
In that way, their “loss” was more important than if they had quickly, but silently, won without having to convince as many people!
When you’ve engaged people, got them to meetings and built up momentum, you can think a little bigger.
Fossil Free Berlin had been campaigning for some time when they finally got the finance senator to agree to look into divestment. But they waited months and got nowhere.
Luckily a contact from the Green party told them that divestment had made it into a 300 page report for a political committee looking at working on new green energy for Berlin. It was only a small mention, but this gave them the opportunity they needed. The report was being presented at a meeting which the group attended. When divestment was mentioned, they all stood up and applauded, cheering, wearing their divestment t-shirts, and with more t-shirts which they gave out to councillors. It was a very positive confrontation which really helped them get over their hump, get their target’s attention and take things forwards.
The group went on to use the end of an elected term to ramp up pressure. They used tactics like printing out their petition onto huge bank notes, conducting a social media campaign, making connections with local NGOs and talking directly to the politicians themselves. And they won! The group is still going strong, moving onto other divestment targets in the city. They make sure to make time to eat and socialise together to keep their group strong and their spirits up.
Make space for rejuvenation when you’re engaged in escalation
It is wise to take a step back if we are feeling exhausted, rest and come back when we feel rejuvenated. You can find some excellent guidance on how to stay active for the long haul at http://www.findingsteadyground.com/.
Only move into this space if you’ve had some training in non-violent direct action, you’ve planned well and thought through the risks, and you feel comfortable going ahead.
The risks are high but the benefits are also great – at their best, confrontational actions can shift power and lead to big wins.
The objective of direct action to confront your target is to disrupt things as much as possible. You’re aiming to make your protest impossible to ignore.
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Universities have been a major thrust of the divestment movement. But groups may find that even after doing all of the above, it is not enough to move their institutions. Then we turn to direct action.
Take the University of Edinburgh. Students had presented a survey showing the vast majority of students supported divestment, and organised on campus with pickets, marches, rallies, banner-drops, and die-ins. But the university steadfastly refused their demands.
The university gave the typical response: they need more time, they’d rather engage with the companies, and that it’s not financially viable.
If they had jumped into confrontational tactics right away, they may have lost the support of their base and media. But they had exhausted all the traditional institutions (formal meetings, student council, etc) — and so the students decided it was time to escalate: They occupied the university’s management offices — and held stayed for 10-days.
It doesn’t always happen this way — often pressure needs to be maintained. But immediately after the sit-in, the university changed its mind. Three years after their campaign started, they won!
1. What is the action? How confrontational is it?
2. Why are you doing this? Be clear about your target, audience, and how this fits with your strategy. How will it help build power and momentum, bringing more people into your next action?
3. Where and when are you holding the action? Where will you meet on the day?
4. What resources do you need? Who is responsible for sorting these?
5. What are the safety and legal implications of this action. Assess the risks and decide how to deal with them. Do you need someone to liaise with police / security? Or a legal observer?
6. How will you document the event? Who will take pictures?
7. What media are you inviting? What’s your key message? Is there a social media plan?
8. How will you engage the public, passers by, or staff of any building you’re picketing? Would a leaflet be useful to explain what you’re doing?
9. What could go wrong? Do you have a contingency plan?
10. How will you debrief afterwards?