What tools for social and political change exist?
August 11, 2008 9:08 PM   Subscribe

What tools for social and political change, beyond litigation, protest, and legislation exist?

I'm trying to think of positive routes to social and political change that should give people hope that we can overcome money, bias, and stupidity with truth and sanity. I'm trying to come up with a fairly comprehensive list of change strategies. Things that quickly come to mind are voting, boycotting, direct action, letters to the editor, as well as litigation, protest, and legislation. What am I missing?
posted by wonderfullyrich to Law & Government (34 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Letters / phone calls to your representative. This has worked wonders for us (admittedly at a local level).
posted by blue_wardrobe at 9:14 PM on August 11, 2008

WWJHD (What Would Joe Hill Do)? Organise.
That's the form of political action that has to come before anything else.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:17 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Class Goat at 9:17 PM on August 11, 2008

Third party political organizing. Revolution. Terrorism. Bribery. Moral suasion. Public shaming. Writing a book. Publishing a newspaper. "Social marketing" via popular culture.
posted by Forktine at 9:20 PM on August 11, 2008

Jury Nullification
posted by cowbellemoo at 9:23 PM on August 11, 2008

Running for, and staying in, public office.

Most of the time all you need is tenacity, a message, and donations.
posted by hellojed at 9:24 PM on August 11, 2008

I honestly am sort of becoming less optimistic about the ability of government to respond effectively to the people. Litigation, protest, boycotting -- these all suggest an interface with a central controlling authority that will react based on what we do. I'm not convinced that's the way to go. I think the way we're going to create real changes is by presenting alternatives to the system. Not living entirely outside of it, but by finding alternative channels...working on a more local scale, interacting with similar smaller channels in other cities and towns.

I was actually going to post an AskMe at some point to find out how to get more involved with buying locally from small businesses, rather than buying from a big box or chain store...
posted by Deathalicious at 9:30 PM on August 11, 2008

For a really direct approach revolution, civil war or coup can cause very dramatic change.

Here in New Zealand we have referendums. To call a referendum you need a petition with a certain number of legit signatures (not sure how many, it's reasonably substantial) asking for a specific question to be put to vote. Once that has been achieved the government has to arrange for a national vote on the question, one that every eligible voter can participate in. Coupling it to a national election is a good way to get lots of votes but I've also voted in a stand-alone referendum at least once. Where it falls down is that the government only has to consider the results, they aren't binding. But given how terribly worded some of the questions are this isn't always a bad thing. They can bring very real change though, our entire voting system was changed by referendum and our governments are now elected via MMP (a form of proportional representation).
posted by shelleycat at 9:35 PM on August 11, 2008

posted by iamkimiam at 9:56 PM on August 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Privatization, deregulation, and tax reduction -- each of which transfers power into the hands of those who have the most powerful incentive of all to make unbiased and intelligent decisions: ownership.
posted by MattD at 9:57 PM on August 11, 2008

Argument. But I like hunger strikes too.

Privatization, deregulation, and tax reduction -- each of which transfers power into the hands of those who have the most powerful incentive of all to make unbiased and intelligent decisions: ownership.

Self-interested decisions are rarely defined as unbiased or intelligent in light of anyone else's interests.
posted by Brian B. at 10:18 PM on August 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Are we talking strategies for political outreach - direct change on specific projects - or ways to live with oneself? I'm starting to believe more, of late, in the simple value of voicing discontent, whether or not it's linked to more concrete forms of action. Or rather, voicing discontent as the most important first step.

Positive ways to accomplish this: Local protests? Community action projects? Opinion columns? Local action, with the intention of massing opposition in a public and visible forum - and with the aim of building support communities that can function as an alternative to centralized power structures. Less than positive ways to accomplish this: Amicable vandalism, political abstention

I'm pretty much with Deathilicious on this-- institutional support can't hold a candle to personal responsibility and localized political action.
posted by puckish at 10:52 PM on August 11, 2008

You know, something like this:
posted by puckish at 10:58 PM on August 11, 2008

I'm not sure if this helps much but when litigation, protests and legislation fail to accomplish something a regulatory body or crown corporation can put in a new law without consulting anybody else. For example, here in BC the Workers Compensation Board declared any workplace where people smoked regularly to be unsafe and ruled that any buisness must ensure that their employees work in a smoke-free environment. This effectively outlawed smoking in any public establishment without consulting the courts or the legislature. It is through this proccess that things like traffic or health and safety laws are created.
posted by Pseudology at 11:31 PM on August 11, 2008

Seconding education. Including people just talking to each other - educating each other. I wish we did more of this, but we're too worried about interpersonal conflict.

Trying to bring about change through _government_ won't work, or won't work well, if there are masses of people who don't understand or agree with the change. Or if the people bringing about the change don't understand the needs of others.

Lack of understanding / lack of education also leads people to fear change.

The best politicians in effect articulate the consensus of those whom they are leading. That means that those whom they are leading have to have a consensus in order for truly good leaders to emerge.
posted by amtho at 11:33 PM on August 11, 2008

Organizing: see here for useful tips.
posted by paultopia at 12:14 AM on August 12, 2008

Self help, mutual aid and the creation of alternatives. All those things that aim to tackle a problem directly rather that bringing about a change in political direction, or relying on the decisions of politicians and/or other people.

After 25 years of political activism it is all these things — community cafes, housing co-ops, bike repair workshops, squatting, catering collectives, social centres — that I can look back at and say, unambiguously, yeah that made a difference, that changed peoples lives for the better.
posted by tallus at 3:09 AM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Organizing. Voting and consumer activism do incredibly little, in my humble opinion. We basically have structural issues that are the problem and our only hopes are organizing enough people to contest the terms and nuances of the structure until we built a critical mass that can sweep a newer better system into place before the powers that be regress us into slavery. A mouthful, I know.
So unions (like SEIU), community groups (you probably have a few in driving distance), single issue groups (like EFF or NARAL or NORML), and revolutionary organizations (freedom road or the ISO) are the ones you want to look towards and their tools are generally dedicated around a few areas: forcing or arguing for the opposing side to give into their demands and trying to raise consciousness of more and more people to join the fray.
Tools for the first side include strikes, pickets, lawsuits, boycotts, public embarrassment, coalition building, demonstrations, and the like; the second is about speaking tours, books, pamphlets, documentary, teach-ins, letters to the editor, posters, sermons, leaflets newspapers, and a less organized, more informal thing that happens when people get together who are concerned about the world and trying to figure it out collectively.
This is just a small list, and we don't have it all figured out, but it'll give you an idea. Good luck, we need all the help we can get.
posted by history is a weapon at 3:26 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Become a billionaire, then either (1) directly fund the changes you want to see (e.g. Bill Gates wants medical research, so he buys it); (2) buy media/news companies and use editorial control to popularise your views (e.g. Rupert Murdoch); (3) Directly bribe politicians to pass legislation you favour; (4) Fund an equivalent of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"; (5) Purchase companies and use your control to implement changes in their actions.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2008

Use culture, common ground that people have access to and can relate to (i.e. music, art, theatre) that has a message or style. And if that artist leads a non-hypocritical life, too, then modeling after both product and producer could be effective.
posted by cachondeo45 at 4:36 AM on August 12, 2008

Personally I think the note about "positive change" should have been put in the header because I saw the question and clicked through with thoughts of revolution and rioting in the streets.

For positive change the trick would be to get the media on ones side. A few key reporters in big publications taking ones side would create a trickle down effect as the media tries to mimic each other, thus ensuring that an interesting story will get more publicity. And if you massage your message a little, you can probably score even more airtime.

Happy positive-revolutioning!
posted by thebreaks at 5:39 AM on August 12, 2008

Social/interpersonal pressure? Metafilter's moderated formally but also informally--there's a certain amount of 'we don't put up with that kind of crap here.' I came here after giving up on Reddit, which is not moderated either implicitly or explicitly. So there's a cultural reinforcement of the notion that certain attitudes and behaviors are unacceptable here, which may lead to changes in behavior with how Metafilter readers conduct themselves elsewhere on the net--or at least, leads to public discussion or private contemplation about how people in general conduct themselves online. At the very least, it modifies how people conduct themselves here, as they seek to conform to the culture.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2008

leading by example?
posted by scruss at 6:31 AM on August 12, 2008

Join a political party and work like a dog for it. Befriend its mucketymucks. This works like a fucking charm, I shit you not.
posted by By The Grace of God at 6:34 AM on August 12, 2008

Some tips:

1. What you may think is bias and stupidity, others may think is truth and sanity (and vice versa).

2. What you call activism, others call petulance.

3. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. (You catch even more with bullshit.)
posted by GarageWine at 7:02 AM on August 12, 2008

Propaganda, propaganda, propaganda.
posted by Damn That Television at 8:36 AM on August 12, 2008

The Jose Saramago novel Seeing explores this question through the lens of abstention: what happens when 85% of the population leaves their ballots blank?
posted by mdonley at 8:40 AM on August 12, 2008

Get involved in local government. Go to your city council and county board of supervisors. Change is easiest at the local government level. Take climate change. Long before California adopted AB32 (the global warming solutions act), cities and counties around the US were creating climate action plans.

I'm a big fan of the answer "create alternatives." However, it's so much the better if you're working for the city public works department while you're doing this! (You're budget is much bigger, for one thing.)
posted by salvia at 9:40 AM on August 12, 2008

Wow, what a great collection of inspiring responses. Much has been covered but I'll throw Shareholder Activism into the mix. In a world where many businesses have more money and power than small countries, it's a useful tool to say the least.
posted by vodkaboots at 9:50 AM on August 12, 2008

Try these 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action, compiled by nonviolent action scholar Gene Sharp.
posted by catquas at 11:06 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not an organizer, but as a Berkeley-ite, it's sort of a local industry and I've brushed against it quite a bit. I suggest propaganda and education be positive- make it fun!

Also, starting off with the premise that people who don't agree with you are mentally sub-par is often counter-productive. Make your message interesting, relevant, and generally palatable to someone besides the choir. This will likely require talking to people outside your social circle so that you understand how They think and what Their motivations and priorities are.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:26 AM on August 12, 2008

My personal preference, however, is toget inside the machine. Vote your shares. Write letters to your representatives. If you can afford it, give money. If you can't, volunteer for them. Get into public office. Join the PTA. Yes, it's full of fundamentalists- why else do you think creationism hasn't been laughed out of town? Take a page out of the fundamentalists' book- hunker down and get involved with the boring, bureaucratic running of our public organizations.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:30 AM on August 12, 2008

In the mid 1950s, a man named Robert F. Williams returned to his hometown of Monroe, North Carolina after serving in the army and fighting in the Korean war. When he got there, he took over the local NAACP chapter, and almost overnight turned it from a non-confrontational, sleepy chapter, into an active and confrontational one, staffing it mostly with young working class Blacks.

The local KKK got wind of Williams' activities and started doing raids and drive-by's on Williams' house, on the chapter house, on other member's of the chapter's houses.

In response, Williams asked for protection for the community against the KKK from the local police department, from the mayor, from the governor of the state and was turned away at all levels, because "the KKK have the right to organize."

So Williams went to the NRA. He asked them for a charter and they gave him one and along with the vice-president of the NAACP chapter, Williams stockpiled rifles.

Whenever the KKK would try to do a drive-by shooting, they would be met by a barrage of bullets.

Then, something unexpected happened. The KKK were BANNED from Monroe, North Carolina.

The idea is that armed-resistance is not meant to directly resist authority. At the time, everything Williams was doing was completely legal. Rather, by putting White people's lives at risk, Williams and the Black community in Monroe forced the local government to give them equal protection. Armed resistance put White power structures on the spot. In effect saying "If you the government don't protect us (which is the primary function of the government), we will protect ourselves and the people who you actually give a shit about protecting will have their lives put at risk."

This was 50 or so years ago, but this idea is still influential. Williams directly influenced the founders of the Black Panther Party. And racial oppression still exists today in forms that are structural, legal and invisible. One way of protesting injustice, is to force the powers-that-be to justify and defend their position, and one way to do that is/was by armed resistance.
posted by AceRock at 6:46 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not that I'm saying you should go and do that kind of thing
posted by AceRock at 6:52 AM on August 13, 2008

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