This is a re-post from our June Newsletter.

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This article is by Lynne Dempsey, who is a member of our discussion list, and it’s a response to our announcement in the May newsletter that we are beginning preparations for nonviolent direct action as part of the anti-lignite-mining campaign. In this article, Lynne looks at one of the aspects that’s needed to make an NVDA campaign successful.

If we are to seriously engage in a nonviolent campaign to pressure the government to abandon its plans to further expand coal mining, particularly the plans for processing and exporting lignite, then we will be in for a long hard struggle. We have the moral high ground and the science on our side. As a democratically elected government, they have the majority of people on their side – what is regarded as ‘a mandate’. It will not be a pushover.

This is where the insights of Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institution, distilled from 40 years of research, experience and analysis of resistance movements, would be invaluable. Much of his work is concerned with opposition to oppressive regimes, but the key principles are applicable to campaigns within democracies. Gene Sharp stresses repeatedly that without good strategic planning most resistance struggles will fail to achieve their objective. Here is what he says about the role of strategy in non-violent action:

Historically, nonviolent action has often been an improvised type of action—sometimes even a spontaneous occurrence—with little or no advanced strategic planning to guide it. However, just as strategic planning is used in military conflicts and other types of activities, strategic planning can also be used in nonviolent action to increase its effectiveness. Strategic planning involves choosing clear objectives, devising a grand strategy (or master plan), more limited strategies for specific objectives that fit within the grand strategy, tactical (or short-term) planning, and the choice of specific methods to achieve tactical and strategic objectives.

As campaigners we will need to consider our own strength and that of the opposition before planning the tactics and methods to be used. Gene Sharp lists 198 possible methods – categorised as eg formal statements, symbolic public acts, drama and music, processions, social noncooperation, strikes, social, psychological and political intervention and so on. We need to come to grips with why people submit to rulers – even when it is against their own interests. Sharp identifies, for example, habit, self-interest, moral obligation to the state, psychological identification with rulers, indifference, lack of self-confidence. This awareness is crucial because the insight on which strategies for non-violence are based is that “a ruler cannot rule if the people do not obey” or in our situation, consent. Winning over the people is critical for the success of any campaign.

We need to identify the primary pillars of support for society – and which ones can be won over to support our objectives – civil servants, media, youth, workers, religious institutions, the business community, NGOs, clubs and social interest groups eg the Ahi Ka Action group (Ngati Porou and Te Whanau a Apanui) is directing a strongly worded brochure about deep sea drilling to hunters, fishermen, campers and divers concerned about oil spills on the East Coast.

Most of the Albert Einstein Institution’s publications can be downloaded from their website at A good introduction to Gene Sharp’s approach can be found in “There Are Realistic Alternatives”. Speed read through to chapter two if you are short of time. Read this along with the WWF Strategies for Change, or, as this is quite long, read Jeanette’s article based on the report, in Issue 60 of EnergyWatch (available from There is mounting evidence that facts play only a partial role in shaping people’s judgement. Emotion is often far more important. Awareness of this will influence how we ‘frame’ our communication strategies.

Finally, take a look at Rebecca Priestley in the June 25 Listener (Why is it taking us so long to do something serious about carbon emissions). She quotes Victoria University’s Martin Manning and environmental psychologist Taciano Milfont saying that NZ is waiting to see what other countries do – a ‘wait and see’ attitude by individuals and government – also “we don’t want to be different, we don’t want to go against the norm and if the norm is that everyone is waiting and seeing we want to wait and see too”. To turn this around, they say, we need to tell people that others are already acting eg governments in Europe are introducing really strong carbon reduction policies.

– Lynne Dempsey