How to innovate new protest tactics
After four years of disruptive climate protests, Extinction Rebellion recently announced, in a press release provocatively entitled “We Quit,” that the movement will no longer be engaging in these direct action tactics.
“As we ring in the new year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic,” the movement writes. “We recognise and celebrate the power of disruption to raise the alarm and believe that constantly evolving tactics is a necessary approach.”
Extinction Rebellion’s announcement mirrors the conclusion I came to four years after Occupy Wall Street: movements must constantly evolve their tactics. Repeating the original tactics that gave birth to a movement will not work in the long term. Activists must either innovate or become irrelevant.
Seeing the necessity of tactical innovation is a step in the right direction. However, tactical innovation is still a hard problem. It is much easier to repeat tactics that don’t work than it is to invent tactics that do.
In The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, I proposed a unified theory of revolution. My intention was to expand the theories of change available to activists in the hopes that it would assist the creation of new forms of protest. Today I would like to put forward an evolved version of the unified theory of revolution that is more useful for protest innovators.
First, a brief recap of the unified theory of revolution:
All of activism is a mixture of four theories of change:
- Voluntarism: human action creates change
- Structuralism: the primary driver of change are structural forces such as economics, food prices, pandemics, etc
- Subjectivism: change people’s minds to change reality
- Theurgism: change is a mystical or divine or otherworldly process
These four theories can be combined in various proportions. For example, advocates of direct action lean heavily on voluntarism with minimal reliance on structuralism.