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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Everything by Ezra: Strategic Campaigning


This is the third in a series of writings about effective activism, as part of Everything, by Ezra. Keep your eye out next month for the coming edition.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, the point of activism is to make change. If we’re not making change as effectively as we possibly can, we’re not doing activism right. A big part of effective activism is the tactics we use: pressure, outreach, protests, media, all things I wrote about in the previous two issues of Everything, by Ezra.

You can have all the energy and all the tactics in the world, but if they’re not well-directed, they’re not going to be effective. And sometimes you can get a lot done without very much work, just by choosing really strategic campaigns. It’s important to consider the ins and outs of a campaign before diving in so that you can ensure your activism is going to be as effective as it can possibly be.

The first, and perhaps most important part of strategic campaigning is research. You need to know what you’re getting into. That doesn’t just mean looking up the company you’re protesting to find their address and phone number. That means finding everything about them.

For example, if you’re protesting a company that sells fur, you want to confirm that they sell real fur. Once you confirm that they do, you want to look into the company’s stakeholders. Who’s the owner? The CEO? Does the owner own other stores? Do the other stores they own sell fur? How many locations does the store have? Is it a chain? It’s not impossible to run a successful campaign against a larger chain or a conglomerate, but it is more work.

By the same logic, it’s important to consider what your ask is, and what that means to the company you’re protesting. Yes, I would like to see Chevron completely divest from fossil fuels, but Chevron is a fossil fuel company. That’s what they do. They’re not going to drop fossil fuels. It’s valid to want to protest Chevron, but protesting them is not going to be effective. Chevron would not be an easy target to take on without a plausible and profitable alternative.

That doesn’t mean you can’t target Chevron. If you did your research well, you could find Chevron’s business partners. How do they function as a company? Who do they buy products from? Who do they sell to? Target the companies they do business with. Put pressure on Chevron’s partners to put pressure on Chevron. It’s a tried and true tactic called secondary targeting.

Chevron is sort of the ultimate example. It’s a $250 billion company, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The push to get Chevron to divest from fossil fuels is the kind of campaign that will be chipped away at slowly by many people over many years. But we can scale down the same idea to any other campaign.

For example, I was recently part of a campaign to get a restaurant in Cambridge to stop selling foie gras, a French dish that is a product of extreme cruelty towards ducks and geese. After six days of pressure, the restaurant permanently removed foie gras from its menu. The ultimate target of the campaign was not so much the restaurant we were protesting, but the supplier; the one who tortured and force-fed the ducks and geese. Realistically, we can’t ask the foie-gras farm to stop producing foie gras, but can demand that restaurants stop selling foie gras until the farm doesn’t have anyone to sell to and is forced to shut down. The restaurant is a secondary target. The primary target is the foie gras farm.

Even in a campaign against a specific restaurant, you can engage in secondary targeting. You can protest other restaurants owned by the same chef or the restaurant’s other business partners.

Another really important aspect of campaigning strategically is avoiding knee-jerk reactions. It’s really easy to get upset with the first person or the first company you see doing something messed up. But knee-jerk reactions just lead to unplanned, poorly directed anger. I find it to be incredibly helpful to take a few days or weeks to collect myself and plan before diving into a campaign.

The last really important aspect of strategic campaigning I would mention is focused consistency. For a campaign to be effective, you can only have one going on at a time. When you start to have more than that, you start to spread yourself too thin. This isn’t so much about you burning out as an activist, although that is important to avoid. It’s about maximizing your efforts by bothering your target as much as possible.

If you have two campaigns going on at the same time and you’re protesting each one every other weekend, you’re bothering each one half as much as you can. When they’re less bothered by you, they’re less likely to change. Protesting is about annoying stakeholders so much that they’re willing to do what you’re asking to get you to leave them alone. Make them as bothered by you as you can!

Making change isn’t easy. If we want to make the most change we can, we can’t just do it on a whim. We need to plan and campaign strategically.

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    Joslin MurphyApr 29, 2024 at 8:35 pm

    Bravo – well done, Ezra!