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Strategies and Tactics

One who is constantly involved in grassroots political activity, as I have for nearly 50 years, might begin to wonder if there are any guidelines to good tactics. In other words, how does one figure out what to do next? Knowing what to do next is a critical part of the very definition of leadership.

Strategies have to do with broad goals, while tactics are subordinate, shorter term activities within an overall strategy. An example: one may strategize to increase one’s wages and benefits in a certain workplace, and one may use a strike or a slowdown as tactics.

For many years, I wondered why certain activists would always insist on using the same tactic, no matter what goal they hoped for. This was especially true for people who were devoted to getting arrested as a tactic. No matter what kind of action we did, a picket, a rally, or even a delegation to talk to a boss, certain activists try to get themselves or somebody else arrested. Sometimes, getting arrested makes the newspapers, which is very gratifying to the arrestees. Other times, they just waste an organization’s resources on fines and bail money. Either way, some people insist that getting arrested is the “ultimate” goal of any political movement. Isn’t that weird?

Don't Adopt a Fetish

I later learned that this is called “fetischism” wherein one makes a fetisch of a tactic without any regard to its effectiveness within a strategy.

So, strategies and tactics have to be evaluated in terms of their effectiveness in a given situation. I would go so far as to generalize that all tactics are good, if they are applied in the right time, place, and situation. I guess I should add that the participants need to understand what they are doing and how it is expected to help their goal.

I’m not against getting arrested. I don’t think I’m against any political tactic I can think of, as long as it works better than the other tactics available. That’s more profound than it looks.

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