I think protest movements don’t find, create or acquire enough leverage to use on the people who have the power to make change. So, how do we do that?
I watch a lot of Kilgore Trout TV. That’s TV I named after a SF writer character in Kurt Vonnegut’s books. He had great ideas but his books were poorly written.I also watch The Wire TV. Smart people nod and forgive you for watching The Wire TV shows. But Kilgore Trout TV brings up the more interesting ideas.
Most Americas won’t see the third episode of Sherlock season three for a few weeks. I won’t spoil it, but when it comes to PBS remember the questions I raise today. The show suggested to me questions for strategists and actions for activists.
In Leverage our heroes are a former insurance fraud investigator with a drinking problem, a con artist, a hacker, a thief and “the hitter.” Each week they help someone who has been ripped off by the rich and powerful. (They entire season could be going after banks for mortgage fraud, but that would be boring.)
The team obtains leverage by stealing, hacking or conning their target. They regularly break the law and often some jaws in the process. Powerful people do the same things, but because of their power they aren’t subject to the law anymore, or their actions are technically legal.
In the season three, episode three of Sherlock there is a character who knows how to use leverage on powerful people. He calls the information/dirt on them “pressure points.” Because of his knowledge of influential people’s pressure points he gets more power and money. Sherlock has to figure out how to defeat him. The relationship to Rupert Murdoch is clear (Read Martin Hickman’s Dial M for Murdoch to show just how clear).
What Are Their Pressure Points?
Activists need multiple strategies and tactics for success. One strategy is figuring out what can be used for leverage. I often ask myself, “‘What can I use for leverage? On whom should I use it? What are the barriers to acquiring and using leverage? Who will be my allies in the process?”
One of my strategies against right-wing media companies was to interrupt their funding. Exposing them in the media is another. Legal challenges are also swell. I have friends in organizing, communications, PR, activism, journalism, law and finance. Each one could find, create or use leverage.
One of the most successful groups are my friends over at the Center for Media and Democracy. Their ALEC Exposed work showed corporate sponsors ALEC’s NRA ties and its role in Kill At Will Laws getting passed. They used the Trayvon Martin death coverage as leverage against ALEC. That lead to over 60 corporate sponsors leaving ALEC. Listen to ED Lisa Graves talk about going after think tanks on the Nicole Sandler show. They call them stink tanks, I call belief tanks.
Leverage can be used in many ways, right now I’m thinking about the Trans Pacific Partnership scheme. Others have been educating folks on TPP, but after education we need to fight. A friend said, “I’ve signed all the petitions and called my rep, what else can I do?” I don’t want you to break the law or be violent, but I looked at the the underpinnings of Leverage and Sherlock and asked a few questions. The answers might lead to ways to find or create leverage to use in the fight.
Let’s You and Him Fight
- Which powerful groups, corporations, billionaires can we turn on each other?
- If the deal succeeds, who will be its biggest enemy? Is this different than before?
- Who wins if this deal fails? What are they doing now to help ensure it fails? How can we help them?
“Illegal is a Sick Bird” – Bill, RWNJ
- What laws are the negotiators breaking now? Of course they are breaking some laws! Just look at history to see what they usually break. The bigger issue is, who do we tell about this law breaking? Who cares?
- What are the players doing to ensure they win?
How much of it is legal, how much is PR, how much is lobbying, how much is hidden leverage? What might they be doing legally or illegally?
- What PR, lobbying and back room talk is happening that can be exposed or subverted? Again, look at previous actions to suggest current hidden actions.
- What can be found in the open that would reveal they are using the same old tricks? Did they fix the law this time so that the tricks are now legal or do they assume that nobody would look for these same techniques?
(Example: the CMD reporters went to ALEC conferences held at public hotels with elected official in meetings that shouldn’t have been secret. They also challenged ALECs IRS status and their claim they weren’t lobbying. ALEC had to change.)
Whose Ox Is Getting Gored?
- If people are hurt, how long will it take to hurt them?
Americans need an event or tragedy to act. We have a hard time dealing with future tragedies like Climate Change.
- Do these hurt people “count?”
I’ve said before that when kids are killed things change. Now after, Sandy Hook, I think people who are hurt AND who “count” will lead to change. Bernie Madoff ripped off the rich and went to jail. Ripping off the poor gets you a bonus.
- Do people know they will be hurt? Can they protect themselves?
- How bad will the damage have to be so they can use it?
- Do the people who will be hurt have any leverage now? Will they have leverage in the future?
Leverage in the future isn’t as good as leverage now, unless you demonstrate definitely this leverage will exist.
What’s in it for the Heroes?
- What will the heroes of this story need to do to prevent this pain to others?
- Are they willing to go to jail? Be sued? Physically threatened?
- Are they willing to put others in jail? Sue others? Physically threaten others?
Now I don’t have the answers to all of these questions, but one thing I do know. The people who are trying to implement the TPP have thought through their side of this.
Creative Commons image by Steve Rhodes