Creating Powerful Actions with Strong “Action Logic”

There are many aspects to carrying out a good action. They may be fun and creative, or well-planned, or poorly executed. They could have lots of people or few. Many groups spend the bulk of their time on these elements of actions, and they are important. Yet perhaps the most key area of action-planning is the action itself, what it is, what it stands for—action logic.

Action logic is the degree your action makes sense logically from the standpoint of someone not in your group. It should have a logic –– this thing happened, therefore we will do this thing.

Action logic has clear reasoning

Action logic means that someone who doesn’t know anything about the issue can quickly understand why the action is done. It doesn’t require a lot of background knowledge and it doesn’t even require people to immediately agree with you—in fact, what makes action logic so powerful is that it creates the most persuasive action.

Action logic flows from the details of the situation in powerful symbolic actions.

Take some famous actions from past movements:

Britain held a monopoly on India’s salt, keeping its production and distribution under strict control and taxing it heavily. In response, Gandhi led a 24-day, 240-mile march to the seashore, where he made salt in defiance of British law.

During the epic march he met with local officials and urged them to get involved with the campaign. He used those 24 days to their fullest to bring new groups of people into the campaign. All the while, he and his team wondered if he would be arrested before even reaching the shore.

He reached the shore and made salt. That action kicked off a massive national civil disobedience campaign during which thousands of Indians made their own salt, all with a goal of forcing the British to surrender its unjust monopoly.

The Free Trade Area of Americas was negotiating a massive “free trade” agreement across all the Americas in secret. Even Canada’s Members of Parliament were unable to obtain copies of drafts of the treaty, which were expected to limit environmental and labour regulations.

In response, a group of Canadian activists decided to challenge this. They could have done a march or rally, but instead they chose something far more bold: they openly and publicly announced their intention to release the texts through a “nonviolent search and seizure.” Their plan? To go to government offices and “liberate” the documents for the people to see!

They carried out the tactic—literally crossing barricades to attempt the nonviolent search and seizure. And the tactic did what tactics with strong action logic do—they moved bystanders to take a stand, and, with the help of effective organising, they were able to force the Canadian government to release the texts just two weeks later.

In Kenya, Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai was looking for ways to support and empower women. Unfortunately, patriarchy allowed few ways for economic self-sufficiency. Even staying out late was culturally taboo. In response, Wangari began her famous Green Belt Movement which started with a simple tactic: women getting together and planting trees. Trees meant life, connected women with each other, and became part of a programme of economic development.

Women who planted trees realized their own power. They would begin to resist their husband’s or father’s patriarchy. The women would connect, talk about other issues, and then other social programs. Bigger demands about environmental and human rights emerged. This eventually led to actions like the Freedom Corner March, where women protested their imprisoned sons for 11 months and demanded multi-party elections.

Note the logic behind each action. The action challenges the specific injustice.

Not allowed to make salt? So we do. Not allowed to get documents? We go take them ourselves. Not given freedom to create your own future? Take a step toward that, one tree at a time.

That is very different from the world of protesting, which merely speaks out against an injustice with a rally, a march, or a petition-drive. Imagine the British government not allowing you to make salt. So you… hold a rally demanding they change their policy? They would wait until the heat of the action is over and continue their policy happily.

The clearest action logic places the power holders in a double-bind – what some call dilemma demonstrations. Take the free trade agreement example. The public ended up siding with the activists because their request resonated with the widely-shared value of transparency. The Canadian Prime Minister was therefore in a tough spot. He was in trouble if he made the documents public, but because of the pressure from people trying to search government offices, he was also in worse trouble if he didn’t. The actions place the power holders in a dilemma.

Take a chunk of your vision: implement it now

So how does one create good action logic? Action logic starts with a piece of your vision. Then figure out how you can act it out in a way that puts your target on the defensive. Act as if the vision is in place now. It might be illegal, like making salt or seizing documents, or it might just be outside the system. The point is that it is implementing a piece of your vision today.

As a recent example from 350’s work: Pacific Warriors took a bold action, which had clear logic. In October 2014 they faced down the fossil fuel industry which was directly threatening their homes, creating climate change that threatened to put islands underwater. Their target: the largest coal exporter in the world, Newcastle in Australia.

Using hand carved canoes, the Warriors, along with dozens of Australians in kayaks, headed into the harbor. With these canoes, they prevented 10 scheduled ships from passing through the Newcastle coal port. (Read more about Paddle Power: the Theory and Tactics of Kayaktivism.)

The Warriors stood tall and their message was heard loud and clear: they are not drowning, they are fighting. And they didn’t just do it with their words—but with their action. Now that’s action logic!

Now go design your actions with more logic!