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Social Power Gets the Goods: Getting at the Root of Effective Action


"Direct action gets the goods"

The person who wrote this definitely could have meant "social power gets the goods". But they just as easily could have thought that the use of direct action, the tactic itself, is the essense of what makes an action effective. Those who think that direct action is what brings about victories are often confused, annoyed, or frustrated when it fails to do so. It is important to move beyond simplistic slogans like this, and especially dogma around everything from direct action and voting, to issues of state power and reform struggles. Without breaking through these simplistic concepts, we will be ill-equipped to maximize our chances of success and effectively analyze our failures and setbacks.

Most good organizers who use direct action as a tactic would agree that greater numbers and higher consciousness among participants will increase the likelihood of success. But unless a correct understanding of the nature of power is central to their "conceptual toolbox", they are less likely to convey the correct lessons to those they lead, or are more likely to convey them in a language which is misinterpreted by newer members. If the central slogan they use is "direct action gets the goods", and they have an implicit understanding that direct action works best with large numbers and with a high level of political unity, then they can be effective leaders. Unfortunately, their use of the term often gives newer members with an incoherent and/or poorly synthesized perspective on organizing, power, and action. Effective organizers would do well to say precisely what they mean: organizing that builds evermore social power is what "gets the goods", and direct action is often an extremely useful tactic in the context of an well-planned strategy. We should not elevate tactics to the level of strategy nor should we misattribute causal attributes (i.e. incorrectly attributing to the success of a campaign to direct action, compared to correctly attributing the success of a campaign to the organized social power of progressives who used direct action as part of an effective and well-planned strategy).

As more youth organizers correctly grasp the nature of power and strategy, our movement will flurish in ways previously unseen.

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