System Change – Not Climate Change

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, yet instead of urgent and massive efforts to change course before its too late, society is paralyzed — by fear, dread, sadness, infighting and fossil fuel-funded disinformation campaigns. .

We can’t save the world by continuing to play by the system’s rules. The rules must be changed. Everything needs to change. And it has to start today, but how? It is time to rebel.

Civil disobedience, blockades, strikes, building occupations, pipeline lockdowns, mass bike rides during rush hour, marches, street theater, riots, railroad barricades — and any number of other direct actions can be effective tactics to increase the costs of inaction and promote change. Preventing business as usual conveys the message that the operation of the machine has become so odious that unless it stops, the wheels will be prevented from working at all.

Not all actions or protests are the same in risk, the time and energy they require and their size and scope — nor should they be. Each situation calls for different strategies and tactics designed around political and social understandings of what will be the most helpful at a particular time. Here’s some very general tips that apply to a variety of different direct action and protest contexts — far from exhaustive or comprehensive but one has to start somewhere….

Pulling off effective, inspiring actions — either non-violent arrestable actions, legal protests or militant resistance — can be personally transformative experiences, not just for the change we’re trying to make in the world, but also for the change within ourselves. We will never be spectators again.

Affinity Groups

Affinity groups (AGs) are small direct action cells (4-8 people) who share attitudes about tactics and who organize themselves for effectiveness and protection during protests or civil disobedience actions.

The most effective affinity groups are composed of people with pre-existing relationships who know and trust each other.
In a chaotic protest or action situation, affinity groups enable decision making (as opposed to just reacting to the police) while watching each other’s backs. Affinity groups with experience and a vision within a bigger crowd can take the initiative and start something when the crowd is standing around wondering what to do next.
Some AGs use a code word which any member can yell if they have an idea for what to do next, so people can huddle and make a quick proposal the group can agree to or discuss alternatives.
AGs have divisions of labor in which some members stay away from the action to support members who might be arrested.
An AG can send scouts on a bike to check action opportunities.
Sometime different AGs cooperate before or during an action using an spokes council (meeting for making decisions involving large numbers of people more quickly, in which each AG is representedby a single member, often the rest of the group sitting behind their speaker to tell them about their views)

Action Aspects

•Recruit local people from diverse backgrounds. It can also help to have some local celebrities & upstanding community members as spokespersons.

•Safety first: know your limits! Discuss everyone’s limits before the action. Designate a police liaison and discuss each person’s capacity to risk arrest. Do parents have support with childcare? Do some people have disabilities, immigration issues, or other vulnerabilities?

•Checking in with each other during the action will keep the group united. Don’t forget to take pee breaks, which will be a lot easier when someone can act as lookout while you duck down behind a dumpster

•Educate. Some people are still plugged in to the corporate media and don’t understand the issues at hand. Be ready to explain the basics, and have some fliers to pass out.

•Personal Stories. Share personal stories about how you’ve been affected by what you’re protesting.

•Bring a book for blockades or occupations when you’ll need to stay awhile or musical instruments, depending on the desired tone. (Refer to the book list.)

•In a protest or march context, there are alternatives to confronting police lines. The police want you to play by their rules, but like guerrilla fighters, it’s our job to figure out forms of struggle where we have an advantage. Creating beautiful expressions of the world we seek to build — music, art, gardens, public sex, bicycle swarms, etc. — avoids the system’s us vs. them paradigm.

•Document any abuses. Designate multiple folks with cameras to document the action itself, and be prepared to capture abusive behavior by cops or security.

•In more organized contexts, avoid breaking the law aside from strategic aspects of an action. Talk through various scenarios beforehand, including potential police response. Incorporate a diversity of tactics, with different AGs filling different roles. If someone wants to do drugs or booze up, they perhaps need to go someplace else.

•Get legal support. Be in touch with local organizations like the National Lawyers Guild or law firms that specialize in civil disobedience, and with veteran activists who’ve dealt with local law enforcement in your area. Educate yourself about possible outcomes.

•Send us your stories of successful actions! We may run them in the Slingshot newspaper. All submissions to

Some resources:

•Earth First!’s Direct Action Manual published on has extensive detailed information about lockdowns, tree occupations, etc.

• The Ruckus Action Strategy Guide has some good tips:

•Some relevant titles: Requiem for a species by Clive Hamilton, Being the Change: Live well and spark a climate revolution by Peter Kalmus, DEBT: the first 5000 years by David Greaber and Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin.