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Est. April 5, 2002
March 02, 2017 - Issue 688

Strategy and Tactics:
Get to know them in a political way
Part 2 of 7


"Over the past decade or so, I have watched
us running to protests from one city to the next.
We may get a cop fired here or there or
temporarily stop a pipeline.  Where’s our vision
for state repression? We don’t have a national
strategy on one of the most persistent
and rampant issues in the U.S."

Read all parts of this series

This is the second article of a 7-part series that will focus on the issues in our radical movements that I think need our immediate and ongoing attention. I am using the ancient eastern concept of chakras for the body as a parallel to our movements energy wheel. Healers believe sickness occurs when the bodys chakras are blocked or out of alignment. Likewise, the U.S. Left and our social justice movements need our collective introspection, analysis and adjustments that lead to unblocking our energy/chi points. A weakened Left, and especially the Black Left, have been unable to provide this critical guidance over the last twenty years. I do not have the space to go too deep into my thinking although I have been pondering and talking about this very subject for a few years now. I am looking to stimulate a higher level of principled discussion about how to energize and organize the social forces coming into play at this pivotal juncture in history and how we can rebuild a formidable radical movement in this country.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In recent years, movement strategy has become synonymous with tactics. We’ve sunk a lot of energy and resources into mobilizations that are devoid of strategy. A tactic of the trump administration and the organized right-wing is to hurl us into a dizzying spin, mobilizing against every reactionary commentary, policy, legislation that’s thrown at us. This tactic will effectively quickly lead to battle fatigue and demoralization - a victory for neo-liberalism. Sharpening our understanding of strategy will open this movement chakra. The chi will move us forward in a more precise and unified manner.

Over the past decade or so, I have watched us running to protests from one city to the next. We may get a cop fired here or there or temporarily stop a pipeline. Where’s our vision for state repression? We don’t have a national strategy on one of the most persistent and rampant issues in the U.S. Where’s our vision for the assault on the planet that gives us life? The corporatocracy is poisoning the air, the water and the land and making us pay for it. The price is high for being disorganized and unorganized.

I had the occasion to talk with Praxis Project founder Makani Themba after the trump coronation. Protests were spontaneously happening across the country in response to his electoral college victory. I told Makani that I was not going to waste one minute in protest to which she replied that it is important for people in other countries know we don’t support the new president. She tempered my frustrations with thoughtful objectivity and ultimately, we agreed that mobilizations must be connected to a strategy or minimally a set of demands to rally people around. There’s always value - and beauty - to convening people for agitation and solidarity. I feel strongly that the days of bringing thousands of people together with no plan beyond the mobe be brought to a screeching halt. Each mobe/protest must result in a tangible win.

Ours is a movement where historically people’s entry points on the battlefield are welcomed along with their range of skill sets and knowledge. This makes for both opportunities and challenges in managing the diversity of personalities and experiences around a set strategy. Because of our big tent, there is a need for continual clarification for common language, especially the difference between strategy and tactics. I’m sure there's probably some of you who would be glad to see any semblance of a plan coming out of a particular struggle at this point. We're in a period that demands that we be much more sophisticated. Our enemies just took the struggle up a notch.

Before I dive into strategy, there are a few elements to consider as we work towards our shared vision. I think core values like accountability, integrity, passion and compassion are important when we are struggling to develop the trust for a collaboration. Values define your beliefs and dictate your behaviors; the provide the lens for how you look at vision, mission, strategy and tactics.

To be as scientific as possible, getting to strategy requires an assessment of the material conditions. People in the nonprofit world use what's commonly referred to as a SWOT analysis. Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats. Developing a political analysis means taking a critical and investigative look at the situation both inside and outside the organization/movement. Factors to consider in this democratic process include capacity, finances, laws, relationships, political climate, etc. The more precise we are about current conditions and trends, the more successful our tactics will be.

Strategy describes the destination and can include short-term or long term goals that we are trying to reach. Strategy tends not to change; tactics are flexible. Tactics describe the specific actions we will take to get there. Tactics can be campaigns, initiatives, protests, boycotts, workshops, etc. The devilish details will include who does what, what are the deadlines and maybe even how it's going to be done. The tactics are tangible so that we can measure how close we are to achieving our goals.

One of our movement's perennial tensions is around the participation in electoral politics. That's because some of us see the electoral arena as a strategy while others see it as a tactic. Electoral political is one of many tactics toward the goal of political power.

The election of Chokwe Lumumba for mayor was a tactic in the strategy for black political empowerment in Jackson, MS. The building of the People's Assemblies is another tactic coordinated by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan People's Organization to advance self-determination and power. Sectors of the Black Liberation Movement were critical of the fact that a revolutionary like Chokwe was choosing to become part of the system. The election wasn't the end game. It was part of the plan to get Brother Lumumba into office to carry out the vision. Because of the untimely death of Chokwe, tactics had to change but the strategy remained the same. Antar, Chokwe Lumumba's son, is currently running for mayor as a continuation of the Jackson strategy. The Jackson experiment is an innovative model that we should support, assess and critique.

We need to build organizations and mass movements to scale. We cannot do this without a vision and political analysis that informs an effective strategy and concrete, imaginative tactics. We must be able to educate and politicize large segments of the population on why this capitalist system will never work for them. This can’t be done in 144 characters.

Next: Unblocking the chakra of workstyle. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle.  Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.comContact Ms. Rogers and BC.




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