Practical Issues > Things To Do > Activism > Groups


Plan 2 Tactics -- Translating Policy and Plan into Tactics
Our Options -- What are our Options?
Implementing SNV -- Implementation
Politics -- Political Jiu-Jitsu
Fearlessness -- How to maintain it
Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence -- by G. William Domhoff (recommended by Mike Lane)
Response to Perz's "Exclusive Non-Violent Action"

by Freeman Wicklund

What if we aimed our opposition's best weapon against themselves, so that every time they used it, it hurt them? What if we maximized our recruitment of animal liberationists? What if we divided our opponents? What if we undermined our opposition's authority? And, what if we accomplished these objectives simultaneously? Now that would be power! Power to significantly accelerate obtaining total animal liberation.

By implementing strategic nonviolence, we can utilize that power. This booklet was created to explain strategic nonviolence, encourage movement unity, advocate the adoption of strategic nonviolence by animal liberationists, empower activists to become their own leaders, and propose a plan for achieving total animal liberation.

Nonviolent civil disobedience -- like this 1960 sit-down strike in Greensboro, North Carolina protesting segregated lunch counters -- challenges unjust laws, exposes tyranny, and revels the activists' courage, sincerity, and determination to acheive their demands.

This booklet is far from the final word on strategy, but merely the Animal Liberation League's contribution to the animal liberation community's ongoing discussion regarding the best way to achieve total animal liberation as quickly as possible. The Animal Liberation League sees strategic nonviolence as the animals' best hope for complete and lasting animal liberation. We conduct our campaigns accordingly and actively promote the use of strategic nonviolence by all animal liberationists.


To those activists who disagree with strategic nonviolence, we share your frustration, desire for immediate victories, and an end to the intolerable oppression animals face, and we offer you our unconditional respect and moral support. We further invite you to read this booklet with an open heart, open mind, and a desire for understanding, that together we may find peace for all animals.


"It is not enough to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear."--Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the nonviolent democracy movement in Burma.

Strategic nonviolence, as explained in Gene Sharp's trilogy The Politics of Nonviolent Action, is a "weapon system" that derives its force from fundamental human psychological, social, and political tendencies. Provided we adhere to nonviolent discipline, noncooperation, persistence, fearlessness, and openness, strategic nonviolence will doom our opponent to failure regardless of how they respond to our actions.

Historically, strategic nonviolence resisters have overthrown dictators, freed colonies, defended countries from occupying forces, and advanced social justice in a variety of circumstances and countries. Its adaptability makes it a powerful and relevant force for eco-animal liberationists.

To gain a full understanding of strategic nonviolence, we first need to understand some foundational information such as: how conflicts can be won, what our objective is, and how political power works. To start, we explain the mechanisms for successfully resolving a conflict.


"A major fault of nonviolent struggles, historically, is that they make little or no provision for actually winning. They expect that actions will happen on the subordinate levels of strategy and tactics, and that following these actions, the opponents will capitulate. But why should they? What is the mechanism of their defeat? Will they be persuaded to view the contentious issues differently, or strike an opportunistic deal, or ultimately be coerced, in the sense that their peoples, armies, and resources will no longer perform well enough to keep them in power?"--Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, authors of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century.

According to Sharp, conflicts are won by three possible mechanisms: conversion, accommodation, and coercion. Conversion is where the opponent adopts our belief in animal rights and therefore stops their abusive practices. True life examples of conversion include former vivisectors Jerry Vlasak, M.D., Don Barnes, Ray Greek, M.D., and Neal Barnard, M.D., who now actively fight animal research; former cattle rancher Howard Lyman who now vocally promotes veganism; and former hunters Jonathan Paul and Steve Hindi who now sabotage hunts.

Accommodation is where the opposition disagrees with our beliefs and has the resources to fight us, but grants our demands because another issue takes precedence. For example, a department store discontinues selling fur after a boycott campaign results in them losing more money than their fur sales make. We achieve our objective because making money is more important to the store than denying us our demands.

Coercion is where the opposition's sources of power are so decimated they cannot fight us, even though they want to. An example of nonviolent coercion would be the collapse of the meat industry through the world-wide adoption of veganism. This forces our rivals in the meat industry to stop their operations as they lack the financial support to continue.

All struggles, including nonviolent ones, achieve victory by using a combination of these mechanisms. However, to maintain our focus and effectively strategize, we must choose which mechanism is best suited for achieving our objectives. Yet before we pick a primary mechanism for achieving victory, we must first understand our objectives.


"All competent strategy derives from objectives that are well chosen, defined, and understood. Yet it is surprising how many groups in conflict fail to articulate their objectives in anything but the most abstract terms. In each conflict there is an ultimate goal that, once attained, will constitute victory. That goal should be seen as the dependent variable toward which all levels of decision making are directed."--Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler.

Total animal liberation is our ultimate goal. This means humans will not eat animal products, wear animal products, hunt or fish, vivisect, or otherwise exploit and abuse animals. This is what we must strive for, but how will we achieve it?

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are [people] who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will." --Fredrick Douglass, nineteenth century abolitionist who escaped from slavery.



Among conversion, accommodation, and coercion, conversion should be our primary mechanism at the present time. Why? Because unless the majority of people voluntarily adopt a vegan lifestyle we will never successfully create total animal liberation as the demand for animal exploitation will still exist. Furthermore, in order to create lasting change with accommodation and nonviolent coercion, we need more troops (which we get by converting people).

Converting others may sound overwhelmingly tedious and tragically slow, but, as we shall see later, strategic nonviolence accelerates the conversion process. Some may also argue that conversion is idealistic and impractical, but what are our options?

If total animal liberation were achieved through accommodation or coercion, we would have to force a vegan lifestyle on an unwilling public. Martial law would be needed. Privacy rights would be abolished. Police would monitor the public all the time. Camping and canoeing expeditions by "unbelievers" would require police escorts to prevent them from hunting, trapping, or fishing. A special task force would be responsible for finding and eliminating the inevitable black market trade in animal products, raiding the homes of "unbelievers" in search of "contraband," and busting the "speak-easy" hamburger houses. Such a world is not only unpractical--as we lack the finances, people, skills, and authority to implement it--but also totally undesirable.

Currently, we are a tiny minority. We lack the strength to effectively apply accommodation or coercion. But each new animal liberationist represents a permanent short term victory that simultaneously improves our power position so we can achieve more substantial victories in the future. Therefore, what we need now--and in the foreseeable future--is to increase our numbers. Choosing conversion as our primary mechanism will help us keep that focus.

Now we will examine the six sources of power to show how converting people not only builds our strength, but also undermines our rival's power. Understanding the six sources of power will help us evaluate our tactics, determine intermediate goals, and guide us in planning campaigns.


"The tyrant and his subjects are in somewhat symmetrical positions. They can deny him most of what he wants--they can, that is, if they have the disciplined organization to refuse collaboration. And he can deny them just about everything they want--he can deny it by using the force at his command. It is a bargaining situation in which either side, if adequately disciplined and organized, can deny most of what the other wants; and it remains to see who wins."--Thomas C. Schelling, military strategist.

According to Sharp, every power-holder--be it an animal abuse industry or an animal rights group--has six sources of power (in the parenthesis following each definition are examples of that source of power if the power-holder was the meat industry):

    Authority: The willingness of people to voluntarily obey. (People who eat meat, farmers, meat-industry workers, and anyone else who voluntarily supports or assists the industry)

    Human Resources: The number of people who will obey, cooperate, and assist the power-holder. (People who eat meat, hired workers, business associates, media outlets they advertise with, governmental agencies they work with, etc.)

    Skills and Knowledge: The abilities, skills, and knowledge available to the power-holder and how well they meet her or his needs. (Skills in advertising, marketing, financial accounting, management, public relations, scientific research, raising animals, etc.)

    Intangible Factors: Psychological or ideological factors which help encourage obedience and submissiveness--such as a common faith, ideology, or sense of mission. (The belief in human dominance over animals, pride that encourages them to resist threats and intimidation by animal activists, etc.)

    Material Resources: The amount of property, finances, and natural resources available to the power-holder. (Farms, stockyards, slaughterhouses, money, stocks, cattle transport trucks, etc.)

    Sanctions: The power-holder's ability to enforce his or her wishes and punish those who disobey. (Government surveillance, beatings, imprisonment, ridicule, and harassment carried out by opposition members, police, hired security, FBI, ATF, etc.)

These six sources of power can be thought of in this way: imagine a table with six legs where the table top represents the power-holder and each of the legs represents one of their sources of power. As activists, we must significantly weaken or remove the legs of our opposition to topple the table top and achieve victory.

So how do we remove our adversary's sources of power?

Well, re-examining the sources of power reveals that they all depend ultimately on people: authority is people obeying orders, human resources are people, skills and knowledge are provided by people, the intangible factors are created and advocated by people, material resources are provided by people who invest in the industry or buy their products, and sanctions are executed by people. With this understood, the answer to our question become apparent: we remove our opponent's sources of power by "removing" their people--they are the root source of our rival's power.

And how do we "remove" them? Through conversion. As people adopt a vegan lifestyle, they deny our rival the support and cooperation they need, thus weakening their "legs."

Of course, there are other ways to remove people. Some ideological-advocates kill them. Terrorism, guerilla warfare, and conventional warfare are weapon systems that use lethal force to remove their antagonist's sources of power. Thankfully, the animal rights movement almost unanimously opposes violence to promote our cause.

But some animal liberationists support economic sabotage--destroying the exploiter's property to make animal exploitation less profitable. However, this weapon system fails to address our rival's root sources of power: people. It primarily attacks only one aspect of the opponent's material resources: property. Economic sabotage fails to adequately address the people (customers and investors) who supply the money, or the opposition's five other sources of power. Gains made through economic sabotage are unstable and often temporary because our adversary's root sources of power remain intact.

In fact, given our present situation, most gains made through accommodation and coercion result in only temporary victories. The Nordstrom's department store in Seattle, Washington, stopped selling fur when protest campaigns threatened business (accommodation), but resumed the practice at their customers' request. The European Union passed legislation (coercion) to ban the importation of all wild caught fur, but, before the law went into effect, changes were made to ensure that the U.S., Canada, and Russia--the three major wild fur trapping countries--may continue to import wild caught fur. In Europe, enough people oppose the steel-jaw trap to pass such legislation, but the unconverted countries were able to exert their own pressure and weaken the legislation.

"If you want to be beyond reproach...This is how you gain the respect of others. If our lives demonstrate that we are peaceful, humble, and trusted, this is recognized by others. If our lives demonstrate something else, that will be noticed too." --Rosa Parks



Victories achieved via accommodation or coercion will only last when we have the converts needed to enforce them. For example, in Colorado and Massachusetts, where voter referendums banned the use of steel-jaw leg-hold traps--the majority of people believed (conversion) that steel-jaw leg-hold traps were undesirable and--more importantly--believed they were so undesirable that it was necessary to take action against them. These laws which were voted into existence by the people will most likely be permanent because the politicians know their constituents support the law and are willing to take action on its behalf. Attempting to overturn such a law would put the politicians at risk of losing votes, so the law stays. Unfortunately, we lack the people power necessary to enforce most victories achieved through accommodation and coercion--especially on non-fur issues--which only reinforces the need for us to focus on conversion.

As these examples show, the animal liberation movement is also a power-holder, and, as such, we derive our force from the six sources of power. When we convert others, those converts not only withdraw their support from the opposition, but bolster our own power position by giving us their support and/or assistance. As our numbers increase, our power increases, and our ability to effectively utilize accommodation and nonviolent coercion increases--once again stressing the need for us to focus our limited resources on conversion tactics.

Finally, understanding our opposition's and our own sources of power allows us to evaluate our action's effectiveness. By determining how an action impacts our opposition's and our own sources of power, we can estimate the action's effectiveness and determine whether it is beneficial or counterproductive. We will use this method to see how our own hostility negatively impacts our power position. But, first, we will define nonviolent discipline.


"Undisciplined strength or strength which is not in keeping with right principles can never lead to a beneficial fruition. It could lead to danger for many."--Aung San Suu Kyi

On September 4, 1957, fifteen year old Elizabeth Eckford tries to enter the newly integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas while angry white students yell racial slurs and threaten to lynch her. Eckford's bravery and nonviolent discipline helps expose the violent and unjust people in this picture.



Regardless of whether conversion, accommodation, or nonviolent coercion is chosen as the primary mechanism for gaining total animal liberation, nonviolent discipline must always be followed in a strategic nonviolence campaign. So what is "nonviolent discipline"?

Nonviolent discipline is the self-discipline we must foster to implement five necessary components of strategic nonviolence:

    Fearlessness: Courage prevents us from compromising our beliefs, even when faced with personal danger and suffering. Fearlessness is a vital component of strategic nonviolence and will be discussed more later.

    Persistence: Persistence allows us to continue to fight even when morale is low or the situation looks hopeless. Setbacks should be expected, but, as long as we don't quit, victory is still possible. The only way we can truly fail is by giving up. Therefore activists need the inner strength necessary to continue the struggle during hard times.

    Selflessness: We must put the animals before ourselves, so we do what is best for them--not what makes us feel good. Activists need to be selfless enough to do the boring, unglamorous, and personally unrewarding tasks our struggle requires. As our struggle intensifies, some of us will face imprisonment and violent opposition. We will need to be selfless enough to endure pain, discomfort, and the loss of our freedom for the animals.

    Nonviolence: As will be explained later, for strategic nonviolence to be as effective as possible, we must never use violence or threats of violence in any situation--even to protect ourselves or other activists.

    Nonhostility: We need the discipline to treat everyone--animal exploiters, ignorant or hostile members of the public, activists we disagree with, etc.--with respect. We must maintain a dignified and calm composure during all of our interactions with others, while also being truthful, humble, non-judgmental, nurturing, and open-minded.

Nonviolent discipline is the self-discipline and inner strength activists need to be fearless, persistent, selfless, nonviolent, and nonhostile. The need for these components will be explained in more detail later, but first we will explain the need for nonviolence and nonhostility.


"In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us."--Titus 2:7-8 (New International Version).

According to Sharp, behaving in a nonviolent and nonhostile manner is vital to strategic nonviolence for three major reasons: it increases the sympathy and support we receive, it helps induce mutiny among the opposition, and it attracts maximum participation in the struggle.

People tend to ignore and ridicule the ideas of arrogant and hostile people--especially when those ideas are different from their own. If our behaviors express ill will, self-righteousness, or arrogance, then our ideas will not be taken seriously. Instead, people assume we advocate animal rights for personal gain. For example, many may think we only believe in animal rights so we can feel superior to other people or to justify our hostile nature or lawless behavior. By questioning our behaviors and the motives behind these actions, the public can ignore our message and even develop animosity for our cause. By only engaging in nonviolent and nonhostile action, we effectively remove most of our offending behaviors which prevents people from receiving our message.

"We need to be extremely careful that our attitudes are proper and just. The people must also develop courage, but this courage they must strive to keep controlled by ideas of good and right. If we can't control our courage with such ideas, then there may be danger for others and ourselves." -- Aung San Suu Kyi


Furthermore, nonviolent and nonhostile action maximizes the sympathy and support we receive. By promoting our issues in a non-judgmental, humble, truthful, respectful, calm, and dignified manner, we remove the distractions of arrogance and hostility, focusing more attention on the issue. Our honorable behavior gains us the public's respect and makes them more open-minded and sympathetic towards our ideas.

Nonviolent and nonhostile behavior also helps induce mutiny in the opposition's camp. Our commitment to nonhostile behavior prevents the opposition from feeling physically or emotionally threatened by us, and makes them more willing to consider our ideas and question their own behavior. Our collective integrity reveals the opposition's own hostility, violence, and lies to themselves. Some opposition members will not be influenced by these realizations, but others will feel ashamed and be alienated by the immoral conduct of their more brazen peers. Therefore, by showing goodwill and friendliness towards the opposition while remaining assertive (fearless) and persistent, we undermine some opponent members' loyalty to their industries. Some will even defect from the opposition and join our struggle for animal rights--as many already have.

That said, we must avoid unrealistic expectations for converting our opponents as they have a strong financial self-interest for continuing to exploit animals. But the varying degrees of animal exploitation rest on a continuum, and, as animal activists, it is our responsibility to nurture our opposition towards the vegan end of that continuum. Opposition members who take partial steps in that direction help foster dissent and division within the opposition's ranks. The more rigorously we practice nonviolent discipline, the more effectively we will be able to foster the opposition's step-wise conversion and internal conflict.

Besides inducing mutiny, nonviolent discipline helps attract maximum participation within our struggle. Many activists who join hostile groups drop out because they disagree with the group's tactics. Most people perceive nonhostile actions as more legitimate than violent or hostile ones, and therefore are more willing to support and participate in them.

Furthermore, animal groups that show hostility towards the opposition are more likely to show the same hostility to group members who do not meet their standards. Such inter-movement hostility creates an oppressive and stifling environment that disempowers activists and leads many to exit the struggle. We must maintain nonviolent discipline not only towards our opposition, but also towards our own comrades, so that we foster a supportive movement based on mutual respect, trust, and understanding. Such an appealing environment maintains morale, empowers activists, and encourages activists to remain in the struggle.

And, unlike a military struggle which requires its troops to be physically strong and agile--thus excluding many from getting involved--nonviolent struggles can utilize everyone regardless of whether they are strong or weak, able-bodied or crippled, young or old, educated or uneducated. Nonviolent struggles can recruit from all sectors of society, thereby giving us an advantage over violent struggles whose strict requirements limit those who can participate.

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