Aidan Rickett’s The Activists’ Handbook is a powerful guide to grassroots activism. Naomi Blackburn reviews the early chapters of the book which are particularly relevant to Theories of Change.
Thinking again about the role of theories of change in activism this week I thought I’d look at the opening chapters of Aidan Rickett’s publication The Activists’ Handbook: A step-by-step guide to participatory democracy. Aidan Ricketts is an Australian environmental activist, activist educator and academic at the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University in Lismore. Ricketts says in the introduction that his hope for the book is that it “saves newly emergent activists from the ordeal of having to reinvent the wheel”.
Perhaps reflecting his academic bent, the book starts with two fairly theoretical chapters that focus on big ideas about activism. These are then followed by the more immediately useable advice suggested by the ‘step-by-step’ subtitle. Campaigners are typically a practical bunch and I suspect many will do as I did and flick to the middle looking for the practical advice to start off with. There they will be rewarded with a range of strategies to pursue change through the political system, by corporate lobbying, through direct action and via the courts. However, in starting with theory Ricketts obviously thought these ideas were important for new activists to engage with and I agree.
The first chapter ‘Advocacy, activism and the practice of democracy’ starts the book at quite a high conceptual level, with the definition of democracy itself. Ricketts devotes this chapter to defining between public and private interests. He shows how the law privileges private interests and makes it difficult to protect public interests through the courts. He also provides a checklist for determining when a problem is a public interest problem. In the introduction, Ricketts talks about his work with resident groups fighting local battles. I can see this public versus private distinction is particularly valuable for those who are acting to protect their local area because it is so important to be able to articulate the public interest at stake in those campaigns.
The second chapter ‘Building successful social movements’ introduces some of the key movement debates such as what is meant by non-violence and how to structure movement decision-making. These are only covered briefly here and serve to introduce the later chapters on ‘Direct action, protest and your rights’ and ‘Social change and conflict resolution’. On non-violence Ricketts acts as a helpful intermediary, directing readers to the work of American author and academic Gene Sharp and a recent issue of New Internationalist that focused on the topic. This thoughtful referencing was an aspect of the book I really appreciated.
In this second chapter Ricketts also provides a great introduction to Bill Moyer’s Movement Action Plan and illustrates the stages using the North East Forest Alliance as an example. Ricketts serves new activists well here by introducing a classic text with just enough to get a feel for its value and then referring them on to Moyer’s book for more. He takes the same strategy in introducing readers to the work of Joanna Macy on despair and hope and to Katrina Shields’ work on self-care.
Overall these initial chapters do a good job of introducing the reader to some core concepts, which create a platform for both later chapters and future reading. I feel like Ricketts is letting the emerging activist know these topics are the subject of discussions and has introduced them to some people with whom they can continue the conversation. After a pause and a think, he’s happy for them to dive on into the advice on strategy, media and more.
Table of Contents
- Activism, advocacy and the practice of democracy
- Building successful social movements
- Strategy: The art of activism
- Planning and mapping your campaign: practical tools and processes
- Media, publicity and research
- Public sector activism: How to change the law and influence government policy
- Corporate Activism
- Direct action, protest and your rights
- Digital Activism
- Strategic Litigation
- Social change and conflict resolution
- Empowerment and personal sustainability: Staying active and avoiding burnout
For more see The Activists’ Handbook.
The author of the Activists’ Handbook, Aidan Ricketts, teaches a university accredited subject that teaches the skills of campaigning, community activism and advocacy through the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice. It runs as a 5 day intensive on the Gold Coast from 3-7 December 2019.
- Campaigning - Strategy
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- North East Forest Alliance (NEFA)
- Social change
- Theory of change