How Can Activists Change the World? Experts Offer Seven Strategies

THE GUARDIAN, Steven Greenhouse, December 17, 2023

The new book Practical Radicals takes inspiration from successful social movements to identify tactics that pay off

In their new book, Practical Radicals: Seven Strategies to Change the World, Deepak Bhargava and Stephanie Luce offer what they say are “winning strategies, history and theory for a new generation of activists”.

Bhargava and Luce – professors at the City University of New York’s School of Labor and Urban Studies – emphasize that strategies can be taught to build successful movements. In their book, they detail seven tactics that have been successfully used to change the world: base-building, disruptive movements, narrative shift, electoral changes, inside-outside campaigns, momentum, and collective care.

Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor reporter and senior fellow at the Century Foundation, conducted this Q&A. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Steven Greenhouse: Why did you write this book?

Deepak Bhargava: I was motivated by a sense of frustration about the state of strategy and strategic thinking among progressive movements. To win big changes on the major issues of the day, we’re going to need to up our game substantially. I wanted to explain: where oppressed groups managed to achieve big gains despite incredible asymmetries in resources, how did they manage to do that?

Greenhouse: Your book seems to be saying that the progressive movement is underperforming, perhaps even failing. How so?

Bhargava: There are examples of breakthrough success in progressive movements that we need to understand better. The book features some of the successes we found the most inspiring, like the movement to abolish slavery and contemporary examples like the Fight for $15 or the campaign to divest from fossil fuels.