Shift the Spectrum of Allies

7 05 2012

I am excited and honored to be one of 60 contributors to a new book called Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for the Revolution. The book reads as an activists manual, weaving together case studies, principles, theories, and tactics, distilled from years of working in many movements for social change. Here is one of my entries in the book, based on lessons from Training for Change, the Highlander Center, Ruckus Society, and others.

Shift the Spectrum of Allies.

In sum: Movements seldom win by overpowering the opposition; they win by shifting the support out from under them. Determine the social blocs at play on a given issue, and work to shift them closer to your position.

Activists are often good at analyzing systemic social problems, but less good at thinking systemically about organizing.

Activism is about using your power and voice to make change. Organizing is about that, too, but it’s also about activating and empowering others. It helps to think in terms of groups. Successful movement-building hinges on being able to see a society in terms of specific blocs or networks, some of which are institutions (unions, churches, schools), others of which are less visible or cohesive, like youth subcultures or demographic groupings.

Analyzing your spectrum of allies can help you to identify and mobilize the networks around you. A spectrum-of-allies analysis can be used to map out a local campaign or to strategize for a whole social movement.

Here’s how a spectrum-of-allies analysis works: in each wedge you can place different individuals (be specific: name them!), groups, or institutions. Moving from left to right, identify your active allies: people who agree with you and are fighting alongside you; your passive allies: folks who agree with you but aren’t doing anything about it; neutrals: fence-sitters, the unengaged; passive opposition: people who disagree with you but aren’t trying to stop you; and finally your active opposition.

Some activist groups only speak or work with  those in the first wedge (active allies), building insular, self-referential, marginal subcultures that are incomprehensible to everyone else. Others behave as if everyone is in the last wedge (active opposition), playing out the “story of the righteous few,” acting as if the whole world is against them. Both of these approaches virtually guarantee failure. Movements win not by overpowering their active opposition, but by shifting the support out from under them.

For example, in 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a major driver of the civil rights movement in the U.S. South, conducted a “spectrum-of-allies style” analysis. They determined that they had a lot of passive allies who were students in the North: these students were sympathetic, but had no entry point into the movement. They didn’t need to be “educated” or convinced, they needed an invitation to enter.

To shift these allies from “passive” to “active,” SNCC sent buses north to bring folks down to participate in the struggle under the banner “Freedom Summer.” Students came in droves, and many were deeply radicalized in the process, witnessing lynching, violent police abuse, and angry white mobs, all simply as a result of black people trying to vote.

Many wrote letters home to their parents, who suddenly had a personal connection to the struggle. This triggered another shift: their families became passive allies, often bringing their workplaces and social networks with them. The students, meanwhile, went back to school in the fall and proceeded to organize their campuses. More shifts. The result: a profound transformation of the political landscape of the U.S. This cascading shift of support, it’s important to emphasize, wasn’t spontaneous; it was part of a deliberate movement strategy that, to this day, carries profound lessons for other movements.

Further insights:

Explanation of the “Spectrum of Allies,” from NewTactics

Strategy tool for “Spectrum of Allies,” from Training for Change

Douglas McAdam, Freedom Summer. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988.


Sugar fast: Day twelve

17 04 2009

A few weeks ago several Arab organizers were arrested and beaten at a peace demonstration on the anniversary of the Iraq war. I’ve had a pretty debilitating sugar addiction for all of my adult life. I’m ready to kick it. Some people run marathons and ask people to sponsor them, pledging some money for every mile they run.

Twelve days ago I asked friends and family to match my contributions and donate a dollar per day that I manage to go without refined sugar, with the goal of a month of sugary abstinence.

Proceeds go to support the Arab Organizing and Resource Center (AROC).

The most recent police targeting and repression is just one moment in the ongoing struggle that Arab organizers face. Supporting their work is crucial right now, especially with the election of the far-right in Israel and horrible violence in Gaza and elsewhere. This little fundraiser is a way I celebrated Pesach (Passover), a holiday where Jews reflect on our history of oppression and pledge solidarity and support with oppressed peoples.

After 12 days, I literally have dreams where I eat pastries and then realize I’m on a sugar fast and then feel super guilty. I wake up in a cold sweat, thankful that I’ve stayed faithful in real life. Guess that’s part of the detox process?

Will you to sponsor me in my sugar fast? It will help get funding to support an important organization in a time of need, as well as give me a way to feel more accountable to my personal commitments to live a healthier life. If so, message me thru the facebook page or leave a comment. So far 49 people have pledged to hold me accountable in stepping off the path of diabetes, uncontrollable brownie binges, and fantasies of molten chocolate dunk tanks. Will you be #50?

These rockstars support human rights, sustained organizing, and Josh not getting diabetes:

1. Adrienne Maree Brown
2. Max Elbaum
3. Shadia Fayne Wood
4. Mahfam Malek
5. Max Uhlenbeck
6. Clare Bayard
7. Manjula Martin
8. Katharine Wallerstein
9. Nupur Modi
10. Max Bell Alper
11. Kimia Ghomeshi
12. Rahula Janowski
13. Robin Beck
14. Jocelyn Berger
15. Josh Rosenthal
16. Kathryn Hollender-kidder
17. Virginie Corominas
18. Khalid Matthew Stehney
19. Amie Fishman
20. Alexa Markley
21. Ragini Kapadia
22. Marla DiCarlo Deschenes
23. Christy Tennery
24. Adrian Wilson
25. Sharon Lungo
26. Danny Raposo
27. Harjit Singh Gill
28. Callie Mackenzie
29. Bruin Christopher Runyan
30. Jonathan Kosakow
31. Adrianna Hutchinson
32. Patrick Reinsboro
33. Amy Kahn Russell
34. Sarah Light
35. Jennifer Chen
36. Lara Cushing
37. Amanda Starbuck
38. Michael Weber
39. Jodie Tonita
40. Aurora Levins Morales
41. Juliana Williams
42. Kasha Ho
43. Michelle Proffit
44. Lynn Stone
45. Matt Kern
46. Maryam Adrangi
47. Jessamyn Sabbag
48. Kim Leutwyler
49. Fernando Ausin-Gómez
50. Ted Nace
51. Lauren Greis
52. Aaron Newman
53. Michael A. Weber
54. Josh Lynch
55. YOU???

Also, here is a quick Josh’s-Sugar-Fast-for-AROC-FAQ (JSFAROCFAQ):

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Anniversary of a tragedy

20 03 2009

The Iraq war has been going on for 6 years. Today in downtown San Francisco I watched Iraq war veterans in full uniform, in military “stand easy” position, solemnly blockade the street to ensure their sacrifice and the sadness of this day goes not go forgotten. It is sad to see police arresting Iraq vets for civil disobedience about a massively unpopular war, including Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. Not as sad, of course as 4,260 US service members and 1,311,00 Iraqis killed over the last 6 years. Take a moment of silence.

Similar actions were taking place near other high-traffic areas in the bay area, organized by other groups as well.

Support Iraq Veterans Against The War.

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Horror in Plain Sight

15 01 2009

In 2009 we see our institutions unmasked, from Gaza to Oakland to Tennessee
This originally appeared in WireTap Magazine and later Znet.

My heart hurts.

14 days into 2009 and what a year it’s been. Recent highlights include a young unarmed black man who was placed onto the ground, with his hands behind his back, shot and killed by an by a white police officer in an Oakland BART station; levees breaking in Tennessee, flooding communities with a billion gallons of toxic coal ash that is 40 times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill; and of course, the unrelenting assault on Gaza that in the last 19 days has claimed the lives of 919 Palestinians, including 384 children and women. Not to mention an economic crisis that has precipitated the layoffs of paid organizers around the country – many of my friends finding themselves unemployed, and important organizations (like COV records) needing to close their doors.


My tattoo says "tzedek" which means "social justice" in Hebrew, and embodies a long history of civic engagement and solidarity with oppressed peoples within the Jewish tradition.

As a young Ashkenazi Jewish man, I’ve been particularly shaken seeing some members of my Jewish community attempt to rationalize or justify the murder of children, the use of illegal biological weapons like White Phosphorous, and blocking of humanitarian aid. I feel unsafe as a Jew in a world where militarists and demagogues commit genocide and pretend it is in my name or the name of my people. What is happening in Gaza is a political, not a religious conflict, as decried by Jews around the world who stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine (including some of the most religious and traditional Hasidim). Even Jon Stewart took a political risk in condemning the attacks.

What links many of the above events is their overt brazenness. The massacre of Palestinian people, wanton environmental destruction to power our fossil fuel addiction, and police shootings are certainly not new phenomena, and are a logical extension of many of the way our institutions function. But what is both remarkable and terrifying is how naked and unabashed these recent horrors have been.

Oscar Grant was murdered by police in front of a full BART subway car, as onlookers filmed the entire thing. Dozens of youtube videos were up within hours for the entire world to see an unarmed cooperative man shot in cold blood. There was no attempted justification, no way to sweep it beneath the rug. It was in plain sight.

The attacks on Gaza were done in a manner that produced millions of heartbreaking photos of the carnage circling the globe in an instant, accompanied by graphic descriptions from international doctors in Gaza. What is happening right now is not a “war” – it is, after penning people in a cage, starving them and depriving them of all basic resources, blowing apart entire communities in what is the most densely populated area of the planet. That the Israeli government claims that this is in retaliation for Hamas rockets is a transparent joke, as more Palestinians died in the first 5 days of the assault than Israelis did from the last 5 years of rocketfire. And now the Israeli Right Wing political parties are attempting to ban Arab parties from running in upcoming elections. Its almost as if they wake up in the morning and say to themselves “how can we further delegitimize ourselves, make Jews around the world less safe and more hated, and kill as many brown people as we can in the process?” Massacres are no stranger to the Israeli military, but this kind of action with this kind of visibility marks a new chapter in the “we do whatever the fuck we want and don’t care what anyone thinks” book of the conflict. It’s all in plain sight.

The TVA coal ash spill, while not covered by the media very extensively, again reveals the extension and overt consequences of longtime policies that had previously been easier to cover up and hide from the public.

So what is this all about? It seems like 2009 is in many ways a year of honesty. Our institutions are unmasking themselves and behaving in ways that perhaps have always been typical, but are often sugar-coated with a smiley face on top. No more pretense or sugar. It’s been amazing to me how many people lately have been talking about how in the face of increased resource scarcity, economic collapse, and a climate crisis that threatens the very survival of our species, the major institutions in our society are freaking out. Like a convulsing creature gasping for breath, they lash out and crush things around them, revealing how they really are. There is a growing understanding that “continuing business as usual” is the most unlikely and unrealistic of all futures we could chose.

There is of course, a whole lot of reason to hope. For real, I’m not just saying that to end on a positive note. I have been walking with deep gratitude lately, not just for my own life, but for the courage of regular people across the globe. People around the world are organizing in response to these tragedies and are joining a new wave of political activism and organizing worldwide. I’ve seen more conversation and public debate about these issues than ever before (even if its often among Palestinian and Israeli friends on my facebook page over my status updates). The progressive shifts in our country and internationally are still strong – and if anything, strengthened – by these tragedies, as we have an opportunity to more clearly put our finger on the roots of our problems and join together to fashion just and sustainable solutions.

Stay involved. You can find great Gaza updates at War Times and End The Occupation, plus a friend’s commentary at Shadia Fayne Wood’s blog. is running a campaign for Oscar Grant that you can support online here. Stay up to date with the TVA Tennessee ash spill at You can also buy “Gaza on my mind” shirts as a fundraiser for medical supplies.

Also, War Times has spread the word that The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has developed on online Resource Center at This new tool, designed to serve as a primary source of information, incorporates several resources on the Gaza attacks including:

  • A factual timeline of the events leading up to the Israeli attacks.
  • Reliable articles on the situation in Gaza.
  • A list of UN responses and statements on the tragedy.
  • A list of credible media sources.
  • A continuously updated resource on the numbers of killed and injured.
  • An instructive link on contacting the media about the tragedy in Gaza.
  • An instructive link on contacting elected representatives including President-elect Obama.
  • A list of protests, rallies, and vigils taking place nationwide.

Thats all for now.

Chevron, this weekend!

13 03 2008

Join us (Bay Rising affinity group) and about a million other groups in saying…

Saturday, March 15th – 11.00am RALLY, 1pm DIRECT ACTION
For more info:; 510 984 2566

* End the War and Occupation in Iraq and the Policies of Empire Behind the War; TROOPS HOME NOW!.
* Stop Chevron’s Plans to Expand their Richmond Refinery to Refine Dirty Crude!
* ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, CLIMATE JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS NOW! From Richmond to Burma, from Ecaudor to the Philipines, from Alaska to Nigeria
* Create Just, Democratic REAL Green Energy, Transportation, Jobs and Economy!
Join us.

11am. Rally. Judge G. Carroll Park, W. Cutting Blvd & S. Garrard Blvd, Richmond. Community groups from Richmond and other impacted communities will be speaking. Speakers at the rally include Henry Clark of West County Toxics Coalition, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and Jessica Tovar from Communities for a Better Environment. Performers include DJ Jermiah and Afrobeat Nation, DJ Zeph and Azeem, spoken word artist Ariel Luckey, and the Raging Grannies.

1pm. Nonviolent Direct Action. Chevron Refinery, 100 Chevron Way, Richmond. Our goal is to stop all stolen Iraqi oil from exiting and entering the refinery by land, by boat, by bike. We’re also planning a street party with awesome DJs, bands and local artists.

This action is cosponored by West County Toxics Coalition, Richmond Greens, Richmond Progressive Alliance, Community Health Initiative, Direct Action to Stop the War, Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, Bay Area united for Peace and Justice, ANSWER SF, Greenaction and many more

Here’s our press release:

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Citibank shut down!

15 11 2007

On Monday Nov 5th, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Coal River Mountain Watch, the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), Rising Tide, representatives from mountain-top removal affected communities, and 300 of our closest friends shut down a major Citibank branch with mass civil disobedience in DC for a day.

Citibank is one of the biggest funders of coal-fired power plants , which are ravaging our climate and destroying Appalachia through mountain-top removal.

Representatives from affected communities – the places that are being destroyed by mountain-top removal – came and gave moving speeches and rallied at the park across from the World Bank. Activists dressed in haz-mat suits with Citi logos that were transformed into smokestacks, dumped wheelbarrows full of coal all over the front of Citibank, taped up the doors and with “climate criminal” caution tape, while more than 300 young activists had a die-in, blocking the Citibank entrance using our bodies and mountains of coal as blockades. We chanted “Hey people! (yeah?!) Coal is over! (yeah?!) Tell Citibank to invest in wind and solar!” Before the rally began, community members from directly impacted communities in Appalachia entered the branch to dialogue with the bank’s management and employees about their employer’s policies. Then a group of students went into talk with investment bankers about what the money from their student loans are being used for.

Most of the 300+ participants had never done an action before. It was organized to be accessible, inclusive, and build a collective sense of power, while directly confronting one of the largest financial institutions on earth with civil disobedience. It was empowering, exciting, and had creative but tight messaging that was focused, with props, costumes, art, and signs of all kinds. We shut down all of Citibank, including ATMs, and there were no arrests. The action put a lot of heat on Citi in a way that is helping escalate a larger campaign against them, but was also a radicalizing moment for a lot of folks who had never even thought about that kind of activism before. The action was led and directed by people from the communities most impacted by the issue, and there were immediate ways to keep the momentum going and plug in beyond the action itself.

After the shutdown, we had a dance party and people came up and spoke to the crowd making connections between war in Iraq and oil dependency and energy at home, between the destruction ravaging Appalachia and the destruction in New Orleans after Katrina.

And it’s just an appetizer for a Day of Action that is happening a week later, where there will be over 100 actions at Citibank and Bank of America branches in over 50 cites across the country.

To join the campaign holding Citibank and Bank of America accountable for destroying our climate, planet, people’s livelihoods and communities, see

Click below for video, photos, links to articles and info!

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the US Social Forum.

1 08 2007

Another World Is Possible; Another U.S. Is Necessary.

Well, I’m inspired.

July 10, 2007

A week after the US Social Forum I am just barely regaining my energy to engage in the world again. It was a week and a half long marathon – first with an organizer training camp I had the privilege of helping coordinate with RAN, then with the four days of the Forum itself, and then the post-forum meetings and networking in Atlanta.

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Port of Oakland Shut Down! We won! Twice!

18 06 2007

Repost from my old blog, from May 20th, 2007. Click here to see old comments.

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This morning we shut down the port of Oakland. The ships that had supplies bound for Iraq sat idle.

At 6:30 am group of various antiwar activists, teachers, and union members went to the SSA Terminal at the port of Oakland. Lucky for me, it was only a 10 minute bike ride from my house. I was part of Bay Rising Affinity Group (BRAG!) – that’s us with the giant dove – and was rockin with UCLA and Bay SDSers. We set up a picket line, which the Longhshoremen Union (ILWU), had agreed not to cross.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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Lockdown at Chevron’s World Headquarters

18 06 2007

This is reposted from my old blog, from March 21st, 2007. Click here to see original comments.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The sun hadn’t risen yet. After circling once under the cover of darkness, our van and truck pulled up to Chevron’s world headquarters. Our affinity group (Bay Rising Affinity Group aka BRAG!), burst out of the van and deployed our barrels, lock boxes, and bodies. The cops were waiting for us, but for some reason when we hopped out of the van, they ran the opposite direction. We locked our arms into place.

Our barricade and occupation of Chevron’s entrance was in place in less than 60 seconds. We completely shut down the main entrance to Chevron’s International HQ. Initially we were worried that we wouldn’t have enough bodies to cross the whole 6 lanes of the entrance – but lucky for us, even though we didn’t reach the other side (at first!), the cops completely shut down the rest of it for us!

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