To varying degrees, all tactics are both concrete and communicative. When activists confuse the two, the results can be counter-productive. A tactic is concrete in so much as it seeks to achieve a specific, quantifiable objective. For example, the 55 sacked workers at Carlton United Brewery in Melbourne 2016 protested outside their workplace for nearly 180 days after they were sacked and then invited to re-apply for their jobs with vastly inferior pay and conditions. The specific quantifiable objective was to be reinstated with their former jobs – that are secure – and they are awarded their previous full pay and conditions. Here is a specific goal that has a tangible cost for the brewery, as well as a way to evaluate success. Either the workers get their jobs back with full pay and conditions or they don’t.
A tactic is communicative insomuch as it communicates a political position, a set of values or world view. An International Women’s Day public march to communicate a desire for equal pay can fall into this category. Communicative tactics can be useful for connecting people around a common cause, building networks, and seeking to sway public opinion, or scaring a target, but often do not have a specific measurable, activating, realistic, time bound (SMART) goal. Success is more qualitative. In this case, the march would be a symbolic act to amplify the message of women saying that they as a population are paid less and want to be paid equally. A communicative action can have a powerful expressive outcome by building the resolve, connection and commitment of participants by offering them a cathartic transformative experience.
To succeed in women receiving equal pay, concrete tactics must force a response from the target. For example, all women in all jobs strike until all women are paid the same as men in their individual workplaces. (see PRINCIPAL: Put your target into a decision dilemma in a later blog post) Communicative tactics might have a target, but can also work without one.
While some tactics can be both communicative and concrete, it is important to understand the difference between them. People often get discouraged by direct action because they take part in communicative action and expect a concrete outcome. It’s better to be clear from the start about the difference, so that everyone knows how to measure, and contribute to the action’s impact.
This principle is contributed to the international activist Beautiful Trouble toolbox by Joshua Kahn Russell.