Citizen Action Monitor

Canada’s “Black Out Speak Out” campaign – Sorry, but I don’t get it

This campaign breaks two cardinal best-campaign-planning practices

No 480 Posted by fw, May 18, 2012

“On June 4th, Canada’s major environmental organizations, together with leading charities, unions, bloggers, and others will darken their websites and join thousands of Canadians like you to Speak Out in defence of nature and democracy.”

My critique of Black Out Speak Out follows this, the organizers’ outline of the proposed event

On May 24th we will announce our call-to-action to all Canadians for June 4th.

In the meantime, here are four easy actions you can take now to lend your support:

    1. Change your facebook status or profile picture. Speak Out on facebook by uploading one of the Black Out Speak Out profile pictures below and by updating your facebook status to say “I’m speaking out in defence of nature and democracy #BLACKOUTSPEAKOUT“. Share this now.
    2. Add a Black Out Speak Out twibbon to your twitter profile pictu.
    3. Speak out on twitter. Tweet one of the messages below or create your own tweet using the #BLACKOUTSPEAKOUT hashtag and
    4. Rally your friends, family and colleagues to speak out together on June 4th. Organize an event or activity in your workplace, school or community to demonstrate your support for nature and democracy.
    5. How can I “Black Out” my website? Blacking out your site does not require you to shut it down for the day. You will have the option of inserting a Black Out Speak Out splash page that will cover your homepage while maintaining the functionality of your site.

To be notified as soon as our June 4th actions are announced, and to receive regular updates from Black Out Speak Out, please provide your email address below



Based on my years of experience as a project planning team leader, the proposed Black Out Speak Out action campaign breaks two cardinal best-campaign-planning practices  —

1) It lacks explicitly stated “expected outcomes”. In the case of Black Out Speak Out, expected outcomes ideally might be stated in terms of the change(s) in government policies and programs that the campaign action expects to achieve

2) Absent the statement of expected outcomes, there is no way for campaign organizers or participants to measure or assess the campaign’s effectiveness, which can best be done in relation to its stated expected outcomes

Moreover, experienced activist campaigners have come to recognize that a one-off, one-day event – no matter how many participate in the action — seldom compels governments to change their policies and programs. Studies of past social movements reveal that many of the most successful movements for transformational change have used a sustained, multifaceted counterpower strategy, combining, for example, information counterpower, economic counterpower, direct action counterpower and legal, moral, and creative arts counterpower tactics. (For more information on counterpower, see “Counterpower” by Tim Gee — Pt 1: Activists, improve your campaigns with Counterpower”)

In comparison, failed campaigns tended to rely on one or two techniques.

With this in mind, it’s difficult to see how Black Out Speak Out can succeed. Besides, absent any statement of expected outcomes, there is simply no way to assess whether it succeeds or fails.


  • So you want to fight city hall. Here’s how: Pt 2/3: Develop an understanding of political decision-making and power politics — Liz Benneian’s best advice — “All too often advocacy groups either don’t understand or simply refuse to accept the role that self-interest plays in the game of power politics. Face it — the power of reason and logic alone is not going to convince politicians to see the error of their ways, agree with you, and immediately change their minds. This guileless approach never succeeds. Logical arguments fail. Believing you are right is never enough. Decisions are made on the basis of self-interest – not merit. What works is wielding counterpower!”
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This entry was posted on May 18, 2012 by in environmental activism, NGO counterpower and tagged , .
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