How Will You Escalate Your Campaign?

This one hour exercise was developed by Katey Lauer and Dana Kuhnline for the February 2013 Power Up! Divestment Conference.

5 min Why we are talking about this:
Two central elements of a campaign are a target and an ask

The target is the person you are pressuring and the ask is the thing you want them to do.

Campaigns happen in stages: first you make your ask, and then you MUST escalate. 

For example: If President Obama were going to stop mountaintop removal coal mining just because we were right and we asked him to–we wouldn’t need a campaign, because we were already right and we already asked.

SO–we need to escalate to win, we need to turn up the heat.


15 min We’re going to dig into this more with some examples:

  • In advance of this training, pick 2-3 groups which have run and won campaigns – potentially include a group that has recently escalated and not yet won. Have them briefly (5 min) outline the arch of the work they did – who was their target? What was the ask? What groundwork did they lay before they took action? What were some of the factors that they considered when picking their tactics? What were some low points where they struggled? When did they know they were going to win?

5 min Now what?

  • We want to honor that escalating is scary. It’s outside of our comfort zone sometimes to engage in conflict. For many folks, if you want something, you ask nicely, and often you get it. If the answer is no, you either learn to live with no, or you work harder, do more research, and ask nicer…With most campaigns, no matter how much research you do or how nicely you ask, you aren’t going to win until you escalate with some strategic conflict. Conflict can be scary–it’s taking a risk.
  • The other thing to know about escalating with strategic conflict, is that
    • You can do it and
    • When you do it and when the stakes get higher, it means you are closer to winning–which is thrilling and what we are here for.

10 min Let’s think about how to do it:

  • What are things that your target college or university holds dear that you can leverage against them? Shout out the ideas! Write them up on a big paper/chalkboard/etc. if you like.
    • Some sample ideas: Reputation, Money, Order, Alumni, Corporate Sponsorship, Student recruitment and retention
  • How can you use that knowledge to escalate? Take 2-3 minutes on your own to jot down three ideas about how you can escalate on your campus. And here are some considerations:
    • What are things you can do that will cause a sustained disruption? (Phone bank alumni or big donors, bring media with you to a meeting, occupy board meeting spaces, leaflet on campus tours…)

25 min Workshop your ideas:

  • Get into groups of 4–explain your campus context and your ideas for escalation and give/get input from one another

10 min Awesome shout out of their plans

  • What are you going to do? When are you going to do it? How many people do you need to organize to do it well? 

2 min Wrap it up:  

Here is a quick basic timeline of campaign escalation to refer back to:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

~Mahatma Gandhi

We don’t want to get stuck being ignored and laughed at – we need to move into the fighting stage so that we can win.


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