Action for Change: Social Movements.

An analysis of Greenpeace AP campaigns through Francis Fox Pivens FIVE STRATEGIES of Disruptive Power.

According to Piven rules are the basic postulate of ‘collective life’.(Piven, 2008) Our society rests upon the knowledge that these rules keep them safe. In another language, the language of social and environmental action these rules also represent instruments of power. This power usually coming from a dominant group for example: Government, Church, Law, can bring about a subordination of groups devoted to change and inhibit these groups from disrupting power.
Greenpeace Asia Pacific uses the strategy of ‘Breaking the Rules’, in almost every single campaign they undertake. An example of this is the destruction of a genetically modified CSIRO wheat crop. While the rules were broken the action was inline with core values and non-violent action resulted purely in creating Media coverage that brought public attention to GM issues within Australia.

Within Greenpeace’s core values as found below we can see in the third value a direct statement of financial independence. This strategy means social and financial connections can never colour or cause exploitation of the Greenpeace Organisation or actions.

Greenpeace core values
We ‘bear witness’ to environmental destruction in a peaceful, non-violent manner;
•We use non-violent confrontation to raise the level and quality of public debate;
•In exposing threats to the environment and finding solutions we have no permanent allies or adversaries;
•We ensure our financial independence from political or commercial interests;
•We seek solutions for, and promote open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices.
In developing our campaign strategies and policies we take great care to reflect our fundamental respect for democratic principles and to seek solutions that will promote global social equity.


The effective co-ordination of people power from employees and volunteers is one of Greenpeace’s best strategies.
Many styles of organisation of people power can be found on the Greenpeace website. Without the organised power of campaigns which are usually run by team leaders and contractors with many skills, campaigns would suffer.
Please see pictorial montage of the mobilization of disruptive power through the eyes of Greenpeace AP.

Solidarity of the individual is an important part of Greenpeace action. Greenpeace mobilises thousands of people to protest and sign email petitions through social media. Without this family of social environmentalists the disruptive power would not gain momentum and inturn succeed.

In 2011 Erland Howden was ‘the boy in the box’. He was locked in a steel box on to train tracks owned by BHP, he was prepared to stay for 72 hrs to protest tax breaks for big polluters.

Greenpeace protest action against BHP 2011

Greenpeace protest action against BHP 2011

Not only is this an example of what Piven cals disruptive power but it shows an example of Erland suspending a relationship with the rules that might cause reprisals, in this case ARREST. While Greenpeace employees and volunteers agree to being a part of these repercussions it is an effective tool of this kind of disruptive power sees that others lives, time and money are also disrupted. Causing problems with Big Business and its production.

Work disrupted and coal train stopped. As a result over 100 BHP employees had to stop work for a whole day.

Work disrupted and coal train stopped. As a result over 100 BHP employees had to stop work for a whole day.

During the Russian imprisonment of the Arctic 30 each Greenpeace member had to forgo a quality of life to stand up for drilling in the Artic. The Arctic 30 could not remain anonymous, their imprisonment meant hardship for their families and loss of freedoms for 4 months.

Pivens last strategy is concerned with social life and social relations of those who try to mobilise disruptive power.Being an employee of Greenpeace is often said to be a lifetime commitment in which a balance is important.
On a job review sight people have mentioned the life work balance is hard to maintain:

“Incredibly fun job with lots of travel to amazing places and exciting events
Campaign Coordinator/Team Leader (Former Employee), Denver, CO – March 19, 2014
Pros: social atmosphere, travel, free events, fulfilling work, free socials, music festivals, etc
Cons: makes it hard to maintain a personal life separate from work.”


Lentin, A. (1999). Structure, Strategy,Sustainability: What future for New Social Movement Theory? Sociological research online.
Piven, F. F. (2008). Can power from below change the world? American Sociological Review, 1-14.

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