The Citizens Handbook
Change happens when 3.5% of citizens become active

LINDA BESNER The Globe and Mail
OCTOBER 3, 2019

Protesters march to Parliament down Lambton Quay during a climate strike protest march in Wellington on Sept. 27, 2019.


For five nights, crowds sang until dawn. “This was happiness multiplied a million times,” Estonian artist Heinz Valk wrote on June 12, 1988. Technically, it was probably happiness multiplied about 100,000 times – this was the estimated number of people who converged on an outdoor arena in Tallin to belt out the folk songs that had become unofficial anthems of resistance against the Soviet occupation. The Singing Revolution, as it came to be called, turned into three years of collective actions that saw the USSR recognize an independent Estonia on Sept. 6, 1991.

The Singing Revolution is an illustration of “the 3.5-per-cent rule.” In 1988, 100,000 people comprised almost 6 per cent of the Estonian population. In their 2011 book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, political scientists Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan examined more than 300 campaigns of resistance that took place between 1900 and 2006 and came up with two significant conclusions: Non-violence works better than violence, and non-violent movements that involve more than 3.5 per cent of the population in strikes, marches, sit-ins or other active public demonstrations are virtually assured of success.

The unprecedented worldwide climate strikes in September 2019 reached the magic threshold in one country, New Zealand, where 170,000 people in a population of 4.8 million came out. Canada’s strikes, estimated at 800,000 people, fell short, at roughly 2 per cent, although they were still the third-largest in the world, behind those of Italy and Germany.

It’s a good start, but one week of protests is hardly the end of the public mobilization required to bring policy in line with science. Chapters of the British climate-crisis protest movement Extinction Rebellion have been springing up across Canada and the world. Oct. 7 will see the beginning of a two-week period of disruptive direct action in 60 cities. Extinction Rebellion has taken Dr. Chenoweth and Ms. Stephan’s findings to heart: One of its key messages is to focus on involving 3.5 per cent of the local community.


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The Troublemaker's Teaparty is a print version of The Citizen's Handbook published in 2003. It contains all of The Handbook plus additional material on preventing grassroots rot, strategic action, direct action and media advocacy. You can get a copy of The Teaparty from bookstores, Amazon or New Society Publishers.