The Plan (working version)

This is a guide to becoming effective citizens, building the society we want to live in and saving the world. It is for everybody. It is a work in progress, and any help would be appreciated. But an imperfect plan is still a start, and if others improve on it or create their own, all the better.

The world’s problems mostly originate in a breakdown of community and the resulting isolation and disempowerment of individuals. By establishing effective networks of self-governance and mutual support, virtually anything becomes possible.

The Problem

Our lives are getting harder. Inequality is growing more extreme. Democracies are breaking down, while fear and bigotry are on the rise. Financial burdens suck up our time and energy. Many of us are increasingly isolated and depressed, struggling to find meaning in our lives. We see the problems around us but feel alone and powerless: when we’re struggling to pay next week’s rent, how can we engage with anything else?

What’s more, climate change is threatening to kill billions of people, decimate global food production and cause the extinction of most animal, plant and insect species on the planet. The damage we’re doing right now is irreversible within human timescales, and government responses have been woefully inadequate. Each year of inaction has been estimated to add half a trillion dollars to the cost of combating climate change.1International Energy Agency

These problems are all intrinsically linked, and their solution is the same.

The Causes

Climate change has been ignored for decades because to take action we must limit economic growth, whereas the prevailing market philosophy values growth at all costs, without limits. Our governments can and should regulate for healthy and sustainable societies in which we all live with dignity—we have the resources to achieve this—but politics has been corrupted to serve the corporate business class rather than the populace. This corruption is so entrenched in most countries that corporate bribes and lobbying are considered normal, and some political parties now have so little to offer for the common good that they can only attract votes by stoking irrational fears and bigotry.

Our current climate disaster is largely a product of the half century during which neoliberalism has dominated economics and politics—the same period which has seen our quality of life so rapidly deteriorate. According to neoliberal philosophy, greed is good and the “free market” should be left to do as it likes, with no democratic controls to protect the environment or people’s wellbeing. During this period the big fish have eaten the little fish and grown even bigger, to such extremes that eight people now have the same combined wealth as half the human race. Goods and services are massively overpriced because the people and companies that supply them are paying off massive loans and mortgages. Effectively, a large portion of our economy drains straight into the pockets of the super-rich.

Alongside this stripping of wealth has been a stripping of power. Politicians are bought; news media are manipulated to keep the public uninformed; secrecy and surveillance have grown like cancer; whistleblowing, protest and dissent are severely punished; police are becoming militarised; and many countries suffer under dictatorships propped up by the predatory superpowers of the world. In the global market, workers must compete for wages against the worst-paid labourers in the world, and we all compete with each other for jobs, housing, education and the necessities of living. Isolated and distrustful, we are powerless before the great corporations.

The powerlessness we feel is reinforced throughout our culture. For generations, education has taught compliance and submission, punishing initiative and critical thinking, promoting competition rather than cooperation, and preparing children to become uncomplaining factory workers.

One of the greatest tricks has been convincing us to think of ourselves not as citizens—participants in a self-determining society—but as consumers, recipients of goods and services. In this paradigm we have no intrinsic value but are measured by our ability to consume: cars, clothes, travel. And faced with climate change we agonize over what changes we can make as individual consumers—which in truth are insignificant—rather than realising the enormous power we can exercise collectively as citizens.


It’s easy to lay blame, but if we want change, it must begin with us. We must understand the problems, build a common plan, and employ strategies and tactics to make that plan happen. While major change can start with a small minority of people, our greatest strength is in joining forces with others.

Our primary goal should not be to hold our governments to ransom, but rather, to rebuild our strength as a society: to educate, reconnect, and take back our government so it becomes government by the people and for the people, for the common good. History has shown that political reform can happen extremely quickly, even in weeks, if a significant fraction of the population engage in co-ordinated and disciplined action to bring it about.

Given the rate of our self-destruction, fast change is now our only option. The gradual solutions promoted by politicians, NGOs and social movements over the past decades are an abject failure. Rather than trying to influence elite channels of decision-making, we must collectively take matters into our own hands and bring about drastic, system-wide change.

“You never change anything by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”— R. Buckminster Fuller

Our current political and legal systems, though still important tools not to be neglected, don’t encourage the key activities of democracy: community-level networking, dialogue and decision-making.

It is too late to prevent substantial suffering, destruction and loss, but we may still be able to salvage a great deal, and create a healthier, happier and more enlightened society in the process. Some strategies will be unproven, but we must do something or failure is guaranteed.

Preparing for crisis

Crises and catastrophes have often been exploited by disaster capitalists to dismantle social protections and seize wealth and power while the public are disoriented. But if we have the foresight to prepare clear plans of our own, these times of volatility can be opportunities to strengthen community, dislodge the status quo and re-establish more healthy and just systems. The key is to have a common vision of the society we want to build, and seize every opportunity to advance that vision. We should expect frequent crises in years to come, which means frequent opportunities for positive change.


The key step in regaining power is to reconnect, via cooperatives, unions, students’ associations, sports clubs, literary and cultural societies, religious groups, and families. Varied and lively social networks, free of state and corporate interference, provide channels for us to:

  • educate ourselves,
  • reach common understanding and agreement, and
  • plan coordinated action, all while
  • enriching our lives.

While wide-scale communication and coordination is important, the most effective level of networking is small and local: people meet face-to-face, build friendships, can hear and be heard, can see the direct results of their actions, and can reach decisions on issues close to home without feeling disenfranchised. Significantly, these are the networks that authoritarian regimes always seek to suppress or control, because they are such powerful vehicles for self-determination.

Historically, activist groups have succeeded best when they focus on single isolated issues, and have struggled with bigger, multifaceted and nuanced issues, where differences of opinion are more likely. The issues facing us are large, multifaceted and nuanced, and we will need widespread coordination for our broad goals at least, so we must find ways to put minor differences aside. If we can first agree on guiding principles, it will be much easier to reach agreement on major goals, and then (when needed) on strategies and tactical details. Often, though, different strategies can be usefully employed by different groups, with no need to coordinate. Establishing a widely agreed common vision will galvanize and enable all that follows, and help us recognise our commonalty with those whose tactics differ from our own.

Some proposed guiding principles

  • Preserving the richness of life on this planet.
  • Compassion/kindness to others

While rule of law is important for a stable and healthy society, the above principles are even more so. Historically, our most important legal principles—including democracy, equality and even the recourse to law itself—were all won through acts of civil disobedience.

Educating ourselves and others

Issues of public interest should be debated publicly, rather than just privately consumed from the media.

Corporate media is often unreliable and unbalanced, reporting only what serves its agenda. It’s simply not possible to draw informed conclusions if you’ve heard only half the story. Seek other reliable sources that give a more complete account, and notice where journalistic principles are not being followed: facts not checked, special interests not declared, uncritical parroting of anonymous sources or known liars. Find and share reliable sources of information.

Test your beliefs by seeking opposing facts and views. Trying to prove yourself wrong and being open to criticism is the best way to become really confident of something. Be curious of other views and ask questions. People shut down if they feel attacked.

Discuss politics. Be upfront with your own views, but even more so, seek to hear and understand the views of others. The cultural reticence around discussing politics is mainly there to discourage boors who broadcast their judgements rather than seek to understand (or where there is real risk accompanying certain views). But the benefits of public discourse — conducted respectfully, and reflectively — are huge.

Value of good information? Don’t make the best the enemy of the good.

How to talk to others: When we feel threatened, we cannot hear calm voices or listen to reason. Be respectful, avoid put-downs, never get drawn into a shouting match. Don’t be distracted by attempts to manufacture outrage. Starve hate of attention. The truth is so bad that many don’t want to hear it, but it must be spoken so that they can begin passing through the stages of anger, grief and feeling helpless, and eventually come on board. Don’t give fake justifications for the need for action, such as “this will save you money”, otherwise you encourage people to only act selfishly. The justification is saving as much life on the planet as we still can. People don’t talk enough, and often are unaware of just how bad things are. Even if they are aware, they may not act like it, so as not to endanger relationships with colleagues, friends and family.


What is democracy?

What is needed for democracy to operate? (Freedom of speech, freedom of association, effective press, good education, proportional voting, communities that talk with each other, good justice system, campaign financing not determined by wealth)

How is tyranny overcome? Why does tyranny persist? (Gene Sharp) Insecurity provokes such an overwhelming and irrational need for refuge that people may readily turn to the “strongmen” who created the chaos in the first place.

How do you make decisions?

Create a climate action council with robust voting system. This is the people’s way of deciding what actions must be taken. Critics can be invited to join the council.

What are the ethical and other principles a group should adopt? Establish clear guiding ethics from the outset, that outweigh legal considerations. (E.g., warning corporations engaging in destructive and predatory practices that should they persist, they will be subject to confiscations without compensation once the movement prevails.)

How does emergent leadership work? What are the hallmarks of a leader? Different types of leadership?


How do you plan actions? (Fun)

What kind of training is needed?

How do you prevent takeover by agents provocateurs?

How do you deal with infiltration?

How can you interact and join forces with other groups? Many groups will have gateholders who are resistant to revolutionary tactics. Do not demand they change, but speak truth to any hypocrisy and appeal directly to their members. Different groups may not always agree on tactics, but can still broadly support each other.

How can anger and the urge to violence/destruction be harnessed and redirected? (“Dancing in the Streets”) There is great desperation and great anger, and disruptive actions can give cathartic release, especially when it feels like we are ‘punishing’ the wicked or ‘forcing’ people to take notice. But activism of any type is far more rewarding when it has pragmatic and valuable goals, and when actions increase your popularity rather than ostracise you.

How can you defeat attempts to discredit you?

How do you overcome hesitancy to commit? Many people aren’t confident there will be critical mass. Conditional commitment.


How to run a social evening (Tupperware-party–style)

Encouraging people to find costumes and create superhero alter-egos for themselves for parties and public actions.


What is the economy, and what makes a truly healthy economy?

What have business people been taught about economics?

How can organisations work better?

How should the group interact with the wider community?

How do you look after your own mental health? How to deal with hard emotions?

How do you get financing?

How can you best influence greater events?

What’s wrong with capitalism?

  • Monopolies & concentration of wealth

  • Wasted effort; wasteful production

  • Blind to anything without $ value

  • Advertising, conspicuous consumption

  • Claims about having lifted people out of poverty are false.

Escaping authoritarian control – drawn from Gene Sharp “From Dictatorship to Democracy”

Few people live in really effective democracies, and many are saddled with brutal authoritarian regimes whose selfish interests don’t include addressing the climate crisis. Many countries appear democratic on the surface but are sinking in debt and their social institutions and ability to create their own wealth have been dismantled by external investors, who effectively hold the country to ransom. Mass political defiance and disobedience has in many but not all cases returned control of governmental institutions back to the people, though poverty, crime, bureaucratic incompetence and environmental damage can persist a long time after. For ‘free’ countries there is also a perennial risk of moving towards authoritarian rule.

Dictatorships rely on concentrating wealth and power in too few hands, and breaking down or controlling social, political, economic and religious networks, so that populations are atomized: turned into isolated individuals unable to unite for any purpose. People feel powerless and scared. Insufficiently large protests may have failed, and brought only increased brutality.

Some have attempted violent rebellion, but this almost never achieves anything except worse oppression. Firstly, because violence is the very type of contest in which the dictators usually have the greatest advantage. Military resistance strikes the regime where it is strongest. Secondly, because in the highly unlikely event of the rebels winning, the weakening of society during the struggle and the centralisation of military command often lead to a regime even more dictatorial than its predecessor.

A military coup does not of itself redistribute power to the people but leaves it in the hands of the government and military leaders, who often turn out just as bad or worse than those they replace, and who use the chaos of the moment to further infringe democratic and human rights.

Dictators may, under pressure, allow sham elections, but never fair ones.

Outside ‘saviours’ such as the United Nations, a foreign military power or economic sanctions usually fail to appear, and if they do they should not be trusted. Foreign powers often break promises, and tend to support dictatorship of one form or another, since their own goal is usually predatory. And foreign powers often only get involved once local resistance has already begun to succeed, as they see easy opportunities opening up for themselves. International pressures such as boycotts, embargoes and diplomatic censure can be very useful when they are supporting a strong internal resistance movement.

To escape dictatorship, a population must:

  • Gain determination and self-confidence, and become skilful in resistance.

  • Strengthen their own independent networks and institutions.

  • Create a powerful resistance force.

  • Have a wise and well-implemented strategic plan.

Negotiations with dictators are sometimes appropriate, but when the issue at stake is fundamental, only democratic protections can safeguard a desirable result; and this must be won through struggle. A strong dictator may offer negotiations as a ruse to get rid of irritating dissidents, and they cannot be trusted to keep their word unless you already have the power to enforce that they do. A weakened dictator may offer negotiation as a means to salvage as much remaining wealth or power as they can.

If your resistance has succeeded to the point that the dictator is willing to negotiate, you should probably continue with resistance and not relinquish any of your power, nor give them an appearance of legitimacy, through negotiation.

While nonviolent resistance has brought about democratic reform in many places (and often in a matter of weeks!), violent rebellions have rarely won positive change, and tend instead to trigger brutal repressions that leave the public more helpless than before.

Dictators require the assistance of those they rule, to give them:

  • Authority: the belief that their rule is legitimate and must be obeyed
  • Human resources
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Intangible factors (psychological and ideological) that may induce people to assist and obey
  • Material resources: property, natural resources, finances, access to the economic system, communication and transportation
  • Sanctions: punishments or threats to ensure compliance.

When some of this support is withdrawn, the dictatorship is weakened. Threats and repression often follow, but if the sources of power can be restricted for long enough, there will likely be a clear weakening of the dictatorship, which over time can lead to its paralysis, impotence or even disintegration.

The key points are:

  • the relative desire of the population to reduce the dictator’s power
  • the relative strength of the subjects’ independent organisations and institutions to withdraw power
  • the relative ability of the population to withhold consent and assistance.

Groups such as families, cultural organisations, sports clubs, student associations, literary societies etc. etc. have great political significance and are able to exert influence that isolated individuals cannot. These provide the network through which mass defiance can be orchestrated. Numerous groups such as these is a hallmark of democracy, while dictatorships seek to either control or obliterate such networks. If such groups have been obliterated, you can establish new ones: like the direct democracy councils that emerged during the Hungarian Revolution.

Dictatorships have weaknesses

Dictatorships can often appear invulnerable while opposition forces appear powerless: this perception can discourage opposition. But dictatorships have these weaknesses, which democratic opposition should seek to aggravate:

  • Cooperation of the many people needed to operate the system can be withdrawn
  • The requirements and effects of past policies can make it hard for the regime to adopt conflicting policies
  • The regime may have difficulty breaking routine to deal quickly with new situations, e.g. by reallocating personnel and resources
  • Subordinates may not report accurate or complete information to their superiors for fear of displeasing them.
  • The ideology, myths and symbols of the regime may lose their mystique
  • Those who firmly adhere to an ideology may allow it to shape their sense of reality and be inattentive to actual conditions.
  • The effectiveness of a regime’s operations and policies can be impacted by inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy, rule-bound regulations, internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries.
  • Intellectuals and students may become restless; the general public may become apathetic, sceptical or hostile to the regime.
  • Regional, class, cultural or national differences may become acute.
  • The power hierarchy is constantly vulnerable as individuals rise or fall in the ranks or are replaced entirely.
  • Sections of the police or military may act toward their own objectives.
  • While a regime is new, it is more vulnerable.
  • With decisions concentrated in so few, mistakes of judgement, policy and action are likely. If a dictatorship decentralises its control to avoid this, its power may be eroded.

There is always risk, and dictatorships cannot be destroyed without potential suffering and casualties. Rapid success cannot be guaranteed.

Political defiance:

  • does not accept that the outcome will be decided by the means of fighting chosen by the dictator.
  • Is difficult to combat
  • can aggravate the regime’s weaknesses and sever its sources of power
  • can be widely dispersed in its action, but concentrated on a specific objective
  • leads to errors by the dictatorship
  • effectively utilizes the population as a whole in a struggle against the few
  • helps distribute effective power in society, making transfer to democratic society easier.

Nonviolent struggle is much more complex and varied than violence: protests, strikes, noncooperation, boycotts and disaffection are psychological, social, economic and political weapons that cut off the sources of a regime’s power.

Hundreds of specific methods of nonviolent action have been identified, under three broad categories:

  • protest/persuasion (largely symbolic)
  • noncooperation, including social noncooperation, economic noncooperation (e.g. boycotts and strikes, refusal of assistance by indispensable experts), and political noncooperation (e.g. stalling and procrastination, or outright noncompliance with specific policies; and denouncing the legitimacy of the regime).
  • Nonviolent intervention, by psychological, physical, social, economic or political means, e.g. fast, nonviolent occupation, and parallel government.

Using numerous of these methods, carefully chosen in the context of a wise strategy and widely and persistently applied by trained civilians, is likely to cause any illegitimate regime severe problems. The methods can be chosen to directly address the most pressing grievances.

Actions that depart greatly from our ordinary lives, such as distributing leaflets, operating an underground press, sitting down in the street or going on hunger strike, can be very difficult for some people except in extreme circumstances. Other actions, such as “slowdowns”, deliberate “mistakes” or “sick” days may be much easier, requiring less departure from usual activities. Any such actions also help people lose their fear of the regime.

Nonviolent discipline despite provocations and brutalities is key, as even limited violence allows the struggle to be shifted towards military warfare, where dictators have the advantage. Brutality exercised against nonviolent protesters provokes internal dissention and external support for the resisters. The large numbers of participants typically needed to push through change can only be reliably obtained if the movement’s ethical standards are seen to be high.

Limited violence may be inevitable from some groups, but this should be separated as much as possible from nonviolent actions. Historically, nonviolent defiance has resulted in far fewer casualties than military action, and it doesn’t contribute to a cycle of violence.

While secrecy may be useful in limited situations, it is very difficult to maintain. Also, it is rooted in fear and contributes to fear, which reduces the number of people who will participate. It provokes distrust among activists (who might be an informer?). Openness, on the other hand, conveys a perception that the movement is very powerful. Activities requiring strict secrecy include illegal publishing and radio broadcast; and intelligence gathering.

Nothing stays the same during the struggle. Actions and counteractions constantly change the playing field. The variations in respective power tend to be much greater in nonviolent, rather than violent, struggle, and specific actions by the nonviolent group create big ripples.

Focus on the government and its means of support and control, as it is the government that has power to enact policies, and power to suppress protest. Avoid targeting intermediaries such as working people, or infrastructure that supports the movement, such as public transport and telecommunications.

Plan ahead, so that you can choose the type, time and target of your actions, rather than reacting to your opponent. Opponents are the elites and their enforcing agents: courts, police, security guards. Agents’ interests can depart from the elites, bear in mind.

Have a plan for what to do if communications are severed.

Dream where you want to be, and then figure out what needs to be done to get there.

Demonstrations should be parties. Bring drums. Bring music. Bring pots to bang. Bring ceremony, bring joyous abandon. Showcase your cultural treasures. Before television, people affirmed community and their place within it through festivals and processions.

Ask questions. People find their own truth more easily if it is not thrust upon them, and find it easier to consider new ideas when they are not being told they’re wrong.

State fundamental ethics: these override legal considerations. Many of the legal rights we take for granted today were won through political disobedience, sabotage and vandalism.

Record and broadcast your actions. A large part of the power and (relative) safety of nonviolent actions comes through being seen by others.

Climate Solutions

Mining fossil fuels removes carbon from ancient long-term storage and puts it into the atmosphere, oceans, and short-term storage such as trees and soil. To mop up current fossil fuel emissions may require quadrupling the world’s forest areas and permanently protecting them. And the more we burn, the more trees we must plant and maintain in perpetuity. Destruction of land by poor farming practices has also contributed to global warming, and we should adopt regenerative agriculture practices to rebuild soil. Industries and agricultural methods must be carefully studied to understand their complete carbon contribution.

Effective carbon charges must be put in place to discourage emissions and reflect the damage they cause. Costs of damage are broadly estimated at around US$100 / tonne of carbon (and rising as the crisis worsens), but we should distinguish between fossil fuel emissions, which add to the biosphere’s total carbon burden, and land-use emissions, which can be reversed without our needing to further expand the earth’s forests. If these carbon charges are returned to the public via a citizens’ dividend, most people will be better off financially, at least at first.

Industrial production will need to reduce, which is fortunate, given how much of what we produce is terrible quality, made under poor working conditions, and serving no real social need. Products should be regulated to ensure they are well-made and repairable with standardised parts. We may need schemes such as Universal Basic Income to support the reduced working hours that will result.

These radical proposals are just the beginning of the full transformation that must occur. But all can be achieved with the backing of a powerful social movement.


In our tech-dominated social world, there’s a lot of work to be done by techies. We need networks for communication that are not dominated by advertising or censored by unaccountable corporations, but that also can’t be taken over by anonymous bad actors. We could be using peer-to-peer networks and decentralised storage for all the ways we communicate using text, images, videos, chats; for collaborating on documents and organising information; to vote on things; to buy and sell.

Bad actors flourish in the anonymity that currently characterises most of the web. It would work a lot better if most public discourse wasn’t anonymous. To enable this, we need a system of credentials based on local people meeting and verifying the identities of residents in their area. This would personally identify us to members of our immediate geographic community, while also providing us with an anonymous but unique identity globally. (How to prevent malicious outing of people?)

A great boon for those living under authoritarian regimes would be the ability to share information directly, bypassing state-controlled ISPs by connecting directly with other devices in their vicinity. Most devices are now wireless-enabled, so in cities at least, a liberated mesh network across wifi channels should be feasible.

Authoritarian regimes and criminals have long attacked us with hacking and malware, by finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in our shonky, old-fashioned operating systems and software. It’s now possible to build systems that are guaranteed to have no such vulnerabilities (see the seL4 microkernel). We can and should live our digital lives in a peaceful and demilitarised digital world.

All of this lends itself to better democracy, in which electronic communications enable richer and more nuanced participation. “Liquid democracy” is one approach.

But as helpful as our computers and devices are, we should never become completely reliant on them.



To the extent possible under law, Ben Whitmore has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to “The Plan”. This work is published from: New Zealand.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *