The Spectrum of Allies

Excerpt from The Climate Resistance Handbook

Campaigns make a mistake when they focus only on their active allies and active opposition.

Because most people aren’t in either of those categories! The rest of the people might be broadly thought of as “the public.” This tool is about breaking down the idea of “the public” and really seeing where our support lives.

On the left side, we have our active allies. Active opponents are on the right.

In between might be passive allies or passive opponents — folks who might agree or disagree with you but aren’t doing anything about it. Or they may be neutrals — truly undecided, completely uninformed, or truly apathetic.

The tool brings with it some good news. Campaigns don’t succeed by getting everyone to agree with us!

Most successful campaigns never get their active opposition to change their minds. So let them go. Instead, support for their position is pulled away by shifting the passives and neutrals one step in our direction (for example, moving neutrals so that they become passive allies).

Groups often waste a huge amount of time obsessing over the active opposition, even though they rarely move.

The spectrum of allies tool can be used in meetings to think about where people and groups stand on an issue. Healthy debates can emerge during this process, and it can expose our need for research. For example, “Where does that union local stand on this issue?” Debates may emerge about who to reach out to in order to help persuade other groups.

When using this tool, it’s important to remind people to be specific. Instead of naming broad groups like “labor” or “children support groups,” it’s best to name specific groups or organisations. That’s because the spectrum of allies is an organising tool — it’s useful in figuring out who you are going to reach. That means the groups should be listed with names of people who can be contacted so you can reach out and engage with them.

We don’t need to convince everyone to become active allies to achieve our goals. Take the abolitionist movement against slavery in the United States, as an example. If you add up every petition signed, every meeting, every public action — not even 1% of the population were active allies. Yet the movement was successful.

We therefore don’t have to become hyper-focused on moving our active opponents. Our work is to steadily move passive allies, neutrals, and passive opponents in our direction. We keep our active allies engaged.

More from Aadil Ayub