- Overcming the Feeling of Helplessness through “small wins”
In many cases a population living under extreme oppression is likely in comparison to feel weak and powerless, unable to confront the dominating system. That task is often seen as too overwhelming, and too dangerous. The population feels incapable of winning against such great odds. Instead, the population is largely focused on the simple efforts required to live as best they can. The oppressed population is then largely passive.
This condition has been erroneously called “apathy.” The condition is really helplessness. Care is needed in recommending action when people feel helpless. If at this stage people are nevertheless prodded into public opposition beyond their capacity, their predictable defeat will prove to them that their weakness is even greater than they had realized. It will be a long time before they are able to act again.
However, limited action within their capacity is a different matter. That is more possible. Struggle for limited objectives, such as specific issues, “there is no water, or . . . there is not sufficient electricity. The word ‘politics’ had to stay out of it . . . People can afford to say ‘the government must give us water. . .’”
By the success of these actions they became empowered, gaining confidence that they could achieve larger goals. The lesson is that when struggling against great oppression it is often wise to fight on a limited specific expression of the large problem.
Early in a long-term struggle against a dictatorship, initial small actions for limited objectives should be made.
These actions should be ones that involve low risks and that can be undertaken for short periods of time. Such actions can attract attention and launch the struggle, at times without putting the participants in extreme danger.
If all this is done wisely and skillfully, the experience can confirm that oppressed people can become more confident of their capacities for self-liberation.
Rules of Combat Engagement for SELF-Liberation