Understanding people Power: the Upside-Down Triangle

By themselves, rulers cannot collect taxes, enforce repressive laws and also regulations, store trains to run on time, prepare national budgets, direct traffic, control ports, print money, repair roads, keep markets supplied with food, do steel, develop rockets, train the police and army, worry postage stamps or also milk a cow. People provide these solutions to the leader though a selection of organizations and institutions. If world would stop offering these skills, the ruler might not rule. - Gene sharp • The national politics of Nonviolent Action

Topics: Organising, Strategy
Time: 15-30 minutesGroup Size: 5-50+ people

Traditional power is assumed of as a pyramid, wherein power flows from the top downward. A janitor bring away orders from a supervisor that takes orders from a ar head, and so on — every the method up come a CEO or head that state in ~ the really top that the pyramid. In that way of city hall power, social readjust happens once we either change the people at the optimal (for example, regime change or voting) or space able to to convince the optimal to readjust their means (for example, educating castle via a major public outcry).

You are watching: What does the upside down triangle mean

But that’s no a grassroots way of city hall power. That leaves power in the hand of the oil executives and also the remainder of united state begging because that them to execute the ideal thing. We require a new way of the town hall the power.

The grassroots way views power as flowing upwards: this is the upside-down triangle.


In this way of city hall power, the oil executive, management or head of state is naturally unstable. Prefer an upside-down triangle, unjust power and authority is unstable and will fall. To prevent that, that depend on support to keep them upright—we call them pillars of support.

For example, oil executives are dependent not just on their managers, however other pillars the support favor the this firm stockholders, the secretary who keeps track of your schedule, the technology workers who save their cabinet phone and e-mail functioning, the janitors that clean their offices, their limo driver, truck drivers and also ship captains who move their oil, authors who do not investigate their human rights violations, engineers and contractors that make the roads that the oil companies’ trucks relocate on, customers that buy your product, and also so on.

Through all these actions they offer legitimacy come the oil companies—and prop lock up, which permits them to continue with their disastrous practises.

A campaign from the 1970s illustrates this. The U.S. Government was sending out weapons to Pakistani dictator Yahya khan that were provided to murder the civilization of eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In an attempted genocide, virtually 3 million eastern Pakistanis to be killed.

A group of Quakers in the United claims wanted to make a difference. Once they uncovered out that few of the arms shipments were loaded from port in your city, they choose a dramatic activity to avoid the circulation of weapons –– a navy blockade! for a month, they publicly exercised “naval maneuvers” in canoes and also kayaks in front of TV cameras. Some days had themes—religious leaders, kids, elders—all leading approximately the come of the large freighter pearl bound because that Pakistan. (Read much more about the theory and also tactics that kayaktivism.)

When the an initial ship arrived, the team jumped right into their canoes and paddle boats. The coastline guard immediately pulled them out, together photographers tried because that the finest picture. Over the following weeks, they played ‘a cat-and-mouse game,’ together the freighters tried to stop the publicly spotlight by changing their arrival times or rerouting to other surrounding ports. But critical group of civilization was city hall the unfolding storyline top top TV –– the longshoremen to work to load the ships.

The Quakers checked out bars and also met with them. The longshoremen were struck by their sincerity and the feeling that this was a historic moment. The neighborhood longshoremen union agreed come refuse to fill weapons headed to Pakistan. It was the beginning of the end.

The neighborhood longshoremen encouraged the nationwide union to protect against loading any type of military shipping to Pakistan. Through that critical pillar of support removed, the government couldn’t use any port top top the East coastline to send arms. This standard civil disobedience made that prohibitively expensive come send the weapons. Soon after, the federal government announced it would certainly no much longer support the dictator (unsurprisingly, they did not mention the activists’ role).

Without firing a shot or do a single lobby visit, this small group forced the hand the the the U.S. Empire. It is power.

This is a various view of “people power” than people merely working with each other to shot to sway powerholders come change. Rather it uses the particular strategy of conversion of allies to destabilise power. By evaluating our targets utilizing this way of city hall power, we might see new pillars we deserve to “remove” from the system—and also better analyze who power resources we have relationships and access to in stimulate to force change. (Read much more about Power-Mapping her target.) 

Pillars the Support


Use this to analyse the strength of your project target.

Start by putting your target in the center.

See more: How Many Glasses Of Milk In A Gallon, How Many Glasses Are In A Gallon Of Water

Brainstorm different pillars that support. Who gives support to the target? also if castle disagree through them (or don’t care around their position), who space the world who lug out the assignment or otherwise organize up the pillar? Be certain with the name of unions, media conglomerates, secretaries, and so on. If necessary, you may want to take few of those and also make them right into separate upside-down triangles with their own pillars the support.