Coordinated mass action

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Coordinated mass action is where any large group of individuals agree, in coordination and without coercion, to take a particular action.

Also known as: cooperative action, collaborative action



This article will assume that the intent of such action is to be beneficial. If examples of detrimental coordinated mass action come to light, then we may need to further qualify the title of this concept.

I had originally included the qualified "without... incentive of personal gain", but actually that shouldn't be required; the point is that the action is in some way beneficial to society, even if it seems likely to also benefit the actors. The "creative production" idea below is possibly the best example of this.

I had also included the qualifier "typically at a predetermined time or over a predetermined timespan", but I think the point I was trying to get at was that the action is coordinated by those involved, rather than being centrally dictated.

Working Examples

  • KickStarter provides only a money-collection interface (no apparent voting or discussion features) and yet seems to be successful at funding projects
  • 2008-08-09: The AccountabilityNowPAC MoneyBomb delivered over $150,000 to fight abuse of the US Constitution, entirely with private donations [1]
  • Benefit concerts are a type of collective action in which individuals spend more than they would otherwise (or spend when they otherwise would not) in the name of a good cause, with the enticement of some entertainment and the endorsement (implicit or explicit) of the performers (who have credibility through people's familiarity with their work) and other contributors.


  • Financial message amplification: It has been said (possibly somewhere in Lessig's Change Congress lectures) that while politicians may not necessarily be swayed by monetary contributions, if they have a choice between answering a message from someone who has donated $1000 towards their re-election versus someone who hasn't, guess which one they're more likely to respond to? So -- get 100 people to agree on one particular position that we want a politician to take, and send a letter stating that position, signed by those 100 people -- along with a check for $1000 ($10 from each individual). It would probably be more effective if one of the signers was designated as a contact for answering any questions the politician might have.
    • It may seem corrupt at first glance, but it also seems pretty clear that this is how the game is played these days (especially since the Citizens United decision) -- it's better to have a means by which ordinary people can play than to let the corruptly powerful take control.
  • Buy stock in evil companies: this does require pooling some money, but could accomplish things beyond changing the government; we could change corporate habits from within by influencing corporate policy – perhaps even taking control of some smaller corporations, if enough people buy enough shares. Up to now, most "socially-conscious investment" has focussed on putting money into "good" companies, to encourage their growth; we would mainly be looking at obtaining voting stock in order to influence corporate citizens whose behavior is less than exemplary.
  • Spike days: a lot of "cause" campaigns have "boycott" days, when everybody who agrees with the cause is supposed to go out and not give money to the target corporation. This makes a certain amount of sense, especially when you don't have good communication channels between the "core group" and everyone else, but the effects are probably very diffuse. Out of 100 random socially-conscious people, how many of them were planning to go to Wal-Mart on a particular day? Or eat at McDonald's? If those 100 random people agree to observe a "boycott Wal-Mart" day, then even if every single one of them sticks to it (no allowance for emergencies because Jimmy needed new shoes and neither K-Mart nor Target had the right size!), but only 25 of them would ordinarily have shopped there anyway, then the net effect is a downward spike of 25 (or 25% of however many people agree to the boycott).
    If instead we say to Wal-Mart "Hey, we want you to know that a bunch of us disapprove of certain policies of yours as spelled in extreme detail on on this web page [insert link]; to prove that we're serious about it, every one of us is going to buy something at one of your stores on such-and-such date, which should give you some idea of the spending power you are pissing off." Even if all we do is postpone our normal Wal-Mart shopping until That Day, we still have something more like 100% effectiveness – and if some of us are especially ticked off (and can afford it), we might even specifically go on a Wal-Mart shopping spree on that day – in the knowledge that it was for a good cause. It's not like Wal-Mart is going to get rich off one day of our shopping, and we're only going to do a "spree" when we're trying to send a message. Hopefully the resulting sales spike will be enough to get someone's attention.
  • Voting: my overall reaction to "get out and vote!" has generally been "yeah, right, and it always makes such a difference". However... if there is a strong sense that we have all decided to vote a particular way for really good reasons, this is likely to increase "voter fidelity" (i.e. the percentage of voters who actually vote the way the group has decided to vote), which would increase the collective action group's per-person effectiveness over other more traditional "special interest" groups. There may also be particular tactics – call it "Guerilla Voting" – which would only work within a group where there is a certain level of trust. (e.g. mass write-ins of a non-establishment candidate; consistent voting against gerrymandered incumbents, even from those in the incumbent's party...) If nothing else, unusual results from the polls might get media attention; hopefully this won't be our primary goal, however.
  • Chartering airplanes by setting things up so that an airplane is only chartered when enough people have agreed on a date and flight plan -- allowing profitable flights to be scheduled on an at-need basis rather than on a fixed schedule which might lose money some of the time. Could be not only a significant way of pulling in money from the external economy, but also a powerful way of getting otherwise-uninterested people to register with the system (opening the door for later feeding them a trickle of other issues to vote on).
    This could also be done with buses or "rides", at significantly less risk, but it's not clear what the market is for that; I suspect people are less likely to feel safe riding in a ground vehicle (especially passenger-size) with strangers than riding in an airplane with strangers. People who need buses to travel long distances are also less likely to have computers.
  • Creative production: individuals could finance the creation of profit-generating creative products (on the low end would be things like music CDs; on the higher end, television shows, big-screen movies, live musical productions...) See 2009-05-10 ethics chat. Again, this could be a way for the nascent "government" to fund itself (gain some resources), as well as doing something positive for society.
    • Buy rights to underrated productions (as was done by an individual fan for the BBC show Joking Apart) and then use that property as the start of a marketing company using InstaGov to aid in its management
  • Buy advertising: this is being done to some extent by more traditional groups, but the message tends to be arrived at by a more top-down process, limiting the enthusiasm of those whose money is needed. If several proposals were floated and the final choice was the result of a consensus-building process, the commitment should be much higher. (Of course, just having the money to buy an ad doesn't always guarantee it will be run; TV stations and billboard companies are notorious for refusing, without explanation, to run messages they disagree with.)
  • Buy a local mainstream media outlet (newspaper, radio/TV station, billboard sign/company): Do they ever get sold to private owners anymore? Or are they just too much of a cash-and-control-cow for the big media companies to let go of? Do they make money, or is it the propaganda angle that's important for Big Media? Persistent failure to close any deals in this area would be informative, too, even if rather alarming.