What is Transformative Action?

Transformative Action is an alternative paradigm for social action that moves us beyond complaint, competition and “us versus them” thinking. Inspired by the non-violent organizing that erupted in the last century, Transformative Action has three basic components:

Breaking the silence that surrounds injustice

By breaking the silence around injustice, we affirm a fundamental premise of a just society: what dehumanizes you also dehumanizes me. Making the choice to speak out about injustice takes courage. It can require great emotional strength and the willingness to suffer unpleasant consequences. This action alone can transform both those who act and those who witness. 

Building an inclusive movement where adversaries become allies

Transformative Action promotes the idea that our efforts to expand social justice are more fruitful when we replace “me against you” strategies with strategies that answer the question: “What is best for us?” This takes confidence that conflict need not be a zero-sum game, in which one of us wins and the other loses. Instead, we listen for shared values, common objectives, and opportunities for mutual benefit. We take time to build alliances, recognizing that true leadership emerges not from individuals alone but from communities working together for a common cause.

Transforming me against you thinking often entails attending to anger, pain, and resentment—our own and those of others. For most of us, this is uncomfortable. Yet, as a practical matter, people are more likely to listen to our views after having their own anger and pain authentically acknowledged. We are more likely to hear them, if our own anger has lifted.

It is worth taking time to consider this further. Anger is powerful and at times constructive. Yet, it also has a way of becoming a disempowering fixture in our lives. It can keep us from facing our complicity in our own condition, from identifying the real source of our pain, and from creating much-needed alliances. This insight is essential if we are to transform a stalemate between apparent foes into a unified, inclusive effort against common challenges.

Articulating an inspiring, proactive vision

What truly inspires people are innovative approaches that allow us to see new possibilities. When it comes to today’s tough problems (global climate change, systemic prejudice, food crises, terror, persistent poverty) we must go beyond the methods that got us here in the first place. We must release old habits of thinking in order to imagine creative and participatory solutions. An inspiring vision of what we are for—that stays clear of blaming or shaming and resonates with our deepest values and beliefs—encourages us to choose connection over alienation, joy over despair, solutions over bitterness, and new insights over habitual responses. We imagine a positive future, bring it forward into the present, and then live—moment by moment—into the world we wish to create.