The Control Game
Date sent: Mon, 16 Mar 1998 19:59:41 -0500
From: email@example.com (by way of QPIRG )
Subject: (act-mtl-d) The Control Game
Send reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
CONTROL (or democracy)
Subject: The Control Game
Cc: Ed Deak ,
A REFERENCE GUIDE FOR RECOGNIZING POLITICAL/SOCIAL CONTROL TACTICS BY POWER
BROKERS, LARGE CORPORATIONS, PUBLIC RELATIONS FIRMS, AND GOVERNMENT ENTITIES.
Environmental Information Network (EIN), Inc.TM
P.O. Box 280087, Lakewood, CO 80228-0087 -- email@example.com
Paula Elofson-Gardine, Executive Director/Susan Hurst, Publications Director
Tactic 1 -- Make it impossible for people to be involved: These typical
control tactics set things up so that it's difficult and inconvenient for
interested parties such as the affected public to participate.
* Meetings are scheduled at inappropriate locations or times; i.e.,
during regular working hours, highway rush hours, dinner times, or
deliberately conflicting times with similar interest meetings. Strict
meeting "guidelines" and use of question cards discourages real
dialogue and keeps attendees under control.
* Schedule lengthy one-way presentations that will not allow give and
take exchange. This precludes the public (including the press) from
asking questions or clarifications.
* Conveners may insist that all questions be held until the end, by which
time people are tired, the meeting area must be vacated, and the press
has had to leave to meet deadlines.
* Allow the public limited time, and a limited number of questions that
must pertain to their predetermined set of allowable topics; while the
conveners drag out their answers, essentially filibustering away the
rest of the time for the meeting -- and coincidentally time for open
discussion of issues and answers that many attendees showed up for.
* Staff may be trained to be nice, while having been trained to handle
the public by using subtle harassment or baiting techniques, which also
discourages public involvement.
These tactics are used to fulfill requirements for public outreach in order
to legitimize the process. If attendance is sparse it will be blamed on
public apathy, rather than a deliberate effort to exclude public
participation. Reject this pretense for public involvement. Short circuit
this tactic by standing up as a group and announcing an immediate press
conference that will give the press the real story from the citizens outside
of the meeting room or across the street from the building, then get up and
leave as a group. If this is not immediately possible, let the conveners
know that your group will hold its own meeting, protest, and/or press
conference the next morning and will continue to inform the media of their
non-cooperation on these issues.
Tactic 2 -- Divide and Conquer: This is a well-established tactic that
effectively places similar interest groups at odds against each other, when
they would otherwise be a formidable force for bureaucratic responsiveness
and accountability. This tactic uses existing tensions and divisions between
organizations. Name this tactic as soon as you recognize it to short circuit
its effectiveness. Make sure that everyone understands what interests they
share in common, and why it is in their best interest to continue to work
together. A few favorite tactics are described below.
* Divide a large issue into many small ones. This forces people and/or
organizations to fight many small battles, dispersing their energies.
Small groups working in isolation of each other may not be as effective
as coordinating efforts to maximize through solid communication and
* Provide enough resources to cover only part of the problem. This can
include preparing only a few copies of handouts or important documents
so that self-imposed constraints prevent them from being able to
provide x, y, or z service -- while it is obvious that there is plenty
of budgetary allowance for gratuities, amenities, or items that fulfill
their bias or agenda.
* Appoint a committee using key members of the public -- including
appointees with views similar to the convener, funder, or directing
agency to maintain their control of the committee. Their involvement is
then publicly highlighted -- whether or not they attend or participate.
Their names will be used strategically (sometimes in absentia), or
photos are used to imply consent, agreement, or consensus with the
committee -- although they may object or disagree with the viewpoint or
findings of the committee. Citizens (token) used in this manner may or
may not be aware of their names or pictures being used to artificially
lend credibility to the committee or findings in question. In some
cases, they may be unaware that they are considered to be a member of
* Many separate tables are used in large banquet or meeting rooms to
break a meeting up into small discussion groups. This effectively keeps
valuable information that would otherwise be revealed in the general
discussion from being heard by the larger group, which would have
enhanced communal brainstorming and questioning of the process or
problem at hand. These small group discussions may then be summarized
and reported back to the larger group. Carefully placed shills or
committee members may serve as group leaders to control group feedback.
This suppresses any controversial discussions that don't fit the
convener's agenda, and inhibits networking or brainstorming on the
* Seating arranged in "audience fashion" delegates you to a passive role
in these meetings. Short-circuit this by playing Musical Chairs. Insist
that the tables and/or chairs be moved (circle or horseshoe shape) so
that everyone can be an active participant with the conveners or
presenters. Put yourselves at the same level and/or table with the
power brokers so there is no distance to allow them to feel comfortably
in control (no shield). Convert their agenda to your agenda.
* Public relations campaigns (blitzes) into the community will seek out
homeowners associations, service groups, schools, and so on, to present
biased, incomplete, or misleading information to sidestep opposition to
mould and win over public opinion about key issues.
* Conduct private (behind closed-door or impromptu) meetings with civic
groups, government, or public officials (i.e. city council, county
commissioners, etc.) of similar political or philosophical leanings --
without informing citizens or organizations with opposing viewpoints of
* Wrong information regarding time and location is provided -- too late
to be corrected (The scavenger hunt). This ensures that their message
will be presented without all sides of an issue being recognized or
Tactic 3 -- Pack the Meeting: The power brokers will encourage employees to
attend x, y, or z meeting. They may also establish telephone trees (which we
should be doing) to get employees and supporters to pack a meeting to
simulate public support for their position on an issue, and to set the tone
of the meeting.
* Comment or question cards are used in place of a communal microphone
for participants to go to, so everyone can hear and participate in the
discussion. Their supporters will stack the deck of comment cards with
time wasters, and may continue filling out more cards throughout the
meeting to defuse opposition discussion (see tactic 1 --
Short circuit this by meeting with your neighbors, colleagues, or
constituents for a pre-meeting conference to discuss opposition tactics and
strategy that are barriers to getting your views aired. Come up with your
own list of strategy and critical points, then divide them up among
yourselves. Go to the meeting prepared with fact sheets, questions, and
comments that support your views. Brainstorm with your colleagues, refine
the information, then pass it around the neighborhood, or the target
audience for and after the meeting. Call the tactics as you see them occur
in the meeting to defuse them. Insist on a fair airing of the issues, within
Tactic 4 -- Economic Blackmail: When dealing with politically heated issues,
especially "company town" polluters, the first threat may be that massive
layoffs will occur if they have to: change a process, stop polluting, fix
safety problems, clean up contamination, and so on. This is a Red Herring
scare tactic that should be immediately brought to everyone's attention.
* In 1988, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Facility (RFP) was faced with
changes that included decommissioning, the contractor threatened
massive layoffs. Economic developers and chambers of commerce predicted
local devastation. To the contrary, the cleanup has been a huge
economical boost for subcontractors and RFP personnel, who have nearly
doubled the numbers of employees that were needed for full production
and chemical recovery of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads.
* Retraining and educational programs have blossomed at local colleges.
The people to watch are the Developers and Chambers, who will attempt
to create new projects, while "dumbing down the workforce" by bringing
in minimum wage workers for cleanup jobs, lay off union people, and
funnel profits to special interest chums. Stay united, call that
tactic, and make them accountable.
No one likes to be picketed, boycotted, or pictured negatively in the press
- -- these citizen tactics are relatively easy to implement.
Tactic 5 -- Give the appearance of action without doing anything: When faced
with an obvious need for change, bureaucrats may try to give the appearance
of taking action without actually doing anything. These tactics may sound
* "We have decided to appoint an advisory, special, sub-committee, or
commission to study or handle the problem. We want (or need) members of
our group to volunteer assistance because we do not have money for
* "Your knowledge, input, or time is so valuable (and so on), we would
like you to help us with x, y, or z to work out solutions" (but they
will fail to assimilate your information, suggestions, or concerns).
* "We would like to help you by doing x, y, or z for you" -- but the
reciprocal help never appears (carrot on the stick).
* "We plan to issue a policy or statement regarding that problem next
week, month, year..., so that everyone will know what to do in the
future..." Beware of bureaucrats stealing your uncompensated time to
tie you up, keeping you out of circulation in the community.
Volunteerism can be abused, becoming a time quicksand.
Don't accept inconsequential actions, excuses, and "donothingitis". Set a
reasonable amount of time for genuine action, and then tell everyone that
you expect action by that date. Think twice before joining "study committees
or advisory groups" that are not policy-changing bodies that have no real
power to do anything about the issue or problem in question, are funded and
directed by your adversary, or by those that represent the other side of
your issue. There may not be an accurate record of what has happened from
the beginning, during, or at the end of these efforts. Refusal to allow the
recording of meetings, or have an accurate paper trail to document important
meetings and proceedings is a serious red flag of cover-ups and problems.
Tactic 6 -- Give them a Red Herring, or Get them to Chase the Wrong Bunny:
This is an issue or information offered to belittle, patronize, or confound
and derail your efforts. When a bureaucrat tries to change the subject from
what you are concerned about to what they want you to focus on, they are
using a "Bait and Switch" routine.
* "I don't know what you're talking about; You don't know your facts;
That issue is not important; Why are you interested in that issue?; You
have not done enough research; You aren't an expert; Your issue is
beside the point, irrational, emotional, or not practical; Why don't
you check into, or work on x, y, or z, instead?"
* Engaging attendees in detailed explanations or debates that are
intended to sidetrack the issue of concern, hoping that in the heat of
debate, you will: Give up, get tired, go home, and forget the key
Be aware of time wasters that will eat up meeting time, and are designed to
wear you down. When confronted with this tactic, don't get side tracked. You
don't have to be an expert to ask questions, ask for information, or to have
Write notes throughout the meeting -- this will help keep you on track.
Stick to the issues you want to discuss, while making a special note to
follow up, or address the other person's issue later, if they genuinely
desire to do so.
Tactic 7 -- Refuse to give out information, or make it impossible to get it:
Bureaucrats plan that this tactic will discourage you, so that you will give
up and go away. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) format may have to be
invoked to get cooperation. You must know what information you need, what
agency to request it from, and what to look for. The "Key and Lock"
buzzwords and descriptions must be included, or the very information you
seek may be withheld from you.
* Bureaucracies protecting damaging information may try to charge
exorbitant fees for information to be searched, copied, and sent to
you. Request fee waivers based upon public interest needs and public
* The requestor may be flooded with huge amounts of useless information
that is out of order and out of date. This is called a data dump in
legal circles. This is a common tactic used by legal rivals on cases to
eat up valuable pre-trial discovery time. It takes a critical eye,
speed reading, and some research or historical knowledge to be able to
weed through the useless information to find what you want.
To deal with the system effectively, you need the facts. If you have the
facts, the system has to deal with you more openly. Democracy depends on
people having the information needed to allow meaningful input and
interaction with the system. The refusal to give out information may sound
* "We don't have that information; x, y, or z is not in today, and I'm
not authorized to fulfill this request; We can only give out a summary
(They decide what is meaningful, included, excluded, or redacted); Why
do you think that's important?; Justify your interest, or legitimize
your need; We don't think you need that information."
Recognize these tactical phrases meant to put you off the track of the
information you need to level the playing field with your opponent, and
don't accept lame excuses for non-performance or non-compliance.
STRATEGIES TO SHORT CIRCUIT THE CONTROL GAME
* AS SOON AS A TACTIC HAS BECOME APPARENT, LABEL IT: When you name that
tactic publicly, it loses its power. You can counter these tactics with
a minimum of wasted effort by keeping the lines of communication open
with your colleagues and other similar interest organizations.
* BE OBSERVANT OF INTERACTIONS, TACTICS, AND WHO MAY BE CALLING THE
SHOTS BEHIND THE SCENES: Recognize that although individuals make up
the bureaucracy, they should not be the targets of your efforts.
Evaluate where strategic counter-tactics would be the most effective.
Good mottoes to keep in mind. Always go to the top, and the squeaky
wheel gets fixed.
* DO NOT ALLOW BUREAUCRATIC FIGUREHEADS TO LABEL YOU as a troublemaker,
or as someone with emotional or personal problems (i.e.:
"Psychiatrically" linked to a site or set of issues, don't have a life
because you volunteer a lot of your time, are a paid staffer or
knowledgeable citizen, so your opinion doesn't count, or don't have "x"
number of constituents behind you.) to legitimize side stepping serious
issues and/or your concerns. Be alert to the evaluative patronizing
concern look. This is contrived to give the appearance of questioning
your mental or emotional stability to elicit a reaction. Keep cool and
don't give them the reaction they want from you. Any person might
become dedicated to seeking solutions, and become angry or frustrated
over the distancing treatment bureaucracies and corporations use to
keep the public at arm's length over difficult issues.
* MAKE YOUR ISSUE OR ADVERSARY AN OBJECT OF INTENSE STUDY: Never stop
questioning your previous conclusions about them. Get all the
information you can and keep getting it. Put this information to
productive and meaningful use, then network it around.
* NEVER RELAX AFTER A VICTORY, and don't underestimate the power of
* RENEW YOUR OWN OUTREACH REGULARLY by having current concerns and
information prepared and ready to distribute at every opportunity. Use
their meetings for opportunities to pass out your own targeted
information. Use several people to see that all attendees end up with
copies of your information. Ask local copiers or businesses to help
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead, Anthropologist
"Ignorance is compounded by the sins of omission." -- Dr. Edward
A. Martell, Radiochemist
Union Bay, BC, Canada
research education action
Q u e b e c P u b l i c I n t e r e s t R e s e a r c h G r o u p
at Concordia University
------------------ http://alcor.concordia.ca/~qpirg/ ------------------