New Report on “Power, Protest, and Political Change” from the Harvard Dispute Systems Design Clinic

From TFOI Rachel Viscomi and Lisa Dicker:

After the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black Americans, protests across the country built what became one of the largest movements in American history. Yet many activists in the U.S. felt that what resulted were only piecemeal reforms and lip service. How can organizers build power, and how can this power help provide a seat at the table for these groups in the struggle to make change? How can groups overcome a vast power imbalance, particularly in the context of individuals negotiating with city, state, or national governments?

We write today to share a report just published here at the Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program that explores these questions and offers real-world answers. The project—Power, Protest, and Political Change—was created and undertaken by Harvard Law School students Brooke Davies ’21 and Daniel Oyolu ’21 under the supervision of Lisa Dicker, Clinical Instructor at the Dispute System Design Clinic. The report is publicly accessible and free of charge.

The findings of the report are divided into four independent chapters:

  • The Big Trap: When (and When Not) to Negotiate;
  • Coalitions and Allies;
  • Sustainability;
  • Communicating the Message.

Along with each chapter are one-pagers distilling the need-to-know information from each chapter. And since the report touches on organizing and negotiation—but doesn’t explicitly provide background on either—you will find a page aggregating links to the best resources on both as well.

This report is the sum of stories and expertise of organizers across the U.S. and abroad, as well as by the experience and research of the authors. Davies and Oyolu looked both home and abroad, interviewing organizers across the U.S., from national movements like Black Lives Matter, the Sunrise Movement, and March for our Lives, to local jail support groups in Charlotte, North Carolina and community services movements in Houston, Texas. They interviewed non-violent resistance experts at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Freedom House, ambassadors of opposition governments living in exile, high-ranking officials in transitional governments, and activists across six countries, including Yemen, Belarus, Tunisia, Syria, Sudan, and Venezuela. And they conducted a thorough literature review on negotiation, power, and community organizing, including modern case studies.

We encourage students to use this report for their own research and professors to use the work in their classrooms free of charge—the authors include a list of various ways to cite the report in the front matter. For permission to use free in the classroom, please email We hope the information here is spread widely and used liberally to help people create the change they wish to see in the world.


Rachel Viscomi
Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program

Lisa Dicker
Clinical Supervisor, “Power, Protest, and Political Change” Project
Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program

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