One notion I've come across ten thousand times over is the notion of practicality.
As in "I'm just doing what's practical...", or the more oft-used expression, "You can't do that, you need to be practical..."
While there's something to be said for making better or worse decisions within politics -- after all, if there wasn't then there'd be no skill to learn in the first place -- I want to highlight this notion because I believe it's a phrase used to stop people from acting against the interests of those already in power, to such and such a degree, at least.
Let us take the case of voting for the lesser of two evils.
It will often be said by an organizer that the lesser of two evils isn't great, but it is better -- and so, you ought to vote for such and such a person. Then, on top of that, you'll have folk who don't really know much better repeating this line of argument, as if our social spheres were natural, physical laws which we have no influence over -- and that you therefore must accept the lesser of two evils.
While it is true that many people are not willing to do the work required to change what our choices are -- for it is a good deal more work than simply going to a poll and registering your opinion -- it is also false to say that there's nothing more that can be done.
Similarly: an organizer will often dissuade more rambunctious ideas from being implemented in favor of, say, a petition or speaking to city council or voting for such and such a candidate. While there are decent motivations -- often times -- for directing action in this manner, it is also simultaneously false to presume that this is always the most pragmatic course of action.
It is a safe form of action. And unsafe actions have consequences which can be deeply demoralizing to an uprepared group of activists, which can destroy a movement.
However, even though this is so, it's also the case that if we are willing to put up with the inevitable and sometimes harsh consequences that, if planned out well, we can get more movement on such and such a proposal by breaking the law than we can through usual means.
The reason why the safer avenue is pragmatic, according to the day to day of political action, is because people are not as committed to their ideals as they like to tell themselves [I think this is a human feature, not something to be lamented, just something to be known], and they will be crushed by the powers that be -- meaning, idealogically, they'll retreat and take up other beliefs -- if they go out on a limb, and risk more than their reputation.
Further, there are already organizations in place which understand these standard methods. If we find other ways to penetrate decision-making apparatuses [legislators, owners, city councils, county boards, etc.] then we are [possibly] a challenge to those who are used to brokering power in the name of their particular cause. It's not a zero sum game, but folk like their positions and don't like the idea of being threatened out of them. So, if you take the pragmatic approach then you'll be within the box those brokers are used to dealing with.
Now, there's often reasons why those brokers are the brokers -- they often know what they're doing, and it really is genuinely safer to use avenues which are in place. But on the other side of things I think it's important to highlight how it is they have gotten their venerated positions -- not by the means they presently proscribe for folk wanting grievances addressed, but through the use of direct action.
And direct action can be much more scary and risky than usual methods for doing politics.
But it's also how power is actually won. If that be our goal then it's actually much more pragmatic than any program or procedural method proscribed by present power brokers.
And that's a very important thing to know.