In one of the recent string of comments in this New Activism series, Jon, brings up a great point in reference to why people protest:
“Why wouldn’t there be protestors?”
It’s a simple and harmless statement, but extremely profound in that the question gives us the answer to the ‘why’ in that question. Why wouldn’t there be protestors? The answer is:
Of course there will be protestors—why would you even think that there wouldn’t be?
There are protestors for everything. It has become such an ingrained part to society that hardly anyone gives this medium a second thought anymore. Marches/protest/etc have been ineffectively done hundreds of thousands of times before, so what’s the big deal in someone ineffectively doing it again? It doesn’t matter what the topic: what religious, social, scientific, moral, governmental or ideological position any group is coming from, there will always be an opposite. Due to the inherent duel sided nature of free-will and humanity, our cultural system has been rooted in and based on an us vs. them mindset. It doesn’t matter who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them’. Everyone thinks they’re the ‘us’ and others are the ‘them.’ I put it another way in my book:
“In seminary I was told by one of my professors to never use sports analogies or illustrations; a lot of people either don’t care or don’t understand. Nevertheless, this GLBT leader had just succinctly articulated the oldest and still the most effective rallying cry that a sports team can use to bond together: “Us against the world—we are the only ones who believe in us, and we will prove everyone else wrong until they start to believe as well.”
People think that mindset is entertaining in movies; compelling, as we root for the underdog. And yet in real life both Christians and the GLBT community are imagining themselves in the same role: each as the underdog who has to fight their way out of the corner. Both believe they are David and the other is the Goliath. Two oppressed mindsets fighting each other will never be able to win the same battle.”
Now don’t get me wrong, this is not me suggesting there needs to be a Kim Jung-Il dictatorship where everyone has to think the same, stomping on the freedom democracy has provided. I believe however that for our culture to move forward in a democracy that thrives in its differences, the medium has to shift for what it means to take a stand. Here you go …
Activism—Can no longer be event driven. There is no sustainability to an event, or even a variety of events across the country. There are always people in cities, towns and locations who you don’t reach or can’t attend for whatever reason, and therefore miss out on the personal momentum. It was brought to my attention by a commenter in a previous Activism post that “large crowds motivate each other to go back and do the work.” True. However that is once again working off of a best case scenario, because there is typically little to no continuity or framework for follow-up, or follow-through that can actually last.
Instead, new activism needs to be like a suffocating abyss that can’t be cut off or stopped. Decentralized. Inner-person. Small and shifty instead of large and slow. Grassroots that can’t be quenched. A true Movement. This all happens through a tightly intertwined combination of the following means:
Viral—It’s the most effective way in today’s culture to get a message disseminated. Take yesterday’s post for instance. Since 1pm yesterday over 1,300 people have already read it, passed it along and I’ve even gotten the Managing Editor of the publication to personally contact me via email andphone—something that hasn’t happened in six months of me trying to reach out through the traditional means. There was so much viral heat that they had to publicly say something. Think about what that would look like with a large group of people all doing the same thing with the same message (only one message—it’s much less effective with a variety of messages, having to try to rank importance or pick and choose which message to jump on board with) through every viral means possible (in a very short, succinct fashion)—blogs, videos, online publications, personal (not corporate) network distributions that are sent to your own sphere of influence to send out to their sphere of influence, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Doing this for one pressing message over a sustainable amount of time with mass participation—it can’t be cut off. And because so many people care about it on such a continual heavy hitting medium, so will the mass media. Hey, even people without a message still get millions of hits on YouTube blithering about nothing (thank you Balloon Boy and your parents). The point is that the viral suffocation lays the proper foundation for the next stages in the Movement.
Insiders—With such a solid foundation laid, bringing the core, single issue to the forefront of culture’s cognitive awareness, it then takes humble listeners, peacemakers and sustainable relationships to love the other side into mutuality. That doesn’t mean ‘win’ or ‘convince’ or ‘buy into’. Loving the other side into mutuality ultimately helps each party see the other on the same level playing field fostered in personal and public dignity and respect. Here is an example. Because let’s be honest, as my friend Kevin says, “Who wants to join a Movement that only demonizes the other side?” It’s about being able to influence the influencers without media or public pressure—because the majority of the time that just causes people to recoil. What happens in secret will influence the masses in public.
Everyone’s a Leader—Fostering small New Activism groups in which everyone is empowered to move, act and implement virally and tangibly in the community on that one vision (it has to be sustainable otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time) is the means to really make a difference. This also allows the two people in rural Mississippi to play an important part in the Movement; just as anyone in Chicago, LA, NYC or DC. This actually might be the most difficult to accomplish because there are a lot of people in power right now in very influential organizations that want no part of giving up any of their media or celebrity talking head-ness. My thought is that whether or not they want to give up some of their power (which would ultimately fuel the Movement to greater heights), they’ll eventually become irrelevant because as the Movement grows in public consciousness, it’s not dependent upon the power-broker or the power-broker’s sole voice.
A Large Public Gathering—Yes, I’m sure you’re all shocked that I would even suggest something like a march. Here’s the difference, a march means nothing if not done retrospectively. What I mean by that is the last large scale march on DC to actually work was when MLK gave his I have a Dream speech. Why it was so effective was because the people at the march weren’t banking on national policy being changed as a direct result of the march. They were gathering because there had been such an overwhelming Movement of Civil Rights acts throughout the country, that this gathering was more of a culmination point—everyone together in honor of what had been sustainably done, which then so happened became the defining moment of the Movement. This is why the march/large gathering must be done at the end: After so much headway and cultural awareness has seeped its way into mainstream, the march on Washington is not the final straw, because the camel’s back has already been broken.