Part 4: New Way of Activism

Here is Part 1. Here is Part 2. Here is Part 3 (which provides a great overview of the whole discussion to this point)

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.

Much love.

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  • Kevin M

    I agree on all levels.

    This is like what I am personally trying to do. To get a core group of people who are a tight group, then each branch out into their own sphere's of influence. Relationships influence lasting change, not a one time event.

    Thank you for these posts on new activism!

  • pm

    You wrote: “Everyone’s a Leader” How about “Be a Leader, Not A Ladder” in terms of empowering your own viral networks instead of acting as a rung of a ladder along which power-brokers climb according to their own agenda. (I attribute the format of this phrase to Anthony Bourdain who said, “Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.”)

  • Mrs T

    A little off topic, maybe, but shows how a newer modern protest is working:
    Many of us are against mass vaccinations. I personally am more for vaccine choice. There are some side efffects, however rare, but they are very serious. So, if you are like me & stay home or work at non-essential jobs, I say no! If you work in a hospital, maybe yes….
    There have been certain protests across the nation & chatter on the internet as well as talk shows. The bringing up of the topic & the discussions have moderated the stance of the ‘leaders’ who were pushing the vaccines. The issue isn’t quite settled, but the people getting upset & not wanting to be forced, made them protest. This brought attention to their state leaders & the media. It did give some results. There is less coercion to have these shots….. We will see how it shakes out. As for me, I feel safer at the moment!

  • Just wanted to leave a quick note and let you know that I thought this series of posts were absolutely wonderful, and I completely agree with you. I would tell you more about all of my thoughts and experiences that lead me to think this way, but perhaps the most powerful one was when the SoulForce equality ride protested on my college campus my sophomore year. They created alot of controversy, and did nothing but create a sense of anxiety and alienation among gay students like myself, and put the school on the defensive to the point that any productive conversation was snuffed out. Part of the mission SoulForce communicated was to simply start conversation, but their rigid push on policy issues and their "old activism" techniques were entirely counter-productive towards this stated goal of conversation.

    My senior year, I helped found and lead a series of 4 campus conversations on homosexuality that were far more beneficial than anything that the numerous meetings triggered by the SoulForce visit produced. The only real agenda was to hear the honest thoughts of homosexual and heterosexual students and to try and foster a community of deeper love and understanding, and I think we took some great steps towards making that happen, and after my graduation other students are continuing to organize those meetings for conversation.

    I currently work for the National Park Service, and after some recent conversations with my fellow rangers, I've discovered that many of them feel the same way about old forms of protest. Simply, the general attitude is that people have spent far too much time shouting at each other and relying on electrified rhetoric, and not enough time quietly listening and thinking and asking productive questions.