Why aren't the streets full of protest about the Paradise Papers?

The street-level response to the Paradise Papers, the mighty follow-up punch to last year’s Panama Papers, has been curiously tepid. This is probably not what many activists, and the 100 media organizations involved in the leak, expected to happen.

In striking contrast to the bombshell release of the Panama Papers in mid-2016 that immediately triggered a 10,000-person-strong protest in Iceland leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the Paradise Papers have thus far made many headlines but no uprisings.

The world was different – arguably better – 18 months ago when commentators widely believed, as Rana Foroohar put it at the time in Time magazine: “the Panama Papers could lead to capitalism’s greatest crisis.”

Many activists justifiably, and optimistically, anticipated that the largest leak in human history would provide the evidence necessary to spark an ongoing series of protests worldwide that would yield concrete, lasting change.

Then Brexit happened, alt-right nationalism surged and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. In other words, the Panama Papers protests, and leftist activism more generally, were quickly overshadowed by a dramatic string of victories for the criminally rich who now figure prominently in the Paradise Papers.

That is why I want you to entertain the possibility that this time around the absence of predictably reactive street protests that dissipate as spontaneously as they erupt – and quite frankly, have not yielded systemic change in recent years – is a positive sign.

Rather than being an encouragement to succumb to defeatism, or a retreat into an equally false triumphalism that unconvincingly claims our movements are winning, the eerily quiet response to the Paradise Papers is a long-overdue indication that activists everywhere are either open to, or actively involved in, reimagining revolutionary activism in the 21st century.

The decreasing effectiveness of protest is a symptom of growing class segregation. The rich and powerful are not existentially threatened by protests in the street because our streets are not their streets.

Sure, noisy mobs might force one or two tax evaders to take a less public role – perhaps even resign from office – but the fundamental economic injustice of our society is not corrected.

I suspect many of us are no longer swayed by the theatrically militant rhetoric used by Brooke Harrington, a Copenhagen Business School professor, whose response to the Paradise Papers is characteristic of the progressive left: “It won’t be lost on wealth managers and those in the offshore industry that we are reaching sort of French Revolution levels of inequality and injustice.” Gazing backward in this way is detrimental to moving forward.

As long as we keep assuming that the next revolution will look like the great modernist revolutions of the past – the French Revolution, Russian Revolution, Chinese Revolution, etc – whose script was dramatic street protests followed by the collapse of the regime, then we will continue to be unable to imagine into existence tomorrow’s revolution.

So here is a different story of how the Paradise Papers could instigate global social change

The fundamental lesson of the Panama and Paradise Papers is twofold. First, the people everywhere, regardless of whether they live in Russia or America, are being oppressed by the same minuscule social circle of wealthy elites who unduly control our governments, corporations, universities and culture.

We now know without a doubt – thanks to the incontrovertible evidence provided by the Panama and Paradise Papers – that there is a global plutocracy who employ the same handful of companies to hide their money and share more in common with each other than with the citizens of their countries. This sets the stage for a global social movement.

Second, and most importantly, these leaks indicate that our earth has bifurcated into two separate and unequal worlds: one inhabited by 200,000 ultra high-net-worth individuals and the other by the 7 billion left behind.

While street protest is losing its effectiveness, there is a force that could terrify these elites: the spectre of a ruthless and globally inescapable class justice.

Unlike in the 99%’s world where youth languish for months and years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack or $5 worth of candy or a bottle of water, in the world occupied by the 1% getting caught stealing millions from the public through tax evasion might be embarrassing but is rarely prosecuted. That must change.

The ultra-rich live in a different world but they are still stuck on our planet and activists must ensure that there is nowhere to hide. From this point forward, protesters must frighten the uber-rich with a sophisticated movement to establish a new binding global legal regime dedicated to prosecuting financial crimes against humanity.

The impetus to reorient our protests away from the old model of getting angry in the streets in the hopes of toppling corrupt individuals and toward the new affirmative approach of founding a planetary legal regime, an international criminal court that ruthlessly prosecutes tax evasion as a crime against humanity, could be the greatest gift of the Paradise Papers. And only activists can make it happen.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/...

I started Occupy Wall Street. Russia tried to co-opt me

I have sometimes been approached by persons that I suspected were either agents or assets of intelligence agencies during the 20 years that I have been a social activist. The tempo of these disconcerting encounters increased when I abruptly relocated to a remote town on the Oregon coast after the defeat of Occupy Wall Street, a movement I helped lead. My physical inaccessibility seemed to provoke a kind of desperation among these shadowy forces.

There was the man purporting to be an internet repair technician who arrived unsolicited at our rural home and then tinkered with our modem. Something felt odd and I was not surprised when CNN later reported that posing as internet repairmen is a known tactic of the FBI. 

I’ve had other suspicious encounters. A couple seeking advice on starting a spiritual activist community, for example, but whose story made little sense. And a former Occupy activist who moved to my town to, I felt, undermine my activism and gather information about me.

Those few friends that I confided in dismissed my suspicions as mild paranoia. And perhaps it was. I stopped talking about it and instead became highly selective about the people I met, emails I responded to and invitations I accepted. 

I hinted at the situation by adding a section to my book, The End of Protest, warning activists to beware of frontgroups. And, above all, I learned to trust my intuition – if someone gave me a tingly sense then I stayed away. That is why I almost ignored the interview request from Yan Big Davis.

Yan Big contacted me for the first time through my website on 18 May 2016. He wrote that he wanted to interview me about protest for an organization called Black Matters, an online community that he claimed had 200,000 likes. His email was strange. His English was awkward. I’d never heard of Black Matters but it sounded like a copycat of Black Lives Matter. 

My intuition told me to stay away. And initially I did. But two weeks later, on a lark, I wrote back and accepted his request. In a sign of my residual wariness, I scheduled the interview for nearly a month after his original email.

The interview with Yan Big was immediately uncomfortable. The phone quality was terrible: it sounded like he was calling internationally or through a distant internet connection. He had a strange accent and an unusual way of phrasing questions. He was obviously not a typical American. 

I rationalized that he must be an African immigrant living in America and that was why he was interested in protesting against racism and police brutality. His attempts at flattery set off more alarm bells. I finished up the interview as quickly as possible and got off the phone.

Yan Big posted the interview on the Black Matters website and for the next few months he emailed me to ask for help promoting protests in America against the continued incarceration of the MOVE 9 and Jerome Skee Smith. I never replied again.

I actively forgot about Yan Big until 18 months later when a reporter with Russia’s RBC informed me that Black Matters was a frountgroup run by the nefarious Internet Research Agency, a Russian private intelligence and propaganda firm – a “troll factory” - with deep ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime. 

Black Matters was one of many fake activist groups, such as Blacktivist and the police brutality tracker DoNotShoot.us, created to mimic and influence American protesters. RBC discovered around 120 Facebook, Twitter and Instagram frontgroup accounts with a combined total of 6 million followers and likes.

As a revolutionary American activist I’d been on guard against domestic intelligence agencies, not foreign governments, and Russia exploited that posture.

The American media started calling me within hours of RBC breaking the story. Russia had attempted to use me for their anti-democratic agenda – rather unsuccessfully as I had stopped replying to their emails – and now the American corporate media was vying to use me for theirs.

BuzzFeed rushed out a report. CNN sent a car to transport me to Time Warner headquarters for an on-camera interview that was instantly uncomfortable in a way oddly reminiscent of my brief encounter with Yan Big. 

CNN’s interviewer and producer seemed to want me to play the naive victim: angry at the US government for not protecting me and furious at the Silicon Valley tech companies for allowing this to happen. I got the tingly sense and refused this disempowering and anti-revolutionary narrative.

Instead, I gave a nuanced reply and told them I wanted a revolution in America, not a clampdown on social media’s role in protest. CNN did not air the interview. The same thing happened when I spoke with a producer of NPR’s flagship show All Things Considered.

So what is the American media unwilling to consider?

First of all, Russia’s efforts are part of a larger shift in the nature of war in which activists are becoming the pawns of superpowers. We are witnessing the advent of social movement warfare: the deployment of social protest as an effective alternative to conventional military conflict. 

Russia’s attempts to foment, stage and manage social protest in western democracies is a strategic response to allegedly American-funded “color revolutions” like the Rose, Orange and Tulip revolutions against Russian-allied governments in Georgia (2003-2004), Ukraine (2004-2005) and Kyrgyzstan (2005) along with, arguably, the Arab Spring (2010-2012) and Euromaidan Revolution (2013-2014). 

The Russian ministry of defense hosted an international conference in 2014whose primary focus was developing counter-strategies against these color revolutions. And, although this has never been publicly disclosed, it is reasonable to suspect that sparking a color revolution in America was discussed in the backrooms.

I am reluctant to respond to this trend by calling for a ban on foreign support for domestic activism. This kind of meddling might be a necessary evil. I can think of very few successful revolutions that did not rely on foreign aid. 

France supported the American Revolution beginning with the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1778. Germany, which was at war with Russia, helped Lenin return from exile to lead the Bolshevik Russian Revolution in 1917. The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa received significant international support. Or here is an example close to my heart: Occupy Wall Street, a global movement that ostensibly began in New York City, was actually created by a Canadian magazine.

In fact, although it is rarely discussed, the Occupy movement received substantial support from Russia. I remember how the state-owned RT television station (formerly Russia Today) aggressively supported the movement with hyperbolic coverage of police brutality. 

RT even rewarded one prominent Occupy political comedian known for YouTube tirades with his own show, Redacted Tonight. A recent profile of that former activist revealed his now complete reluctance to criticize Putin. And during the height of the movement, RT invited David Graeber and other prominent founding Occupiers from New York City to London to film an episode of Julian Assange’s show.

These were all obvious attempts to co-opt our social protest by amplifying it and becoming the movement’s primary mouthpiece and media source. But it still helped Occupy spread to 82 countries.

What is qualitatively different about the situation today, and reason for genuine concern among activists, is that Russia now seems less interested in supporting authentic movements and more concerned with outright control. 

Russia never tried, as far as we know, to splinter off a fake Occupy frontgroup. Back then Russia wasn’t seeking to create American movements directly led and controlled by Russian citizens. 

Today, on the contrary, we know that Russians created fake Black Lives Matter protests and fake Standing Rock social media accounts. This shift from providing support to actively establishing groups under their total control is the real danger activists must resist.

From co-opting Occupy to cloning Black Lives Matter, the next step will be the creation of new, previously unheard of, contagious social protests in America that are conceived, designed, launched and remotely controlled entirely by foreign governments. 

Many activists might join these protests because they believe in the cause being espoused without realizing who owns the leadership. But if the suspicion becomes widespread that tomorrow’s social movements are actually Russian, Chinese or North Korean frontgroups then there will be a profound delegitimization of protest that significantly bolsters the anti-democratic forces in western democracies that already want to clamp down on activism. 

Both outcomes represent truly terrifying future scenarios that lead to the most pressing question of all: what can activists do?

The way forward begins with an honest acknowledgement from American activists that we were complicit in Russia’s ability to mimic our protest movements. We allowed our techniques of protest to become so entirely predictable that a fake Black Lives Matter group can gain more likes than the real one and an agent in Moscow can organize a plausible protest in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Activism has become scripted and this has increased not only the ineffectiveness of our protests but also our susceptibility to mimicry by external anti-democratic forces. The indistinguishability between fake and real protest is a wake-up call for protesters and must be the catalyst for a profound rethink of contemporary activism.

That is how we protect ourselves. Here is how we fight back.

Genuine social protests tend to boomerang around the world. So let’s ensure that foreign governments fear that the protests they create abroad will return home. To protect against fake activism in America we must insist that every protest be globally oriented. 

That means exporting our protests to every country, especially those suspected of supporting, co-opting or controlling our movements. If Russia wants to create civil rights protests in Oakland then they must be prepared to deal with those same protests back into Moscow. From this point forward, our best defense is a global offense. 

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/...

Occupy and Black Lives Matter failed. We can either win wars or win elections

The difficulties faced by recent social movements in achieving positive change, despite their tremendous speed and overwhelming size, is a sign that activism as a discipline must embark on a period of paradigmatic reevaluation. Breaking with the enforced consensus that our movements are winning even when it looks like we’re losing — that Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Charlottesville and the countless protests happening worldwide every day are victories despite never achieving their avowed objectives — is not easy. Challenging the activist orthodoxy as an activist is far more difficult than marching in the streets or sharing rebellious tweets. But the risk of staying silent is too great. Activists must act up to save protest from irrelevance.

The ways activists protest today, both online and in the streets, are ineffective and do not result in the transformative social change that we desire. This realisation is liberatory. It frees us to ask the most important question of all: why are our protests failing?

An unfortunate consequence of the lack of critical reflection on protest failure is that the few explanations typically given are wholly insufficient. For example, perhaps the most commonly proposed reason for why Occupy failed is that our movement lacked demands. While it may be true that Occupy lacked a single, unified demand across all of our nearly 1,000 encampments worldwide, this theory is false because it does not explain why protests that have had clearly articulated demands also failed. Consider, for example, the global anti-Iraq war march on 15 February 2003. This was the largest synchronised protest in human history. Ten million people worldwide went into the streets with a single demand: “no war!” And yet, a month later, the Iraq war started despite global opposition. The anti-war movement was effectively destroyed.

A compelling theory of protest failure would apply equally to Occupy and the global anti-Iraq war march. Therefore, a lack of demands cannot be the true reason. No, there is something deeper going on.

To understand why our protests are failing we need to look instead at the story motivating our performance as activists. What script are protesters following when we flood into the streets?

When citizens of nominally democratic governments protest in the streets they are performing the foundational myth of democracy: the faith that the people posses ultimate sovereignty over their governments.

Here we have in simple terms the core myth that motivates all of contemporary activism: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” wrote the American revolutionaries in their Declaration of Independence, justifying insurrection. Or, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by United Nations general assembly in 1948, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”. Our misplaced faith in these statements is the crux of the crisis within activism.

Protest has become the dominant way the people demonstrate their collective will. Obviously, if it were true that the authority of our governments derived from the will of the people, and the consent of the governed, than the public manifestation of the people’s dissent — protest — would be an effective strategy for manifesting a sovereign power over our governments. Activists assume that if we get enough citizens into the streets then we, the people, will magically exert a popular authority over elected representatives. It is a beautiful story. But it is no longer true.

Contemporary protest is broken because the will of the people is no longer the basis of the authority of government. Put colourfully, the people’s sovereignty is dead and every protest is a hopeless struggle to revive the corpse. It is time to try a different method.

When activists start to think in terms of attaining sovereignty, it becomes abundantly clear that if we cannot demonstrate our will through public protest then only two paths remain: we can win wars or we can win elections.

Street protests alone won’t achieve the change we need.

The authority of government accrues to whomever changes the existing regime militarily or electorally. If activism is to stay relevant, we must apply our techniques of protest, and social movement creation, to either winning wars or winning elections. Neither approach will look the way you expect it.

I believe that focusing on winning elections is the correct path strategically and morally. However, I have noticed that whenever I broach the subject of merging protest with electoral politics, most activists quickly assume that I’m advocating a traditional, progressive electoral strategy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Radical activists need not work within the existing party apparatuses.

On the contrary, I find inspiration in contemporary hybrid movement-parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement, Spain’s Podemos or Iceland’s Pirate Party. Even in nations dominated by a two-party system, such as the US and arguably Australia, I see opportunities for activists to intervene electorally without giving up their revolutionary edge. I’m emboldened, above all, by the experience of the little-known New Alliance Party whose 1988 candidate, Dr Lenora Fulani, became the first woman to run for president of the United States and get on the ballot in all 50 states. This was an immense organising challenge that required gathering over one million signatures, a feat that the Green party was unable to accomplish in 2016. Dr Fulani and the New Alliance Party were able to pull it off because of their years of community organising in poor communities of colour. When outsider candidates are backed by grassroots movements the impossible becomes possible.

What does this all mean, in concrete terms, for today’s activists who dream of instigating significant social change?

Very few people have thought about activist electoral strategy as deeply as Jacqueline Salit, a former campaign manager for Dr Fulani’s presidential campaign and an ongoing leader in America’s independent political movement. Salit offers two pieces of advice in a recent strategy briefing for activists.

First, she observes that, “the most successful independent parties in recent times have been ‘anti-party’ parties.” In other words, as activists pivot toward winning elections our movements should not imitate the form or content of existing political parties. Instead, we must position our movements as protest parties — anti-party parties — whose ascension will be the death of established parties.

Salit’s second piece of advice is most important. Advocating for “cross-ideological partnerships,” Salit urges activists to “put ideology on the back burner and move on to democracy, to unrigging the system.” This post-ideological perspective is perhaps most difficult for activists to accept but it is a strategic necessity of an electoral strategy. Rather than fully aligning our movements with preexisting political categories, there is strength in poaching from across the left-right political spectrum.

Moving forward, as activists we must radically challenge the roots of our discipline and embark on a period of wild tactical experimentation oriented around capturing sovereignty. Let us no longer tolerate those within our movements who stifle collective reflection on our failures. Only a total rethink of protest will lead to the emergence of newly effective methods of revolutionary activism.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/...

The crisis of sovereignty

WHEN I FIRST spoke with Micah White for the Los Angeles Review of Books, it was the fall of 2015. Looking back, it feels like we were speaking to a tremendously different world. I know full well that the problems we have seen since the inauguration were not born out of a single presidential campaign: they are ideas, practices, and beliefs about people that existed far before they were uttered from the podium during a Trump stump speech. That being said, when Micah and I did talk, Barack Obama was president, and the Justice Department, while far from perfect, had reinvigorated the Civil Rights Division. Then, little more than a year ago, when I thought of protest, I was thinking specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, Donald Trump is president, the attorney general was deemed too racist to be approved as a federal judge in the mid-1980s by both sides of the congressional aisle, and, while protest still needs to be focused on law enforcement, it’s now more frequently discussed in terms of resistance to the machinations of the current administration as a whole. Protest, essentially, is our means of responding to the entire federal government. 

But can marching in the street really carry the political load that people are asking it to bear? To explore the effectiveness of protest as resistance, I reached out, once again, to Micah White, PhD, author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution published in 2016 by Knopf Canada. He spoke with me from his home in rural Oregon.


JUSTIN CAMPBELL: I want to start with a two-part question based on your recent piece in the Guardian entitled “Without a path from protest to power, the Women’s March will end up like Occupy.” There, you worry that the Women’s March might be “destined to be an ineffective, feel-good spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.” Women were marching, you write, based on “a false theory of how the people can assert sovereign power over their elected president.” In your mind, what is sovereign power exactly, and if peaceful protest isn’t how we exert this kind of power, how do we exert it effectively?

MICAH WHITE: The issue of sovereignty is the most important question that activists need to be thinking about right now. And to have that conversation, we have to of go back and trace where the idea of sovereignty comes from. When you go back, you find that the notion of sovereignty that American activism is using, which happens to be the same notion that most democracies use as well, actually, are ideas that were inherited from the work of Rousseau, the 18th-century Swiss-born French philosopher. Rousseau argued that the sovereign wasn’t the king; rather, the sovereign for Rousseau was this kind of mystical force that emerges when large numbers of a population that are representative of that city or state get together and then decide on things together. When they exert their general will together, that’s how you manifest sovereignty.

His whole theory was that governments are just when the people making the decisions are both numerous and representative of the population. What’s happened is that, over time, we’ve had a collapse of the kind of sovereignty Rousseau wrote about, such that now, sovereignty has become synonymous with the sovereign, with the president, with the king, and sovereignty has been concentrated into the hands of one single, absolute individual, like we saw with 20th-century dictators. It’s happened again now with Donald Trump and Putin and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, who kills drug users. That’s the crisis that we’re in; the concept of sovereignty that initially activated contemporary activism is dead! It’s gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. There are no large-scale assemblies of the people that can exert power over governments.

So essentially you’re saying that there is no way to get the government to do what you want them to do?

Yes, that’s correct.

What about the protests at the airports after the immigration executive order? Some would say they did make the government to change its course.

Implicit here is the deeper question of how do we, as activists, know when our protests are effective in creating change. Like the old saying: “Even a broken clock is right twice a day” — it could be possible that our protests are entirely ineffective and that we are ascribing a causal connection between our actions and change when there isn’t one.

In this particular case, I’d ask: How do we know that protests at airports influenced the judicial branch’s decision on Trump’s immigration executive order? Do activists have any evidence for this claim? Or is it just a story that makes us feel better: we did a rain dance, it drizzled, and we are happy to think we caused the rain. But maybe it was the lawyers and not the protesters who temporarily blocked the immigration order? Or, to be even more specific: Perhaps the form of protest used by lawyers was effective while the form of protest used by the people at airports was not.

There is another layer to this question that I find very interesting. Notice how, from a political theory perspective, activists have been unable to use protest to sway the executive and legislative branches of government — the two branches that are supposed to be influence-able by protest — and so now we find activists claiming that they are influencing the judicial branch — the branch of government that is supposed to be above influence and concerned only with the law. This claim immediately makes me skeptical. Why should I believe that judges are more influenced by protest than the president? Isn’t it more likely that they were influenced by constitutional legal arguments and the protesters just happen to be on the right side of the Constitution?

Finally, I’d like to say that there is a pernicious paradigm of protest that says our street protests are simply designed to provide proof of public opinion. Their goal is not to take power and govern; their goal is to influence the decision-makers. One of the benefits of this paradigm is that it transforms repeated failure into victory. From the perspective that protest is supposed to get the people into power and govern, activists are obviously failing. But, from the perspective that protest is just designed to influence the people in power then activists are often able to convince themselves they’re winning.

But if you want to know who is really winning, just ask yourself: Who is the president?

James Baldwin in a television interview in the mid-1960s has the following to say about violence: “We, [Americans], are produced by a civilization which has always glorified violence, unless the Negro had the gun. This country is only concerned about non-violence if it seems that I’m going to get violent. It’s not worried about non-violence if it’s some Alabama sheriff.” In our last interview and you said violence is hard to talk about, but in your Guardian piece, the women storm the armory at the beginning of the French Revolution, and they come out armed, go to the palace, and are able to get in. How much does being armed play in their success, in your opinion? Is this a principle of revolution, or is the fact that they were armed specific to the context of that revolution?

The women during the French Revolution marched on Versailles, brought out the king and the queen and his entourage and his court, and they marched them back to Paris under a threat of violence, and then within a few years the king was killed. That’s the revolutionary history of the Left. The Left went out, physically captured the sovereign, killed the sovereign, and instituted a new government. That was what a revolution was, literally.

That being said, they were dealing with hereditary political power, where the ultimate sovereign has to be someone in blood lineage. Therefore it makes perfect sense that they would have to kill a specific individual in order to achieve revolution. Today, the person who is given sovereign power is actually just the person who’s gone through some sort of magical ritual that we call “elections.” We know that those elections can be bought, can be hacked by a foreign power, and still, we’ll accept them as legitimate. All the leaks coming out basically show that Russia owns Trump, and that the government had this information during the election, but didn’t act on it, because they wanted to protect the transfer of power and protect the notion of elections as a powerful, magical ritual.

I guess what I’m saying is that I see violence and elections as two different paths, and I leave it up to activists themselves to choose. I personally think elections are more viable and more realistic; if we look at violence, then we’re forced to look at groups like ISIS. ISIS has gained sovereignty in their territories, but at what cost? Ultimately, I think the two paths might collapse into one path, and that’s the danger that we face right now. I think we’re in a very dangerous kind of, pre-civil war moment in America, actually.

In our last interview, you were prophetic in identifying the rift in the country between the coasts and the center of the country. Is your view of another civil war in that same kind of prophetic spirit?

Look, it’s very clear what’s happening, and I don’t like to tell the future, but here’s what I’m going to say. I think that what Americans are about to experience is the Arab Spring.

When we brought Occupy Wall Street to this country, we specifically, at that time, linked it to the spirit of the Arab Spring. That mood came here in 2011, and it led to the first stage, which was a kind of mass, social movement in the streets. We didn’t achieve what they achieved in the Egyptian Arab Spring; there, they toppled their dictator, and put a new person into power. We didn’t achieve that with Obama, but now it has been achieved, in a way, through Donald Trump, who I would say is our Mohamed Morsi.

Then let’s look at the second half of the Arab Spring. I was just in Egypt, meeting with some Egyptian activists, and we talked about what happened in the second half of the Arab Spring there. Basically Morsi got into power because the secular youth didn’t put forward a viable candidate to govern the country when they toppled Mubarak. Only the Muslim Brotherhood did that, so the Muslim Brotherhood got into power. And then, all of a sudden, things start going wrong, and the mood shifts against Morsi, and the intelligence community and the military orchestrate a second revolution, and a lot of the secular youth in their country, jump on it. They say, “Yeah, we need to get rid of Morsi. He’s killing people in the streets. The economy is terrible. He’s the Muslim Brotherhood. We’re secularists. Get him out of here!”

Well, if we go through impeachment in the traditional sense the next leader would be Mike Pence.

But that’s not happening, because the whole administration would be caught up in the scenario that I’m describing.

Fair enough.

So, yes one scenario is that this is just going to be some sort of Watergate, Nixon-type thing. President Trump steps down, and everything goes just fine. I don’t think this will happen, though. I think much more deep state machinations are at work. Let’s just pray that it’s more like a gentle handover of power to Mike Pence, and not the alternative, because — and this is really controversial — but when I look in my heart, right now, and I ask myself, “Would I rather support the Russian puppet, or a military coup?” I’m not so sure that I want to support a military coup. If I were in Eygpt during the Arab Spring, I’m not so sure I would have been against Morsi. I think that People’s Democracy might lie on the other side of Donald Trump. I think that the People’s Democracy in Egypt could have been on the other side of Morsi. When you go the military coup route, you can’t get back to that other side.

You lose that window. 

Totally. You lose that window of opportunity. Right now, in the United States, we have a window of opportunity, which is, we could elect an equally radical, leftist candidate into power in four years. We could do that! Donald Trump showed us that we could!

Some people on the left may hear what you just said as being overly apocalyptic. They’re the ones who would tell you that, “Look, we had Nixon. Nixon was just as bad and we survived him. Why is everyone getting so worked up?” Then you have the other side of the left, which is currently saying, “No, the Republicans are burning down the house, while the Democrats are still inside playing Monopoly, hoping to win the board game.” What do you think about this image?

That metaphor is perfect. Look, democracy as we knew it, is over. This is because the United States became very good at creating what I would call “color revolutions” abroad. We deployed these very effectively against Communist regimes in multiple countries. I would argue that those color revolutions have come home to roost. Russia has learned the art of the color revolution. Imagine that! I’ve written about how they have been studying these revolutions, that they had a gathering of military leaders a couple years ago, around how to build a color revolution, how to counter color revolutions, and so now they’ve created a color revolution in the United States. They have created a color revolution in our country. Our country has been taken over by a clique of puppets, who, probably all have some sort of really terrible blackmail material on them. Let’s be real, I think we all know Donald Trump is some sort of sexual pervert. There’s something really gross in that file of theirs about him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think people who try to pretend like everything’s going to swing back to the progressive establishment, and that somehow Elizabeth Warren’s going to become the next president, or that Bernie Sanders is somehow going to rise from the ash, aren’t serious. Their kind of thinking is the kind of thinking that didn’t allow the Egyptian activists to build a credible alternative to Morsi and why Egypt has a military dictatorship right now.

One of the things you’ve said in your Guardian article is that “in America, there is no pro-democracy anti-establishment party,” and then you mention that the Pirate Party in Sweden and Italy’s Five Star Movement as examples for where the Left could go. Those countries are both multi-party systems, though. Does a third party ever have a chance to break into the mainstream, or does a movement have take over a party, like the Tea Party did back in 2009, 2010.

There are two different options, and I think people have to realize that Trump just did what I’m saying needs to happen for the Left. Whenever someone tries to tell me that a revolutionary government is not possible, I’m like, “Who is our president right now? A white supremacist is our president right now, with Russian ties.” Like, seriously? It’s time to just stop closing our eyes to the fact that we can obviously figure this one out. If we wanted to create an exact analogue to Trump, then one option could be to create some sort of social movement, that is maybe backed by China, for example. China being a counterweight to Russia. China provides the same resources that Russia provided to Donald Trump, to this movement. This movement uses those resources to get into power. That’s one option. Do I think it’s the preferable one? No. I think a more preferable one would be an actually grassroots American social movement à la Occupy Wall Street meets Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March, all rolled into one glorious People’s Democracy.

Thus we have two options: we can either do what Donald Trump did, which is enter into the Democratic Party, seize control of it from the top, or we can build a third party that is on the ballot of 50 states. I don’t really care which one we choose. Let’s split into two groups and do both. I personally think we should start a third party. I think that that is probably the cleanest and most exciting and most viable way to move forward. But, you know, if someone thinks that I’m wrong, like the “Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders” people, fine. Please show me that I’m wrong. Regardless, let’s be orienting in the direction of action, otherwise we are all totally screwed.

We talked about Simon Critchley a lot during our last talk, and I actually returned to his work again, recently, in light of the election. In his bookInfinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance, he talks about the fact that the Right has a very strong sense of political motivation, that’s almost like a spiritual energy, that the Left can’t seem to generate. Where does the secular Left find this kind of unifying spiritual energy? We talked last time about what you call the collective epiphany, but what are some strategies for generating these collective epiphanies around multiple causes? We saw this kind of collective epiphany energy at those Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010 that lead them to back candidates who took seats in the House and the Senate in the midterm elections. How do we generate that?

Well, I think that what’s at the bottom of what’s happened here, is that the Left has given up on the possibility and desirability of revolution. This is because they were so discouraged by the experience of the 20th-century revolutions. Up until the 20th century, the Left was motivated by, basically, a religious idea that many people have been oppressed, forever, but [gasp] lo and behold, capitalism has created a situation where the oppressed have some sort of great power.


Right. If only the proletariat were to grab control of their machines, that only they know how to operate, then they would instantly have greater power than the people who own the machines. What I’m saying is, when they created this story, they even said that it was inevitable, like Christians did. “We’re all going to go to heaven,” says the Christian, “if we do certain behaviors,” and the Communists said, “We’re all going to gain some sort of power on earth, if we do certain behaviors.”

The Left gave up on that vision, which means that now, we don’t have a story line. Everyone calls themselves “progressives,” but we don’t have any story of what we’re progressing toward. We don’t have any vision of real revolution that puts The People into power. The Right, on the other hand, does have this story, this vision. They have stories about the decline of civilization, the decline of Western civilization, reviving this Western civilization. Even Hitler would talk about creating a thousand-year Reich. The powerful vision that motivated Nazis was the idea of creating a thousand-year government. Who on the left talks about that kind of stuff?

The hubris embedded in that kind of vision scares the shit out of me. It sounds like Icarus flying straight into the eye of the sun.

I know it’s scary, but that’s what I’m saying. While this kind of vision scares the Left, we have to ask ourselves: Why does it scare us? It doesn’t scare me! It’s beautiful. That being said, I do think that either we figure this out, or we will enter into a rehash of World War II. We know what happened. I’m not the only person who feels like we are entering into a prewar period, okay? I’ve talked to other activists and they feel the same way. People before World War II felt this same way. They were right. We could also be right. What happened during World War II? Millions of people were sent to death camps. I don’t want to take it to that level, but I’m just saying, that it’s possible that our fears are real. If that’s true, then we have to have a revolution.

One of the things Critchley also pointed out in 2008, is that “[t]here’s an increasing sense amongst, especially people on the left,” that “electoral politics is irrelevant to the lives of citizens,” leading to what he calls “passive nihilism.” This is essentially the belief, consciously or subconsciously, that I’m just my own island, I’m just going to go to my mindfulness class, go to my meditation, and I can just kind of not do anything and that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. We’ll eventually get there. Is this kind of passivity how we arrived at our currently political moment?

I think that is definitely part of it. I just got a message on Facebook that said, “Look, Micah, I’ve been listening to your stuff. Don’t you think electoral politics is always going to pull us into the system, and it’ll never really work?” and I said to this person, “Why are we concerned about Donald Trump, then? If electoral politics always results in lame weakness that doesn’t create revolutionary change, why are we so concerned about Donald Trump?” Oh wait, we actually don’t believe what this person said about electoral politics in our hearts; we just use that as a justification to keep ourselves from doing what scares us. Obviously, it’s terrifying to have Donald Trump be president of the United States, because we realize that comes with immense power. If we, as a social movement, were president of the United States, we would also have immense power. We would have, for example, nuclear weapons. We would have a military. We would have billions and trillions of dollars. Be realistic, people. Look at the resources of the US government, and then ask yourself, what if a social movement had those resources? Seriously, it’s time to just stop with this whole infantile rejection of electoral politics. It’s like — it’s a joke. Electoral politics comes with challenges. We have to solve those challenges, instead of avoiding them.

How do you make the case for that when those things — nuclear weapons, the military — are what some on the left feel like they are fighting against in the first place? It’s almost as if some are fighting without expecting to ever get into power.

I think that’s absolutely right. I think this ties into what I call the worship of youth. I’ve been active since I was 13, and I get it; but now looking back, at 34 years old, 21 years of activism, I realize that we do this thing which is really self-destructive, which is that we celebrate the people who are protesting for the very first time, the people who are 19, 20 in the streets. We take these beautiful pictures of them, and then we use that as a justification to not to do that deeper thing, which is to ask, “Who’s going to govern?” Most presidents of the United States are 50, 60, 70 years old? Who among us is going to govern? Is it going to be a 19-year-old? No, it’s not going to be a 19-year-old, let’s just be real. I remember what I was like when I was 19. Did I have any idea of reality? No. I didn’t have any idea. They make good people on the streets, it’s great. Please, youth, keep protesting. But please, let’s be realistic, too.

I think the reality is that the world is messy and dirty, and there’s this Sufi, spiritual reading that talks about how you’re not supposed to just shut yourself up in the Cave. You’re not supposed to just flee from the sin of reality; you’re supposed to immerse yourself in the sins of reality, and maintain your course. The most powerful and positive political figure is someone who has access to the nuclear codes, and doesn’t use them. We need to grab control of the state in order to change how the state functions, and we need to grab control of the resources of the state in order to put them to good use. That’s the next step. But it’s quite possible that we will be stuck here forever. Let’s be real, the Germans had a Communist revolution in 1919, and no one even talks about it; it failed, a Spartacus uprising. And then right after that there was Fascism. Destiny is not always on our side.

The activist DeRay McKesson was on Pod Save America, and he said that the protests that he has experienced through Black Lives Matter taught him that, “protest is about telling the truth in public.” Is “telling the truth in public” what youth are doing in the street? Is protest then useful as a part of this larger mechanism of revolution?

Look. DeRay’s great, but he’s not a theorist of activism. Here’s what I would compare what he said to: We had an example of this in ancient Greece; we had Diogenes the Cynic. Diogenes the Cynic was a man who lived in a barrel. He had no property, he had no items, he wore a sack. He was famous though, because he would stand on the streets of Athens and he would scream the truth at people. “Oh, you rich people, the way you’re living is disturbing. You don’t need possessions. Look,” one of his famous examples is he tells people, “I don’t need a cup to drink water. I have my two hands.” It’s beautiful, it’s lovely, it’s wonderful, but Diogenes the Cynic didn’t have political power.

I love it. It’s great, and we need that, but that’s not what protest is. That’s not what activism is; that’s something else. What DeRay is talking about is like living a beautiful spiritual life. He’s talking about performance, doing social marketing, but at the end of the day, what he’s talking about is not protest. Protest is literally behaviors designed to create social change, specifically, I would say, through a revolution, which means a change in legal regime. Telling the truth and these kind of things, are great, they’re wonderful, but people who say that that is what protest is, are really just misleading us, and they’re pushing us to forget the fact that, let’s be real: Who would have been the DeRay or the Micah White during the French revolutions? Who would have been the people calling for the death of the king? Come on.

I get it though; some of these Black Lives Matter activists got a lot of fellowships, and it got really cushy up there. It’s easy to start thinking about protest like that, but it’s not the reality. It’s not the reality.

One of the issues that’s been raised to you, I know, a million times about Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, is this idea that they’re leaderless movements. This is levied as a critique against their effectiveness. Is there some way, in the internet age, of gaining group consensus in a way that we can move forward without a leader?

Again, the world I think is dividing into basically, two positions. They’re both populist. One position is a kind of authoritarian populism that says, “We need a strong, charismatic, single individual to make decisions for us,” and that’s Donald Trump, that’s Putin. But there’s another vision of populism, which is a kind of horizontal, or democratic populism, or maybe you would even call it a leaderless populism, which is that the people themselves are going to make the decisions that benefit them. There’s a difference.

Right now, though, if you were to ask which one actually works, sadly, authoritarian populism does, and the other doesn’t. That’s just where we’re at. Imagine a real social movement we have, like Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street, trying to make a complex decision together about how we should govern the United States, or what kind of health insurance we should have. Literally, it’s not going anywhere, because we lack those mechanisms.

I do think that we will see that as long as we understand that that’s a problem, and not run away from it, we could solve it. I think we could solve it. I think the European movements, especially the Five Star Movement in Italy, have taken steps toward solving that, and that the Five Star Movement in Italy does make complex decisions together, about the direction of the movement and the legislation they should be proposing, and this kind of stuff. I remain optimistic, and I also think that this form of organization is superior in the long run, and so it’s just a matter of figuring out, “How do we do it?” That, again, is a challenge for activists to figure out — people like DeRay and others should be figuring that out. Not speaking truth on the streets. They should be asking, “How do we govern, as a social movement?” That’s what we should be trying to figure out right now.

So this next question is obviously me baiting you and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. Who do you see building this kind of movement? Can anybody participate? Or do you need to be educated in certain ways?

Do you mean, who would take part in this kind of movement?

Yes, or even just, if there’s not going to be a charismatic leader, who leads? Who instigates?

We know, going back to Rousseau, that if we’re going to revive sovereignty — that’s what we’re trying to do, revive sovereignty, bring it back from the dead — if we’re going to try to revive sovereignty, the group that ultimately makes decisions about our community and our city has to be both numerous — it has to have lots of people involved — and representatively diverse. You can’t just have one group or another in charge. Over the years, I’ve been talking about Five Star Movement, and some people hate it. Why do they hate it? They absolutely hate it because the Five Star Movement has right-wing elements to it, but also has left-wing elements to it, and they hate that. The Left say to me, “No, you should only talk about Podemos, because Podemos is fully on the left.” Meanwhile, Five Star Movement is doing way better than Podemos.

What I’m saying is, it has to be both numerous, representative, and diverse. Then I think, though, that if you want to talk about specifically who we should be learning from, right now in the United States, I’m going to tell you who I think we should be learning from. Everyone should be talking to Dr. Lenora Fulani. Who is Dr. Lenora Fulani? I just discovered her myself. In 1988, Dr. Lenora Fulani ran for president. She’s an African-American woman and she ran for president in 1988. She was on every state ballot, 50 state ballots. The Green Party in 2016 did not get on every state ballot. What I’m saying is that she knows it’s possible. Why do I have to wait until 2017 to learn about someone who did this in 1988? Everyone’s telling me it’s impossible but here’s a black woman in 1988 who did this. We all pretend like Hillary Clinton was the first, but here’s a black woman who did this. She’s still alive, people. She should be in every single interview right now. I think what I’m saying, is, there are people out there who we can learn from, but again, notice she didn’t just stay on the left. She worked with Left and Right, and Lefts hated her for that. Again, there’re these people who’ve been ostracized, but who they hold wisdom, and we need to start tapping into it.

That’s interesting. Would you call hers a centrist position?

I wouldn’t call it centrist, because I think that what you do is, you work with the extreme Left and the extreme Right, and it doesn’t pull you toward the center. It — I don’t know if we have a word for it — it’s like the backside.

Like a line that’s pulled into circle by bending the ends until they meet?

Totally. I would call it an alliance, a strategic alliance. I think that that’s what we need — a new form of populism, to counter Donald Trump, and unless we have that, then the progressive establishment will cheer a military government. That’s what I think. I think all protest at this point that isn’t backed by a political movement that can take power is implicitly an argument in favor of a military coup. That’s how I feel.

Because a military coup is what will end up happening eventually.

Literally. Trump was elected president. What if he was a radical communist, and we were seeing these articles coming out like this, accusing him of “treason”? What I’m saying is, either the United States continues the tradition that whoever wins the election by any means, is the president, or we start a new tradition that’s like, “Well, maybe you won the election, but we’re going to overthrow you afterward.”

Doesn’t that sound like a dangerous thing for the Left then, as well? Couldn’t the Right do the same thing to the leaders of the Left?

Right now, the horrible thing to think about, is that Donald Trump most likely won the presidency with the support of a foreign government. Does that mean that the Left would have to have support of a foreign government in order to win the election? Like I said earlier, that would be China, and I think that once you start going down that path, then it does become very alarming. In essence, I think it’s troubling, on all sides.

So there’s been this kind of meme floating around that we should bombard our representatives with letters and notes and calls. Is this just saying that “We may not be able to have this revolution now, but in the meantime, we can annoy the crap out of the people making decisions”? Do you think that is a viable short-term solution? Or is it just cathartic, a way to release some steam?

I love the activist community, for this reason. On the one hand, it’s really good. We’re at a period right now with large-scale, creative explosion and innovation; all kinds of new tactics. What’s really funny, though, about the activist scene, is they’ll get these ideas, and then all of a sudden, everyone has to do it.

A few weeks ago, I got a letter in the mail, and it had no return address. It said: “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t put this letter online, this is an off-line guerrilla campaign.” The guerrilla campaign was to send letters to Donald Trump saying basically, “You don’t represent us,” and the goal was to just flood him with postcards. Flood him with postcards! And then, lo and behold, a couple weeks later, the Women’s March happens, and what does the Women’s March say? They say, “Now that you’ve marched, send postcards!” It’s like, all of a sudden, the activist world gets obsessed with certain tactics, like postcards. And to be honest, I’m like, “People, can we please just stop it? No, not postcards.” It’s dangerous, I keep saying this, but people don’t listen! It is dangerous for us to keep taking legitimate revolutionary energy, and channeling it into behaviors that people know will not breed social change. Donald Trump is not reading their postcards. There’s some poor, minimum-wage worker in the White House who takes your postcards, and throws them in the trash. That’s what’s happening. He throws them in the trash. His life sucks because of your postcards. That’s it.

You feel maybe better in the moment, but, ultimately, you’re not affecting anything.

Totally. And I don’t know, I feel like telling people to send postcards is dangerous, because there were a certain percentage of people, like for example in the Women’s March, who went home and heard that the next action was going to be, “send postcards,” and a certain percentage of those people may turn to themselves and say, “You know what? That’s not going to do anything. I better go turn toward violence.” That’s the danger here, you see what I’m saying? If we alienate people from the possibility that positive protest that can actually achieve regime change in the United States, then we’re going to have a much darker scenario. We really need to stop asking people to do things that will not create a change that we want.

What would you like to see the Left do, in say the next six months to a year, and how would you measure progress or success?

We know where we need to go, which is that we need to figure out how to build a social movement that can win elections, and govern, and make complex decisions together. We know that’s where we need to go, so what we need to be doing in the next six to eight months, is, even though, let me see … What are we at, February? No one wants to talk about this, but I’m going to tell people the truth: there is an election this year. There’s an off-year election in multiple communities, and we have an opportunity to test out our ability to build a social movement to win elections in this year. We don’t have to wait two years. It’s happening this year, 2017. Again, why don’t we start a discussion among activists, and identify those communities? The great thing is that there’s not that many, I think it’s a dozen or so, but to identify where those communities are, what positions will be up for grabs, and then figure out how to use social protest to win, by any means necessary. Maybe we need the support of China. Maybe we need to hack their computers. Maybe we need to relocate there, and become voters. Whatever! Let’s all experiment on that.

Let’s talk about that, let’s talk about these elections in 2017, and how we’re going to win them. And not just win them, but govern afterward, and then use that as a stepping stone to 2018. I think until we’re willing to have that conversation, then I’m sorry, but we’re not going to see the change we want. And to be clear I’m not talking about electing progressives; I’m talking about electing a social movement. That’s a different thing, and that’s really important.

By progressive you mean a Democratic Party progressive, right?

Electing Democratic progressives as a goal still assumes that what’s holding us back is that we don’t have good people in positions of power. That is not true. It’s not that we don’t have good people in positions of power, it’s that we don’t have The People, we don’t have a social movement in power. We need to get away from thinking about finding singular individuals who are going to make decisions we agree with, and start figuring out, “How do we get individuals who are going to make decisions that I’ve decided on? That we’ve decided on, together?” That’s the difference.

You said nobody wants to hear this. What did you mean by that?

Because, look. I get it. I know I’m saying all this stuff, and you’re like, “What does he know?” Well, I started as an activist as a teen. I’ve been arrested for blocking traffic to try to protest the war. I’ve been to Palestine. I’ve done direct action in Palestine, nonviolent direct action, I put my body on the line. I’ve done all forms of activism, every form. I created a social movement. I’ve done all of it. What I’m saying though, is that there’s one area, this one big area that I never experimented with until recently, an area that activists refuse to experiment with, which is, gaining power through elections. Think about this. We act as if it’s so difficult to organize something like the Women’s March, and yet we’re amazing at it. We can create an event with four million marchers. It only took like three months to organize. We can do that, yet we can’t even win an election. It blows my mind. It’s just something that no one wants to talk about. It’s like being a savant in mathematics and not knowing how to eat with a fork.

Right now, what frustrates you the most? Sometimes I see you as a John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. You even said yourself that it doesn’t seem like the Left is listening or ready for what you’re saying. What are some of your frustrations currently, with all of this?

Well, John the Baptist, I believe, baptized Jesus Christ.

He did, yes. Eventually, yes.

Well, if I get to be John the Baptist, who is somehow going to bump into some activist down the road, and say something to this activist, and then they go and create the thing that I’ve been dreaming of, then I’m quite happy. That would be the best possible scenario. What I think that I’m trying to get across to people is that we as activists need to always ask ourselves, “Why are we doing these specific behaviors?” We need to understand that the specific behaviors that we’re choosing to do, they’re arbitrary. They are historically defined, and they are arbitrary. If we had been activists during the American Revolution, we would be going and tarring and feathering people. If we had been activists during the Cultural Revolution, we would be painting banners with calligraphy and marching down the streets, or whatever. Every generation protests in their own culturally dependent way, so let’s stop being obsessed with the specific, historically defined and culturally defined way that we protest right now, and let’s think strategically and say to ourselves, “Okay, we can get large numbers of people to do any behavior that we want. We can get them to march, we can get them to occupy, we can get them to riot, we can get them to jump up and down, we can get them to meditate. We can get them to do anything, so what should we get them to do?”

I think what gets me frustrated is basically that we’ve allowed our imaginations to atrophy, and we’ve allowed ourselves to give up on the hope of revolution. I just think, what if we are in a moment before World War III? If this were 1933, what should people have done? They should have taken it a little more seriously! People could die. There could be a war. Russia just moved their missiles, violating a treaty with the United States, to test Donald Trump. Donald Trump hasn’t even said anything. Is Donald Trump walking us into a war that we’re going to lose?

On Twitter, no less.

Right. Look. I don’t want to be alarmist, but at the same time I do want to say that the good thing about Donald Trump is that he’s firmly moved us into world historic time. We should all be grateful to be alive right now. He has made America great again, because the greatest generation in America was the one that fought World War II. That’s what he’s really talking about, is that we are entering into a world historic moment of life and death.

The point here is that we do need to bring a little bit more realization of the historical severity of our situation, and a little bit more urgency, not urgency of like, “Let’s rush into the streets,” but urgency that says, “We’ve got to think really carefully right now. We’d better start gathering our resources for a real resistance movement.” Stop using the word “resistance” until you’re living in underground cells and eating bats. Come on. Until you’re hiding resistance leaders in your attic.

What you’re describing feels like Star Wars.

Exactly. It’s ridiculous! All the language of revolution has been taken over by people who use it lightly and I’m like, “I’m sorry, it’s not a resistance yet, guys.” I don’t know. I want to see it, though.

One of the things you’re saying, is that you’ve tried every form of activism except the mainstream one, electoral politics. Is this like when you get older and realize, okay, maybe I should have a savings account, or things like that?

I think also it’s temperament. I ran for mayor in my tiny town, and I lost, and now people are like, “See? It’s proof. It didn’t work.” I think that’s like, okay, it’s the first time I’d ever tried something like that, and I still got 20 percent of the vote. But I also think, it’s temperament. Most activists aren’t politicians. I’m not a politician; so when I ran a campaign for mayor, I didn’t act like a politician, which alienated people, who felt like, “I don’t understand why you’re doing these behaviors. A politician would never do that,” and I’m like, “I know. I’m an activist.” A lot of it, I think is that people who are drawn to activism aren’t necessarily the same people who are drawn to politics. That being said, I do think that if activists could kind of swallow that bad taste they get by engaging in politics, we could be quite good at it. I think we’re amazing at getting lots of people to do behaviors. We should be celebrating ourselves more often for how good large numbers of people to do behaviors together. At the same time, we can bring that intelligence to a different game, and it could be quite beautiful.

In terms of strategizing, I wonder if keeping the false dichotomy of the Left and the Right makes sense anymore, in terms of people’s actual lives. The people who voted for Donald Trump who are low income, who want their jobs back, who want their idea of the Dream restored; did their lives change from the eighth of November to the ninth? If you’re fed up with the fact that maybe it’s not any better, then is that a place we can organize around, almost a kind of neo-Baconian rebellion type thing, across these supposed differences?

Yeah, I think that’s the only solution. The 99 percent is not 100 percent Left or 100 percent Right. As I said, when I say these kind of things, I get so much pushback from the Left. They hate this. They absolutely hate the idea that we should work with people on the right. Let’s look at the origin of the terms “Left” and “Right.” It’s just referring to where different parties sat during the French Revolution; it doesn’t mean exactly what we’re trying to say. I think that’s why I like “populist” instead, because populism points back to democracy. It points back to the idea that the people, many people, can have power.

I think right now the sad thing is that populism’s become like a dirty word. Everyone’s rejecting populism. But I think that’s precisely why Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton lost, is because they didn’t embrace populism. Populism is the future; but populism’s not going be a leftist or a rightist movement. It’s more complicated than that. It has to do with giving power to the people and benefiting their lives concretely. Things are really dark right now for a lot of Americans. I live in rural Oregon, and I can see that. I’m looking out my window right now at a house whose siding is all blown off; he doesn’t even have money to put proper siding on his own house. I saw him up there the other day, fixing his roof by himself. That’s real stuff.

And there’s a sense in which his issues are not left or right. They’re human.

I remember right before Trump, I used to go to DC sometimes, and I’d be like, “Good God, look at all the construction that’s happening here.” It’s like DC was a money cow. People in the liberal establishment were living it up under Obama, you know? So when I got home, I could totally get that resentment, because that kind of opulence is not the reality for the rest of Americans. The rest of Americans have rundown buildings, rundown houses, the shops are out of business, people can barely make enough to live. You go to DC and it’s like, “Where’s all this money coming from?”

It’s like Versailles, in a way.

It is. I do think we need to get over this obsession with just being on the left, you know? I don’t appreciate that obsession anymore.

In closing, if people didn’t get anything else out of this interview, what would you want them to walk away with, whether they be on the left, or on the right, or in the middle, or in outer space? What would you want them to walk away with? What charge, what challenge?

My core message is this: all activism needs to be oriented around taking power and governing. That’s it. It’s not enough to say we’re going to topple Donald Trump, or influence Donald Trump. If we’re not willing to develop an approach toward actually taking power and governing, then everything else that we’re doing is meaningless. That’s the challenge that’s staring us in the face right now, and that’s the challenge that we have to solve. If we don’t solve that challenge, if we keep avoiding that challenge, there could be some super dark stuff. Super, super dark stuff. Worse than Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s probably more like Mussolini, and there could be another Hitler coming our way. Let’s put it that way.

A figure we don’t even know about yet.

Right. Everyone thought Mussolini was bad, and then Hitler showed up. And Mussolini, let’s look at how Mussolini ended his life, and last moments of his life and all that stuff. People can look into that. I think it’s time to start getting a little more historical, but the core idea is: Activism is oriented around taking power, and then governing.

Source: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/voice-...

'Real Americans' have always been rebels: a guide for revolutionary patriotism

After the collapse of Occupy Wall Street, my wife and I fled the progressive groupthink of Berkeley, California and resettled out here in Nehalem, in rural Oregon, close to unpoliced forests and far from the nearest university, airport or anarchist infoshop.

All was reasonably well until I ran for mayor of my tiny town, provoking a backlash. When I received a racist death threat shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, I was forced to see my rural community and my diverse country in a newly sinister light. 

The ugly truth is that many, if not most, of my neighbors voted for Trump’s authoritarian bigotry. And then – like the Brits upset by Brexit, the French disturbed by Marine Le Pen, and Filipinos furious about Rodrigo Duterte – I found myself torn by a civil war fought between the side of me that hates what my country has become, and the patriotic part of my spirit that loves what my country could be.

After weeks of inner struggle, the patriotic side has won and I glimpse the path upward: we must seize patriotism from those who are destroying our democracies.

We must reclaim patriotism

Oftentimes, progressives are all too quick to abandon patriotism when their country strays dangerously from its ideals. The tenor of this anti-patriotism was most eloquently captured by Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who Donald Trump recently praised for doing an “amazing job”.

Shortly before the Europe-wide revolution of 1848 that violently dethroned France’s King Louis Philippe, Douglass returned to the US from Britain where he had fled to escape the slave-catchers sent by his former master. In a powerful speech delivered in New York, Douglass called for a revolution, declaring:

I have no love for America, as such; I have no patriotism … I desire to see [America] overthrown as speedily as possible and its Constitution shivered in a thousand fragments, rather than that this foul curse should continue to remain as now.

His words presaged the coming American civil war, a notoriously bloody conflict that revised the constitution to include the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to overturn slavery.

Douglass rejected patriotism – narrowly defined as love of one’s country – in favor of a greater, universalist sentiment. “I love Humanity all over the globe. I am anxious to see Righteousness prevail in all directions,” he said in the same speech.

While noble, this now common conceptual move of pitting love of country against love of humanity is a strategic revolutionary blunder. If the people wish to attain sovereignty, we must merge the particular love of our country with the universal love of humanity. This means celebrating what is best and eradicating what is worst in each nation until all people are free.

It is not difficult to understand Douglass’s deep antipathy for America: a white supremacist nation where slavery was legal and socially acceptable while he was considered to be both chattel and a traitor. Similarly, it is perfectly understandable why cosmopolitan Americans today might see Trump’s travel ban against six Muslim countries, and the populace who support it, as justification for openly hating their American homeland.

But in these dark times, when the ideals of democracy are being tested globally like never before, let us remember that the true patriots throughout history have traditionally been the rebels, insurrectionaries and revolutionaries who forcefully overturned the status quo in favor of a higher vision.

Are you a loyalist or a patriot?

There is perhaps no better example of this fact than the 18th century American revolution – the successful armed rebellion against the British monarchy and Parliament that led to the founding of the United States of America. 

During this people’s struggle for sovereignty, a very large number of Americans favored keeping the government the same. They loved their colony as it was and actively fought against change. These reactionary Americans were known as loyalists and they reasonably believed, as historian Sheila Skemp puts it: “King and Parliament had made some mistakes but that surely it was possible to work things out, to reach an amicable compromise.”

It sounds a lot like how many Republican and Democratic Americans, masquerading as patriots, say to appease Trump today.

Loyalists were fiercely opposed by revolutionary Americans known as patriots. These patriotic rebels dreamed of a fundamental reorientation of political power in America. They demanded sovereignty and were adherents to an as-yet unrealized ideal of democracy – not the colony as-it-was.

It is easy to assume that your friends and neighbors today would have been patriots during the American revolution, but the truth is far more nuanced. Instead, the conflict between patriots and loyalists was a civil war that divided families, friends and communities. For example, Benjamin Franklin, a founding father and leading patriot, never forgave his son, William Franklin, for being a loyalist.

Again I’m reminded of the way Trump’s election has divided fathers against daughters and neighbor against neighbor.

Here we begin to see the paradox at the heart of authentic patriotism: true patriots are the people who reboot their country’s operating system in order to upgrade to a better, more democratic, version. Today’s jingoistic nationalists are truly false patriots: loyalists hiding behind patriotic rhetoric.

‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing’

Despite the contemporary misconception that patriotism is inherently reactionary, the essential connection between patriotism and revolutionism has been vocally celebrated by American presidents since the founding of our democracy.

Thomas Jefferson, an author of the Declaration of Independence, once wrote in a letter to James Madison, architect of the US constitution and bill of rights, that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.

Jefferson also advocated only mild punishment for rebellions so as to avoid discouraging them too much. And, in a wakeup call to today’s Americans, Jefferson famously advocated revolutions every two decades, writing in 1787: “God forbid we should be 20 years without a rebellion … What country can preserve its liberties if the rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

Abraham Lincoln echoed Jefferson during his inaugural address in 1861 when he said: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow it.”

And so too did Ulysses S Grant in 1885 when he declared: “The right of revolution is an inherent one. When people are oppressed by their government, it is a natural right they enjoy to relieve themselves of the oppression if they are strong enough, either by withdrawing from it, or by overthrowing it and substituting a government more acceptable.”

The path upwards

Concretely speaking, rebellious social movements are created from a contagious mood, a new tactic and a willing historical moment. The first two ingredients are within the control of social activists while the third, the right time for a spark to catch flame, is impossible to know for certain.

The most effective patriotic mood has repeatedly proven to a contagious loss of fear: a sudden spirit of fearlessness that sweeps the people into a wave. People rush to join a social movement because of how it makes them feel to participate. The job of the social activist is to catalyze a fearless mood, combined with the communal faith that this time around the people’s protest will succeed.

New tactics embolden the people and give them faith. The new tactic can be a novel gesture or collective behavior, such as Occupy’s consensus-based encampments, the anti-coup Rabia sign or the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games that was banned in Thailand; an in-group color, such as blaze pink; or a unique garment, like pussy hats or the Phrygian cap. Ultimately, all that matters is that the participants believe the tactic will bring about social change. That is enough for it to be perceived as a form of protest and become a challenge to the regime.

Nowadays, the right of revolution is as inalienable as ever, yet it is rarely acknowledged by those in power. Unlike presidents Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant today’s leaders are loathe to concede that if their government is oppressive, then the people have a duty to revolt. Notice how Barack Obama is fond of praising protesters’s right of assembly but stops far short of celebrating the right of revolution.

All this leads to the final epiphany that we, the people, have a patriotic duty to defend our country whenever our governments conflicts with a higher, democratic ideal.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar...

Without a path from protest to power, the Women's March will end up like Occupy

Shortly after Donald Trump’s shock election victory, I received an urgent call from one of the co-creators of the Women’s March on Washington. She was concerned at a moment you might expect her to be ecstatic. Hundreds of thousands of women in 17 countries had already signed on in solidarity, and the numbers kept growing. Yet despite the tremendous momentum, she confessed a nagging skepticism about the effectiveness of the protest.

“I’m not that interested in the march itself but in what comes afterwards,” Fontaine Pearson confided to me. I admire her candor because I know it takes courage to voice such a concern. It is her difficult question – what comes the day after? – that every supporter of the Women’s March should be earnestly figuring out today.

Without a clear path from march to power, the protest is destined to be an ineffective feelgood spectacle adorned with pink pussy hats.

It is exciting when a protest meme leaps from social networks to the streets, capturing the imagination of millions, prompting this very website to proclaim that the forthcoming protest could be among the biggest in American history and Vogue to commission glitzy photos of the core organizers dressed up like Eileen Fisher models. But it is all too easy to succumb to the false hope that a big splash is a transformative tsunami.

Don’t be fooled. It is not. I’ve been there, as the co-creator of a raucous pro-democracy meme that inspired months of Occupy protests in 82 countries. And I can tell you that raising awareness and getting media attention is never enough. Frankly, neither brings the people closer to sovereign power.

For all those who want the Women’s March to be the start of an enduring revolutionary movement, here is my advice on how to increase the odds.

Know your history: let’s go back to 1789

On 5 October 1789, during the earliest days of what would become the French Revolution, a mob of women materialized on the streets of Paris. Some historians say it was spontaneous, others that it was planned. Regardless, we know that the furious women, desperately hungry from bread shortages in the city, descended on the Hôtel de Ville, the seat of municipal government, and demanded to speak to the mayor. The national guard refused them entry but also refused to fire on them and so the women burst through the police line, ransacked city hall and raided the armory.

Now armed with swords and cannons, the crowd of protesters grew to more than 7,000 female insurrectionaries. Suddenly a far more revolutionary goal was adopted: a Women’s March on Versailles, where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette where hosting a series of lavish banquets for royalist soldiers.

It the first protest march of women in modern history, and it was also the most effective. When the revolutionary women arrived at Versailles, they broke into the palace, murdered two guardsmen and attempted to enter the queen’s bedchamber before ultimately forcing King Louis XVI and his entourage to march with the crowd – now 60,000 strong – back to Paris.

The Women’s March on Versailles was a literal and forceful assertion of the people’s sovereignty over the king. It was a defining moment in the revolutionary history of democracy. As the historian William Doyle explains: “Louis XVI never returned to Versailles … All open attempts on the king’s part to resist the reform of France now came to an end.” The National Assembly was led to Paris shortly after and legislative decision-making power was eventually fully captured by the people. Democratic revolutionaries executed King Louis XVI by guillotine less than four years later.

The day after the women marched on Versailles was the definitive point of no return for the French Revolution. And let’s not forget that the Russian Revolution of 1917 was also initially sparked, as Leon Trotsky recalls in his definitive history, by a defiant women’s protest.

The lesson here is that protesting grandmothers, daughters and mothers have the unique power to do what male protesters cannot – such as break through a line of national guard bayonets without being fired upon. And for this reason, women will always play a foundational role in the great revolutions to come, but only when they take matters into their own hands, act unexpectedly and viscerally, and focus their collective energy on the only target that matters: concretely establishing the power of the people over their governments.

Ignore repeated failures and change tactics

The original Women’s March on Versailles involved women using direct action to force the king to listen to the people’s demands. Today’s Women’s March is entirely symbolic.

No one would ever dare to call for an insurrectionary march on Trump Tower with the goal of physically dragging the president-elect and his family out of their penthouse. No one says the Women’s March on Washington should ransack the White House or occupy Congress and appoint themselves legislators. Instead, we organize a well-publicized spectacle and hope he will listen from within his palatial accommodations.

If you’re showing up at the Women’s March on 21 January in the hopes that the world will be different on 22 January, then you need to think seriously about the goal of marching.

As a general rule, before you protest, ask yourself why this is one of your chosen forms of action. Question your tactics, not your motives. In this case, the obvious first question for any activist ought to be: why deploy a communal march in the streets as a form of protest?

Sometimes, the people march. Other times we hold general assemblies, tar and feather opponents, occupy pipelines, go on strike, dance in a circle, riot in the streets or pray together. In each case, behind every act of protest is an often unarticulated theory of social change: a story we tell ourselves about why the disobedient behavior we’ve chosen will usher in the change we desire.

So why are women marching the day after Donald Trump becomes president? It all comes down to a false theory of how the people can assert sovereign power over their elected president in 2017.

Today’s social activists have succumbed to one of the most enduring myths of contemporary American protest: the comforting belief that if you can get enough people into the streets from diverse demographics, largely unified behind a clear message, then our representatives will be forced to heed the crowd’s wishes.

If this story has ever been true, and I’m not so sure it has, then it hasn’t been the case since 1963, when 250,000 people marched on Washington for “jobs and freedom” and heard Martin Luther King Jr deliver his I Have a Dream speech. Less than a year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” in employment and housing.

But let’s be real: there are countless counter-examples of marches on Washington that failed: the 1913 march of women to demand the right to vote, the 1978 march for the Equal Rights Amendment, the 1986 Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, the Million Man March of 1995, the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the inauguration protests against George W Bush’s second term in 2005 … the list is practically endless. Activists have a tendency to ignore repeated failure in favor of overemphasizing one or two anomalous minor victories.

The absolute failure of the 15 February 2003 anti-war protest, the largest synchronized global march in human history, was the last gasp of this tactic. Today’s nominally democratic governments would be more concerned by the absence of our marches, as that might suggest something darker is in the works.

The only way to attain sovereignty – the supreme authority over the functioning of our government – is to use social protest to win elections or win wars. Either we can march to the ballot box or the battleground; there is no third option.

To the ballot box, then: prepare to govern

That Trump was elected demonstrates that an anti-establishment outsider can sweep into power through elections – a fact activists should learn from and begrudgingly celebrate.

Before Trump’s victory, it was widely assumed that a candidate without the backing of the establishment could not possibly win a presidential election. Good news: now we know that it is possible. It is finally conceivable that a revolutionary movement beholden to the people could take power in America by winning elections and without violence.

I suspect the Women’s March on Washington has a role to play in this unfolding drama, but only if we cultivate a few moments of detachment from the thoughtless excitement to truly take time to consider this question: what happens on the day after the women march?

Right now, in America, there is no pro-democracy anti-establishment party that is capable of stepping forward, seizing power and governing. America needs a protest movement like Spain’s PodemosIceland’s Pirate Party or Italy’s 5 Star Movement. These populist democratic movements are the prototype for the future of protest. Each has achieved surprising electoral victories in a short time, but what is more important is how they are changing the way power functions.

Consider, for example, what happened when Virginia Raggi, a member of the anti-corruption 5 Star Movement, was elected mayor of Rome in 2016 only to be embroiled in her own corruption scandal. The movement didn’t make excuses. Instead, the Five Star Movement very swiftly asserted its sovereignty over its candidate and stripped Raggi of the power to make appointments and other “important decisions” without the movement’s approval. This represents a leap forward in people power: a concrete example of a social movement winning elections while still retaining a firm grip on decision-making power. Bravo!

The number one challenge standing in the way of an effective protest in America today is the inability of our social movements to actually govern. There might be a slight chance our protests could oust Trump, but there is no chance that our present-day movements could govern at all, let alone effectively.

That is because leaderless protesters don’t know how to make complex decisions together as movement. Occupy couldn’t even come up with its one demand.

Now we are seeing this capacity slowly develop among protest movements in Europe. However, until we can replicate their successes in America, the people will never be able to take back sovereignty and our protests remain an exercise in infantile futility.

And that is the great gift that the Women’s March on Washington could give us. May the angry women return home the day after the march to lead us toward a women-led hybrid movement-party in every state that is disciplined enough to govern, militantly local and single-mindedly devoted to actualizing a force capable of seizing control of city councils and mayorships during midterm elections across America in preparation for an electoral coup against the presidency in 2020.

Now that would be a goal worth marching toward.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan...

Protests won't stop Trump. We need a movement that transforms into a party

The astonishing triumph of Donald Trump can be traced to the bitter defeat of Occupy Wall Street, a pro-democracy movement that transcended left and right, sparking unrest in hundreds of cities and rural towns in 2011. Occupy’s consensus-based encampments demanded that President Obama get money out of politics. Instead, we got mercilessly smashed by his progressive administration. Now the dark irony of history is bashing back.

Trump – an uber-wealthy, partially self-financed candidate who promises to “drain the swamp” – was elected president just one week before the fifth anniversary of Mayor Bloomberg’s eviction of the Zuccotti Park encampment. President-elect Trump, a charismatic strongman with an autocratic temperament, is not what millions of Occupiers were dreaming of when we took to the streets against the monied corruption of our democracy.

Now, as the nation experiences a disturbing rise of hate crimes against the groups singled out by Trump during his campaign, protests descending into riots are rocking our cities. These visceral protests will undoubtedly continue into 2017. Celebrated progressive Kshama Sawant, a socialist councilwoman in Seattle, has already called on people to disrupt Trump’s inauguration in January.

At the same time, despite the excitement of seeing militants marching in the cities, leftist activist networks are buzzing with the painful realization that contemporary protest is broken. The dominant tactic of getting people into the streets, rallying behind a single demand and raising awareness about an injustice simply does not result in the desired social change.

Nominally democratic governments tolerate protest because elected representatives no longer feel compelled to heed protest. The end of protest is not the absence of protest. The end of protest is the proliferation of ineffective protests that are more like a ritualized performance of children than a mature, revolutionary challenge to the status quo.

Activists who rush into the streets tomorrow and repeat yesterday’s tired tactics will not bring an end to Trump nor will they transfer sovereign power to the people. There are only two ways to achieve sovereignty in this world. Activists can win elections or win wars. There is no third option.

Protest can play an important role in winning elections or winning wars but protest alone is insufficient. Just think of the three years many activists spent on Black Lives Matter versus the 18 months it took Trump to sweep into power. It is magical thinking, and a dangerously misguided strategy, for activists to continue to act as if the masses in the streets can attain a sovereignty over their governments through a collective manifestation of the people’s general will. This may have been true in the past, but is not true today.

What is to be done now? American activists must move from detached indignation to revolutionary engagement. They must use the techniques that create social movements to dominate elections.

The path forward is revealed in the rallying cry of the people in the streets: “Not My President!” This protest slogan is eerily similar to the one used by Spain’s 15-M Movement of indignados who set up anti-establishment general assemblies in May of 2011 and chanted “No Nos Representan!” (“You Don’t Represent Us!”) during their election. Their assemblies inspired the birth of Occupy. But when the refusal of the indignados to participate in the election resulted in a shocking victory for Spain’s right wing, the movement’s activists and supporters quickly internalized an important lesson that Americans must now embrace.

Realizing that new forms of social protest are better equipped to win elections than disrupt elections, many of the indignados transformed themselves into Podemos, a hybrid movement-party that is now winning elections and taking power. A similar story can be told of the Pirate party in Iceland, or the 5 Star Movement in Italy or the pan-European Diem25. Focus on the form, not the content, of these hybrid movement-parties: their organizing style is the future of global protest.

Concretely speaking, activists must reorient all efforts around capturing sovereignty. That means looking for places where sovereignty is lightly held and rarely contested, like rural communities. Or targeting sovereign positions of power that are not typically seen as powerful, such as soil and water district boards or port commissions. Protests will remain ineffective as long as there is no movement-party capable of governing locally and nationally.

This is a struggle for sovereignty. The endgame is a populist movement-party that wins elections in multiple countries in order to carry out a unified agenda worldwide. The spark for this electoral movement is bound to emerge from an unexpected place.

It could start from a women-led backlash against the pack of patriarchs governing the globe: Putin in Russia, Erdoğan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Xi in China and now Trump in America. Or maybe activists will start moving into neglected rural cities – low-population areas of America – and prepare to sweep city council elections. That is the strategy I’m pursuing in Nehalem, Oregon, where I recently ran for mayor. In any case, avoid falling for the exhausting delusion of endless urban protest or the nihilistic fantasy of winning an insurrectionary war.

The difficult path of merging innovative protest, social movements and electoral parties is the only viable way forward. And with only two years until the next election in America, there is no time to waste.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/...

Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism

A battle is raging for the soul of activism. It is a struggle between digital activists, who have adopted the logic of the marketplace, and those organisers who vehemently oppose the marketisation of social change. At stake is the possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our lifetimes.

The conflict can be traced back to 1997 when a quirky Berkeley, California-basedsoftware company known for its iconic flying toaster screensaver was purchased for $13.8m (£8.8m). The sale financially liberated the founders, a left-leaning husband-and-wife team. He was a computer programmer, she a vice-president of marketing. And a year later they founded an online political organisation known as MoveOn. Novel for its combination of the ideology of marketing with the skills of computer programming, MoveOn is a major centre-leftist pro-Democrat force in the US. It has since been heralded as the model for 21st-century activism.

The trouble is that this model of activism uncritically embraces the ideology of marketing. It accepts that the tactics of advertising and market research used to sell toilet paper can also build social movements. This manifests itself in an inordinate faith in the power of metrics to quantify success. Thus, everything digital activists do is meticulously monitored and analysed. The obsession with tracking clicks turns digital activism into clicktivism.

Clicktivists utilise sophisticated email marketing software that brags of its "extensive tracking" including "opens, clicks, actions, sign-ups, unsubscribes, bounces and referrals, in total and by source". And clicktivists equate political power with raising these "open-rate" and "click-rate" percentages, which are so dismally low that they are kept secret. The exclusive emphasis on metrics results in a race to the bottom of political engagement.

Gone is faith in the power of ideas, or the poetry of deeds, to enact social change. Instead, subject lines are A/B tested and messages vetted for widest appeal. Most tragically of all, to inflate participation rates, these organisations increasingly ask less and less of their members. The end result is the degradation of activism into a series of petition drives that capitalise on current events. Political engagement becomes a matter of clicking a few links. In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the life-giving nutrients are long gone.

Exchanging the substance of activism for reformist platitudes that do well in market tests, clicktivists damage every genuine political movement they touch. In expanding their tactics into formerly untrammelled political scenes and niche identities, they unfairly compete with legitimate local organisations who represent an authentic voice of their communities. They are the Wal-Mart of activism: leveraging economies of scale, they colonise emergent political identities and silence underfunded radical voices.

Digital activists hide behind gloried stories of viral campaigns and inflated figures of how many millions signed their petition in 24 hours. Masters of branding, their beautiful websites paint a dazzling self-portrait. But, it is largely a marketing deception. While these organisations are staffed by well-meaning individuals who sincerely believe they are doing good, a bit of self-criticism is sorely needed from their leaders.

The truth is that as the novelty of online activism wears off, millions of formerly socially engaged individuals who trusted digital organisations are coming away believing in the impotence of all forms of activism. Even leading Bay Area clicktivist organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to motivate their members to any action whatsoever. The insider truth is that the vast majority, between 80% to 90%, of so-called members rarely even open campaign emails. Clicktivists are to blame for alienating a generation of would-be activists with their ineffectual campaigns that resemble marketing.

The collapsing distinction between marketing and activism is revealed in the cautionary tale of TckTckTck, a purported climate change organisation with 17 million members. Widely hailed as an innovator of digital activism, TckTckTck is a project of Havas Worldwide, the world's sixth-largest advertising company. A corporation that uses advertising to foment ecologically unsustainable overconsumption, Havas bears significant responsibility for the climate change TckTckTck decries.

As the folly of digital activism becomes widely acknowledged, innovators will attempt to recast the same mix of marketing and technology in new forms. They will offer phone-basedalternate reality and augmented reality alternatives. However, any activism that uncritically accepts the marketisation of social change must be rejected. Digital activism is a danger to the left. Its ineffectual marketing campaigns spread political cynicism and draw attention away from genuinely radical movements. Political passivity is the end result of replacing salient political critique with the logic of advertising.

Against the progressive technocracy of clicktivism, a new breed of activists will arise. In place of measurements and focus groups will be a return to the very thing that marketers most fear: the passionate, ideological and total critique of consumer society. Resuscitating the emancipatory project the left was once known for, these activists will attack the deadening commercialisation of life. And, uniting a global population against the megacorporations who unduly influence our democracies, they will jettison the consumerist ideology of marketing that has for too long constrained the possibility of social revolution.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2...