June 28, 2019
“The greatest crisis is this tremendous loss of power that we're all experiencing.”
Micah White is the lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street and the author of The End of Protest. He is also co-founder of Activist Graduate School, which is taught by, and for, experienced activists. We discuss the limitations of contemporary protest, how protest and activism can be revitalized, and whether the time for a revolution is now.
The crisis of our time
People have very little political power beyond voting on election day. Current governing structures are incapable of changing the world and solving the big problems that we face, such as the climate crisis. The solution is to form a social movement – perhaps through revolution – that can make good decisions and achieve its goals, such as win elections, take sovereignty, and maintain power. A notable example is the Five Star Movement in Italy, which directs policy and takes control away from elected representatives when they violate the core principles of the movement.
The limitations of contemporary protest
Occupy Wall Street did not achieve its goals of ending the power of money over our democracies or give more power to the 99 percent. However, it did reveal that both the strategy of street protest as well as the way of protesting are broken. In addition, current activist culture is producing consensus-driven activism that is looking for incremental change and reform within the existing system. A true activist used to be someone who stands outside of the status quo and is not afraid to go against a movement’s consensus.
The nature of social change
A strong theory about how social change comes to fruition revolves around structural forces beyond human direct participation, like an economic crisis. This argues that it’s the combination of the crisis and people in the streets that achieves change. Two more ways of thinking about effecting change are subjectivism and theurgism. Subjectivism believes that change is a process that happens within us. When we change the way we are, then we transform how we see the world. Theurgism believes that social change and revolution are a process of divine intervention, by forces that are completely outside of our control.
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Micah White is the lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement that spread to 82 countries, while he was working as an editor of Adbusters magazine. He is also the co-founder of Activist Graduate School, an online school taught by, and for, experienced activists.
His book, The End of Protest, A New Playbook for Revolution has been translated into German and Greek. His essays have been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and beyond. He has been profiled by The New Yorker, Esquire, and more.
Follow Micah White on Twitter @beingMicahWhite