Monday, March 24, 2014

People Power is overrated?

"This is not to deny the emotional force of the protests. Anyone who has ever attended a rock concert or a football game knows how much fun it is to be part of a roaring crowd. The experience is far more intense when you are standing in a crowd that might change history. Since the eighteenth century, philosophers have tried to describe the hallucinatory power of a mass movement. When Michael Walzer interviewed American civil rights activists they all told him the same thing about protests: 'It was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.' It is precisely because he understands the euphoric power of crowds—and especially because he understands how they can embolden people cowed by an unjust state—that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is so determined to prevent Ukraine’s revolution from spreading.
Yet a successful street revolution, like any revolution, is never guaranteed to leave anything positive in its aftermath—or anything at all. In the West, we often now associate protests with progress, or at least we assume that big crowds—the March on Washington, Paris in 1968—are the benign face of social change. But street revolutions are not always progressive, positive, or even important. Some replace a corrupt tyranny with violence and a political vacuum, which is what happened in Libya. Ukraine’s own Orange Revolution of 2004–2005 produced a new group of leaders who turned out to be just as incompetent as their predecessors. Crowds can be bullying, they can become violent, and they can give rise to extremists: Think Tehran 1979, or indeed Petrograd 1917.
The crowd may not even represent the majority. Because a street revolution makes good copy, and because it provides great photographs, we often mistakenly confuse “people power” with democracy itself. In fact, the creation of democratic institutions—courts, legal systems, bills of rights—is a long and tedious process that often doesn’t interest foreign journalists at all. Tunisia’s ratification of a new constitution earlier this year represented the most significant achievement of the Arab Spring to date, but the agonizing negotiations that led up to that moment were hard for outsiders to understand—and not remotely telegenic."

People Power works and it helps people. But yeah, it might be overrated.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

protest movements still need underlying structure

"Protests like this one, fueled by social media and erupting into spectacular mass events, look like powerful statements of opposition against a regime. And whether these take place in Turkey, Egypt or Ukraine, pundits often speculate that the days of a ruling party or government, or at least its unpopular policies, must be numbered. Yet often these huge mobilizations of citizens inexplicably wither away without the impact on policy you might expect from their scale.
This muted effect is not because social media isn’t good at what it does, but, in a way, because it’s very good at what it does. Digital tools make it much easier to build up movements quickly, and they greatly lower coordination costs. This seems like a good thing at first, but it often results in an unanticipated weakness: Before the Internet, the tedious work of organizing that was required to circumvent censorship or to organize a protest also helped build infrastructure for decision making and strategies for sustaining momentum. Now movements can rush past that step, often to their own detriment."

The basic point here is a good one.  The Internet makes gathering large protests much easier, so they happen more frequently. BUT, we can't lose sight of the fact that protests are a tool, not an end.  There must be some structure and some thought as to what the ultimate goal is for a movement to succeed. So while we can be amazed at the size of the muscle (protests), we have to also look for the bone, or the structure behind it.  I think this is a good way to look back at the Occupy movement.  There was a great job getting people on the street, but not enough built up behind it. I think a lot of Occupy people are now working on that structure, having caught the bug on the street.