Monday, August 3, 2015

With collective action, is one simple goal enough?

In his own critique of the Hong Kong protests against limited public voice on elected candidates, activist Joshua Wong said:

'"First, we did not have any clear goal or roadmap or route for democracy. We did not deliver the message to the general Hong Kong public," says the university student, over lunch.
'Secondly, not enough people were willing to pay the price by protesting. We did not have enough bargaining power with the Chinese authorities.
'Say, for example, during the Umbrella Movement, if two million Hong Kong people had occupied the streets, along with labour strikes, and if this had continued for more than two months, we would have had enough bargaining power.'"

So, not a clear goal, and not a large enough protest.  I want to discuss the first part.

The Arab Spring was actually quite successful. The clear goal in most of the countries was one thing; get rid of the dictator.  And they succeeded in Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere (but not, unfortunately, in Syria).  But what then?  This, I think, is part of the complaint Joshua Wong is making. Even if a protest succeeds in it's main goal, what is the plan after that?  I think this is a weakness in most collective actions.

It is easy now using social media to create a large collective action. Anonymous showed this against Scientology.  The Arab Spring showed this against dictators.  Having one clear simple goal makes it easier to bring people together and keep a cohesion in the ranks.  Back to the article...

"But Mr Wong is looking far ahead. He wants to rectify the mistake of not presenting a viable plan to the public.
He says that by 2030, the democracy movement needs to present a clear roadmap spelling out how it can achieve a legally binding referendum on the city's future."

Wong sees what I see. A protest needs not only a short-term goal but at least some sort of vision for where to go once your goal has been met.  But this is a 2-edged sword. On the one hand, once you succeeed, you're not floundering around wondering "what now?"  But on the other hand, the discussion about what to do after the simple goal is met means more things to argue about, more time to work things through, more time for factions to develop.  I see no solution to this.

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