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America has a history of activism and protesting. We’re just very protective of our freedom! We kicked out the monarch back in 1776, but not before stirring some things up a bit—we threw a bunch of innocent tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773 just to make a statement!
After our grasp on independence, it sparked a worldwide revolution with places like France and Haiti to follow.
These successful acts of protest and rebellions have proven their efficacy. However, these revolutions didn’t pass by without any causalities—many, many people died for their freedom. It makes you wonder, is violence necessary to achieve such social changes?
Revolutionaries like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. strived for social change through peaceful means. Gandhi sat serenely during his hunger strike and MLK gave inspiring speeches and marched hand-in-hand with fellow activists. These tactics had affective outcomes, but they were also met by outside violence.
Micah White, PhD, co-creator of Occupy Wall Street, and author of “The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution” tells BTRtoday that violence is a difficult topic in the world of activism. He believes power can be achievable peacefully, but that the status quo will resist with violence.
“The definition of terrorism is political violence, so when you start to say that violence is necessary for political change, then you start to kind of go into terrorism,” he explains. “The thing is that when activism stops being social marketing and it becomes an attempt to take power, then that’s a form of warfare.”
White’s experience with the Occupy movement revealed to him that getting the masses out marching on the streets is just not what it used to be—Congress does what they want. He believes Occupy failed for four fundamental reasons:
I. A lack of any vetting process for new members.
II. An inability to out-maneuver the plans of the organizers that sought to end the movement.
III. An inability on the part of the protestors to agree upon a simple set of demands.
IV. The use and reuse of outmoded tactics.
However, it wasn’t a total failure. White conveys that it has enlightened activists and helped them to grow.
“If anything, Occupy has taught us that activists have to focus on capturing sovereignty and try to actually spread ideas and try to take power,” White clarifies. “That’s a more difficult challenge.”
White believes that all protests are really part of the same movement, and that Occupy affected revolutionary tactics around the world today. He conveys that the knowledge Occupy spread was the dissemination of the idea of a consensus-based general assembly.
There are four different theories of revolution that White describes in his book. He explains that there is first “volunteerism,” which is the idea that protests need to constitute a physical act—for example, protestors in Black Lives Matter stop traffic or environmentalists shut down a coal mine.
Back in 2010, PETA portrayed volunteerism in its own unique and shocking way. They placed bloody human bodies wrapped in meat packages on the streets of NYC as a form of protest against the meat industry and its issues with animal brutality. Though this was more to spread awareness, it was an act of volunteerism, and it was peaceful.
The second theory White talks about is “structuralism.” This is the idea that revolutions aren’t created by humans, they’re created by the human need and natural forces like the economical. White gives the example of heightened prices of food.
“We live in a time right now when food prices are low, so the actions that activists take right now are not going to create a revolutionary moment,” White explains. “They have to wait for high economic prices, or high food price.”
A month ago in Brazil, thousands gathered in protest of president Dilma Rousseff. Instead of throwing molotov cocktails or bearing arms, they gathered in a governmental building and performed opera. It didn’t strike an immediate change, but it gathered a following by drawing peaceful attention to the situation. It’s an example of structuralism, because of the economical recession and other negative affects the people of Brazil believe Rousseff is causing.
The third theory White calls “subjectivism.” It is the belief that revolution is only achieved with shift in perspectives and ideas, not physical or materialist achievements.
This is currently in play with the young Muslim woman in Belgium taking selfies with anti-Islam protestors. She isn’t creating a barrier to end their protests, like a form of volunteerism, and natural forces also didn’t prompt her, like the idea of structuralism. Her ultimate goal is to spread awareness and get the minds of the anti-Islam protestors to change.
The fourth theory White talks about is “theogism,” which is the belief that revolution happens due to divine intervention. This was more prominent in the 17th and 18th century when people gathered due to religious reasons.
These unique forms of protesting—PETA packing humans, Brazilians singing opera, and the young Muslim woman taking selfies, are steering out of the box and taking activism to a new level. They do not encourage violence, and they’re not your typical march of the masses. Are these smart and effective tactics when it comes to social changes?
“Activists have to constantly cultivate and experiment,” White says, cheering on revolutionaries to do all they can. “The difficulty here is that these are still informative and are focused on raising awareness.”
White applauds young activists for their creativity and encourages new forms of protest to spread, but he cautions that if they want to make a social change they need to concentrate more on achieving sovereignty.
In other words, the governments of the world are not ignorant; they know what is going on, they are just choosing not to listen. It’s encouraging to see activists breaking away from the typical forms of protest and finding new ways to spread awareness.
Now it’s time to find new ways to gain power and make the change ourselves.