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February 21, 2013

Beyond Demonstrations, Beyond Civil Disobedience

By Rob Kall

Demonstrations may look grassroots, but they're really top down. A handful of organizers set the time and place and they hope people will show up. Sometimes a handful of powerful or famous people will show up to give talks. It's not that demonstrations don't work at all, but they are so inefficient and usually ineffective... there are better ways to make change happen.

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Demonstrations may look grassroots, but they're really top down. A handful of organizers set the time and place and they hope people will show up. Sometimes a handful of powerful or famous people will show up to give talks. 

It's not that demonstrations don't work at all, but they are so inefficient and usually ineffective, as commenters who participated ten years ago in the massive worldwide anti-Iraq war protests have observed. 

The most tame, least effective demonstrations disrupt the least. I think the more effective demonstrations disrupt-- work, traffic, or in some way, business as usual. 

There have been examples where civil disobedience has worked. Alice Paul, a leader of the women's right to vote movement, led protests at the White House gates that led to civil disobedience arrests and incarcerations that ultimately made a huge difference. 
The must view movie, Iron Jawed Angels, tells the story.  But it's a very hard road and that action led to many women being sentenced to rough terms in prison under brutal conditions. 


I recently did an  interview with Staughton Lynd , who talks about the idea of accompanying vs. Organizing. Accompanying is more bottom up-- empowering the people, rather than organizing and herding them-- like most big unions do. 

This seems to be similar to the ideas of Paulo Freire, described in his absolutely must-read book-- Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 


The main idea is  you, the activist, do not come in and tell oppressed people what to do. You engage them in dialogue, educate and empower them, get them to believe in their own ability to free themselves-- then, play some role in  helping THEM to do what it takes to free themselves. 

I see, for example, doctors working for single payer. But they don't engage and empower the 50 million uninsured. WTF?

This is the huge failure of most activism-- not engaging, empowering and including the oppressed.  Sadly, this can be a full time job. That means that young people, raising families probably can't do it. But there are millions of boomers who are retiring. Perhaps instead of volunteering at religious institutions or hospitals, more people could get involved in educating, empowering and activating oppressed people. 


Who are the oppressed today? Let's start with the 99%. We can drill down and talk about some more oppressed groups in America:
    -
  • people without health insurance, 
  • people who are unemployed because the industry they worked for was destroyed by corporate globalization
  • immigrants 
  • gay couples
  • prisoners who have not hurt anyone-- like pot-smokers
  • voters who can't tell if their votes have really been counted by electronic machines. 
  • communities ravaged by corporate or military pollution
  • arts and other non-profit organizations defunded so military contractors and bloated military budgets can be paid
  • Students owing massive debt because education is not a priority and has been expensively privatized
  • workers paid less than a living wage
  • taxpayers who pay so much more relative to what the wealthy pay, such as social security, where no tax is paid over about $110,000 in income
  • consumers who pay the costs of corporate welfare-- for energy companies. 
  • taxpayers who pay what amounts to corporate welfare and risk insurance that allows banks to gamble and take risks without worrying that they might fail.
  •  
  • personal  investors who face an investment milieu where there is no risk of criminal prosecution, as Elizabeth Warren discovered when she asked bank regulators, "When did you last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial?"
  • indigenous peoples

  • This is an incomplete list. post your comment to add to it.

    I write a lot about bottom up and top down processes and phenomena. Grassroots actions is usually categorized as bottom up. The words are sometimes even used interchangeably. But even within grassroots actions and activities there is a range, a degree of "bottom-up-ness."  

    I would argue that the more horizontal, as was and is practiced by Occupy folks, the better. The more leader-centric, the more top-down the decision making process for actions like demonstrations, the less effective and successful that action will be. 

    One factor that a more inclusive, bottom-up approach affects is building a feeling of connectedness for the people who are participating.  If you involve people more, if you engage them and give them the power to make decisions, rather than simply instruct them in what to do, then they OWN the process and the action more. They feel more connected to the movement. 

    Psychotherapists know that when a client comes to a conclusion on her own and makes a decision to take action, rather than being told, the result and depth of meaning for the experience is much more profound. That applies to all aspects of life. 

    Doing things, like thinking and deciding for the people you intend to help is not really a favor. This is hard stuff. It can feel a lot easier to just "lead" from the top down. But it is not the way to build a sustainable movement that will make change happen. 

    The civil rights movement is a great example. The participants in the protests were highly trained and educated teams, not people who just showed up for a convenient weekend. David Swanson discusses some of these issues in his article on the recent protests over global warming and the Keystone Pipeline-- Pseudo-Protests and Serious Climate Crisis

    I talk a lot about the need for bottom-up approaches (here are some tags linking to articles by me and others: Bottom-upBottom-upBottom-upLeadership ;) , but there is always a need for leadership. Ideally, that leadership will be bottom-up. Yes, that is not only possible, it is the future. I've written about bottom up leadership among progressives here , and did an interview about it with Steve Denning, here .

    Frankly, I'm no expert on Freirean approaches to activism. But between my experience with Occupy, with seeing how so many people misunderstood why it was important that Occupy start WITHOUT positions, demands or leaders, it's become clear to me that what we've been doing, with big demonstrations on convenient times-- usually weekends-- does not work. And we all know you call continuing to do something that doesn't work. 

    So, to wrap up this meandering essay, I'll say that there are a few things too many people are doing that are not working, or not efficient or effective. One is wasting a lot of time on electoral politics, supporting either major party. Both parties have become the corporate parties as has Obama become a corporations first president. It is a delusion to believe that if you have voted for a Democrat, you've done your part.  Then there's the big demonstration. It's fun, feels good, is entertaining, but the biggest ones in the world have not worked-- particularly the ones where permits are obtained and there's been no-one inconvenienced. 

    Demontrations can take down a government. They did it in Argentina, as my interview with Marina Sitrin, author of the book, Horizontalism,  explored. 

    To wrap up with a hopeful thought, Marina Sitrin, in her book, Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina  discussing the potential for change through horizonal action, she points out:

    "Lewis Carroll reminds us in Through The Looking Glass, "Alice laughed. There's no use trying," she said, "One can't believe impossible things!"

    "I dare say you haven't had much practice!" said the queen. "When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."






    Submitters Bio:

    Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

    Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

    Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

    Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

    To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V..  and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table

    Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 


    To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.


    Follow Rob on Twitter & Facebook. His quotes are here

    Rob's articles express his personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.


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