The most provocative book I’ve read this year is The End Of Protest...

The most provocative book I’ve read this year is The End Of Protest, by Micah White, one of the two initiators of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Remember Occupy? Those crazy days when, giddy with the apparent success of the previous year’sArab Spring, independent, decentralized groups of protestors, connected by cell phones and social media, seized public spaces across America and…

…nothing, really. In the end Occupy was a complete failure which accomplished nothing. To White’s credit, he writes with brutal frankness about this, and, more generally, about how political protest as we know it — marches, speeches, slogans, “clicktivism” — has been completely ineffective for decades, and is growing even less so with every passing year.

White does raise the interesting notion, though, of a new form of protest; one with an actually meaningful “theory of change”; an inchoate spectre that could haunt, chill, and even overthrow Establishment capitalism as we know it. A timely subject, in this election and Brexit year.

It’s fair to say that we live in a time of growing ambient discontent. People want political freedom and economic freedom, but there exists a widespread perception that politics are ruled by a de-facto oligarchical Establishment and economic gains are increasingly going to a small minority, as tech leads us all from Mediocristan into Extremistan.

Will robots eat the jobs? Maybe. Sure isn’t happening yet. But, to quote Bradford DeLong, the rise of AI and automation “is qualitatively different from previous episodes of technological change. Will it have different consequences…? How can anyone know yet?”

The New York Times muses:

But there is another conversation happening in the valley today. Its premise is that, when it comes to populist revolt, we may have seen nothing yet … If you think globalization, immigration, trade and demographic change have contributed to displacement and political anger, wait until robots take away millions and millions of jobs, including those requiring the use of a well-trained brain.

I’ve argued that myself, in the past, but the lack of any actual evidence of automation-driven net job destruction now gives me pause. It may be a moot point, though. The question of whether robots will eat all the jobs is orthogonal to the question of whether people believerobots will eat all the jobs — and whether the tech industry will be viewed as the oppressors of the masses.

“I really think the pitchforks and torches are coming for us in tech,” mused a member of Business Insider’s “Silicon Valley 100” to me over dinner a couple of months ago. (To his credit he’d be the first to roll his eyes at the existence of such an appellation.) I’ve certainly noticed, during my five years living in the Bay Area, a distinct rise in the use of “techie” as an epithet.

My point being: it seems reasonable to expect the rise of new protests, and new kinds of protests, aimed not just at political institutions à la Occupy; not just at injustices à la Black Lives Matter and the current pipeline protests in North Dakota; but aimed directly at the tech industry. We’ve seen some of that before, with stones thrown at Google buses, but that was really more about housing than tech. I’m talking about protestors who believe that the tech industry is a greedy, exploitative, and increasingly powerful behemoth which uses its power to reify rather than repair existing social inequalities and injustices.

I don’t believe that’s true, on the whole, but I do think there are uncomfortable grains of truth in that accusation. As Andrew Yang of Venture for America writes in Quartz, “the only startup founders who can embrace failure are the ones privileged enough to survive it.” The annual diversity reports from such wildly successful and progressive companies as Apple and Google make grim reading each year.

Certainly the Occupy people think the perpetuation of unfair advantages is capitalism’s fault, not technology‘s, but, er, the distinction between “capitalism” and “the tech industry” grows pretty fine in an era in which the world’s five most valuable public companies are Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — the same five tech titans that Bruce Sterling singled out as “the Stacks” some years ago.

The End Of Protest, after putting Occupy in (fascinating) historical context, identifies the reason that protests fail as a kind of entitled naivete — the bizarre belief that if you get a million people out onto the street demonstrating, then governments will have to respect that and change course, because it clearly represents the will of the people.

Interestingly, a lot of what White says about protests and revolution is what tech VCs say about startup. That the real secret to success is timing: every so often, the zeitgeist will sweep you along on its tidal wave (which is actually what happened to Occupy, which quickly grew beyond its wildest initial dreams — and yet still failed.) That “the best methods of protest are unrecognized because they defy our expectations of what a protest should look like,” which echoes VCs’ lament that many of the best ideas sound crazy at first. That “if we innovate, we win.”

This review was written by Jon Evans and originally appeared in TechCrunch

(I would remiss not to note that White also writes at length about spiritual paths and spiritual process; this being anything but my area of expertise, I’m going to refrain from commenting on that.)

There will be a certain dramatic irony if the tech industry finds itself facing protestors who adopt the very meta-algorithms of the modern tech industry: ignore history, try many different ideas even if they sound crazy, fail fast and pivot, scale sideways, accept that timing dictates success, etcetera. (Shades of the notion of left-wing accelerationism.) I think that such a future is likely, though, in the light of the heightening awareness, or at least perception, of inequalities and injustices today — and the ever more prominent role of the tech industry.


Occupy Wall Street founder Micah White gets real about The End of Protest

Beginning in September 2011, Micah White and fellow Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn sparked one of the largest protests in modern history: Occupy Wall Street. But today White describes the global movement as little more than a learning experience.

“What it taught us is our theories of social change that underpin contemporary activism are not true,” White said in a telephone interview. “Activists are now faced with coming up with new theories of social change, new tactics, and new ways of trying to effect social change.”

In his new book The End of Protest, White argues that, more than an isolated mistake, the Occupy movement signals a failure of tactics, objectives, and beliefs. What’s required now is a total rethink of activism in the 21st century, he suggests.

“One of the things that I think we tested—that we found out not to be true—is this idea that you can basically build the ideal society, the ideal microcosm, that you don’t need to become the ones in power,” White explained in reference to Occupy camps that sprouted up around the world, including one on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery through October and November of 2011.

The Occupy movement may have given birth to something beautiful in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and hundreds of copycat encampments around the world, White continued, but those isolated pockets where change began were also where it ended.

“Now we are realizing, ‘No, actually, sovereignty can only be achieved through winning wars and winning elections.’ And so social movements need to figure out how to win elections, because I don’t think the war route is very productive.”

The next step is the subject of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, which spends more time on the future than it does reflecting on Occupy and the past. It’s also the question White plans to discuss next Wednesday (April 13) as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest’s Incite series.

In hindsight, White writes in the book, Occupy’s failure was foretold.

“The anti–Iraq War movement collapsed after its global march on February 15, 2003, the largest synchronized protest in human history, failed to sway President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to halt the pre-emptive war on Iraq,” it reads. “Activists in 2003 believed that if millions of people around the world said no in unison on a single day, war would be impossible. Like Occupy, the anti-war movement vaporized when the theory of social change underlying the movement—that governments will bend if millions of people assemble in the streets, march and make a single demand—was proven ineffective.”

Street protests have become ineffective because they are so predictable, White explained. They are calculated into a government’s decision-making process, with police resources deployed accordingly.

Where does that leave activism? With far-reaching knowledge of protest theory and history, White has specific and tangible ideas.

In Spain, for example, he’s observed a conscious shift where groups that once boycotted elections now field candidates.

“They are building a social movement called Podemos that is winning elections,” he said. “They are starting to become the people in power….When we think, concretely, ‘What is the future of social protest?’, it is precisely that; it is to build social movements that can win political power, that can swing elections.”

What might that look like in North America? What advice would White offer to, for example, a group trying to end police violence against a visible minority?

“I would build a social movement specifically around ousting the person who is currently in charge of appointing the police commissioner or police chief,” he said. “And then I would appoint someone else. Basically, I would become the police.”

A founding member of the Black Lives Matter movement appears to be doing just that. On February 3, DeRay Mckesson declared he was running to become the mayor of Baltimore. “I have come to realize that the traditional pathway to politics, and the traditional politicians who follow these well-worn paths, will not lead us to the transformational change our city needs,” he wrote in a blog post announcing his campaign. “We must challenge the practices that have not and will not lead to transformation.”

Where else might we see this next manifestation of protest hit? What unrest does White see on the horizon?

“I think women are the most oppressed class in the world,” he replied. “We are going to wake up, we are going to look outside one day, and we are going to see women of all ages protesting. Protesting in ways that surprise us, just like the Occupy movement surprised us. And then we are going to see this movement spread globally in a tremendously quick way.”

White encouraged activists to learn from his mistakes.

“It is time for protesters to realize that we can both topple governments and we can become governments,” he said.

Micah White will appear with fellow authors Andrew Nikiforuk and Carrie Saxifrage in the Alice McKay Room of the Vancouver Public Library's Central Branch, next Wednesday (April 13), as part of the Vancouver Writers Fest's Incite series.


Carol Off on AS IT HAPPENS interviews Micah White

Occupy's Micah White calls for new vision of social activism with 'The End of Protest'

It was a global movement that started with a single email. In 2011, the British Columbia-based magazine Adbusters sent out a striking poster to thousands of its followers. It was a ballerina, poised on a sculpture of a bull that sits in New York's financial district. The text read: "Occupy Wall Street, September 17. Bring tent."

Micah White was the driving force behind that first idea, which eventually saw thousands of people camped out in cities worldwide, demanding change.

In this Oct. 5, 2011 file photo, a coalition of students and supporters from New York University and The New School march towards Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan in New York, where hundreds camped in the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest. Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine audaciously called for 20,000 "redeemers, rebels and radicals" to flood lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

In this Oct. 5, 2011 file photo, a coalition of students and supporters from New York University and The New School march towards Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan in New York, where hundreds camped in the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest. Vancouver-based Adbusters magazine audaciously called for 20,000 "redeemers, rebels and radicals" to flood lower Manhattan and occupy Wall Street. (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

Now, White's new book  The End of Protest presents an even more radical vision. He challenges ways activists have pushed for change for generations, offering the provocative idea that the current strategy of protesters massing on the street and issuing demands of politicians, simply no longer works. He even takes to task the Occupy movement, which he helped create, for no longer being relevant. 

White joined As It Happens host Carol Off in studio to discuss the future of protest and what he calls a new "playbook" for social activism. Here is part of their conversation. 

Micah White: I'm not disillusioned, absolutely not. On the contrary, I think that the end of protest is part of the natural cycle of social change and that we break out of it. I think that Occupy Wall Street was an example of us breaking out a period of sustained end of protest. I think that instead, I'm trying to hasten the breakout of the end of protest, by kind of naming it and pointing to it and saying "Hey, we're in a period where protest is ineffective, it's not going to be like that forever but it could be like that for a long time and we need to get out of this as quickly as possible," which is why I wrote a book about innovating new tactics of protest to break out of that. 

Carol Off: To some extent, is this book almost subversive? Are you trying to stir people? To get them to rethink activism as you have in the past, when you have told them that you have to be spurred into action. Are you trying to spur people into action with this book?

Micah White: I absolutely am trying to spur people because I believe that what's fundamentally going on within activism is a kind of laziness at the conceptual level about our theories of social change. I think people have become very lazy in thinking that, "Well, I disrupted, I blocked some streets. I got a few thousand people, maybe even a million to go into the streets. I must be victorious." No, no I think it's really important that we become more sophisticated. I think that one of the reasons why I wrote my book is so that activists will read it and they'll become much more sophisticated in their way of thinking about activism and protest so that the next time a social movement that spreads to 82 countries comes along we will have a much more sophisticated and complex base of activists who can pull off something even bigger.



What can be learned from a 'failed' revolution (Toronto Star interview)

Jennifer Hunter interviews Micah White for the Toronto Star

The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 spread almost overnight from a New York park to more than 80 other countries. It was a brief, shining moment of protest, familiar to those who grew up in the 1960s and '70s and lived through demonstrations about the Vietnam War, government corruption, the establishment. One of the people who inspired Occupy and its message of concern about the corporate funding of political parties is Micah White. White has written The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution.

It explains his understanding of social movements and his suggestions for future activists. Our conversation has been edited for length.

Jennifer: You say at the beginning of your book that the Occupy movement failed. Really?

Micah: Yeah, I think I am trying to resist the common narrative. There is this story we tell ourselves as activists, which is that nothing is a defeat. It is an enlightening, beautiful story. But that story stops us from understanding why we didn't actually achieve our objectives. Why didn't our encampment solve what it meant to solve: getting money out of politics? For me, when we celebrate our failures as success, we hold ourselves back from understanding how they failed. We failed because we didn't achieve what we set out to do, that is, to get money out of politics. But we achieved a lot of other things. That's why I call it a constructive failure.

Jennifer: I don't think you failed. You changed the way the world is now thinking about economics and work. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton were listening to you. Was it a failure because it didn't incite a social revolution?

Micah: In Hillary's emails, there is information about Occupy. Someone went down to Zuccotti Park and asked to get a poster for her. So clearly they are assimilating our language.

But it is important - and I think this is hard for people to understand - you shouldn't confuse the head with the tail. Occupy Wall Street was the head and all of these other things are symptoms; they are the tails.

Obviously, Occupy had effects and consequences. It raised awareness around this issue, but those are just symptoms of our creation of a mass movement.

Take the example of Black Lives Matter: yes, it has raised the issue of black men being shot by police, but nothing has changed really. Black men are still being shot. If you start celebrating the awareness, you lose perspective about the deeper questions.

We made an effort to get money out of politics and it didn't happen. I am not saying Occupy had no positive consequences. It buoyed a lot of social protesters. It made activism cool again. It brought certain arguments to the fore.

Jennifer: There is a tidal wave of change in the way people, after Occupy, think about the economy. You say Occupy didn't create a revolution. What did you really want?

Micah: A revolution, I argue, is a change of legal regime and Occupy Wall Street was trying to change how corporations and unions give money to political candidates. When you create a social movement, your goal is not to raise awareness. Raising awareness is merely a symptom of the fact that you've created a social movement.

Are we content in creating movements that make the powerful stay in place and let the establishment use our language? Or are we trying to say, no, we want the people themselves in power.

Jennifer: Donald Trump is essentially leading a revolution. The core group supporting him is made up of disaffected, unemployed men who feel they have been deserted by the federal and state governments.

Micah: The left shouldn't just assume they are going to be the best at creating mass movements.

There is a yearning to be part of a collective. Part of what was beautiful about Occupy is that you would go to these assemblies, you'd be immersed in the collective, everyone would be chanting in unison. It was a beautiful, spiritual experience.

Jennifer: Your book was supported and published by Canadians, even though you are American. Could it have been published in the States?

Micah: No. We tried to find an American publisher but we got an insane number of rejections and the rejections all said the same thing: This book is fascinating, it is well written, it is important, but there is no market for it.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world were involved with Occupy. The American publishers were just worried about the saleability of the book.

What publishers didn't understand was that people are very hungry for critical thinking and a perspective on activism, both spiritually and philosophically.

Jennifer: Revolutions can be good and bad. Jesus was a protest leader. Protests against the war in Vietnam helped push Lyndon Johnson out of the White House. But look at the Bolsheviks, the French Jacobins in the 18th century, the Nazis who both started as street parties, and Mao, too.

Micah: Yes, but we can't continue to blindly follow the contemporary paradigm of activism, which is to get people into the streets. We saw that experience in World War II by Nazi Germany to give people a sense of collectiveness. Protest is a form of warfare and a kind of weapon. Ultimately I am optimistic that social movements will be more democratic than they are totalitarian. We have to create social change and Occupy didn't work because it wasn't able to get money out of politics. Even though Bernie Sanders is spouting ideas that sound very much like the Occupy party line, you have to understand that what was revolutionary in 2011 may not seem revolutionary the next year.

In my book, I am trying to offer new tactics for social change.

The core idea would be to build social movements to win elections and govern cities and carry out a social agenda. There is a model like that developing in Europe. The first model is Internet-enabled social movements that are able to develop complex decision making to create platforms and agree on laws. There is an emergence of new tactics.

We have become good at creating globally synchronized events. If you look at all the elections in the world and put them in chronological order, you can then imagine a social movement that can arise quickly and swing the election and then go to another country and swing the election there. So you go around the globe and try to win elections in each country.

Ideas from the edges of politics are the ones that suddenly inspire people and take off.

Jennifer: Revolutions have long-lasting results.

Micah: Some people say it takes three generations for a revolution to be truly complete. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The generation which commences a revolution rarely completes it."

Occupy changed my life forever. It changed other people's lives forever. But what I am trying to get across is that we can do bigger and better. People didn't think we could do something as big as Occupy, but I think we can do something bigger than Occupy. It requires a reassessment of our theories of social change and broadening our horizon of revolutionary possibility.

Jennifer: Good luck.


When the Wildebeest Learn to Roar, the Lion Fights Dirty: An Evening with Micah White

By Tolulope Awobusuyi for the Ottawa Writer's Festival

Humans do not all live equal lives; history shows this and all sensible philosophers concede this truth. There are strong ones among us: smart, rich, powerful, cunning.

The rest, the strong considers weak, and it seems a given that most injustices perpetrated flow from the “strong” to those they consider “weak”: religious intolerance, tribal and ethnic violence, “casual” sexism, economic instability, Jim Crow. There is also within all humans a sense of justice, that we are all of us entitled to freedom, the realization of our true selves, and possibly, transcendence. It is in valuing these rights that the oppressed lash out at their oppressors. One of the more readily available and viable forms of righting societal wrongs is protest. From the protests of the citizens of Uruk against Gilgamesh’s despotism to the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution to the British abolition of slavery, the most important injustices have been met with the cries of the oppressed and the will to act against the powers that be.

Consider this: More than half the nations on the face of the earth were birthed out of protest movements; over eighty percent of sub-Saharan Africa was, as were the U.S. and Scotland. Slaves against masters, vassal states against suzerains, the weak wrestle against the strong and break their yokes and the strong either repress or relent. It is simply the world we live in.

Like Spartacus, the Martin Luther namesakes, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, and the Ekitis of the old Oyo Kingdom in Western Nigeria, Micah White understands this tool and has deployed it to great effect. He is credited as a co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps the most visible protest movement of the last twenty-five years, and is by extension an uncle to similar uprisings elsewhere. This he has achieved alongside Kalle Lasn, a Vancouver native, using the provocative Adbusters magazine as a launching pad. White, however, considers the Occupy movement a constructive failure, and in a talk given at the Southminster United Church, Ottawa–and further explained in his new book, The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution—he explains why he holds this opinion and the possible futures of protests in this era.

Here are a few things about Micah White. Thirty-four, he is of mixed heritage–half African-American, half Caucasian– and he speaks in a river’s rumble of a voice. He likes to keep his hair–which is more a young lion’s mane–together using a bandanna. He has been an activist since he was thirteen and in public schools, once founding an atheists’ club and eventually landing on an episode of “Politically Incorrect.”[1] For him the visual imagery of Adbusters, combined with its rich symbolism and creativity, was what drew him to the magazine, and eventually a memo he sent out became the blueprint of the Occupy Wall Street movement. On the eventual fallout between Adbusters and the Occupy movement Micah is reticent.

In Ottawa he speaks of his work with Adbusters and the e-mail that shook the world and engendered protests in at least sixty countries, and he opines that the success of all social movements come from a combination of an established social network, a contagious mood, and creative tactics. He focuses mostly on this contagious mood and in the talk, the Q&A session and his book he is enthusiastic about the role of what he calls “spirit–the inner force that grants patience, perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity.”[2] Like the Luther-named leaders and most of his African-American predecessors, White firmly believes that a spiritual element is key to the success of all protests, and that the very act of protesting is capable of opening doors to transcendence for its participants. The absence of this element is a major critique of his for the Black Lives Matter movement, which to him has lost its way by rejecting the deep spirituality of its predecessors.

An important part of White’s work are his Four Theories of Revolution: voluntarism, which works on the premise of human action being the only way through which lasting change can come and under which most contemporary activists work; structuralism, which teaches the insignificance of human intent on the creation of lasting change and instead credits economic and natural forces for any changes; subjectivism, which teaches that outside change comes from inward change, and; theurgism, a somewhat mystical and largely forgotten theory which credits lasting change to divine intervention. White believes that all four theories are needed for effective protest, and history mostly avers. America’s Founding Fathers, actively seeking to break out from under the British monarchy, invoked divine will, called for human action against the perceived oppressiveness of the monarchy, wrote magnificent works on the “American spirit,” and provoked a British crimping of Boston’s commerce, all of which led to the American Revolutionary War. Nearly two centuries later African-American civil rights movement fought redlining and the Jim Crow economy, borrowed liturgical language from Jewish and Christian canon to state the case for equal rights, marched in the streets, and leveraged whatever economic power they had to see that they and their descendants were guaranteed equal treatment by the US government.

White also sees the current forms of protest as largely corrupted by the media and contemporary activists who prefer online rants to actual grunt work. He derides the degradation of protest into performance art, an inevitable occurrence given the way such protests are covered by media conglomerates as expressions of mostly-youthful belligerence, often with insidious racial, religious and ideological undertones. Conversely, he criticizes online activism as a form of narcissistic justification without, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb puts it, “skin in the game.” He is right to put it that way, however unpleasant it may sound. The rise of hashtag activism and “spreading awareness” campaigns do little to confront actual, lived realities as much as comfort the keyboard warrior that one has played a part by “supporting” a cause, however far removed an individual’s immediate reality actually is from said cause. Awareness of a given injustice is a byproduct of the work done to right that injustice and should never be the goal nor a tool of any protest group, he argues.

Since he considers most of contemporary activism either too deeply rooted in certain ideologies to be pragmatic or just plain ineffectual, White looks to the rural areas, feminist activism, and protest-bots for the future of activism. These possible hotbeds have largely been overlooked, he says, and he is convinced that the perceptions of bourgeois and liberal urbanites of the rural communities as largely conservative and racist hotbeds are misguided. Rural communities are well aware the way the wind blows the world, he says, and because of the ineffectiveness of the urban, liberal-leaning left it will be they who will eventually decide how the world reacts to the winds of change. He also envisions a global female movement fighting for women’s rights the world over as a welcome future of protest, and he believes in the use of technological advances to further activist causes. However, the excessive presence of a thing inevitably signals its devaluation, and he argues that the ubiquitous nature of the Internet has served as a double-edged sword for protest movements in these times. Protest should never be easy, he says, admitting to being scared every time he has to protest.

The key to understanding Micah White and his work lies at the intersection of the mystical and the physical realities and his reasoned understanding of the machinations of our world. While his work has shown how potent human activity can be in creating global change he is keenly aware of a spiritual input to the success of his work and in no unclear terms states that all protest is fundamentally spiritual. He is loath to completely endorse one given worldview, preferring to learn as much as he can from all and adapt as needed, chameleon-like. But perhaps the deepest truth we can glean from White’s important work, no less an unhappy truth, is that protest without backing power is limited in its possibilities. An example: the global antiwar march of February 15, 2003. In an interview with Justin Campbell of the Los Angeles Review of Books, White points out the naïve assumptions made by the protesters who assumed that large numbers of protesters corresponded to increased influence over President Bush’s decisions[3]. The age of mass marches and public protest as the ley tools for effective change is drawing to a close, he argues, citing the failures of the People’s Climate March to achieve any meaningful results concerning climate change and the more recent Black Lives Matter movement to stem the nationwide killing of young black males in the U.S., amongst others.

It is the way of the world that the strong mostly win, and that the perceived weak are entertainment for the strong. But protest against injustice all humans must, remembering it is also the way of the world that few lions can survive repeated kicks to the head from a wildebeest’s hoof.

This was written by Tolulope Awobusuyi for the Ottawa Writer's Festival

[1] Mattathias Schwartz (2011, November 28) “Pre-Occupied”. The New Yorker. Retrieved March 21, 2016.

[2] Micah White (2016). The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution.

[3] Justin Campbell (2015, September 17). “The Challenge of Protest in Our Time. Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved March 21, 2016


Globe and Mail Interview: The Next Debate

In this series, Rudyard Griffiths, chair of the Munk Debates, Canada’s leading public-affairs forum, discusses issues and trends just over the horizon with renowned analysts and policy-makers.
Micah White is considered a co-creator of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, which sprang from an idea put forward while he was a senior editor with Adbusters magazine in Vancouver. Now based in Oregon, he is the author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, published this week by Knopf Canada.

Rudyard: Micah White, welcome to The Next Debate podcast.

Micah: Thank you very much. I'm so glad to be here.

Rudyard: Well, let's dive right in here, and have you unpack an interesting title for this book, The End of Protest and a New Playbook for Revolution. Those two ideas seem in conflict. What are you getting at?

Micah: Well, the book basically comes out of this realisation that we've been having the largest and most frequent protests in human history, and yet these protests don't seem to be creating the social change that we desire. So on the one hand we're living through the end of protest, which is a time when protest is no longer effective, but on the other hand I see that there is optimism about the possibility of revolution. So the book is really dealing with both of those things. It's how we break out of this period of stagnation around protest. How do we make it effective again, and what kind of revolution is possible? What would it look like, and how do we imagine that?

Rudyard: Let's go to the stagnation quandary first, because you're right, there are all kinds of reasons why we would expect people on the street…record levels of economic inequality across Europe, the United States, increasing dissatisfaction with political elite so, again, why the lack of the type of social ferment that we saw throughout the 20th Century?

Micah: There are basically two factors that play against each other. On the one hand there's the common response, which is that we live in a time of unprecedented police control, where we have surveillance of the internet. We have armoured police using military grade technology to disperse crowds and this kind of stuff, and that renders a lot of those contemporary urban protest tactics obsolete. On one hand, I think that's probably true, but on the other, I think there's a more significant and deeper insight, which is that the paradigm of protest, the theory of protest, that underlies contemporary activism is actually broken, and the main idea underlying contemporary protest is that if we get millions and millions of people into the street and they say a unified message and they're largely non-violent, then our elective representatives will have to listen and real change will happen. But we've seen, repeatedly, that when activists actually achieve that goal, which is very hard to achieve but it's happened during Occupy Wall Street, the anti-war marches in 2003, the climate marches – when that happens it actually doesn't yield the social change that activists have been chasing, so activists have been following an illusion about what creates change and that's, I think, the deeper insight about why these protests aren't working.

Rudyard: So let's go deeper on that. You're saying, in a sense, that activists are feeling empowered by getting out on the streets, making their voices heard, but the actual mechanisms for change are within governments, within power structures that seem immune to the influence of the street?

Micah: Right. I think that there's a paradigm of activism, and one paradigm is that our human actions create change, and that if we can get lots of people into the street to force their representatives to do things, then they will. But on the one hand we've learned that that's not true because elective representatives are not required to listen to protests. In fact, protests have become just part of the spectacle, so that protests don't indicate that they need to do change in their behaviour, it's just something that is part and parcel of doing politics. So I think that there's a deeper, more philosophical thing going on here, which is the idea that social change only happens during historic moments of economic crises that aren't impacted by human agency, that don't involve human action. And then there are other options. Another option would be that social change actually happens when we change how we view the world, and that this process, this kind of inner-transformation is what actually changes the world and stuff like that. So I think that, on the one hand we have elective representatives who aren't beholden to these street protests, but on the other hand we have to realise that street protests are just acting out one theory of what creates change, and then there's other theories of change that I try to get into in my book.

Rudyard: Do you think part of the challenge of protest, in our day and age, is that we're just ... we're too successful. We're too satiated, too much cable television, too many Smartphones. We're in a post-revolutionary age.

Micah: So, to take the first part of your question, you're right that there's one theory which is called the J curve, which is that if you have a period of economic prosperity, that suddenly reverses, then the people are more likely to have a revolutionary moment and that's echoed by Marxian historical materialism and this kind of stuff. And on the second part, about have we moved into a post-revolutionary age, I think that's not true. I think that there is an interesting phenomenon that seems to be that democracy is more resistant to old style revolutionary change…like democracy seems to be more resistant to the kind of revolutions that swept Russia and China and stuff like that. But on the other hand I think that revolution seems to be even more likely today because of various factors, like the speed of the internet and the ability to move tactic, and that what seems to happen in human history is that revolutions happen at the precise moment when they seem least likely, and that's something that's observed throughout history … that revolutions actually seem to happen precisely when we think they're not possible. So as soon as I hear people say we're in a post-revolutionary age, I'm like wow, I'm like even more convinced that we're closer than ever.

Rudyard: Good point. Let's talk about ... again, you say revolution comes about through changes of how people see themselves, their own agency, a kind of reimagining of the world. You must be familiar with the work of labour historian Steve Fraser who, in his recent book, The Age of Acquiescence, makes this interesting point that the great revolutions around the Gilded Age, the revolutions in labour, for instance, were the result of people having a memory, a lived experience of a world before the capitalism that they were facing off against, a more pastoral, rural, agrarian world, whereas now, according to Steve Fraser, we're so deep into the capitalist matrix, as he would characterise it that, again, it's just very hard for protest to take momentum, to have real impact beyond the Occupy Wall Street-type model.

Micah: The one thing that seems to be a key to triggering these revolutionary moments now, and I really get to this question about changing people's minds, is that it's like a collective awakening, and we're probably diagnosing a situation correctly, which is that a lot of people, nowadays not only think the revolution isn't possible, they also think it might not be desirable. And what happens though, is that in moments like Occupy Wall Street, all of a sudden they wake up. It's like coming out of a dream, and all of a sudden they see like wow, it's possible, it's within reach, it's desirable, I want it, and they lose their fear and they start jeopardising the status quo and they start quitting their jobs, like we did during Occupy Wall Street. So I think that the challenge for activists is how to trigger these collective epiphanies, and I think that these collective epiphanies are always possible, but it has to do with how do you trigger them. And then nowadays, I think a lot of activism is so based around rationalism and facts and all this kind of stuff, that it misses out on the deeper problem…to really spark these awakenings, these emotional awakenings, is a question of appealing to people's spirits and people's hopes and imaginations and dreams.

Rudyard: Tell us about the time that you really felt this with a big crowd, 30,000 people, I believe it was part of one of the early Occupy Wall Street protests. You looked around, it was your friends, your neighbours, others, and you felt that there was this, kind of, electrical revolutionary charge in the air.

Micah: Right, yeah. I think that one of the most beautiful moments of Occupy Wall Street that I experienced was in Oakland when we shut down the port, and it was after a protest that an Occupier had been seriously injured by police, and basically the whole Bay area just marched down to the port and we shut it down, and I remember on that day, you know, people were sitting in small groups. They were sharing food, everyone was smiling, everyone's eyes were bright. I remember telling my friend here, everyone's so beautiful, you know? Everyone looks so beautiful, they were so alive, and I think that that is the key to what constitutes a revolutionary moment today … it's a process of waking people up and having that sudden epiphany spread through that society.

Rudyard: Okay, well so to move onto the second part of the title of your book, A New Playbook for Revolution, what are you recommending to your fellow activists here? What are the, kind of, tactics and strategies that you think are going to get us over this, kind of, malaise, or this entropy around ... not mass movements, because these exist, but mass change?

Micah: Well, I think that’s kind of a tactical question, and that relates to what we've been talking about theories of change, but I think one of the aspects of my books, that people will, I think, dig into and really enjoy, is this idea of well, what are some of the revolutionary scenarios that could happen, you know, and I lay out three. Three revolutionary scenarios, directions that activists could be pushing. One of them is the idea of a, kind of, rural revolt. You know, I live in rural Oregon, and one of the things I've realised is that the actual power is, I would say, a little bit weaker in the rural areas. The idea of small groups of people gaining control of city councils and mayorships and all this kind of stuff, it actually seems possible and easy, and so that one idea is some sort of rural revolt, where people gain sovereignty in local communities. The second idea is this idea that we're going to have global social movements that can win elections in multiple countries, and we've already seen that start to develop in Europe, the idea that we don't need to just win elections in Greece or in Spain, we need to win elections in Greece and Spain and Germany and Canada, under one social movement. So the idea there is that social movements need to start learning how to not just protest, but also do the behaviours typically associated with political parties, which would be winning elections, putting forth candidates, and stuff like that. And then the third revolutionary scenario is this idea that we're going to develop autonomous artificial intelligences that will ... I call them protest bots … that will allow us to spread social movements using technologies and artificial intelligence in a new kind of way.

Rudyard: Let's probe deeper on some of these, specifically your idea of social movements translating themselves, converting themselves into political movements, and doing that on a global scale. What do you think what happened with Syriza? There was a very powerful, progressive social movement that captured government in Greece, and then signed a bailout deal that embraced German-style austerity?

Micah: That's a very good question. So, if we backtrack and we look at what Occupy Wall Street was doing, Occupy Wall Street was holding these general assemblies in public squares and acting in, kind of, a consensus-based democracy, because we believe that somehow sovereignty would translate into these assemblies. That if every day people started discussing amongst themselves, having these democratic assemblies, that the police wouldn't be able to attack us because we would be the sovereign power. Well, we realised that that's not true. Actually, sovereignty, in our societies, is only given to the people who either winelections or win wars. You know, there are only two ways to really gain sovereignty, and winning wars doesn't seem like a possible thing. So winning elections actually seems like something that can happen and we've seen happen in Europe, but winning elections, as you pointed out, presents its own challenges, because if you use the old party model of winning elections, then you're electing the leaders, and these leaders, again, fall under the same ego traps that we tried to escape with Occupy Wall Street. They, again, become representatives instead of delegates, and they can sacrifice the ideals of the movement that got them into power. So that's why I look at the future as a hybrid between a movement model and a party model. Movement model being that it's decentralised, horizontal, it's based on the people. And a party model being that there are certain behaviours that parties do that social movements need to learn, such as canvassing and caucusing, and a way of gaining signatures and getting on ballots and getting people to vote. So there's really this tension between how are social movements going to gain control over the party, control over the leaders, without letting them just do the old game, which we've seen so many times before, which is get into power and then all of a sudden sacrifice the ideals of the party, but I think that’s where we're going. Those are the challenges that need to be addressed.

Rudyard: Let's talk a little bit about Black Lives Matter, because this is a new movement that we're seeing. It certainly has currency, it certainly has profile. You though ... well, you embrace its goals and its purpose you're critical.

Micah: First it's important to say ... I'm black, so I totally support, obviously, Black Lives Matter as a concept, but I think that if we look at it critically, self-critically, as activists, then I think it's very clear that Black Lives Matter didn't learn the fundamental lesson of Occupy Wall Street. The fundamental lesson of Occupy Wall Street was that protest alone, you know, public spectacles alone, mass movements alone won't force elective representatives to do anything, and I think if we see Black Lives Matter repeat the same disruptive behaviours and maybe innovating new disruptive behaviours like blocking traffic and stuff like that, you see that they haven't learned that fundamental lesson, and then I think, on the other hand, you know, Black Lives Matter, it's a regression back to the kind of national social movement, American-based politics that I think Occupy Wall Street really escaped. Occupy Wall Street was beautiful because it was a global social movement that spread to 82 countries that linked up with the Arab Spring, with the movements that were happening in Spain, and that's what really, I think, made it powerful and so I think we'll see activists are going to have to learn the lessons of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street in order to launch what will be something great to come.

Rudyard: You characterise Occupy Wall Street as a constructive failure. What were you getting at there and what do you see as Occupy 2.0 that would understand what the failure was, how it was constructive and improve upon it.  

Micah: Well, there's an attitude amongst activists that is really detrimental, and that is basically that there's no such thing as failure, that we haven't ever failed, that everything's a success. They like to say oh, Occupy Wall Street it splintered into 1,000 shards of light, it wasn't defeated, it just merely transformed itself, all this kind of stuff. I mean, that rhetoric is really positive and it feels good, but it's not true. Occupy Wall Street was a constructive failure because we set out to achieve a very specific goal, which was to get money out of politics, and we failed, and we failed because, as I've been saying, we based our actions on a theory of change that wasn't true, and we didn't know it wasn't true. We had to test the hypothesis and we tested it, and we found out it's not true. So we need to do a new message, and I think that that's really important to say, as I told you, it's a constructive failure because it taught us something very important. It wasn't a total failure, because it did achieve some goals. So you look at like, what could Occupy 2.0 look like? I think it gets back to this question of how are social movements going to actually gain and control power, and the only way I see social movements to actually do that, is to figure out how to win elections, and a lot of times when people hear me say this they think I'm talking about Bernie Sanders. I'm not talking about Bernie Sanders, I'm talking about a social movement, a decentralised social movement, a horizontal social movement that is global, that goes into multiple countries, that carries out a unified agenda by targeting elections, winning elections in all of these different countries, and figuring out how to use the process of consensus-based decision-making or new forms of decision-making, to give voice to the people, and that's the direction that we're going to go, and it might seem difficult to imagine, but Occupy Wall Street was also very difficult to imagine. And we have new capacities … the internet allows us to do these, kind of amazing things now, socially, that are going to be quite surprising.

Rudyard: Just on that point of consensual decision-making, because you and others have rightly brought up that, you know, this was one of the weaknesses of Occupy Wall Street – the way that it empowered people and made them really enthusiastic about the cause but, at the end of the day, that highly consensual model caused some real problems, in terms of, again, operationalising the movement.

Micah: Well, you know, if we get real, we're talking about creating social movements that are trying to institute dynamic social change, transformative social change, and there are forces in this world that don't want that. They're called the status quo, and the status quo will use the norms of a movement against itself, and so what we saw with Occupy Wall Street, is that there are forces that use consensus-based decision-making against the movement in order to paralyse the assembly, and this is something that you see in every movement. I was just reading about how, in the Russian Revolution, Lennon's secretary was a police agent, so there's always going to be these forces that will be in there infiltrating, messing with and stuff like that. The real failure of Occupy Wall Street is that we weren't able to adapt. We weren't able to see that that was happening, and then at the same time adopt new decision-making models. Instead we just became paralysed, weren't able to make the complex decisions that were necessary. For example, we weren't able to come up with one demand. We weren't able, as a movement, to negotiate. We weren't able, as a movement, to like articulate clearly enough for the mainstream, and so these are all things that need to be addressed, but the main problem is figuring out how do you switch tactics midstream, as a movement?

Rudyard: Final question then. As you said, you can't describe it, you can't put a finger on where and when and how revolution will happen but having written this book, having thought about this for a while, what are the signs that you would look for? What would be the symptoms that you'd diagnose in the body of politics, suggesting it was moving towards a revolutionary state?

Micah: Good question. Now, basically, I think it's a little bit of each of the four areas of social change that I get into in my book. So if you want objective factors ... I think there's been some compelling studies that have said food prices indicate a revolutionary moment. So when food prices break a certain threshold on the UN Food Index, a revolutionary moment is more likely to occur, and we saw that during the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. On the one hand, I would start to look for are food prices increasing or decreasing, and then on the other hand, I think there's a, kind of, spiritual, intuitive ... a mood among the people. You know, are people, in their gut, are they happy with the society? Is there a quiet before the storm, which is what I think we experienced right before Arab Spring, you know, those dictators that ... you know, Mubarak, and in Tunisia … they seemed so powerful and invulnerable, but then, of course, they would pop up so quickly. So I think, on the one hand, it's a, kind of, spiritual mood among the people, among the youth, and then we have external factors like food prices, how the economy's doing, and then I think there's just factors outside of human control, and possibly not knowable for us, you know, that we can get into in a future interview maybe.

Rudyard: Micah White, always provocative, always interesting. This is an important book and an important topic, and congratulations for putting pen to paper and bringing it to us.

Micah: Thank you, and for the interview, it was very interesting.


Occupy Black Lives: Notes on Two Movements

1. The most important thing we learned from the constructive failure of Occupy Wall Street is that social movements are born when two things happen. One, when there is a new tactic that arises that unlocks the people’s collective hope and imagination. And two, when a new kind of mood spreads throughout society. For example, during the Arab Spring, a Tunisian fruit seller set himself on fire, triggering a mood of fearlessness that spread all over the world. People were no longer afraid of the authorities or of losing their jobs and rushed into the streets to protest. And at the same time, with Occupy Wall Street, we gave the people a new tactic which was the combination of the acampadas with the Tahrir Uprising: let’s go into the financial districts and set up consensus-based assemblies. The combination of these two ingredients is the formula for social movement creation.

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2. There is a detrimental narrative that activists like to repeat which is that everything is a success. We like to tell each other that Occupy wasn't defeated, it just splintered into a thousand shards of light. And you know, that is a positive story, but it is not actually the truth. And false positivity won't get us closer to an effective revolutionary strategy. The truth is that Occupy set out to achieve very specific goal: to end the power of money over our democracies. And we failed. So I call Occupy Wall Street a constructive failure because in failing it revealed the limitations of contemporary activism. The movement was not a total failure, it did achieve some things and it did have some positive outcomes. But it was a constructive failure because it showed us that our methods of protesting and our theories of activism are false. 

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3. Occupy Wall Street gave birth to a new generation of activists. It made activism cool again; it made protesting cool again. And I think a lot of those people, and the ethos of Occupy, filtered into Black Lives Matter. But at the same time—and I totally support Black Lives Matter—if I could give a gentle criticism of the movement, I think that Black Lives Matter learned the wrong lesson from the constructive failure of Occupy Wall Street. The truth is that Occupy Wall Street did not fail because we weren’t disruptive enough. Occupy didn't fail because we didn't block enough streets during rush hour. Occupy failed because contemporary protest is based on false assumptions. The number one false assumption is that if you can get millions of people into the streets and be disruptive and have a unified message then our elected representatives will have to listen to us. Occupy Wall Street completely demolished that assumption. We had occupations in 82 countries, we had millions of people in the streets and Obama did not even mention the movement until we were evicted from Zuccotti. So we learned that our elected representatives do not have to listen to street protests: they are not required by the Constitution, they are not required by any sort of law. In fact, they can ignore us because protesting has become part of the daily work of the state. Protests happen and they manage protests and protests are irrelevant to the daily decisions that are being made. The continued reliance on disruptive protest tactics, like blocking traffic, demonstrates that Black Lives Matter learned the wrong lesson from the constructive failure of Occupy Wall Street.

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4. Black Lives Matter actually represents a regression from the planetary perspective of Occupy Wall Street. I think what Occupy achieved is that we created a social movement that linked up with all the global struggles simultaneously: the people in Spain’s indignados movement, the people in the Arab Spring, we were all fighting the same struggle. And that was the most beautiful thing about Occupy Wall Street. We were part of a global social movement. And I see Black Lives Matter as a kind of a regression back to national social movements and a return to national concerns and American-centric politics. We need to keep imagining global social movements because that really is the future of protest.

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5. Here is something most people don’t consider: why was one of the greatest social movements in recent American history created by a Canadian magazine? Why didn't the call for Occupy Wall Street emerge from an American activist organization? And the answer is that American activism is fatally risk adverse. Too risk adverse to call for something like Occupy Wall Street. It is important to remember that people died during Occupy. A person died in Oakland, another person died in Vancouver and there were other deaths of participants in our movement. And that is a really intense truth and responsibility. Occupy Wall Street was one of the most grassroots movements that America has ever had precisely because it was started in Canada: we relied on local activists in New York City and beyond. Kalle Lasn, the founder of Adbusters, and I did not go to Zuccotti and try to direct things. Occupy’s origin within a Canadian magazine actually amplifies its grassrootedness.

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6. Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street are the manifestation of a collective awakening. Social movements are moments when people suddenly wake up and something that has been happening all the time—like police shooting black people—suddenly becomes something that is no longer tolerated. Or, with the example of Occupy, the fact that corporations were giving unlimited campaign donations to elections suddenly became intolerable. So these movements are manifestations of collective awakenings, collective epiphanies. And we’re going to continue to see these collective awakenings. But the challenge now is how will these social movements become more effective. How will these movements use protest in ways that are even more effective?

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7. Black Lives Matter did not fully internalize why Occupy Wall Street failed. The next social movement that truly understands why Occupy failed will be more powerful than both Occupy and Black Lives Matter. 

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8. One of the things that Occupy Wall Street was unable to do was develop the processes of complex decision making. If you look at the original poster for Occupy Wall Street, you’ll see that it says at the top: “What is our one demand?” Well the movement was never able to figure out its one demand because our general assemblies were not able to agree on a one demand. But at the same time, I think you must distinguish between revolutionary aims and reformist aims. A revolutionary aim for Black Lives Matter would be to become the force that appoints the police, to become the force that controls the police. Whereas a reformist aim would be something like putting body-cameras on the police. We need to dream even bigger than reform. One of the problems of contemporary activism is that we’re dreaming at a low level. Black Lives Matter can achieve something even greater that body-cameras. It can achieve something like being the President or maybe even being the President of multiple countries. A social movement is going to arise that will win elections in multiple countries in order to carry out its agenda globally.

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9. We have prototypes of this World Party in Europe. We have the 5 Star Movement in Italy and Podemos in Spain. The difference between what they’re doing and what we’re going to see next is that we’re going to have global social movements that spread across borders—like we saw with Occupy Wall Street—but that these movements will win elections in multiple countries. Protest will be used not to influence elected representatives, but to win elections. One way to imagine how this could happen is to place all of the elections of the world in chronological order. Then you’d build a social movement that didn’t happen simultaneously around the world but happened, instead, sequentially around the world, leaping from election to election.

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10. Black Lives Matter, or the movement that comes next, needs to figure out how to be both a social movement and a political party.  We need to become the ones in power rather than protesting the ones in power.

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11. There are some things about Black Lives Matter that are more advanced than Occupy Wall Street. And one aspect that is more advanced is that for Occupy the tactic was synonymous with the movement. So once the tactic of occupy stopped working then Occupy Wall Street was defeated. Whereas with Black Lives Matter, it is smarter not to have your movement be synonymous with a specific tactic. Instead, the movement is synonymous with its message. 

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12. There have been large scale protests and revolutions every generation. And we have records of revolutions going back to ancient Egypt where there is a papyrus that talks about the king being overthrown by the poor people. Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter are all episodes in a multi-thousand year uprising that has been going on since the beginning of inegalitarian society. And during Occupy, we were very consciously channeling the spirit of the Arab Spring. And I think that Black Lives Matter very consciously channeled the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. And there will be another movement that will channel the spirit of Black Lives Matter into its movement. This is how we pass along the torch of revolution. It is a beautiful thing. 

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13. The intensity of the protests are increasing and the frequency of the protests are increasing too. But I want to push back and say: I don’t know if the effectiveness of the protests is increasing. And that is one of the core messages of my book, THE END OF PROTEST. The frequency and intensity might be increasing but is the effectiveness?  And that is something that, as activists, we really need to be careful about. There have always been protests and there will always be protests. It is easy to settle for just protesting but we also need to be concerned with whether these protests are working to achieve revolutionary social transformation. At the same time, the only way to overcome a broken paradigm of protest is to replace it with a new paradigm of protest—critique is not enough to spark a revolution. And that is the task I've set for myself with THE END OF PROTEST: I've tried to go beyond critique to develop a new unified theory of revolution, and a method of tactical innovation, that will be the foundation for the next planetary revolution.

click here to read THE END OF PROTEST

I’m an Occupy Wall Street founder, and here’s my advice to student protesters

As one of the original co-creators of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I’ve watched student protests sweep across campuses in Cape Town,MissouriLondon and Los Angeles with a growing sense of optimism. The history of protest suggests that students are often the first to sense the opportunity for revolutionary change.

I suspect that the new wave of campus protests could be the foreshock to the global social movement that activists have been hoping for since the end of Occupy. To increase the odds, here is some advice to student protesters, based on the lessons from my time with Occupy.

First, never protest the same way twice. The birth of a new movement is exciting. But the effectiveness of a protest diminishes if the same tactic is used repeatedly. Once the occupation tactic stopped working in the face of police crackdowns and the onset of winter weather, Occupy Wall Street stopped existing.

To avoid this pitfall, the next generation of student protestors must constantly come up with inspiring fresh tactics and be quick to abandon the methods that cease to achieve results. Given the diversity of tactics used by today’s student protesters—from the hunger strike at the University of Missouri, to the#OccupyNassau sit-in at Princeton, the candlelight vigil at Oklahoma State University and the creative use of black tape to protest Harvard’s Law School seal (an action that inspired a racist backlash)—young activists appear to have internalized this lesson.

Now the challenge is for student activists to move beyond disruptive tactics and to experiment with protest methods designed to spark epiphanies, or awakenings, in people outside their social circles. This means creating a contagious mood that spreads across borders, identities and milieus.

A common misconception among activists is that campaigns should start with actions most people would not be afraid of committing—such as signing an online petition—before leading to greater militancy. That idea, known as the “ladder of engagement,” must be abandoned.

Instead, mass movements arise when courageous activists do something daring that inspires spectators to stop being afraid. When hundreds of people slept in Zuccotti Park, they spread a fearless mood that gave birth to Occupy Wall Street. People from all societies, across economic classes, languages, and religions, rush to join such movements because they share an emotion of collective liberation. It feels uplifting, and a bit intoxicating, to be part of the human wave.

This leads to the second lesson for student protestors: Never confine your protest to a single identity or issue.

Instead, maintain a global perspective that links campus protests to injustices in the wider world. This will encourage all kinds of people to rise up collectively in a bid to gain control of the globe.

Here, too, student activists seem to be learning this lesson. Explaining the inspiration for their #RoyallMustFall campaign protesting the law-school sealhonoring the family crest of slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr., Harvard’s activists cite the ongoing student protests in Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town protests began in March with #RhodesMustFall and have continued to rock that country with demands for anti-racism, a freeze on tuition hikes (#FeesMustFall) and greater economic equality.

The next step is to link the campus unrest in America, UK and South Africa with the broader people’s democracy struggles everywhere. As Martin Luther King, Jr puts it: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” All protests are part of the same protest; all social-justice movements are part of the same movement. Use specific demands to coalesce energy for change, but never lose sight of the larger goal: a liberated world governed by the people.

Lastly, social movements require a willing historical moment—such as a worldwide political or economic crisis.

This is something that student protesters can’t control. But if the timing isn’t correct, then a social movement will not erupt. That is why,according to Friedrich Engels, the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848 fizzled out after the economic situation improved. Similarly, activists in the US were unable to catalyze a social movement in the aftermath of the anti-war protests of 2003 until the financial crisis gave rise to Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

Patience may be the most difficult lesson for many young activists to accept. Still, it’s vital to maintaining a balanced perspective that knows when to act and when to wait.

It is ultimately impossible to know for certain whether we are heading toward one of those rare historical moments when the world is ripe for sudden change. However, there are compelling indications that the time for action is coming. For one, studies have shown that the rising cost of food often presages a revolutionary moment. This October saw thesharpest increase in global food prices in three years.

If food prices continue to rise, and the ensuing economic crisis triggers political instability, then creative activists will have an opportunity to spark a worldwide social uprising. We might be closer today to a global revolution than ever before. Can you feel it?

Micah White is a lifelong activist and the author of The End of Protest, a playbook for the next generation of activists.



What I want to present is a counter-narrative about activism. It begins with Occupy Wall Street and realizing that Occupy was the consummation of our story of activism. There is a story of activism that we tell ourselves which is basically: if you can build a social movement with millions of people and they are largely nonviolent, that the movement cuts across demographics and has people from all over the country and different socioeconomic levels, and that the movement has a somewhat unified message then real change will happen.

So we had that with Occupy Wall Street. We had a once in a generation social movement that achieved a lot of the criteria of what is supposed to create social change. And we realized, in fact, that the story of activism wasn’t true. Occupy Wall Street didn’t create the social change that it set out to achieve. 

I call Occupy Wall Street a “constructive failure.” It failed. But in failing, the movement revealed something very important about activism: it revealed that activists have been chasing an illusion. We’ve been chasing a story about how social change happens that isn’t actually true.

So if you look at the last fifteen years. We’ve been having the largest protests in human history and yet they haven’t been creating change. There was recently a protest in India with 150 million people, and in 2003—and this is probably the best example to refer to—we had a global synchronized march where the entire world protested against the Iraq War, which happened anyways. And of course, we have Occupy Wall Street. 

The failure of these protests reveals that the story we’ve been telling ourselves and chasing after as activists isn’t true.

And I’ve been thinking about this and writing a book called THE END OF PROTEST.

Now the end of protest doesn’t mean we have an absence of protest. Instead, the end of protest means we have a proliferation of ineffective protests. Protests as it was originally intended to be—something that changes the social situation in which we live—doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

So what’s our way out of this?

Revolution basically means a change in legal regime. It is when you make something that was once illegal legal or what was legal illegal. With Occupy Wall Street we wanted to change the law around money in politics. We wanted to make something that is legal—corporations and unions giving unlimited money to candidates into something that is illegal. This is a kind of revolution.

Now revolution is the interaction between the human and the natural world. 

And almost all activism falls into the category of voluntarism. Voluntarism is the belief that human action creates social change. Activists do actions because we believe our actions are what creates change. Voluntarists believe revolution is a human process that intersections with the material world. That is the most common understanding of activism and it is why people organize protests. Because the idea is that to change something humans need to act.

Well, there is another option. It is called structuralism. This is the idea that revolution is a natural process that doesn’t involve humans at all. It is a natural phenomenon that is the result of, for example, food prices. And there have been studies that have shown that the Arab Spring and Occupy coincided with historically high food prices. And those food prices were the result of climate change. Therefore, revolution is actually the result of natural phenomenon and that it doesn’t involve human action. So you don’t need to organize protests because revolutions just happen without intervention of humans.

There is a third option: subjectivism. This is the idea that revolution is a human process that doesn’t involve the material realm at all. Revolution is a change of mind. Subjectivists believe that if you want to change reality then change how you perceive reality. In this kind of activism, we would all just meditate. We’d change our inner reality to influence external reality.

And then there is the fourth possibility: theurgy. Theurgists believe that revolution does not involve humans and is also a spiritual, or supernatural, phenomenon. This is the idea that revolution is an act of God and that it is an intervention of divine forces into our political reality. This, of course, is the hardest for contemporary activists to think about. What would it mean? God is creating revolutions? So I’ll just give you one example: the conquest of Christianity. 

How is that Christianity which was persecuted for three hundred years, and christians were killed in front of cheering crowds, ultimately conquered and became the dominant religion of the Western world? Well it was two spiritual conversations. The first: St. Paul. But the second, and most significantly, of Constantine. 

I’ll just briefly summarize that Constantine was going to battle against a rival emperor in Rome when at noon on the eve of the battle he saw a cross in the sky. Apparently his whole army saw the cross too. And that night he dreamt that he talked to Jesus and Jesus told him that he would win the battle. And he did. He won the battle and promptly converted to Christianity and that’s why Christianity won. It was an example of a divine intervention in his eyes. 

Right now, Activism needs fundamental reorientation in the way we think about activism. We have the break the script, the storyline that we’ve been telling ourselves about activism. And that it involves opening ourselves these these four ways of thinking about activism, social change and protest. 

Thank you very much for your attention. 

Bonus: Micah White explains the role of social media for activists.

Learn more about Micah White at

Protest Innovation or Protest Irrelevance

Chuck Mertz: Occupy Wall Street was a failure. Okay, it was a constructive failure. But are we looking at the end of protest as we know it? Let’s hope so. Here to tell us what we can learn from Occupy and the potential future of protest: Micah White, who is credited with being the co-creator and the only American creator of the original idea for the Occupy Wall Street protest. 

An honor to have you on This is Hell!, Micah. 

Micah White: Thank you for having me, Chuck. 

CM: Micah’s new book The End of Protest: A New Playbook for the Revolution comes out next March. His writing will cover the future of activism, global social movements, the paradigms of protest, and the influence of media on the mental environment. Micah is the co-founder of Boutique Activist Consultancy, a social change consultancy specializing in impossible programs. Their motto is “We win lost causes.” 

You are the co-creator of Occupy Wall Street. And you argue Occupy failed. but call it a constructive failure, and we’ll get to that in a moment. Let’s start with the beginning of Occupy. Some people may not even know that Occupy was actually created by a couple of people at an anti-consumerist magazine in Vancouver. So how did you and Kalle create Occupy Wall Street? And more to the point, what was your idea in creating it? Did you foresee what it was going to become? Because it’s a leaderless movement, so I would think you wouldn’t know what direction it was going to go in. 

MW: Right. I mean, those are all really excellent questions. I think one of the reasons Occupy Wall Street worked so well is because very few people actually even knew where it came from. It kind of just seemed to emerge spontaneously, all of a sudden. But what really happened is that—if you go back into that time, you’ll remember that in 2010-2011, there were these uprisings happening. The Arab Spring was going on; there was an uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo, where millions of people were gathering in the square and making the demand that Mubarak step down. And then on May 15th of 2011 there was a Spanish uprising where all of these citizens started going into their squares and holding general assemblies where they started using consensual decisionmaking processes. 

So what Adbusters did is we wrote a tactical briefing where we suggested to the world, “Hey, everyone, let’s combine the model of the Egyptian uprising (go to a place of symbolic importance) with what’s happening in Spain (the idea of these general assemblies) and then let’s take that to America and do that in Wall Street. Let’s occupy Wall Street and have these general assemblies. 

This poster launched Occupy Wall Street.

And we made a surrealist poster of a ballerina dancing on the Wall Street bull. And we basically wrote a two-page tactical briefing explaining why this would be the next tactical breakthrough that could trigger a revolution. 

The moment was just so ripe that 24 hours after we sent that out to our email list and then started posting it on the internet, it got taken up by people in New York City. It got taken up by a computer programmer named Justine Tunney, who started coding the Occupy Wall Street website that became the central hub. And people in New York City took the idea and they ran with it. They started holding weekly meetings in Tompkins Square Park, and that’s how it unfolded. 

CM: So this is the thing that I don’t understand. There are two aspects of this. One is that all of the major TV networks—ABC, NBC, CBS—they’re out there interviewing people at Zuccotti Park, and they are annoyed by two things. One is that it’s a leaderless movement, and the movement needs a celebrity; they want to have the charismatic personality that they can have on GMA the next day. So that was one thing they really hated. And the other thing that they didn’t like was the lack of demands, apparently. Because they couldn’t create a story, they couldn’t create a narrative. They couldn’t create a storyline. 

So this is the thing that I don’t understand: why did they say this is a leaderless movement, when at any point, ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, FOX, CNN could have interviewed you or Kalle Lasn on TV and said, “Okay, explain to me what’s going on here and what this is about.” It wouldn’t take that much research. It would take thirty seconds of research to figure out that you and Kalle were behind this, because it goes right back to Adbusters magazine. 

To you, what explains this unwillingness to find not necessarily the leaders of the movement, but this unwillingness to find the people who created the movement? 

MW: Well, the simple answer is that we made the decision, Kalle and I, to turn down all television interviews. So there were no television interviews because especially Kalle didn’t feel that we should accept them. So there was a kind of rejection of the media. 

But about the question of demands—if you look at the original tactical briefing that we wrote, it actually does have a demand. It says that we think Occupy Wall Street should demand that President Obama set up a presidential commission to investigate the influence of money on politics. And that didn’t get taken up, because of the activist culture of New York City. So you have to also take into account what the pre-exisiting activist culture of New York City was, which was pre-figurative anarchism. They wanted to reject the use of demands. 

But the second thing about why weren’t on television is that we refused that role. I turned down all interviews from network television. It was not easy to interview Kalle or I about Occupy Wall Street. And whenever journalists would get in touch with Adbusters about interviewing about Occupy Wall Street, then we would refer them to the local activists. I referred them to a local activists who then referred them on to other local activists. So we kind of stayed in the shadows intentionally, and the only real article that was written about Occupy Wall Street that interviewed both Kalle and I and revealed the origins was for the New Yorker. So the New Yorker article is basically the definitive account of the origins of Occupy Wall Street. 

CM: How much of an obstacle to the success of Occupy Wall Street—what you would see as a success of Occupy Wall Street—was New York City activism’s embrace of anarchism? 

MW: Well, I think the embrace of anarchism was good. But I think that there was a specific kind of anarchism, this idea called pre-figurative anarchism, the idea that you don’t make demands of the society, instead you try to create the society you want to live in and somehow magically it will just work. There was this magical thinking, which was that we can just set up this encampment in Wall Street and somehow that will be the microcosm of the ideal society, and then the bad society around us will somehow crumble and everything will be great. And that kind of obviously turned out to be a failure. 

But on the other hand, I think the reason why I call Occupy Wall Street a constructive failure is because it revealed our false assumptions about activism. And so on the one hand it revealed the falseness of pre-figurative anarchism, but I think on the other hand it also revealed the falseness of the ideas underpinning Adbusters’ approach, which was that if you can bring millions of people into the street making a large, unified demand, and if they were able to stay dignified under police repression, then somehow the government would be forced to listen to them. 

But I think it’s very significant that that’s not true. President Obama didn’t even mention Occupy Wall Street until after the Zuccotti camp was evicted. So he didn’t mention the movement until the movement was defeated. And so I think that we’ve learned that it’s so easy to blame other people, but I think we also have to blame ourselves. Occupy was a constructive failure because all contemporary breeds of activism were false, not just because pre-figurative anarchism is false but also because of this idea of mass spectacles in the streets that are somehow supposed to influence elected representatives. 

CM: You were just saying how Occupy failed—in the beginning you were talking about how you were influenced by both the Arab Spring as well as the Indignados movement. But there are a lot of people who really believe that this came out of nowhere. At least people in the media; I’m not saying that progressives or people who are activists who are paying attention to this—they may have known about the Indignados movement. Obviously they would have seen the results of the Arab Spring online. But they may not have ever heard of the Indignados movement. 

Do we miss something in understanding Occupy when we do not put it into the historical context of activism at that point in time? Because I kind of see—and tell me if I’m wrong—I kind of see Occupy in this bigger arc of protest that maybe goes back to the beginning of NAFTA and the Zapatistas, and then goes through the anti-globalization protest at the Battle of Seattle and then goes to the anti-World Bank and IMF protests that were taking place in April of 2000 before the war, and then the antiwar protests and so forth. And afterwards, even Black Lives Matter and what’s happening with protests in Ferguson and around the country when it comes to police violence—I kind of see these all as one larger context, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily if that’s a correct thing to do. 

Should it be placed in the historical context of all these protests, as a new kind of protest that started in the mid-nineties? 

MW: Yeah, I mean I think that Occupy was another chapter in a very long story that goes—like you just said—goes back to the anti-globalization movement. But I think it goes back even to the dawn of civilization. People have been rising up against kings and tyrants since ancient Egypt and before. Occupy is part of a long storyline that people have been acting out for a very long time, for thousands of years. 

But I agree with you, in the more recent past—if you go back and read the original tactical briefing that inspired it, Occupy was very consciously created as the synthesis of the Arab Spring and the Indignados, and we situated it within the context of an ongoing revolutionary moment that was happening worldwide. And that’s why it succeeded. It didn’t come out of nowhere. Instead, it succeeded because we were able to integrate it into an ongoing social movement storyline. 

And I agree with you that what is—and we learned a lot from the previous tactics that had been happening. So there is a kind of destruction of movement knowledge or activist knowledge that happens when we divorce these things from where they came out of. I mean, that’s a kind of way that the status quo neutralizes our ability to create these things again. Because people don’t realize that. 

I had lived in Egypt for nine months a few years before the Tahrir uprising, so I was very aware of how unique and special the uprising against Mubarak was and how historic it was, and I was very aware that this was some sort of historical rupture moment that could bleed into America in some way. And Kalle knew that too, and we talked about it on the phone, very consciously. And so Occupy was—yeah, Occupy was very consciously integrated into that story. 

CM: How much—you were talking about how protest hasn’t worked…that is, you talk about in one of your speeches that I was watching online—you were talking about how tens of millions of people take to the streets in India and nothing changes; how millions around the world take to the streets in order to stop the Iraq War, and nothing changes. 

So all these people take to the streets. The numbers of people in the street are supposed to motivate politicians; they see votes out there and they’re supposed to have an impact on their policy and they’re supposed to change policy. And as you point out, changing the law is really what a revolution is. Getting social change is really through changing the law. 

But we have this concept that that kind of protest works because—whether it’s true or not—millions of people went into the streets against the Vietnam War, and that’s what ended the Vietnam War. 

So how much does that idea—that the Vietnam War was ended by a mass popular uprising here in the United States and protests on the street—how much does that idea undermine the efficacy of today’s protest? 

MW: That’s an excellent question. What happens in human history is that a new tactic will arrive, and it’ll suddenly unlock the passion and the anger and the desire for greater freedom among people. A perfect example is 1848. In 1848, there was a European-wide insurrection that toppled the king of France, spread to Germany, every country in Europe. And the reason it happened is because they created this new method of using barricades to lock down the urban streets in order to have protests. That use of barricades spread everywhere, and the police, the authorities, didn’t know how to respond. 

But as soon as they figured out how to respond—which was by using cannonfire and destroying the barricades with cannons—they ended the revolution across Europe within about a month. Ever since then in human history, whenever barricades have been used (for example in the Paris Commune of 1871), they have failed. The same thing happens with other tactics like mass marches. 

Scene from the eviction of Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street's encampment in New York on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. 

So a great tactic only works once, and one of the lessons for contemporary activists is that we always need to protest in different ways. We should never protest in the same way twice. Same thing with occupying. Occupying was very effective for about two months. Police didn’t know how to deal with these encampments that were spreading all over the world so quickly. But as soon as they figured out, basically, the Bloomberg model of using paramilitary police forces to just forcefully evict the encampments, then all of the encampments were evicted within a week, basically. And occupying never became effective again. 

That’s why whenever we see ourselves repeating a tactic nostalgically, whether it’s mass marches in the streets like in the sixties or occupying like in 2011 or other things, then we know we’re making a mistake. I mean, the interesting thing about it, though, is that sometimes very old tactics can become useful again. So in a certain sense, maybe building barricades would work with some tactical twist to it, because in a certain sense the authorities forget how to respond. But still, the larger point is the idea that when we follow the pattern or the script of protest, then our protests are no longer effective. Then they just become part of the ritual, and even though they’re exciting, they’re not going to achieve the social change we want. 

So “the end of protest” doesn’t mean the absence of protest. The end of protest means the proliferation of ineffective protest. 

CM: One of the things that American culture is into is very quick gratification. You argue that Occupy Wall Street was a failure, but at least a constructive failure. Can we even say it was a constructive failure up to this point in time? Because maybe this social movement will take decades, or I would even argue this: why isn’t “changing the narrative” enough? After all, terms and concepts like the 1% are now in dinner table conversations, assuming people still have dining tables, and still have enough money to eat dinner. 

Why isn’t the degree to which the narrative has changed, due to Occupy, enough to say Occupy was a success? 

MW: Well I think there are two sides of time. There is slow time and fast time. I think in the long, slow time perspective, I agree that Occupy will have a tremendous influence on our culture. There might even be a revolutionary moment some time in the future, whether it’s one year, ten years, or a hundred years, that directly maybe will even be called Occupy or will reference Occupy. And in that sense, Occupy in the long term might be effective. 

But there’s also this fast time perspective, which is when we protest in the streets, we are trying to create an effective event in our own lifetimes, in the present moment. And so I think that it might be —for example, Christians had to wait three hundred years for their protest to effectively win by converting Constantine. And it might be that social movements do need to adopt that larger perspective. Like some people have argued that all revolutions take three generations. 

So social movements do need to adopt a long-term perspective, but at the same time, these “fast” protest techniques that we’re developing, the techniques that get people into the streets or are intended to create those events that then fit into a large slow-time narrative—I think those are what are not working. 

But it’s complicated. Social change and revolution is probably one of the most sophisticated and complicated phenomena of human society. 

CM: You said, “Our tactic was synonymous with our movement, so when occupying quit working, Occupy ended.” I was just saying how people should be careful when it comes to the situation with Sandra Bland; that you cannot make the movement about the individual because what happens if more news or more information comes out that reveals something else about the situation? Her mother was on a local news station here in Chicago, and she was saying that she is not on anybody’s agenda. Her whole deal was she’s on “God’s agenda,” for God to reveal the information that she needs to know, and in the meantime she doesn’t want anybody causing any harm against other people. And so she was pointing out how we shouldn’t just be focusing on her daughter. 

On the other hand, maybe you should be talking about injustice in this country. Can you make the same statement about making the tactic synonymous with the movement—can you say the same thing about making a person synonymous with a movement? Because it seems some of the Black Lives Matter momentum was hurt by what was eventually claimed about Michael Brown. 

MW: Yeah, I mean, I think the greatest challenge for social movements is to be able to adapt and change in mid-course. And so it was very obvious—I mean, Occupy started on September 17th, and Zuccotti Park was evicted on November 15th. So within two months it was obvious to people who were paying attention that encampments were over.

Poster from the failed D17 re-occupation attempt in NYC.

But you know, Occupy still was not able to change, and it persisted on December 17th by trying to occupy another space, and ever since then it’s still about, “Oh, we have to occupy another space…” And so it’s very difficult for a movement to change course in that way. And I think that that’s actually one of the greatest challenges and what we’re going to have to see are social movements that adopt tactics but then abandon tactics when they stop being effective, in order to create new tactics. 

And I think it’s similar with this question of over-identifying with certain people and this kind of thing. It’s the same problem, which is that whenever your tactic relies exclusively on one approach, you end up being defeated. We’ve experienced this—the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine experienced this because they had this idea that internationals wouldn’t be harmed by the Israeli military, therefore they could do acts of nonviolent resistance. But then the Israeli military started harming international activists and they murdered Rachel Corrie. So that tactic ceased working. 

It’s a constant game. It’s an arms race, basically, between protesters and power. 

CM: You’ve said, “For me, the main thing we need to see is activists abandoning a materialistic explanation of revolution—the idea that we need to put people in the streets—and starting to think about how to spread an epiphany mood, how to make people see the world in fundamentally different ways. That’s about it. The future of activism is not about pressing our politicians through synchronized public spectacles.” 

Do you believe that protest is far too geared toward having an impact on electoral democracy? 

MW: I personally think that the next generation of social movements will be a hybrid between a social movement and a political party. It’ll be a kind of social movement that is able to win elections in multiple countries in order to carry out a unified global agenda. For example, the situation in Greece: imagine if SYRIZA didn’t just have the prime minister of Greece but also won elections in Germany and became the Chancellor of Germany and was able to negotiate with itself because it was a global social movement. 

I think that electoral politics are a key battleground for social movements, and I think that social movements will probably be able to defeat traditional electoral parties.

But at a deeper philosophical level of What Is Activism? and What is Protest? there is a kind of materialist secular conception that has dominated activism since Marxist historical materialism. And that materialist perspective says that the only forces that matter are the material forces. 

Well, one thing that we learned during the Arab Spring that was very important, is that revolutions are actually caused by a change in mood within a society. The Arab Spring, for example, was triggered by someone setting themselves on fire. And then more people started setting themselves on fire, basically in this demonstration of a sudden loss of fear. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to demonstrate the injustices in society. 

And that fearlessness spread throughout the entire world. All of the sudden we were all swept up in this revolutionary mood of losing our fears. “I don’t care if I lose my job, I’m going to the encampment,” and all this kind of stuff. 

So revolutions are actually caused by a spiritual kind of awakening that happens within people. And that’s not a material process. That’s a deep inner process. And what I’ve just described is the foundation of Adbusters’ approach to activism. We were conscious of that. When I used to work there, we talked constantly about “creating epiphanies” within people and that kind of thing. That was consciously our approach to activism, and I think that’s why we were able to spark Occupy Wall Street, is because we did see it as a kind of awakening within people. 

What I would basically say is how to create an awakening within people that also translates into the ability to win elections in multiple countries and make complex decisions and these kinds of things. It’s a real challenge. 

CM: So, is fear and—we were talking to Chase Madar at the beginning of the show, and he was talking about people with Conceal and Carry and people arming themselves to the teeth because they need to “protect their home from crime,” even though crime historically low. Then we talked to Sarah Kendzior about the “I am not afraid” campaign that’s going on in Uzbekistan, with Uzbeks standing up against their very oppressive and brutal dictatorship that disappears people on a regular basis. 

So my question is, how much is fear not just the enemy of activism and protest—but how much does it actually help activism and protest in getting people out on the streets? Is fear both an obstacle to activism as well as the fuel for activism? 

MW: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a really excellent insight. There’s one notion of activism which is that there is a ladder of engagement, and you need to lead people from the lowest, lamest levels of activism (like clicking links) to the highest levels of activism (like direct action). I think that approach is completely misguided. Instead it seems to me that what really triggers a revolutionary moment is that you ask people to do something that’s really scary. 

For example with Occupy Wall Street, we said, “Hey, let’s camp in Wall Street. Let’s camp in the middle of lower Manhattan!” Which is actually a terrifying thing to do. I don’t know. Sleeping on the streets in an urban area is not something that most people are comfortable with. And so a lot of people—that gave them a little bit of butterflies in the belly, a little bit of fear. But when they saw other people doing it, all of a sudden they felt inspired. They lost their fear, and then it became a contagious kind of thing. 

I think that the true activism is always something that is a little bit edgy. You ask someone to do something that’s a little bit scary. But when they do it and they display their courage, then other people start to lose their fear, and they start to do those behaviors, and then it becomes a spiral behavior. 

But at the same time, fear is a weapon that’s used against us. The most effective way to break street protests is just to brutally beat up protesters, because the average person cannot withstand—we saw this in Oakland—the average person cannot witness police violence more than two or three times before they say, “I’m staying home.” It’s traumatizing to see people get beat up by police, to have sound grenades and tear gas fired at you. And most people will not—or cannot—deal with that more than two or three times. And police know that. That’s why they use those techniques against us. 

So fear is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you want to use fear in order to motivate people, because when they experience the loss of it, it’s a tremendously uplifting experience. And on the other hand, you do need to be—we need to protect ourselves from being overexposed to fear and getting traumatized by the police. 

CM: You have said, “Studies suggest that protests that use violence are more effective than those that do not. I think violence is effective, but only in the short term, because you end up developing a kind of organized structure that is easy for police to infiltrate. In the long run it is much better to develop nonviolent tactics that allow you to create a stable and lasting social movement.” 

So do you believe that while violence may be more quickly and temporarily effective, it’s not as sustainable? Does violence work in the short run but is not a good continued strategy? 

MW: I mean, this is one of the most controversial topics within contemporary activism. I got a lot of pushback for even suggesting that we think about violence at all. Because I believe in nonviolence, but I want to have a kind of critical perspective on violence and what is its use, and what is it? And a lot of people in the movement want to refuse that discussion completely. 

So for me, protest is a form of war. The definition that Clausewitz—he says that war is politics by other means. And I think you can say the same for protest. Protest is politics by other means, it’s a way of influencing or changing our laws and creating social change by unconventional means, instead of lobbying we protest in the streets. We use forms of direct action and pressure. 

So it’s a form of war, so what kind of war is it? That’s really the question. It seems to me that violence —in the seventies there was a study called the Strategy of Social Protest where they did this empirical study of protest movements between 1850 and 1940, and they tried to figure out: is there anything that we can see in the data that determines their success? And this guy, William Gamson, saw that groups that used violence seemed to be more effective than groups that didn’t. 

And that was extremely controversial then, as it is now. In the 1970s of course, they had all the urban guerilla movements and all this kind of stuff. So I think that looking back historically we’ve learned that groups that made violence one of their core organizing strategies completely failed. If you look at the experience of Che Guevara in Bolivia where he died trying to use the tactic of mobile guerilla units in a rural environment. It was a complete failure. If you look at the urban guerilla that were used by the Red Army Faction in Germany or the experiences of Italy or Japan, which all developed their own kinds of leftist terrorism—complete failure. 

So it’s not that we want to advocate violence. Instead, it seems that violence, if it’s effective, only seems to be effective in the short term, and what you want to do is you want to develop a much larger, broad-based movement that is able to adapt and change. 

Groups that pursue violence ultimately lose because they become so insular. The Red Army Faction, in the end, only had about twenty-five members, ever. It’s laughable how small it was. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to reject violence, but we also need to understand why we’re rejecting violence. When people don’t understand why we’re rejecting violence or why we’re doing this or that, then you just fall into uncriticalness that leads to more ineffective protests. 

CM: You argue that the current model of protest just doesn’t work. But at times, and in limited ways, I would argue that they do cause change, although they may not cause the larger change one might want. For instance, the protests in Ferguson are not going to end institutionalized racism and white supremacy and all the problems within the justice system within that region. But it did clean house in Ferguson’s police department. 

When you say, “The story we tell ourselves on social change through protest isn’t true,” is it true that when the target is small and even possibly a political distraction from the real issue at hand—can then protest be a success? 

MW: It really depends on what you define as success. I think that the thing is—anything that happens, anything that is an event has consequences, creates some sort of change. It’s kind of like dropping a pebble into a lake. Obviously there are ripple effects, and we can go back and say, “Well, Occupy Wall street changed the discourse,” or it created a next generation of activists, and that kind of thing. 

But the goal of Occupy Wall Street wasn’t to create these reformist changes. It was to have a revolution. It was to have a regime change in America where we got rid of the power of money over our elections, where we overthrew the supremacy of the corporation, where we changed the very way in which we live. 

So protest is not effective right now in the sense of creating these revolutionary changes. Whether or not when people go into the streets and make lots of noise—whether or not there are results that happen in the sense of…”things happen…” Yeah, of course, when you drop a pebble in a lake, there are ripple effects. But it’s not a tsunami. 

It’s easy for the movement to sometimes just settle for these lower feel-good ways of analyzing what happened. There’s an industry that promotes that perspective. There’s an industry of ineffective activism that actually benefits from ineffective activism by building their email list, by getting donations from people, by elongating their institutional existence. I think we need to be really critical of those stories, and say, yeah, of course, things happened after the protest. It’s not like history just stopped. And it’s not like the protest was completely erased from history. 

Things happened, and it altered things. The reality after the protest is different than reality would have been without the protest. But are we having revolutions? Are we creating social change? That’s the real question we’re getting towards. And how do we have a real revolution? Because what we need right now is a fundamental reorientation in the way that we live. And that seems to be what is most elusive. 

CM: You define revolution, as I was saying earlier, as making something legal illegal, or making something illegal legal. And with Occupy, you wanted to change the law around money in politics. When I was taking beginning journalism classes, every instructor told me that the most important beat anyone can have, and the most important news story, is always Supreme Court decisions. The real news is made at the Supreme Court, because that is what makes law and that is what makes news. 

So can confronting the law—if that’s where revolution resides—is that the next step that protesters are too often unwilling to take? That they want change, but they want it within the law or the agreed upon rules of the game? 

MW: Yeah. I mean, there are all these different definitions of revolution that float around, and they really strain our concept of what we’re trying to achieve. And I think one definition that’s been floating around for a long time is basically that a revolution is only what happened in 1917 in Russia, or what happened in Communist China. Revolutions are these communist takeovers of the state. That’s what a revolution is. 

I think that a broader definition is more helpful. That broader definition, like you said, is when we change the legal regime. When we make something that’s illegal legal or when we make something that’s legal illegal. And so I do think that the challenge is once you identify that that’s really what a revolution is, is a change in the legal regime, then you start to think through, well, what are the ways in which that can happen? 

And I think one of the most important ways that can happen is by becoming the legislature. By becoming the sovereign who decides what the law is. And that would be the ultimate revolution, if the people became the sovereign government. That would be democracy. If we restored democracy, and the people started to be able to dictate the laws that we live under, that would be a true revolution. 

I do think that activists have shied away from confronting the more difficult challenges in favor of a kind of culture of dissent that just celebrates protesting in the streets as an end in itself because it felt good to march or whatever, or they adopt a kind of radical posture which is just kind of like liking certain bands while liking certain ways of protest, too. It’s a cultural front. 

And it does seem like the larger challenge is how is the 99% actually going to gain power, actually going to carry through and change the laws and have a real revolution? That’s the real challenge that we need to confront. 

CM: You talk about other concepts on protest, for instance you talk about structuralism, that is protest as a natural phenomenon, as you point out was the case with the Arab Spring being about rising food prices caused by climate change. In other words, there’s no need to actually organize protest; protests will naturally, organically happen when the public is confronted with hardship. 

We got so many angry emails, Micah, about our interview with Slavoj Žižek back in October. We also got a lot of angry emails before he ever came on, that we shouldn’t have him on This is Hell! We also got angry emails about historian Ian Morris being on to discuss his book Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels. Listeners didn’t want Žižek on because his book, Event, kind of embraces this structural approach in that there is something happening in the background until circumstances take place and we have an Event. And Morris says we didn’t become a democracy because we were intellectually evolving, as much as we were reacting to the fuel we were using and the best system for that industrialization is democracy. 

Is a structuralist approach bad for an activist’s ego, in that it implies you are reacting not to some injustice but to the fact that you have less money or there has been some technological innovation? 

MW: I love that question. There’s basically like four paradigms of activism that we operate under. And the dominant paradigm, the dominant theory is called voluntarism. Voluntarism thinks that human action is the most important determining factor in revolution. Revolutions happen when humans act. It’s a very—it feels great to believe in voluntarism, because it often starts with this idea of “if only everyone would do x, then there would be a revolution.” I get emails all the time, like, “Hey! Hey, I have a great idea. If only everyone would do this idea I have, then we would have a revolution.” That’s the core of voluntarism’s assumptions. And it feels great, because it celebrates human agency. 

Voluntarism, Structuralism, Subjectivism and Theurgism: The Four Theories of Revolution

There’s another perspective, which is structuralism. And that’s the idea that revolutions are the result of forces outside of human control. And this is actually really interesting, because there have been these studies that looked at food prices. And it turns out that if the Food Price Index, which is this index of food prices compiled by the UN—if it reaches a certain point, then uprisings seem to be much more likely. And that point coincided with the Arab Spring. And as soon as it dropped below that point, that coincided with the decline of Occupy Wall Street and the global movement. And since that time, the Food Price Index has continued to decline. Now it’s at the lowest level it’s been at for several years. And so at this time it actually seems like possibly the revolution is farther away than ever. 

But I actually don’t believe in the structuralist approach either. I think there is another option, which is subjectivist. The idea that if we change our minds, then somehow we also change reality. And then there is a fourth option, which is that revolutions are actually some sort of process outside of human control but non-materialist. They are divine interventions. 

I think it’s a mixture of all four of these things, and all four are true. But coming back to the thing about structuralism: the most important insight about structuralism is that—and I think Engels and Marx understood this—if you’re not living in a revolutionary moment, and also if your actions don’t actually create revolution, then it’s actually very liberating, because as an activist you are freed to act in any way that you want. If you have the same chance of having a revolution if you protest in the streets as if you plant a community garden or feed homeless people or create art, and each of those is equally protest, then you just do the one that expresses your inner self the most. And that will be the most revolutionary behavior. 

So I think structuralism actually kind of liberates us from the voluntarist assumptions that force people to think that the only way to be a protester is to be an urban militant, which is a faulty notion. Structuralism says, instead, “Hey, look! It’s out of our control anyway! All you have to do is be recognized as protesting, and that can take many forms, so be your best self.” 

CM: How much does representative democracy undermine the ability for protest to change the law? Wouldn’t—it would seem like there would be a lot more ability for protest to change the law if we had a direct democracy, because then you would have a direct impact on the people that you’re trying to have a direct impact on. 

So how much of an obstacle to the ability of protest to change the law is representative democracy? 

MW: If you look at it, I think the defining defeat of democracy happened on February 15th , 2003. On that day, the entire world, millions and millions of people, in every country—if people don’t remember this they need to look it up on the internet, because it’s an amazing example of activism— basically in every country in the world, millions of people went into the streets and protested against the Iraq War. They had one simple demand. If you look at the pictures from the UK, it’s amazing: everyone’s just holding up a sign that says “NO.” No to the war, no to the war. 

Everyone in the entire world protested and said "No!" to the Iraq war on the exact same day. But it did not stop the war. No government, no representative democracy listened to the protests. That, I think, was the defeat of our concept of democracy today. 

Instead what we need to do is stop thinking that mobilizing the "collective will" will somehow force our representatives to listen, and realize that actually for the last decade or more that is no longer true. We need to base our actions on a whole different kind of conception. And where I see us going now is this idea of a global democracy. I think that there’s a lot of challenges there, too, which how are you going to make decisions as a global democratic movement? How would a social movement that won elections in multiple countries—how would local manifestations differ? How would it make decisions among the people? How would it avoid authoritarianism? All these kinds of questions. 

But opening up and solving those questions seems to be the most productive route, rather than maintaining these kind of nostalgic views that somehow, if we can rally the constituents, that elected representatives somehow will listen or cave or bend. 

CM: So just a couple more questions for you, Micah. You’ve said how “people don’t protest when they think it doesn’t work. They will if things are seen to be possibly changing.” 

How do you prove to prospective and potential protesters that your protest, this one, will actually cause change, this time

MW: That’s a really good question. People don’t vote for the strongest horse, they vote for the horse they think is going to win. And I think that’s really a little bit where the mystery of social movements comes in. People have an intuitive sense of what might be an effective moment to join a protest. I think before a protest—before Occupy started, people were not able to recognize it as being something that would be successful. The media ignored us. The many people I told the idea to beforehand dismissed it. Only 200 people showed up to the organizing meetings in New York City, for example, if you think about how large the activist community is in New York—the idea was shunned by the traditional activist community. 

So before an event happens, people don’t really know if it’s going to be success or not. But as it unfolds, they seem to have a kind of intuitive sense of, “Wow, this is really going in an interesting direction.” I think a lot of activism pretends as if people have no memory. It pretends as if the only protesters are 20-year-olds who have never seen a movement before. Anyone who’s older, 30, 40, or 50 years old now, has seen multiple protests and has seen multiple social movements, and has a sense of which ones follow a pattern and which one is really breaking out and going a different direction. 

So it is a really interesting challenge to think about. What is it that makes people suddenly believe in a social movement? What was that moment that made people suddenly believe in Occupy Wall Street? And for Occupy, it seemed to be triggered by accident. The first accident that woke people up was when some women were pepper sprayed about a week after Occupy started. That got John Stewart’s attention and was broadcast over the news, and all of a sudden people were like, “Whoa, this is kind of strange what’s happening there.” 

And the second event that woke up the entire world was when 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. It was the largest nonviolent civil disobedience arrest in American history since the Civil Rights era. So when those 700 people were methodically arrested while being peaceful, that suddenly woke people up. They suddenly realized, “Wow, I have not seen 700 people be arrested in this country in a nonviolently militant way like that, since the Civil Rights era. This is really something special.” 

And within 24 hours, I remember, there were a thousand encampments around the world within 24 hours after that event. And that’s when all the traditional activist organizations in New York also joined and started to pretend as if they had been there from the beginning and all that kind of game. 

But I think it’s about that kind of giving people that sense that, wow, this is really something different. This is really something magical that could really change things. 

CM: Micah, I’ve got one last question for you. We do this with all of our guests: it’s the Question from Hell, the question we hate to ask, you might hate to answer, or our audience is going to hate your response. You say how the most common understanding of activism is that you’re trying to cause change. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the right—Sarah Palin, FOX News—they were making fun of the term “community activist” as it was applied to Barack Obama. That said, by 2010 FOX News and the right are embracing the Tea Party, which they argue is a grassroots movement (of course never using the words “community activism,” although it did cause change). 

Was the Tea Party a more effective social movement than Occupy Wall Street? And if so, what can the left learn from the right when it comes to social change? 

MW: You’re throwing me in hot water here. I believe—and I advocated at the very beginning of Occupy Wall Street—that Occupy should have teamed up with the Tea Party. I believe that the 99% is neither 100% left nor 100% right, and that the kind of leftist factionalism that refuses to even create a coalition with the right is one of the things that’s holding us back. 

So whether or not the Tea Party was more effective than Occupy, I think it just represents different organizing styles. I think at the beginning the Tea Party was a legitimate movement that became coopted by corporate forces. Occupy in the beginning was a legitimate movement that also, less successfully, was co-opted by institutional activist forces. And what’s really going on here is that there are millions of people all over the world, billions of people, who are demanding change and waking up, and I think that we overemphasize whether or not they—we overemphasize how they express that dissent, and then we judge them. Are they using the words of the left or the words of the right? 

I believe that a global coalition will always need to be some sort of blend of left and right, and that’s probably one of the least popular opinions on the left right now. 

CM: Micah, I really appreciate you being on the show this week. Really a fantastic conversation. I’m looking forward to your book coming out, and I will bug you like crazy to have you back on the show in March when it does come out. I’m hoping that you will put out some more stuff between now and then so we can have you back on! Biggest mistake you ever made was giving me your email address. 

MW: Thank you, Chuck, it was wonderful. 

Interview source: This is Hell! Radio 
Transcription by: Antidote Zine

“Activism in crisis.” — Interview with CartaCapital

I dream of a hybrid movement-party that wins elections in multiple countries.

The Crisis Within Activism is a Crisis Within Democracy

“We are living through a period with the largest protests in human history. But they are not working. And when you reach that point, instead of repeating the traditional protest behaviors, screaming and holding posters, you have to innovate,” says Micah White, cofounder of Boutique Activist Consultancy and cocreator of Occupy Wall Street, in an interview with Brazil's CartaCapital about his book, THE END OF PROTEST.

CartaCapital: Is there a crisis in today's representative democracies?

Micah White: Absolutely. In addition to a crisis in representative democracy, there is a crisis in the model of activism, how people protest. There is a crisis in the power of people to force governments to do what they want. We live in a time when there appears to be no way for ordinary people to influence their governments through protest… This means there is no democracy. 

CC: Does this mean that the democratic system does not work anymore?

MW: I do not think in any way that the dream of democracy is dead. The dream of democracy has been going on since the beginning of civilization and humans have always been fighting for democracy. For five thousand years we’ve been overthrowing pharaohs, kings and tyrants in a struggle for democracy. Now we're in one of those moments in history when we have a low point of democracy, but there will be a high point of democracy soon. This requires, however, a kind of innovation within our concepts of activism.

CC: How is it possible to reduce the power of corporations in government?

MW: The only way to remove the power of corporations in our society would be to create a social movement capable of winning elections in multiple countries to carry out a unified agenda. As movements and as activists, we have avoided the only solution, which is: we have to build social movements that can also function as political parties. This is a need that we do not want to hear. We think we can just organize large protests and get really angry. Occupy Wall Street was a once in a lifetime event and it did not work because we were chasing a false theory of how social change happens. We believe, or wanted to believe, that a large number of people going to the streets can cause changes in their governments, but when we achieved a historical social movement, we realized this story of change is not true. Now it is clear that the only way to win power is to create a hybrid between a social movement and a political party. Something that does not have leaders, but has spokespeople and an organizational structure that lasts more than six months.

CC: How is it possible to achieve social change through protests?

MW: Today, social movements ask their participants do very basic and small actions: to take to the streets, holding posters and shouting. These are very basic behaviors and no longer have a political effect. Occupy Wall Street and the 15M in Spain, brought more complex behaviors, such as participating in general assemblies or utilizing hand gestures, but these are still very simple behaviors. I think we have to ask more of social movement participants. We must show that social movements require difficult behaviors like, winning elections, drafting legislation, governing our cities ... We need to demand a greater investment than just show up. The Internet allows us to ask for more. Thanks to social networks, it's time to treat participants as capable of developing sophisticated behaviors and teach each other how to to spread these actions globally.

CC: Do social networks have a new role in organizing and promoting protests?

MW: Absolutely. I think the role of the Internet is spreading contagious emotions. If we look at the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it seems that the trigger was a mood that spread all over the world and was basically a sensation of losing one’s fear. People said "I do not care about the risks, this is the time to act” and went to the streets. That's what social networks do: they allow us to transfer that contagious mood of rebellion to the whole world.  The other power of the Internet is in allowing us to innovate our tactics in real time. From the moment when a new tactic emerges in one city, it can be deployed in another city. So it was with Occupy Wall Street.

CC: Can the internet become something more than a network in which feelings are spread?

MW: There is a hope that perhaps the Internet allows us an electronic democracy. That's the idea of the 5 Star Movement in Italy. Participants use the internet to decide on legislation and to select candidates for the elections. The idea of the Internet enabling collective decision-making is very interesting, but difficult to achieve.

CC: Some people prefer digital activism to the street. What do you think?

MW: In the early stages, the Internet is very important for social movements. However, over time, the Internet becomes harmful because things start to look better online than in real life. This happened with Occupy. The protest looked better on Facebook than it did in the streets. This is negative because people start to prefer the online experience to the real world. So the Internet is a double-edged sword. The internet is a weapon that is not fully under our control, and it is very difficult to wield effectively.

CC: Do you believe that the advance of neoliberalism has helped reduce the importance of social movements around the world?

MW: Protests are a form of war and war is politics by other means. Protests are ways of influencing the political system by unconventional methods. And the revolution is a change in the legal regime. It is transforming what is legal into something illegal or making what is illegal legal. If social movements are a form of warfare then it is clear that the forces that are in power will use all possible means to destroy social movements. The problem is activists do not see their protests in the context of war. We see them as a big party or something, while the other side realizes the importance of the event.  Above all, however, it is crucial not blame others. We must blame ourselves. Social movements do not fail because the police are very strong. Throughout history, people have overthrown governments with a much stronger police, either because they found a way to defeat them in the streets or because they managed to get the police to change sides. So when our protests fail it is because our theory of change was wrong and not because the other side was stronger.

CC: Occupy Wall Street was born in 2011 and influenced many movements around the world. To date, we have several social movements emerging in Europe also influenced by 15M or Occupy. What is the role of the internet?

MW: What happened is that a new tactic emerged and it worked, so it spread worldwide. Occupy Wall Street combined tactics in Egypt with those of Spain and applied them to the United States. The police could not anticipate this new protest strategy and that's why the movement worked. Once the police discovered how to respond to our encampments, they destroyed all the movements worldwide in the same way. Protest is a constant war of new attack strategies and counter-attack. Interestingly, at the moment we are increasing the frequency of protests. This is very good, but on the other hand, we must be skeptical because we are living through a period with the largest protests in human history, but they are not working.

CC: Do you believe that we can be in a historic moment of rupture?

MW: What I imagine is the birth of a social movement that wins elections in a country and then begins to win elections in multiple countries. Then you will see Syriza or the 5 Star Movement in three, seven or ten different countries. Yeah ... I really think it's about this storyline of a global social movement.

CC: You do not think that is too optimistic?

MW: I think we live in a time when activists are so focused on what seems possible that we do not achieve anything. We need to disturb the power and not act only in safe ways. That's what Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring did. The best activism is the one that does the things we fear.


“Protest is Broken” — Interview with Folha de São Paulo

Advice for the next generation of social movements: “Never protest the same way twice.”

“Protest is Broken.”

Attracting millions of people to the streets no longer guarantees the success of a protest, says Micah White, 33, the cocreator of Occupy Wall Street.

“Occupy was a perfect example of a social movement that should have worked according to the dominant theories of protest and activism. And yet, it failed,” says Micah in an interview with Folha de São Paulo, the largest daily newspaper in Brazil.

Micah White argues that the use of violence in protests is effective, but only in the short term. And he argues that learning to use social networks to benefit social movements is one of the greatest challenges of activism. “The biggest risk is becoming spectators of our own protests” he says. 

Living in a rural community on the Oregon coast, with about 300 inhabitants, Micah, and his wife Chiara Ricciardone, now run Boutique Activist Consultancy, an activism think tank specializing in impossible campaigns.

Micah was in São Paulo, Brazil on May 26th to participate in the launch event of GUME (“Knife Edge”), an engagement agency founded by Regina Augusto.

Folha de São Paulo: How would you analyze Occupy Wall Street today? What went wrong?

Micah White: This is the big question and of course I've been thinking about it since the end of Occupy. For me, the Occupy movement was a “constructive failure,” which basically means it was a failure that taught us something about activism.

The real benefit of Occupy Wall Street is that it taught us the contemporary ideas and assumptions we have about protests are false. Occupy was a perfect example of how social movements should work. It accorded with the dominant theories of protest and activism: it was a historical event, joined millions of people across demographics from around the world around a series of demands, there was little violence. And yet, the movement failed. So my main conclusion is that activism has been based on a series of false assumptions about what kind of collective behavior creates social change.

F: What are these assumptions?

MW: First, the central idea of contemporary activism: urban protests, with large numbers of people in the streets, primarily secular, and that revolve around a unified demand. The idea is basically, “Look, if we get a million or ten million or a hundred million people in the streets, finally our demands will be met.” However, if you look at the last ten, fifteen years, we have had the biggest demonstrations in history. And the protests continue to grow in size and frequency, and yet they have not resulted in political change.

F: Now what?

MW: What we learned from Occupy, and also with the Arab Spring, is that revolutions happen when people lose their fear. So I think the main trigger for the next revolutionary movement will be a contagious mood that spreads throughout the world and the human community.

For me, the main thing we need to see is activists abandoning a materialistic explanation of revolution—the idea that we need to put people in the streets—and starting to think about how to spread that kind of mood, how to make people see the world in fundamentally different way. That's about it. The future of activism is not about pressing our politicians through synchronized public spectacles.

F: It's not about pressuring politicians?

MW: No. I think the standard forms of protest have become part of the standard pattern. It’s like they are expected. And the key is to constantly innovate the way we protest because otherwise it is as if protest is part of the script. It is now expected to have people in the streets, and these crowds will behave in a certain way, and then the police will come and some of the people will be beaten up and arrested. Then the rest will go home. Our participation in this script is based on the false story that the more people you have in the streets the higher your chances of getting social change.

F: Can you explain better what you're proposing?

MW: What I am proposing is a type of activism that focuses on creating a mental shift in people. Basically an epiphany. In concrete terms, I think there is much potential in the creation of hybrid social movement-political parties that require more complex behaviors of people like running for political office, seeking votes, participating in the city administration.

F: The use of social networks is quite controversial among contemporary activists. Some say it is a key tool to increase the reach of the protests, others say it exposes the movement to monitoring by the authorities. What's your opinion?

MW: This is one of the key challenges. Social media is one of the tools that activists have, and we need to use it in some way. But in fact, social media has a negative side, which goes beyond police monitoring.

During Occupy, we experienced it: things started to look better on social networks than in real life. Then people started to focus on social media and to feel more comfortable posting on Twitter and Facebook than going to an Occupy event. This to me is the biggest risk: to become spectators of our own protests.

F: What do you think of the Black Lives Matter protests that are happening in the United States since last year, the result of racial tension in the country?

MW: Of course I fully support this movement. I am black, I have experienced the discrimination that they are protesting. But thinking strategically, I believe it is very important never to protest directly against the police. Because the police are actually made to absorb protest—the objective of the police is to dissipate your energy in protesting them so you'll let alone the most sensitive parts of the repressive regime in which we live: politicians and big corporations. We must protest more deeply.

F: What do you think of the use of violence in protests?

MW: Studies suggest that protesters who use violence are more effective than those that do not. I think violence is effective, but only in the short term, because you end up developing a kind of organized structure that is easy for police to infiltrate. In the long run, it is much better to develop nonviolent tactics that allow you to create a stable and lasting social movement.

F: But doesn’t violence exclude the public from the movement?

MW: People become alienated and become frightened when they see the black bloc tactic because they do not understand and can not imagine doing it. And movements work when they inspire people, when they are positive, affirmative and make people lose their fear.

It's a difficult balance, because you also do not want to be on the other side and only support forms of activism that are tepid and tedious—you have to find a middle ground that excites people and also leaves them with a little fear. No one really has a remedy to resolve the issue.

F: Your book THE END OF PROTEST decrees the end of the protest as we know it. Can we reinvent protest?

MW: Protest is reinvented all the time. Every generation experiences its own moments of revolution. The main thing is that we are now living through a time when tactical innovations are happening much more often because people can see what others are doing around the world and innovate in real time.

I think the future of revolution starts with people promising themselves that they will never protest the same way twice. This is very difficult for activists because they like to follow patterns. But when we are committed to innovation, we will invent totally new forms of protest. People did not expect to see something like Occupy when it emerged. And now we do not expect the next big movement... but it will come.