Would you stand in the way of a hurricane?
The main reason that companies and governments keep getting their butts kicked by grassroots social movements these days is that they consistently underestimate their strength and fail to understand the deep social forces driving them. If they properly appreciated and understood these factors, they would put aside any idea of fighting them and consider ways to work with them instead.
Thus begins Chapter 2 of my ‘You Can’t Beat Them So Why Not Join Them’ series.
Where do these new movements draw their power? The short answer is networks and networked society. Social networks provide a powerful framework for mobilization but social forces are what drive movements to use them.
Structural sources of network power
Of all the benefits that online social networks confer on grassroots movements, the ability to ramp up fast and achieve critical mass is the most important. After all, it apparently takes only 3.5% of the population to topple a regime, so the sooner a movement can achieve scale the better. Consider that for many progressive causes, ready-made mass audiences of followers are already established. The petition site networks that have pushed causes for years have reached audiences in the millions. The force unleashed by such networks when they swarm a corporate or state target can be enormous.
- Change.org membership = 80+ million
- Avaaz.org membership = 40+ million
Social forces behind networked movements
Manuel Castells, the respected Spanish sociologist has observed that new social movements are driven by emotions of outrage and hope, including: fear, disgust, sadness and anger but also a hope that things could get better. The climate crisis and wealth inequality are two powerful drivers currently generating all of these emotions for millions across the planet. More and more, the core causes of these ills are being traced back to the very essence of the consumer capitalist system. It’s therefore not hard to see why corporations are becoming direct targets for so many movements these days. This is bound to increase as the issues at hand will not be solved easily or without significant social and economic disruption.
>>Coming soon: Why fighting social movements gets you nowhere and backfires, as well.
For visual thinkers, here is a glimpse at my presentation deck: