As our societies move from hierarchies to more network-based structures, power inevitably shifts from the few to the many. In the process, empires crumble as agency and decision-making power get redistributed.
Social movements in the 21st century are gaining much of their strength from their networked nature, which allows them to ramp up quickly and exert great pressure on top-down institutions. In this way, they represent a rising force confronting older seats of power. Though this has been building for years, we can expect to see some tangible breakthroughs in 2016, when networked social movements gain the upper hand at the expense of businesses, governments and institutions.
The climate crisis as a super-driver
Global concerns around climate change, which affect people at all levels of society and especially the world’s less fortunate, are driving a large and powerful grassroots mobilization network. This meta movement is coalescing around several pressure points including governments, which must now enforce strict emissions standards and businesses, both those creating a large share of emissions and the financial institutions that support them.
Activist victories at the national level and those versus business interests are piling up, a sign that the climate activism network has become a stateless global power in its own right.
Inequality driving new political upstarts
Global economic inequality and austerity policies are opening the door to political outsiders who are much more in sync with grassroots social movements and distant from established political and business elites.
Capitalism’s failure to increase quality of life for the middle and working classes is a strong factor behind Bernie Sanders’ ascendance in the U.S. primaries according to Thomas Piketty, author of the 2013 bombshell Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Piketty, by the way, is an economic advisor to new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who shares Sanders’ ideology and draws support for a similar base in the U.K.
Expect to see more outsiders building “parties as movements” that channel grassroots discontent around wealth and resource inequalities in the future.
Self-sustaining grassroots activist networks
Once beholden to elite money, in the form of grants from large charitable foundations, nonprofits and advocacy groups had to watch what they said and who they took on in their advocacy campaigns. The rise of micro-fundraising, the ability to raise millions of dollars from online donors, now permits new activist groups to fund themselves entirely through member support. Quite often, the initiatives that members naturally choose to support are harder hitting and more confrontational, meaning that advocacy groups using this funding model are encouraged to take on corporate and political targets with no holds barred.
Fore more on the rise of this model, see my earlier piece in Mashable.