I can’t get rid of this theme in my head. I have written about it so many times that my deja vu detector is giving up. I have several labels for it:
The tyranny of the one off shot
The illusion of protest as change
The lack of scaffolding in well intended ‘champions training’
It seems to me that we human actors, wearing a corporate hat or not (inside the tent) immersed or not in a social change initiative (outside the tent) are quite good at the initiation of the tsunami. Not that bad either at bringing others to the big shot: street demonstrations and occupying streets in the social sphere (outside the tent); our one-off retreats, corporate conventions, leadership conferences (inside the tent)
The tent of course is a relative concept. For me, writing this, means the organization, within its borders. So, yes, I am writing from inside tents (lots of them) but have a helicopter that monitors lots of tents, and what happens between tents.
One of the key questions in the Mobilizing sphere, the topic of the book I am writing at the moment, is remarkably simple: why is it that some big noise mobilization reaches a peak and then fades, whilst others stay and create a movement?
A protest is not a movement. Demonstrations are not movements. Leadership conferences that enlighten people about leadership of change are not change or leadership per se.
One of the most recent translations of the above question is why the US Tea Party became a powerful influential movement but never quite called itself that way, whilst the incredible cinematic and watchable Occupy Wall Street movement never became one?
The default answer that we tent-inhabitants have, perhaps influenced by the rational logic that we got ingrained in management thinking (vision first, then strict strategy and goals, then structure and processes etc) is, it must be the vision and/or the goals. If these, mission and goals, are messy, sure the whole thing will fall apart. Which is true, bit not applicable to many ‘failed movements’ or ‘movements-to-be-that-never-where’ .
Somebody who has something to say in this topic is Micah White who wrote the book ‘The End of Protest: A new Playbook for Revolution’. He has a good pedigree: he co-founded The Occupy Wall Street show. In a recent interview he was very clear: usually the problem is not the clarity of goals (Occupy Wall Street could not have them clearer), it is the lack of a path (his words) , the organization moving forward, the ‘organizing’. What I call the scaffolding, the ‘mobilizing platform’. And that is why Viral Change™ works so incredibly well when many other ‘change methods’ fail.
By the way, Micah White gets very binary on the possibilities moving forward: revolutions or winning elections. And his bets are unequivocally on the latter.
Back to our tents, we must have at least a sanity check on the one-off activities that create an illusion of lasting engagement, whilst engaging for sure some people in the very short term. From one-off conferences and ‘leadership programmes’, Town Hall meetings or Roadshows, One day training of champions ready to change the world, the question is, where is the scaffolding for the day after, for the journey, for the sustainable part? Well, that is called ‘the movement’, and it needs to be organized. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘grassroots’. If this sounds to you like ‘I don’t have do do anything about it, it will happen’, you are kidding yourself big time.
As The Washington Post put it regarding the Tea Party, and the bitter Democrats who kept watching it, (the key was) ‘a combination of grass-roots energy and well-funded conservative organizing’. For some reasons, we inside the tents also love ‘the energy side of things’. We often forget that the sustainable, post off site, post Town Hall, post ‘event’ requires one thing: damned hard organizing work.
Corporate initiatives are born and die, and the reasons are seldom lack of goals. We should not create one anymore without a sustainability clause. It’s hard organizing work.