The dominant paradigm of activism is the ladder of engagement. In this model, there are a series of rungs leading from the most insignificant actions to the most "revolutionary," and the goal of organizers is to lead people upwards through these escalating rungs. This makes sense on a commonsense level but it has a nasty unintended consequence.
When taken to its logical conclusion, the ladder of engagement encourages organizers to pitch asks to the lowest rung on the assumption that the majority will feel more comfortable starting with clicking a link or social network sharing.
This is a fatal assumption.
The majority can sniff out the difference between an authentic ask that is truly dangerous and might get their voices heard and an inauthentic ask that is safe and meaningless. The ladder of engagement is upside down. We are judged by what we ask of people. Thus, we must only ask The People to do actions that would genuinely improve the world despite the risks.
Rather than the ladder of engagement, I live by the minoritarian principle, in which, the edge leads the pack. This principle means that when trying to shift the direction of the majority, pitch action ideas from the edges of politics. Authenticity goes hand-in-hand with edginess. The campaign ideas that work are the ones that thrill us into asking “Would I do that?”
Would I camp on Wall Street if it meant an end to the financial stranglehold over our democracies?
Would I uproot my family and move to Nehalem if it meant liberty, equality, community for all?
Would I blow the whistle for the greater good no matter the cost to myself?
The majority does not follow its center; it undulates towards its inspirational edges.
The corollary of this principle is that our political imagination must be in constant flux as it incorporates emergent tactics. This principle is minoritarian in the sense of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari because it places a greater emphasis on cultivating (or cool-hunting) tactics that are being developed by political minorities.
The edge, Left or Right, is where we find the best tactics to transpose into our struggle.
This is why—and here I am speaking to Chris Hedges, a great orator of our movement—it is necessary to respect the partisans of the Black Bloc or any other fighting force that shares our principles but insists on a different tactical approach.
It is oftentimes these tactical approaches that need to be merely tweaked and applied to a new context for their potential to take off. The street level anarchists were the source of most of the tactical innovations following the collapse of the mainstream antiwar movement in 2003. The so-called “cancer of Occupy,” as Hedges unjustly called them, deserve more credit for their role in sparking Occupy Wall Street.
For one, I very closely watched the student occupations of 2009 that swept universities in London, New York City, Berkeley, and dozens more. These protests used the tactic of occupation: students would takeover campus space for political reasons. In the UK this began as a way to force universities to take a public stand against the Israeli war against Gaza.
As the tactic spread to the United States, it lost its focus around demands and the popular slogan of the time—“Demand Nothing! Occupy Everything!”—emerged. I was present at the Sproul occupation at the University of California Berkeley and watching the students trapped in a classroom and shouting impossible to hear words to the crowd below is when I had the first idea to apply the tactic of occupation to public space. I remember thinking that the students should be occupying the grassy parks rather than the cloistered classroom.
By reminding ourselves that the edge leads the pack then we are often able to see the potential of a new idea well before it has matured.
Micah White is a board member of the Occupy Solidarity Network. His website is http://micahmwhite.com.