November 12, 2016

Thanks for the tears, Micah White

I started crying last year after the 2015 Canadian federal election. It was not joy at Trudeau being elected, though I do remember tearing up with Karl on the phone as we read about the cabinet appointees, half of who were women. It was mainly the overextension of my nervous system, frazzled by organizing and mobilizing with the tactics I knew to get rid of pro-oil tanker MPs in British Columbia. That new experience destroyed much of the insulation between the world and my interior, ultimately cracking open my heart. I’m glad for it.

Cue Leonard Cohen, who left us yesterday:

There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.

Tracey and I went to a leadership training just a few days after the 2015 election; I burst into tears when I arrived late and the doors were locked, and again inside when the opening speaker described what led her to caring about change.

A year later, I can handle locked doors, but I’m still crying at so many stories: Christina embodying confidence as a new mother; Jordan having no words on Day 1 of a Trump win; Kath likewise not knowing how to face her high school students except with honesty of her own sadness; Jackie toasting Eoin on his birthday to celebrate not only 44 years of marriage, but especially the last four of intense, valiant climate activism that they have undertaken together; Naomi Klein including her son Toma in an article about the death of the Great Barrier Reef, because at the heart of climate change is intergenerational theft, the removal of immense biological heritage that was meant to be passed on.

Crying in these cases has nothing to do with hopelessness; rather, it's about connecting and feeling connected to something bigger than myself.

A moment of necessity

Author and book cover

This morning I cried at the end of Micah White’s book, The End of Protest, when he speaks to “the ones to come” – whether he means future children or emerging activists, I’m not entirely sure:

We are waiting for you.

Just that line, right? We are waiting for you. He continues:

A great mission rests on your shoulders. I know you did not choose to be born under this shadow of a collapsed earth, at a time of unrest. Yet history has selected you all the same. Remember that without our present faith in your future coming, civilization will slide into the madness of scorched earth consumerism. I do not know how long we must wait for you. We shall prepare for you to emerge like lightning.

Shortly before this passage, White envisions the world as it can be. Although it seems anachronistic to articulate it here, with so many people rightly sad and fearful about the cruelty and violence on display in the United States since Tuesday alone, I think it’s valuable:

Hear, people of the world, I bring glad tidings to you. Tomorrow will be better than yesterday. Your family will prosper. Songbirds will serenade. Eagles will soar. Life will flourish. The bumblebees will return and the destitute will be fed. Your neighbour will be your friend. Your communities will be rich with medicine and universities. Work will be plentiful, jobs fruitful and art revered. The tyranny of leaders has ended; the rule of the people has begun. The good times are ahead!

We are the people formerly scattered and divided into distinct creeds, nationalities and classes. We once fought among ourselves. No longer. Now our humanity is evolving. We are finding universal common cause and we are uniting, driven by an unconscious existential necessity, into one social organism with a will to fight for survival. This is our destiny.

I have addressed this epistle to your heroic self. I pray it reaches your heart. Each word is an invitation to accept your fate as a partisan in the people’s revolution, an ancient spiritual insurrection that is necessary for the survival of our families, friends and communities. True democracies–people’s democracies–emerge in moments of crises when everyday people are required by historical necessity to fend for one another, self-govern their communities and look after their collective survival. You are in one of those moments of necessity.

We are in a moment of necessity.

White spends most of the book describing what has not been working to achieve true democracy and what he thinks is mostly likely to work in the years to come. I synthesize them here, not in a perfectly summarizing way, but with attention to what caught my eye. 

What has not been working


1. Typical protest

Western democracies will not be swayed by public spectacles and mass media frenzy.

White uses the Occupy movement and the anti-Iraq war marches as prime examples of a failed theory of change. The theory was that if enough people stood up together in visible, mass, urban, non-violent events, that Western nominally democratic governments would change their ways. Enough people showed up; the governments did not change their ways.

Protests have become an accepted, and therefore ignored, by-product of politics-as-usual. Western governments are not susceptible to international pressure to heed the protests of their citizens.


Repressive democracies encourage forms of protest that are least revolutionary and most ineffective. The ideal situation for a false democracy is to have frequent ineffective protests that give the illusion that dissent is tolerated while discouraging any tactics that might actually change the legal regime.

2. Rejecting the spiritual

White invites us to stop being so intolerantly secular. Of the four revolutionary frames he outlines, he suggests that we give less attention to voluntarism (belief that individuals make revolutions) and structuralism (belief that socio-economic forces cause revolutions), and more to subjectivism (inner transformation is necessary) and theurgism (divine intervention plays a role).

3. Leader worship

The story of the twentieth century was the mysterious obsession that developed among the people for a Leader. Across the political spectrum, the people wagered their aspirations on a single all-powerful living Father. We invested Him with omnipotence and prayed for benevolence. The result? Holocausts, famines, death camps on both sides. And the final proof humanity needed that absolute power corrupts (even the good) absolutely.

It's not going to be a single leader that saves us from climate change or global economic crisis. 

I think of the successful language exchange programs that I have started, and the significance of the absence of leaders or even teachers – there are facilitators, but the real work is done by partners that show up for each other. I think of Dogwood getting rid of an executive director position, and the times when I have been frustrated by an absence of top-down directives, but how it has forced me to figure things out or try things.

4. Ignoring the imagination

Activists of the future thus must be mental environmentalists, as concerned with the health of our interior world as we are about the natural world… At the most basic level, this is imperative because when our minds are polluted by commercialism, and our imaginations stunted by toxic advertising, we are unable to conceive of a better way of organizing society.

The future of activism is a struggle to capture the imagination of humanity.

What might work

1. Attention to intergenerational storytelling

Thomas Jefferson is quoted:

“The generation which commences a revolution rarely completes it.”

Revolution is akin to building a cathedral in medieval Europe. The architects who designed it and the masons who built it did not live to see their work completed… as you are not able to choose which part of the multi-generational cycle you’re born into, it may be that you will live your entire life in preparation for a revolution that your grandchildren will finish.

Part of our work, then, is to lay down the stories, narratives, myths, and memes that future humans will need to be heartened, emboldened, and capable. 

A couple years ago I watched How To Change the World with Stephanie at Queen Elizabeth Theatre – a documentary on Greenpeace’s origins in Vancouver. Watching the original boat push off the same dock at Granville Island where I chased pigeons as a toddler, sparked a small revelation: I’m part of a lineage. I also felt I'd been denied my heritage – why hadn't I been told these stories before? Mythology is essential.

From the perspective of a long-term vision, today’s protests aren’t failing: our protests are setting in motion a victorious process that will take generations to unfold. Activists must be patient and willing to wait hundreds of years, just as the early Christians endured persecution until a rare cosmological occurrence triggered the conversion of Constantine. Contemporary activists tend to overestimate the effect of a protest in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. Activists of the future will privilege tactics designed to impact the world a hundred years after their death.

I don’t think that the rally this Saturday November 19th against Kinder Morgan will change Justin Trudeau’s or the cabinet’s decision, but that does not mean it is unstrategic; for many people, the rally will be a crucial source of morale and solidarity, or even the start of a different life path. The stories that people hear and the relationships that people make on the 19th will be like rocks dropped in a lake; the ripples extend outward.

2. Rural, cross-sectarian, electoral wins

Writing from the small town of Nehalem, Oregon, White is pretty specific about where he sees the potential leading edge of successful revolution: Cascadia.

The rural uprising begins when revolutionary activists distribute ourselves into pre-existing micro-cities in Cascadia, ensuring that in each place there are enough of us to sway every local election. And we embrace the hard work of self-governance. We aspire to master city administration.

The rural populist strategy that I am proposing will require laying aside sectarian divisions between left and right. These distinctions are no longer relevant in our struggle as we seek unification and cooperation. The left and right have a lot to learn from each other.

A unifying platform that works across the political spectrum, White argues, is based on the motto of the Grange, a rural secret society that is still active in Nehalem:

“In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity.” 

(White suggests "mutual aid" in place of "charity".)

3. A World Party led by women

I can feel that women are on the brink of rising up against a male culture that has been fatally poisoned by pornography and video games… I wager that the greatest social movement of the future will be the fight for a global matriarchy–a post-feminist social movement to transfer sovereignty to a supranational government led by women.

In concrete terms, carrying out the mundialization strategy would involve building a women’s World Party that wins the elections of the world in chronological order.

I love the specifics of this last part, and I see it already starting with people I know traveling to different cities, provinces, and countries before elections to help win seats for smart, kind, capable people:

For example, the first election of 2015 was in Uzbekistan. Four days later, presidential elections were held in Sri Lanka and three days after that Croatia’s citizens went to vote. Nine days later Zambia chose its presidents. In this way, the elections of the world can be organized on a movement timeline. If the World Party were to win in Uzbekistan, the attention of the world would turn to Sri Lanka, sending resources and support, giving local activists a massive boost in time for a landslide. Attention would then shift to Croatia and so on. Each country’s World Party would aspire to gain a higher percentage of the vote in the preceding election. The electoral social movement would hop around the world from victory to victory.

4. Faith

Backed by the people’s will, all things are possible. Look historically and see that amazing transformations have happened in a generation or two. During the World Wars of the twentieth century, tremendous social changes (food rationing, conscription, new wartime social rituals) happened in the span of months. Occupy was launched in weeks. The next movement may arise in days. Mobilizations on a scale rarely seen in human history can strike at any moment, if the people are awake. open embrace of people power is secretly what we desire, if not need.

Kai wrote, "This might make of my colleagues nervous, but I trust the citizens of B.C. I trust our people. I love every corner of this province." With the results of Brexit and with the results of the U.S. election, many are afraid of what can happen when we invite the population to vote. But I am with Kai on this. If we do capture imagination of how society can be, then I trust the people around me. 


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