Getting us off the Dime
by P. Orin Zack
It’s been suggested (by theSaiGirl at 911Researchers) that you usually don’t need more than 5% of the population to effect a real regime change, provided that the rest of the population is passive or supportive, and further, that it can be done with much less than 5%, provided they are well-organized, disciplined and equipped. This subset of the population are those with the means, the muscle and the will to act.
I suspect that this threshold has already been reached in the US. If it has, then why hasn’t something happened yet? I’ve got some ideas about that. So grant me the favor of accepting, just for the time it takes to read this essay, that such a group exists, and we’ll see where it leads us.
If we accept the premise, then this magic number of people must exist somewhere within our borders. It’s a big country, though. The odds that this 5% of the population all live in close proximity of one another is pretty small. More likely, they’re spread out, a diffuse community with a common interest, much like the folks who gather at social websites, at sites offering an engaging narrative, such as The Last Chance Democracy Café, or at sites where people collaborate on some joint project, such as researching what really happened on 9/11.
Most of these communities have a relatively small core of regulars, who participate in whatever discussions or activities are on-going, plus a much larger group of observers, people who drop by occasionally because they share the interest, but lack the inclination, or the motivation, to become active members. Some of those lurkers might even become active if the right conditions were met. This often happens when a post or story makes an especially strong emotional connection with them, for one reason or another.
Our magic 5% probably doesn’t all hang out at the same virtual water-cooler, though. But there is enough overlap of interests among the various communities that do exist so that they can mingle with one another through aggregation sites such as BuzzFlash, which many people use merely to note references to people, commentaries and events that they might otherwise have missed.
All of which means that our agents of change are already coalescing into groups, but that these groups have not seen fit to join together in common cause, as many activist groups have done to create massive rallies. But even they have not been able to instigate the changes they desire.
As has been noted in many places by many people, meaningful change is never granted, it is always taken. So the tactics employed by this magic 5% must be appropriate to the objective. If your goal is to communicate disfavor with the current government, for example, then the result of your efforts will not be the arrest and removal of those you accuse of wrongdoing. What you’ll achieve is spreading the sentiment that such a thing ought to be done.
Unfortunately, this mismatch has a side-effect. Knowing that there is a problem, and hoping that such protests will cause the situation to be changed, the fringes of that 5%, the people who would have pushed the percentage even higher, the lurkers, become disillusioned at the continual lack of progress. They feel powerless, because they see all that effort being expended with nothing to show for it. To make matters worse, the very existence of those efforts can be hidden and misrepresented by news media and others complying with vaguely hinted direction from the sources of their money and information.
Still, even if the action was focused on the kind of outcome the crowd really wanted, are the people who would participate even in the right place to do it? This problem has already been addressed, with calls for people to travel to where major actions are to occur, but as long as those actions do not cause the desired outcome, many people choose to stay home the next time the call goes out. The feeling of powerlessness, again.
Metaphorically, we’re a supersaturated solution, desperate for some way to precipitate change. There’s a huge pent-up potential, a massive desire for it, but so far, no way to release that potential, so that it snowballs, growing in size and strength as the change itself becomes evident. And just as in a real supersaturated solution, a social or political one needs a catalyst, a seed to start the transformation of potential into actual change.
The people who crafted the Project for a New American Century understood the importance of such a catalyst. They needed one to instigate a wave of repressive change, to place people into a suggestive state so that they could be controlled. We need one to undo the damage. But what kind of catalyst? For the people we’re fighting, it was a horrendous event, crafted to have a crippling emotional effect. They wanted to keep people apart, to prevent them from acting against what was being done to them, to keep them in fear.
Our needs are different. What we need is a model for the behavior we want to instill in people, a pattern to be emulated.
We have been force-fed a poisoned narrative since 2001. It’s called the Global War on Terror. The effects of swallowing this idea and internalizing its venom affects everything we do and say. It affects what legislation is passed, how laws are enforced, and how they are adjudicated. It affects how we treat one another, as well as how we see the world and what happens in it. It has taken the image that we held up as the heart and soul of this nation, that we were doers of good – an image that was as contrived as the one we’re shown of our so-called enemies – and used it against us.
The cure is a different narrative, a different story. We need to tell ourselves a story of hope, not of fear, a story built on truths that don’t come packaged and spun and tricked up to manipulate us, truths that resonate with a sense of belonging to a single human race on a planet that we’re obligated to care for, just as we care for anyone or anything that matters to us. This story is not about great leaders who solve our problems for us. It’s not about the corporations that want to be all things to us, while sucking the life out of us.
No, this is a story about people coming together to accomplish all of the great works that have ever been wrought. It’s a story that draws from the insights offered by Howard Zinn, in A People’s History of the United States. It’s a story of how the true power in the world comes from the common actions of the individual people who find that they have no other choice but to act, to put an end to things that are destructive to the inalienable rights spoken of in a document that was written a few hundred years ago, when a small percentage of people, with the support, or at least the acquiescence, of their fellows, crafted a narrative of their own.
What made this nation great was not wars. It was not economic or military might. It was not the land. It was an idea. And an idea, to quote a movie that you may well have seen, is bulletproof.