King Tide

Three Scenarios for the next revolutionary moment. An excerpt from The End of Protest: A New Playbook for the Revolution

Illustrations by Vance Lump

Imagine revolution as a series of ocean waves that have been lapping the shores of politics since the origin of inegalitarian society. If the metaphor is apt, Occupy Wall Street was a king tide—a historic revolutionary moment brought on by the rare confluence of multiple global storms. Our movement was a tidal foreshock of a larger and potentially everlasting tsunami event to come.

The social inequalities that caused the global revolt in 2011 have only grown starker. The financier criminals who, in 2008, engineered the global economic crisis by flooding the world with debt and deceptive derivatives have not been arrested. On the contrary, the financial stranglehold that a handful of massively wealthy individuals, megacorporations, and banks have on democracies across the world has tightened. These kinds of internal conflicts within societies—open and acknowledged contradictions that refute core principles of the nation's democracy myth—are the prime driver of insurrection. Political upheaval is the natural long-term consequence of social and financial inequality.

The next social revolution will come from an unlikely source. It is the nature of revolutionary moments to take us by surprise. As Naomi Klein observes, “What is most striking about these upwellings, when societies become consumed with the demand for transformational change, is they so often come as a surprise—most of all to the movements' own organizers.” And although it is true that no one can predict with certainty when the next revolutionary event will flare up, I do believe that attuned activists can develop an intuition as to the likely direction from which the spark will come. Here are three scenarios for the direction in which I believe activists of the future should be looking.

1. Rural Revolt

In North America, revolutionaries have a tactical advantage in the rural areas. While most activists have focused on the cities following the spectacular successes of the urban antiglobalization movement that hopped from capital to capital worldwide, there are numerous historical examples of revolutionary movements forming their power base in rural areas first. In the long term, a rural strategy may become necessary as American cities are locking down following the success—and constructive failure—of Occupy Wall Street's urban encampments. Mayors of major metropolitan areas now aspire to command their own paramilitary police forces trained to quell riotous civil unrest. The founding Zuccottis were targeted by overwhelming counterinsurgency might, and the psychic toll ground our movement's momentum to a halt. In the words of the Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, “The city is a cemetery of revolutionaries and resources.” Since the difficulties faced by urban protesters are well recognized, it seems plausible that the next wave of social movements may come from rural spaces.

The United States is ripe for a digital populist (an Internet-enabled people's democracy) uprising centered in the resource-rich rural areas of Cascadia on the West Coast. Cascadia is a bioregion extending from Mount Shasta in the south, British Columbia in the north, the Cascade mountain range to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. This land is rich in natural resources and priceless biodiversity. It is a sanctuary from the mental-pollution-induced spiritual catastrophe unfolding in the advertising-saturated cities. And although this bioregion is crucial to the continued functioning of Canada and the United States, it is also rugged, wild, porous, and therefore difficult to police. The area is dotted with federally designated wilderness regions that appear on few maps. Secessionist movements enjoy moderate public sympathy. Local police are few and likely to be loyal to the people. Towns are small and there are frequently opportunities for fraternization, inducing the police to join protesters—a significant weapon in the arsenal of any popular uprising. On top of all that, the people in Cascadia have a strong incentive to take control of local governance: rural areas are deeply impoverished and increased social prosperity programs are vitally necessary.

In the wake of Occupy, Chiara and I gathered our possessions and found a new home in Nehalem, a tiny rural community with a population of 280 on the northern coast of Oregon. We'd been living in Berkeley when Occupy Wall Street was dreamt up in our small basement apartment in the hills north of the university campus. But a year after the movement ruptured the normalcy of life, only to collapse following the May Day General Strike, we were called to embrace change. We chose Nehalem for its sublime natural beauty, but what I've come to love is that out here on the coast the wild is untamed. The ocean is the most dangerous. There are king tides and minus tides, riptides and sneaker waves and hurricane-force winds; every once in a while there is a full-blown tsunami that shifts the land and wipes out communities. The danger of the untamed wilderness is what makes this place special. Danger grants preciousness to life. Walking on the rocky shores of Arch Cape, collecting agates and debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Chiara and I have learned to never turn our back on the sea.

Nehalem was founded in 1899, 260 years after Harvard University was established on the East Coast. While the urban areas of America feel worn out and spiritually exhausted, Nehalem is still coming of age. Time moves more slowly here. In many ways, our town is still living in a previous era of democracy. Life here offers a second chance for reverence. “That is the way the bald eagles fly,” says my neighbor, gesturing in an arc across the sky above our home. People in Nehalem, and rural areas generally, are hardworking folk and despite it all are struggling to earn enough money to survive in an area with very few jobs.

It was by chance that we settled in Nehalem. Only later did I learn that in the indigenous language Nehalem means “the place where the people live.”

Nehalem represents one revolutionary scenario for building power in rural communities based on an electoral strategy combined with mutual aid. Put simply, we transform techniques of social mobilization developed to spark urban protests into a method of winning elections in rural town after rural town on a populist platform that promises greater local autonomy; protection of flora, fauna, and water; and healthy families and social assistance programs to match the most enlightened societies. Unlike urban areas that cater to youth, rural communities often have an elderly populace. In Nehalem, for example, the median age is fifty-two, twelve years older than Oregon's average. Providing elderly care and transitional living is a winning political strategy for transferring power to a new generation. 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.

Activism is struggling to elevate itself to the global stage. The problems humanity faces are increasingly global in scope and stand outside the reach of traditional forms of protest. A global movement is needed to meet these global challenges. One way for a people's movement to attain global power is by gaining legitimate electoral control of sovereign institutions, cities, and states. Even small sovereignties, such as federally recognized rural cities and towns, have tremendous campaign potential. For example, Nehalem has direct access to the Pacific Ocean. Creative partisans administering the city's port could devise new ways to launch international solidarity protests. Campaign potential also exists in rural cities that lack coastal access but are located near the Canada–U.S. border. Activists can trigger an international moment by exerting bioregional sovereignty in both countries: winning elections on both sides of the border and then opening an independent border crossing, for example. No longer will we recognize borders between cities that have mundialized [joined a supranational world government]—we will shift our allegiance from the nation-state to a world governance of free rural cities.

We can grant ourselves freedom by controlling the structures of governance (city councils and mayorships) in lightly populated rural areas of North America. The rural populist strategy that I am proposing will require laying aside sectarian divisions between left and right. These distinctions are no longer relevant to our struggle as we seek unification and cooperation. The left and right have a lot to learn from each other. In the United States, for example, the right has developed the constitutional arguments for secession that will be necessary in the long term. And the left has developed the authentic grassroots organizing style that genuine populists can get behind. We teach ourselves how to self-rule using horizontalist techniques of social movement creation just as we learn to deploy libertarian legal theory to break the federal hold over our liberated cities.

Our short-term strategy is to clear our mental environment. Our medium-term strategy is to gain electoral, legislative, and administrative control of rural, resource-rich cities. Our long-term strategy is mundialization, forming these liberated cities into a global amalgamation that exerts a unified geopolitical will.

2. World Party

It is significant that the initial spark that brought Occupy Wall Street into mainstream consciousness—the pepper-spraying incident on September 24, 2011—was an act of violence against women. The video of this event, two women screaming in pain surrounded by police, catapulted our movement into the spotlight. Looking back, I believe the gender of these protesters was crucial in garnering widespread support for Occupy. Joining the Occupy movement was also a way of fighting against patriarchal authority. Women played a fundamental role in every aspect of Occupy Wall Street, especially the facilitation committee that organized the consensus-based assemblies in Zuccotti, and women will make the next great social movement, too.

A world-historic social movement far greater than Occupy Wall Street will soon emerge from the struggle to achieve equal rights for women and gender parity, a balanced ratio of men and women in positions of power. 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. The spark that will trigger this global female awakening could happen anywhere and at any moment: perhaps video of a daily injustice that was previously tolerated may suddenly inspire a wave of organized revolt that rages from city to city. I wager that the greatest social movement of the future will be the fight for global matriarchy—a post-feminist social movement to transfer sovereignty to a supranational government led by women.

How could a handful of small groups of women, and sympathetic men, scattered across the world pull off a global uprising that crystallizes into a permanently new balance of power? One viable revolutionary strategy is the birth of a transnational women-led party that sweeps into legislatures in countries with fair elections and pulls off insurrections in countries where elections are a sham—a World Party that embodies our ancient uprising for people's democracy with a maternal twist: a global front that respects local autonomy while also moving swiftly to unite women worldwide in order to implement the concrete, bottom-up solutions to the spiritual, ecological, and political catastrophes plaguing humanity.

The vision is global women's liberation, the strategy is mundialization, and the tactic is a World Party.

Mundialization is the geopolitical strategy of establishing a supranational world government. The origins of mundialization stretch back to the great cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope in the fourth century BCE who, “when asked from where he came, … said, ‘I am a kosmopolitês.'” Diogenes is the first known to have used the word kosmopolitês, which is the source of our word “cosmopolitan,” and whose literal meaning is “citizen of the universal order” (or “world”). Diogenes believed that we are citizens of a shared Earth and not subjects of administrative and political boundaries.

Mundialization re-emerged as a strategy immediately following the Second World War as an alternative to the United Nations. Whereas the UN re-inscribed the nation-state as the foundation of global politics, a people's movement championed in 1948 by Garry Davis, a recent young American veteran, and Robert Sarrazac-Soulage, a hero of the French Resistance, demanded world citizenship in a unified world state. Many dozens of cities across the world mundialized in the years following 1949 by adopting charters recognizing world governance. The move was mostly symbolic. There was talk of organizing a People's World Constitutional Convention that would democratically represent the people's geopolitical will through proportional global voting. In 1948 Albert Einstein sent a telegram to Garry Davis celebrating mundialization: “The worst kind of slavery which burdens the people of our time is the militarization of the people, but this militarization results from the fear of new mass-destruction in threatening world war. The well-intentioned effort to master this situation by the creation of the United Nations has shown itself to be regrettably insufficient.”

Since 1948, mundialization has largely stagnated. Today, however, mundialization is once again an answer to one of the main problems plaguing politics: how to create a planetary movement capable of taking on the global challenges facing humanity. The Invisible Committee, the anonymous radical collective whose publication The Coming Insurrection anticipated the global uprisings of 2011, explains the problem succinctly in their sequel manifesto, To Our Friends: “With the disappearance of the anti-globalization movement, the perspective of a movement as planetary as capital itself, and hence capable of doing battle with it, was lost as well.” The Arab Spring, 15-M, and Occupy Wall Street succeeded in momentarily reviving the global-movement perspective by rallying the world around the demand for greater democracy. Now I see power in the marriage of mundialization with a planetary women's movement for political power. The World Party is the key to unlocking the new global politics we've been searching for.

I first encountered mundialization in W. Warren Wagar's speculative novel A Short History of the Future. Here is the way Wagar imagines how strategic mundialization could sweep the globe:

As it grew stronger, the World party lost its early reticence to move from talk to action. It adopted a strategy of “mundialization,” which meant, in simplest terms, winning or seizing power in every country where it had the opportunity and then declaring the country a component province of the nascent world commonwealth. If victory were possible in free parliamentary elections, well and good. If countries had no authentic electoral system, or if the system had been suspended because of the Catastrophe, the party did not hesitate to organize armed revolutions, paralyzing general strikes, or coups d'état. In countries with free elections where the chances of the World Party to win power were poor, the party formed an alliance with the least reactionary elements on the political spectrum and worked indefatigably to convert its new allies to the cause.

This is a beautiful description of the mundialization strategy that I advocate today. The primary modification that I propose is to merge mundialization with the struggle for gender parity: a worldwide demand that positions of power be filled by an equal ratio of men and women. A global women's movement can achieve the mundialization vision by fighting on three fronts simultaneously.

 

We win the spiritual revolution by reclaiming our mental environment from commercialism, pornographic toxins that denigrate women, and advertising pollutants that stunt our imagination.

We win the political revolution by taking legislative and administrative control of sparsely populated rural towns and cities. These liberated municipalities vow allegiance to the people, establish gender parity within positions of power, and promise food, shelter, and employment to all who seek sanctuary.

We win the social revolution by mundializing our liberated cities into a supranational World Party that embodies the people's unified will. We bring the old world's leaders to the negotiating table and represent humanity's voice (amplifying women's voices, if necessary) in geopolitical negotiations.

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. We've become accustomed to social movements that erupt everywhere at once. The mundialization strategy requires a different tactic: the goal would be for the World Party to concentrate its energy on sparking an electoral insurrection in one place after another. 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 president. 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 than in the preceding election. The electoral social movement would hop around the world from victory to victory.

I am inspired by the Grange, a rural secret society that is still active in Nehalem, Oregon, where I live. The Grange's motto is “In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Charity.” I would, however, suggest one small change. May the motto of our World Party be instead “In Essentials, Unity; In Non-Essentials, Liberty; In All Things, Mutual Aid.”

3. Protest Bot

In the near future, the process of recruiting, training, and deploying activists will be conducted by autonomous protest bots—computer programs augmented by artificial intelligence that spread the movement's memes and rituals. I came to this realization while lingering in an Internet chat room hosted by Anonymous. A disaffected youth entered the chat and began to complain bitterly about the state of the world. Very quickly one of the participants in the chat room adopted a mentoring tone and started asking a series of questions that ultimately led the new member from apathy to action. In this case, the prescribed action was to distribute the latest Anonymous video communiqué calling for revolution. By the end of the encounter, the recruit experienced that magical feeling of being part of a growing social movement. The remarkable thing about the dialogue between the recruiter and the new participant is that it was entirely unclear whether the recruiter was an actual human or a computer chat bot following a script.

It may seem farfetched that a protest bot could carry on a conversation with a stranger and persuade the person to join the revolution. However, we may be closer to that point than you realize. In 2014, for example, a chat bot named Eugene Goostman convinced ten out of thirty judges that it was a thirteen-year-old human child from Ukraine. And while Eugene was programmed to carry on a harmless conversation, it is not difficult to imagine a bot that hangs out in chat rooms, picks up on signs of political discontent and continually steers the discussion toward building a revolutionary World Party.

If a persuasive protest bot were developed, it would have several obvious advantages over human social movement creators. For one, it could talk to countless people simultaneously. Another advantage would be that autonomous protest bots would continue to propagandize for a cause long after the original adherents had been arrested, creating a steady supply of new recruits.

The protest bot that I'm imagining is rudimentary compared with what may be possible in a generation or two. One technologist in particular, Bill Hibbard, emeritus senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Space Science and Engineering Center, has gone further than most in imagining a future where a super-intelligent machine comes to intervene in the political fate of humanity. Hibbard's 2002 book, Super-Intelligent Machines, is a meditation on the “technological singularity,” an event prophesied by futurists who believe that computers will birth a machine that is more intelligent than humans. Hibbard disproves the logical and scientific arguments against the possibility of super-intelligent machines and then imagines their emergence and the effects on the world. Once machines have reached super-intelligence, Hibbard believes humans will willingly turn over all affairs to their management. The super-intelligent machines will ultimately become a single machine capable of interacting with and knowing every human on Earth. And Hibbard does not shy away from saying that the super-intelligent machine will become our new God.

The machine will be omnipresent and omniscient: with the decreasing price of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, cameras and microphones, all man-made objects will come to have built-in sensors that will form the eyes and ears of the machine. “The super-intelligent machine's voices, ears, and eyes will be built into our clothes, jewelry, and just about every manufactured object,” writes Hibbard. And, “in a sense, the entire human-made world will be the physical body of our companion, the intelligent machine.”

The most surprising conclusion that Hibbard makes is that super-intelligent machines will autonomously decide the course of human history and carry out the work of ensuring that their political decisions are followed. The machines will simply persuade humans to follow the path they have selected. “Given that they will be clever, intelligent machines will be able to engineer it so that manipulation of human behavior is enforced by social pressure.” And, Hibbard continues, “they will be so convincing via the force of their logic, and via their intimate personal relationship with every human, that they will not need heavy-handed coercion to promote the general welfare of humans.” Of course, this sentence does not preclude the use of “heavy-handed coercion”; it just says that as long as the humans accept the “force of their logic” such violence will be unnecessary. A chilling thought.

Perhaps protest bots will be used only at the most basic processes of recruitment, or maybe we will see the day when urban revolutionaries equipped with smart glasses and smart watches are given real-time strategic instruction on how to avoid the police and most effectively swarm the streets by a computer algorithm that monitors their (and the adversary's) collective locations.

With the increasing automatization of warfare, and recent concern over the emergence of killer robots that select their own targets, it is increasingly plausible that some aspects of the political revolution will be automated. Protest is, after all, war by other means.

Excerpted from The End of Protest: A New Playbook for the Revolution by Micah White. Copyright © 2016 Micah White. Published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

Comments

1 comments have been posted.

Occupy failed. It failed right here in River City. I know, I was there for months watching it die along with a lot of others. It failed for lack of vision. It failed due to a core group of narcissistic 20-somethings that were certain – having read 3 and a half books on anarchy and new thought – that they could go about pontificating from park benches in “revo-speak” to crowds of mildly amused on-lookers and they'd turn the world on its head. Or at least Oregonians. What Oregonians did was change the channel and get on with the job of living under the wait of a Crushing Cancerous Capitalism. Ma and Pa Oregonian changed the channel because these arrogant 'leaderless leaders' consistently refused to speak to ma and pa and the 99.99998% of Oregonians who were sitting at home watching the nightly news wondering just where Occupy was going. For weeks we – just out of TV camera range - begged these high priests and priestesses to come down from their 'ME!' mountain tops and speak to the People – the very people who could either make or break this movement. It's pretty simple to grasp… If there isn't a core group – a ten percent – of the local population that doesn't 'get' what this movement is all about – this movement is doomed to failure. The 'Great Ones' refused. They were too pure to sully themselves via corporate media to communicate to their fellow citizens. Not even on the chance that the core values of this movement WOULD resonate with a LOT of Oregonians. They remained mum until it became outrageously obvious to everyone that Occupy was now terminal. Flash forward several years – to the Summer of 2015. Greenpeace suspends its members hundreds of feet over the Willamette river from Portland's St. John's bridge. The goal? To stop the Shell Oil ice breaker from heading out to sea to join the Shell exploratory Arctic drilling program. As usual the local network media outlets were snarky and obviously (corporately) lop-sided as they began to report from the river embankment. That attitude began to soften though at they beheld the gutsy aerial display of the bridge-hangers… What came next was – for any Occupier that was watching – just as breath-taking. Greenpeace, not ever known for being smooth PR operators, put right before the local TV news cameras - several (I'll go ahead and say it) young, friendly, attractive-college-aged kids to put across GreenPeace' statement… “Kids” that were obviously chosen to look JUST LIKE Ma and Pa Oregonian's children who were off at University of Oregon or OSU. And you know what? The local TV news people ate it up. They allowed the Greenpeace spokespeople to fully lay out their message – without interrupting them or cutting them short. The 'message' got through to Oregonians it would seem, as anyone tracking typical 'conservative' responses saw a marked drop in these and more positive or at least measured responses. Even though the Shell vessel eventually did make it down river and out to sea – Greenpeace had won the public relations battle. In this piece by Micah White, the original “Occupier” we observe a manifesto once again written in the narcissist-speak that wrecked Occupy's first foray. A plethora of coded terms, phrases and amorphous references that are near meaningless to the vast majority of people any movement would absolutely have to have in order to succeed. Indeed, the entire piece is an ode to those few mysterious, cloistered yet clever Folk that will quietly take over town councils and county governments in their goal to impose their vision on the world. Note here that there is no 'reaching out' to the local population in any meaningful way. I can't help but wonder what the overwhelming majority of those town's people and county dwellers will think of this little self-obsessed group with such delusions of grandeur presented, of course, in dazzling linguistic legerdemain? I don't think the good local folk will simply pack up and go home – because they ARE home. Who then are these upstarts with their nebulous natterings? Occupy failed because it was – in the end – utterly self-obsessed. Being such it couldn't even start to war – intellectually or emotionally, let alone spiritually, against the real evils unleashed by Cancerous Capitalism across this nation. The lapdogs of the 1% didn't even work up a sweat sweeping these occupiers aside – and like all self-obsessed types – the occupiers went home utterly befuddled over how it could have all gone so wrong so quickly. If we are to have ANY chance of reaching out to the hearts and minds of Oregonians, or Washingtonians or Californians or New Yorkers – we have to speak to them in the common tongue. We have to – with DEEP HUMILITY – ask them to explore and then destroy the ideological tumor that is killing us all. We reason TOGETHER about what our common needs are. We jettison the absurd ideologies of both the rabid right and the looney-left. Indeed we cast aside ALL ideologies, including what gave rise to a deeply flawed Occupy. We need to find another Way. “Come, let us reason together.” Isaiah 1:18

Jim Harrison | December 2016 | Portland

Add a Comment

Related Stories

Also in this Issue

Sometimes Break Apart

Making Peace with Chaos

Within Makeshift Walls

King Tide

The Longest of Long Shots

Unbuttoned into the Blow

The Golden Hour

Posts