Occupy's Micah White calls for new vision of social activism with 'The End of Protest'
It was a global movement that started with a single email. In 2011, the British Columbia-based magazine Adbusters sent out a striking poster to thousands of its followers. It was a ballerina, poised on a sculpture of a bull that sits in New York's financial district. The text read: "Occupy Wall Street, September 17. Bring tent."
Now, White's new book The End of Protest presents an even more radical vision. He challenges ways activists have pushed for change for generations, offering the provocative idea that the current strategy of protesters massing on the street and issuing demands of politicians, simply no longer works. He even takes to task the Occupy movement, which he helped create, for no longer being relevant.
White joined As It Happens host Carol Off in studio to discuss the future of protest and what he calls a new "playbook" for social activism. Here is part of their conversation.
Micah White: I'm not disillusioned, absolutely not. On the contrary, I think that the end of protest is part of the natural cycle of social change and that we break out of it. I think that Occupy Wall Street was an example of us breaking out a period of sustained end of protest. I think that instead, I'm trying to hasten the breakout of the end of protest, by kind of naming it and pointing to it and saying "Hey, we're in a period where protest is ineffective, it's not going to be like that forever but it could be like that for a long time and we need to get out of this as quickly as possible," which is why I wrote a book about innovating new tactics of protest to break out of that.
When I think about why this is going on, I tend to blame the left for kind of losing hope in the desirability and possibility of revolution. Whereas on the right they still kind of believe that it's possible. So they're risking it all. They're going for it. Trump is risking more than Bernie Sanders is. I kind of blame Bernie Sanders.- Micah White
Carol Off: To some extent, is this book almost subversive? Are you trying to stir people? To get them to rethink activism as you have in the past, when you have told them that you have to be spurred into action. Are you trying to spur people into action with this book?
Micah White: I absolutely am trying to spur people because I believe that what's fundamentally going on within activism is a kind of laziness at the conceptual level about our theories of social change. I think people have become very lazy in thinking that, "Well, I disrupted, I blocked some streets. I got a few thousand people, maybe even a million to go into the streets. I must be victorious." No, no I think it's really important that we become more sophisticated. I think that one of the reasons why I wrote my book is so that activists will read it and they'll become much more sophisticated in their way of thinking about activism and protest so that the next time a social movement that spreads to 82 countries comes along we will have a much more sophisticated and complex base of activists who can pull off something even bigger.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.