Can #movements create #change?
Movements ride the wave. That’s basically what going viral means, right? It starts from nowhere, it swells, and it peaks – and then there’s the opposite side of the cycle: it declines. Sometimes it crashes, sometimes it merely ends with a whimper.
How should we think about lasting change then? What’s the connection between movements and institutions?
From #MeToo to #parklandfloridashooting to #OccupyWallStreet, we have to separate movements from institutions. Consider ending sexual exploitation (movement) in American culture / Hollywood (institution), reforming gun control (movement) in government (institution), and changing income inequality (movement) and the current ownership structure of capital (institution).
We are not here to argue right or wrong in any of these – but to provide a framework to think about them, and hopefully improve the outcomes for the future that we want to create. A wave CAN become an institution, a movement CAN create change. Realistically, many DO NOT. This framework should help us understand why.
T S Elliott in “The Hollow Men” said, “Between the idea / And the reality / Between the motion / And the act / Falls the Shadow.”
The shadow is the space between the movement and the institution. When they overlap, when the movement and the institution are one, there is no shadow. However, when there’s a separation – especially when the institution loses a piece or all of the movement that created it, the shadow appears. Elliott’s shadow represents the gap that occurs when something has been hollowed out.
When the elites protect an individual from the laws of the masses, there’s been a hollowing out. When politicians have to balance the popular view on gun control against their campaign donors, there has been a hollowing out. When 1% of the population controls 99% of the wealth, there has been a hollowing out. “Between the conception / And the creation / Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the Shadow.”
When the pitchforks, torches, and hashtags come out, there’s a movement. It is critical for those that are in the movement to reach beyond their emotions and whatever is driving the potential revolution that they are a part of, and consider the institution that they are up against AND the institution that they want to replace it with.
#OccupyWallStreet never organized, but they made a lot of noise for a while. Contrast that against #MeToo which has (so far) brought down Weinstein and multiple other massive figure heads, inevitably creating a lasting change. What kind exactly? We’re yet to see. As of this writing, it is too early to tell what #parklandfloridashooting will do, but impassioned pleas and rallies alone will not wash away the financial power of the gun lobby. You have to understand the institution your wave is actually up against. Ask someone with an “Occupy” sticker on their car. Ask a hippy. Revisit “Fear and Loathing” to see what happens after the wave crests.
We can know this much: movements can create change when they knock down the old institution and replace it with something new. Movements therefore only succeed when they create a replacement institution as they grow. Otherwise, they leave nothing more than a high water mark from wherever the crested, an old bumper sticker on an aging car.
There are plenty of hollow institutions in our world, many with high water marks decorating their exteriors. That means there are plenty of movements begging to be started. T S Elliott ends the poem with the famous line, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.” The old institution doesn’t have to come crashing down – that’s not the only way for the shadow to disappear, it merely has to be replaced. Just blowing it up will never be enough, you have to build something new.
You don’t just create change, you consider what your change will create.