The internet has been pretty a-buzz over Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article in the New Yorker. It’s called “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” and it’s generated a lot of backlash. Gladwell’s main argument is that modern social networking – through Facebook and Twitter – won’t translate into revolutionary social activism. He points primarily to the differences between strong ties and weak ties and what type of actions each tie generates. His primary focus is the sit-ins in Greensboro in 1960 and he contrasts that to a recent online campaign to get people to register as bone marrow donors.
So far, I’ve only read a few responses. Angus Johnston provides a critique that follows the 1960s activism theme by contrasting SNCC with SDS and showing the strength of weak ties in organizing. Patrick St. John did a pretty good job of showing how effective decentralized non-hierarchical networks can be. There’s also a good article at Wired that provides some great evidence as to why weak ties are useful for organizing.
I just wanted to provide a short contemporary example that hasn’t been added to the deluge of responses. For years I’ve grown a number of weak ties with friends across the country for an idea that few others share: that a war in a far off place can end with our help. It was called The Rescue. In April of 2009, we tweeted and facebooked our way to tens of thousands of people attending events simultaneously in 100 cities. Some of my friends whom I convinced to initially show up were weak-tie friends. And when the Phoenix event closed up shop and people caravaned to Albuquerque (then Wichita, then Chicago) the weak ties kept me updated as to what was going on. Peruse the #therescue hashtag. Watch “Together We Are Free,” the film about how The Rescue played out over six days and brought 500 people to Chicago. Most of the Rescue Riders started off as weak ties and grew stronger.
Now, spending a week living on parks, vans, and church gyms is one thing. Changing the world can be a bit different, I know. But the attention that peaked with the Rescue carried into something huge. A year-long local lobbying effort led by young people started off with the biggest Africa-related lobbying initiative in Washington history and culminated with the most widely co-sponsored Africa-related bill in modern legislative history. And since the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act passed, we are anxiously awaiting the Obama administration’s response.
As one of the ones who abducted himself, I say that weak ties have power.
Arizona is the product of the progressive era. As a result of the bipartisan wave of people asking for a more democratic democracy, Arizona’s constitution has all sorts of “by the people” parts to it. The initiative, referendum, and recall are all pretty basic parts of Arizona’s law. The initiative is the ability of people to petition for amendments and the referendum is the ability for legislators to bring up proposals that voters must approve. As for recall, Arizona was actually denied statehood until the territory took the ability to vote to recall judges out of the constitution – but in the state’s first election it was reinstated.
Every election we have a plethora of propositions brought up by initiative or by referendum. I know last election I talked a bit about the fun ones (like the idea of counting every missing vote as a no-vote for finance-related propositions) and the bad ones (defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman). This year we’ve got the expected “hands off our healthcare” proposition. But we also have an effort to make the right to hunt part of our constitution – right up there with speech and bearing arms; there’s also putting an end to affirmative action and stopping early childhood development and health programs. I’m not usually a fan of most propositions, and this election cycle isn’t any different, it seems.
I’m not sure if other states are like Arizona. I know most don’t have the ability to vote appointed judges out of office. I’m assuming most people in other states don’t vote every four years for the office of State Mine Inspector (I have heard there are up to 120,000 abandoned mines in Arizona). Do you all have the option to vote for school boards? How about justices of the peace? What’s weird about your state’s political process?
In the past few weeks I’ve heard a couple of people applaud Rwanda for being a clean and beautiful country with no corruption. Now, I only spent two and a half days there, but I have a bit of a rebuttal. I mean, yes – the streets were very clean and the undulating countryside really is pretty – but I would hardly say that cleanliness leads to no corruption.
To me, a street without beggars and children just reminds me of something I read in a New York Times article about Iwawa Island. The article details the fact that, in an effort to preserve the appearance of a developed country, Rwandan authorities routinely scoop up homeless and petty criminals and send them to rehabilitation centers without a trial. Hardly a good thing to have on a country’s record.
And to say the country is not corrupt ignores the intense oppression the ruling party employs. The RPF win every election – because there’s virtually no opposition (all three opposition parties were ruled out of the elections this past August). While I was there I read in the newspaper that the interim editor-in-chief of a newspaper critical of the government had been killed. Two things worth noting: he was the interim chief editor because the former chief editor fled into exile; and the police arrived within minutes of the killing but never found a suspect. Just after I left Rwanda, the vice president of an opposition party was found decapitated in the forest (officials arrested one suspect but released him soon after and haven’t investigated any further).
And then there’s the ethnic part. Even though the RPF outlawed the ethnic identity cards that were a hallmark of the genocide era, there is still a stark contrast. Hutus are marginalized in civil service. And no Tutsis have ever faced justice for crimes committed in the civil war. There are allegations that the RPF killed 30,000 civilians as they swept across the country – but the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s investigations have routinely been obstructed by the government. This in addition to UN’s recent findings that the Rwandan government committed crimes against humanity (and maybe genocide) in the DR Congo.
I guess these are just some things to think about. The country has a lot of potential, I just think it’s far from a great example right now. Clean streets, sure. But there are quite a few concerns that the government needs to look into if it wants to really be seen for its progress.