A second post on Eric Liu’s You’re More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen (Public Affairs, March 28, 2017), the perfect accompaniment to thinking about what you might do to make a difference in these troubling times
Organizing, Liu tells us, is the awakening, the activation, of dormant power. A boycott has impact because a lot of people are willing to stop giving their power away to the boycotted business. Liu quotes a billboard he once saw, “You aren’t stuck in traffic. You are traffic.” We are politics, we are consumption; we’re not stuck in them, we can change them.
Liu argues that seeing in systems is essential to making change. This means focusing on how things connect, understanding networks (and not just those online). He feels that our systems are in decay, that we need new systems to provide us with more dignity and more control over our lives. This is why, I would add, progressives need to be careful not to manipulate individuals who want to get involved, that is, not to create new systems by employing the values of the systems we are trying to replace.
The largest section of the book is on how to respond to power, and how to take and use power. Liu says that we must change the game (interrupt the cycle of self-perpetuating power), change the story (depict an alternative story and use it as the basis for organizing), and change the equation (design experiences of mutual aid that remind people of the power they have, and act on this power). Each of these three changes has three strategies, but that’s too many strategies for one blog post. However, here are a few quotations from this section:
“All civic life begins in the imagination.”
“The resizing of the arena of activism is perpetual.”
“In everyday civic life, the rules are often overlooked or simply considered fixed. They are not fixed. They can be remade”
“If the game is rigged, don’t say so generally; say so precisely. And show precisely how to unrig it.”
“You have to expand the public’s sense of what’s possible—by asking what if questions; by describing a better way in detail; and by offering a new values-based definition of what ought to be considered ‘normal.'”
“Don’t try to beat your adversaries at their own game. Paralyze, bypass, and undermine their strategy instead. Even a dominant power is only as strong as its strategy.” An example of this is how, because the NRA works through legislatures, a pro-gun control organization won locally via a ballot initiative.