5.14. Lessons from Recent Movements

If we want a popular movement to succeed in this day and age, we need to break the stranglehold of this two-party system.

The previous video focused on lessons we can learn from successful social movements.

But just because a movement that had certain traits or characteristics was more likely to succeed decades ago doesn’t mean that’s the case today.

What if the game has changed? What can we learn from recent movements?

If you’ve been following these videos, you know one of my main arguments is that the two-party system is strangling American politics.

With the billions of dollars and sophisticated data analysis techniques that have entered the fray since the 1980s, they’ve gotten so good at dividing us. They’ve gotten too good at splitting the American people in half, so that no matter how hard we work, our efforts largely cancel out.

And one of the things that’s most dangerous about this is how this system effectively neutralizes popular movements.

Here’s what happens.

First, a popular movement springs up.

One of the parties expresses sympathy for it, and starts to act as if they’re going to adopt some of its ideas and policies.

The people in the movement, naturally, get really excited.

They start to think: “Yes! This is really happening! We’re going to change the party—and the country—on a fundamental level!”

Meanwhile, though…the other party is busy situating itself as the champion for all who oppose the movement: everybody who’s skeptical, suspicious, or hostile toward it, for whatever reason.

The more powerful the movement becomes…the louder the resistance and demonization from the other party.

As a result…the sympathetic party starts to distance itself from the movement.

After all, they want the votes of the people in the movement. But as the movement becomes “controversial,” they don’t want to lose too many votes, by being too closely associated with it.

What’s the end result?

The movement ends up fiercely resisted by one party…but only weakly supported by the other.

The movement may or may not get in some changes or concessions to the platform of the party that’s sympathetic to it.

But the damage is done.

The movement has been sucked in, co-opted, tamed, neutralized—and turned into the latest battleground among our two parties.

In the past ten years, this has been the fate of the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter.

And it’ll be the fate of the next movement that tries to go through the two-party system…instead of around it.

If we want a popular movement to succeed in this day and age, we need to break the stranglehold of this two-party system.

The two-party system is like a black hole that swallows up all the good intentions of the American people, stuffing it into a stalemate that’s very unlikely to ever break, because of the billions of dollars and analytical techniques designed to keep hold of the roughly one-half of American people they’ve laid claim to.

It’s only going to be broken when the domination of these two parties—and their frames and agendas designed to split the American people in half—is broken.

All of our historical models for success went through this two-party system. But I think the evidence is clear that the next one that really makes a difference will have to go around it—and those of us who want to be a part of it ought to plan accordingly.


This is the 90th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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