8.4. Squandering Our Greatest Strength

We need to let as many people as possible be part of the solution.

In any social movement, the key to success is to intelligently leverage your greatest strengths against your opponent’s greatest point of weakness.

That was the conclusion of Gene Sharp—the guy who literally wrote the book on how to topple authoritarian regimes. And it applies just as well to efforts to push through reforms in democratic countries.

So how are we doing, by that standard?

Not very well.

In our efforts to reform our institutions, it’s clear what our greatest strength is:


Our numbers. Our solidarity. And our diverse backgrounds and skills.

We have tremendous potential to hold our institutions accountable, to get rid of the dysfunction that’s led us to lose faith in them, and make them deliver the value and benefits they’re supposed to be providing ordinary people like us.

But in so many ways, we’re squandering it.

We’ve gotten sucked into ideological battles that pit us against each other, compel us to work at odds with each other, and negate our advantage in numbers.

We’ve learned to demonize and scapegoat other groups of people, instead of the political, economic, and social institutions that are letting so many of us down.

By forcing people to adhere to strict beliefs to join our movements, we drastically limit the number of people that can participate, and be part of the solution.

There are so many methods social movements can use to make their point, and put pressure on stubborn institutions. Sharp made a list of 198 different methods—and he was writing before the internet created even more possibilities.

But we rely too heavily on only a few of those methods, and use them poorly, so that their effectiveness is limited. And that’s if we even manage to graduate from griping to taking action at all!

We lose a lot of potential allies because they happen to work for these institutions, and they get too wrapped up in the institutional mindset that justifies oppressing ordinary people. But instead of helping them to see the human cost that gets lost in their fear of losing their paycheck…we blame them, even though they’re usually just carrying out orders from above.

Finally, we often reinvent the wheel when we don’t have to—creating totally new organizations and movements, when usually there are already too many organizations and movements, competing with each other for funding and followers, even though they have similar, overlapping, or identical missions.

Face it: this just isn’t a very efficient way to try to create social change.

We need to be as inclusive as possible, and embrace beliefs and tactics that let as many people as possible be part of the solution.

We need to do more than just slap together one-off protests. We need to make use of all the possible tactics we can use to hold our institutions accountable.

We need to stop demonizing potential allies, and reinventing the wheel.

And above all, we need to work together, instead of at odds with each other.

Lots of people working together, doing carefully chosen coordinated actions that hit our institutions where it really hurts, is what’s going to create real, lasting social change.

It’s time to stop squandering our greatest strength, and start putting it to better use.


This is the 128th 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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