Needed: 5% Participation to Overthrow Crony Capitalism

Erica Chenoweth, author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, explains how to overthrow U.S. crony capitalism: “In raw numbers, movements generally achieve systematic change (i.e., in the +80% likelihood category) when they mobilize over 5 percent of the population. The Iranian Revolution, among the largest popular uprisings, achieved about 10 percent mobilization. In the US with 311 million people, this would mean between 15.5 million and 31.1 million people.” As far as overthrowing crony capitalism, the Occupy Movement is a promising start, but is unlikely to change public policy without attracting much larger participation. Todd Gitlin, Author of Occupy Nation, estimated 2012 Occupy “membership” at 60,000.

States Chenoweth, “One caveat: in our book, none of the campaigns were targeting ‘crony capitalism.’ They were pretty much anti-dictator, anti-occupation, or secession campaigns.” Therefore, we cannot say with certainty that Chenoweth’s same numbers apply to overthrowing a first world faux-democratic surveillance states. “On the other hand, I have a hunch that the same figures may be completely applicable. It’s hard to imagine 5-10% mobilization going unnoticed against any target. We just haven’t fully studied the issue yet.”

“Mass participation is the first ingredient. When more than 5 percent of the population engages in sustained, coordinated civil disobedience, few governments — dictatorships or democracies — remain in power.”

Chris Hedges cites Chenoweth’s work, but suggests that activism tipping points can be reached where the enviro/political movement can rapidly grow from small to 15 million US participants.

Some key point about Resistance from Chenoweth’s book:

1. Non-violent civil resistance has less perceived risk than violent civil resistance. “When communities observe open, mass support and collective acts of defiance, their perceptions of risk may decline, reducing constraints on participation. This contention is supported by critical-mass theories of collective action, which contend that protestors base their perceptions of protest opportunities on existing patterns of opposition activity. Courage breeds courage, particularly when those engaged in protest activities are ordinary people who would be conformist, law-abiding citizens under typical circumstances. Media coverage amplifies the demonstration effects of their acts of defiance.”

2. “Another factor that enhances participation in nonviolent campaigns is the festival-like atmosphere that often accompanies nonviolent rallies and demonstrations – as exemplified by the recent nonviolent campaigns in Serbia, Ukraine, Lebanon, and Egypt – where concerts, singing, and street theatre attracted large numbers of people (particularly young people) interested in having fun while fighting for a political cause. Humor and satire, which have featured prominently in nonviolent campaigns (less so in armed campaigns), have helped break down barriers of feature and promote solidarity among victims of state-sponsored oppression.”

3. Erica goes on to state other mass participation advantages of nonviolent versus violent campaigns: a) many who support causes have moral reservations about committing acts of violence, b) non-violence requires less training, less commitment, and less risk tolerance; c) non-violence provides a much larger menu of resistance activities from which to choose.

4. “Numbers alone do not guarantee victory. Quality of participation – including the diversity of the participants, strategic and tactical choices made by the opposition, and its ability to adapt and innovate – may be as important as the quantity of participants. The more diverse the participation – in terms of gender, age, religion, ethnicity, ideology, profession, and socioeconomic status – the more difficult it is for the adversary to isolate the participants and adopt a repressive strategy. This makes an opponent’s use of violence more likely to backfire.” “Further, diverse participation increases the likelihood of tactical diversity, increasing the likelihood of outmaneuvering the opponent.”

5. As mass participation is achieved, thick social networks are formed. A member of the opponent’s security force may have a daughter involved in the resistance. This plays out to the advantage of the resistance over time.

6. “Mass mobilization withdraws the regimen’s economic, political, social, and even military support from domestic populations and third parties. Leverage is achieved when the adversary’s most important supporting organizations and institutions are systematically pulled away through mass noncooperation.”

7. “Sustained economic pressure targeting state-owned and private businesses and enterprises has been an important element in many successful popular movements.”

David Kerrigon is Principal at Kerrigon Konsulting, a transportation consultancy in Victoria, Australia. Read other articles by David.