Tag Archives: peace movement

Gladwell and strong tie social media networks

A lot of peo­ple, include Jeanne Burns over on Quak­erquaker, are talk­ing about Mal­colm Gladwell’s lat­est New Yorker arti­cle, “Small Change: Why the Rev­o­lu­tion Will Not Be Tweeted”.

Mal­colm Gladwell’s modus operandi is to make out­ra­geously counter-intuitive claims that peo­ple will talk about enough that they’ll buy his boss’s mag­a­zine, books and bobble-head like­nesses. I find him lik­able and divert­ing but don’t take his claims very seri­ously. He’s a lot like Wired Magazine’s Chris Ander­son, his some­times spar­ring part­ner, which isn’t sur­pris­ing as they work for the same mag­a­zine empire, Conde Nast Pub­li­ca­tions.

In his arti­cle, Glad­well takes a lot of pot­shots at social media. It’s easy to do. He picks Clay Shirky, another New York “Big Idea” guy as his rhetor­i­cal straw­man now, claim­ing Shirky’s book “Here Comes Every­body” is the “bible of social-media move­ment.” Read­ing Glad­well, you kind of wish he’d get out of the echo box of circle-jerk New York Big Talk­ers (just get­ting out of the Conde Nast building’s cafe­te­ria would be a good start).

Gladwell’s cer­tainly right in that most of what passes for activism on Twit­ter and Face­book is ridicu­lous. Click­ing a “Like” but­ton or chang­ing your pro­file image green doesn’t do much. He makes an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between “weak ties” (Face­book “friends” who aren’t friends; Twit­ter cam­paigns that are risk-free) and “strong ties.” He cites the Civil Rights move­ment as a strong-tie phe­nom­e­non: the peo­ple who put them­selves on the line tended to be those with close friends also putting them­selves on the line.

What Glad­well misses is strong-tie orga­niz­ing going on in social media. A lot of what’s hap­pen­ing over on Quak­erQuaker is pretty strong-tie–it’s trans­lat­ing to work­shops, arti­cles, and is just one of a num­ber of impor­tant net­works that are form­ing. Peo­ple are find­ing each other and mak­ing real con­nec­tions that spill out into the real world. It’s not that online orga­nizes cre­ates real world changes, or even the reverse. Instead, under the right cir­cum­stances they can feed into each other, with each com­po­nent mag­ni­fy­ing the other’s reach.

One exam­ple of non-hierarchical involved social media is how Quaker blog­gers came together to explain Tom Fox’s motives after his kid­nap­ping. It didn’t have any effect on the kid­nap­pers, obvi­ously, but we did reach a lot of peo­ple who were curi­ous why a Friend might choose such a per­son­ally dan­ger­ous form of Chris­t­ian wit­ness. This was all done by inter-related groups of peo­ple with no bud­get and no orga­ni­za­tional chart. But these things don’t have to be quite so life-and-death.

A more recent exam­ple I’ve been able to see up close is the way my wife’s church has orga­nized against dioce­san attempts to shut it down: a core group of lead­ers have emerged; they share power, divide up roles and have been wag­ing an orga­nized cam­paign for about 2.5 years now. One ele­ment of this work has been the Savest​marys​.org blog. The website’s only impor­tant because it’s been part of a real-world social net­work but it’s had an influ­ence that’s gone far beyond the hand­ful of peo­ple who write for it. One of the more sur­pris­ing audi­ences have been the many staff at the Dioce­san head­quar­ters who visit every day–a small group has taken over quite a bit of men­tal space over there!

It’s been inter­est­ing for me to com­pare Quak­erQuaker with an ear­lier peace project of mine, Non​vi​o​lence​.org, which ran for thir­teen years start­ing in 1995. In many ways it was the big­ger site: a larger audi­ence, with a wider base of inter­est. It was a pop­u­lar site, with many vis­its and a fairly active bul­letin board for much of it’s life. But it didn’t spawn work­shop or con­fer­ences. There’s no “move­ment” asso­ci­ated with it. Dona­tions were min­i­mal and I never felt the sup­port struc­ture that I have now with my Quaker work.

Non​vi​o​lence​.org was a good idea, but it was a “weak tie” net­work. QuakerQuaker’s net­work is stronger for two rea­sons that I can iden­tify. The obvi­ous one is that it’s built atop the orga­niz­ing iden­tity of a social group (Friends). But it also speaks more directly to its par­tic­i­pants, ask­ing them to share their lives and offer­ing real-world oppor­tu­ni­ties for inter­ac­tion. So much of my blog­ging on Non​vi​o​lence​.org was Big Idea thoughts pieces about the sit­u­a­tion in Bosnia–that just doesn’t pro­vide the same kind of imme­di­ate per­sonal entre.

Mal­colm Glad­well min­i­mizes the lead­er­ship struc­ture of activist orga­ni­za­tions, where lead­er­ship and power is in con­stant flux. He like­wise min­i­mizes the lead­er­ship of social media net­works. Yes, any­one can pub­lish but we all have dif­fer­ent lev­els of vis­i­bil­ity and influ­ence and there is a fil­ter­ing effect. I have twenty-five years of orga­nized activism under my belt and fif­teen years of online orga­niz­ing and while the tech­nol­ogy is very dif­fer­ent, a lot of the social dynam­ics are remark­ably similar.

Glad­well is an hired employee in one of the largest media com­pa­nies in the world. It’s a very struc­tured life: he’s got edi­tors, pub­lish­ers, copy­ed­i­tors, proof­read­ers. He’s a cog in a com­pany with $5 bil­lion in annual rev­enue. It’s not really sur­pris­ing that he doesn’t have much direct expe­ri­ence with effec­tive social net­works. It’s hard to see how social media is com­ple­ment­ing real world grass­roots net­works from the 40th floor of a mid-town Man­hat­tan skyscraper.

Related Read­ing:

New Monastics & Convergent Friends update

My work­shop part­ner Wess Daniels just posted an update about the upcom­ing work­shop at Pen­dle Hill. Here’s the start. Click through to the full post to get a taste of what we’re preparing.

Mar­tin Kel­ley and I will be
lead­ing a
week­end retreat at Pen­dle Hill in just a cou­ple weeks (May 14–16)

and I’m start­ing to get really excited about it! Mar­tin and I have been
col­lab­o­rat­ing a lot together over the past few months in prepa­ra­tion for
this week­end and I wanted to share a lit­tle more of what we have
planned for those of you who are inter­ested in com­ing (or still on the
fence). Dur­ing the week­end we will be encour­ag­ing con­ver­sa­tions around
build­ing com­mu­ni­ties, con­ver­gent Friends and how this looks in our local
meet­ings. I wanted to give the descrip­tion of the week­end, some of the
queries we’ll be touch­ing on, and the out­line for the week­end. And of
course, I want to invite all of you inter­ested par­ties to join us!

Read the full post on Wess’s blog

Movement for a New Society and the Old New Monastics

Robin wrote a lit­tle about the New Monas­tic move­ment in a plug for the Pen­dle Hill work­shop I’m doing with Wess Daniels this Fall.

Here’s my work­ing the­ory: I think Lib­eral Friends have a good claim to invent­ing the “new monas­tic” move­ment thirty years ago in the form of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety, a net­work of peace and anti-nuclear activists based in Philadel­phia that cod­i­fied a kind of “sec­u­lar Quaker” decision-making process and trained thou­sands of peo­ple from around the world in a kind of engaged drop-out lifestyle that fea­tured low-cost com­mu­nal liv­ing arrange­ments in poor neigh­bor­hoods with part-time jobs that gave them flex­i­bil­ity to work as full-time com­mu­nity activists. There are few activist cam­paigns in the 1970s and 1980s that weren’t touched by the MNS style and a less-ideological, more lived-in MNS cul­ture sur­vives today in bor­der­line neigh­bor­hoods in Philadel­phia and other cities. The high-profile new monas­tics rarely seem to give any props to Quak­ers or MNS, but I’d be will­ing to bet if you sat in on any of their meet­ings the process would be much more inspired by MNS than Robert’s Rules of Order or any fif­teen cen­tury monas­tic rule that might be cited.

For a decade I lived in West Philly in what I called “the ruins of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety.” The for­mal struc­ture of MNS had dis­banded but many of its insti­tu­tions car­ried on in a kind of lived-in way. I worked at the remain­ing pub­lish­ing house, New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, lived in a land-trusted West Philly coop house, and was fed from the old neigh­bor­hood food coop and occa­sion­ally dropped in or helped out with Train­ing for Change, a revived train­ing cen­ter started by MNS-co-founder (and Cen­tral Philadel­phia Meeting-member) George Lakey It was a tight neigh­bor­hood, with strong cross-connections, and it was able to absorb related move­ments with dif­fer­ent styles (e.g., a strong anar­chist scene that grew in the late 1980s). I don’t think it’s coin­ci­dence that some of the Philly emer­gent church projects started in West Philly and is strong in the neigh­bor­hoods that have become the new ersatz West Philly as the actual neigh­bor­hood has gentrified.

So some ques­tions I’ll be wrestling with over the next six months and will bring to Pen­dle Hill:

  • Why haven’t more of us in the Reli­gious Soci­ety of Friends adopted this engaged lifestyle?
  • Why haven’t we been good at artic­u­lat­ing it all this time?
  • Why did the for­mal struc­ture of the Quaker-ish “new monas­ti­cism” not sur­vive the 1980s?
  • Why don’t we have any younger lead­ers of the Quaker monas­ti­cism? Why do we need oth­ers to remind us of our own recent tradition?
  • In what ways are some Friends (and some fel­low trav­el­ers) still liv­ing out the “Old New Monas­tic” expe­ri­ence, just with­out the hype and with­out the buzz?

It’s entirely pos­si­ble that the “new monas­ti­cism” isn’t sus­tain­able. At the very least Friends’ expe­ri­ences with it should be stud­ied to see what hap­pened. Is West Philly what the new monas­ti­cism looks like thirty years later? The biggest dif­fer­ences between now and the hey­day of the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is 1) the Internet’s abil­ity to orga­nize and stay in touch in com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways; and 2) the power of the major Evan­gel­i­cal pub­lish­ing houses that are hyp­ing the new kids.

I’ll be look­ing at myself as well. After ten years, I felt I needed a change. I’m now in the “real world”–semi sub­ur­ban free­stand­ing house, nuclear fam­ily. The old new West Philly monas­ti­cism, like the “new monas­ti­cism” seems opti­mized for hip twenty-something sub­ur­ban kids who roman­ti­cized the gritty city. Peo­ple of other demo­graph­ics often fit in, but still it was never very scal­able and for many not very sus­tain­able. How do we bring these con­cerns out to a world where there are sub­urbs, fam­i­lies, etc?


RELATED READING: I first wrote about the sim­i­lar­ity between MNS and the Philadel­phia “New Monas­tic” move­ment six years ago in Peace and Twenty-Somethings, where I argued that Pen­dle Hill should take a seri­ous look at this new movement.

The peace of Christ for those with ears to hear

Over on Quaker Oats Live, Cherice is fired up about taxes again and propos­ing a peace wit­ness for next year:

My solu­tion: Quak­ers, Men­non­ites, Brethren, and whomever else wants to par­tic­i­pate refuses to pay war taxes for a few years, and we suf­fer the con­se­quences. I think we should cam­paign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quaker meet­ings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. com­mu­ni­ties. What are they going to do–throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can’t do that for­ever. No one wants to pay their taxes for a bunch of Quak­ers and other paci­fists to sit in jail for not pay­ing taxes. It doesn’t make sense.

A com­menter chimes in with a warn­ing about Friends who were hit by heavy tax penal­ties a quar­ter cen­tury ago. But I know of some­one who didn’t pay taxes for twenty years and recently vol­un­teered the infor­ma­tion to the Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. The col­lec­tors were non­cha­lant, polite and sym­pa­thetic and set­tled for a very rea­son­able amount. If this friend’s expe­ri­ence is any guide, there’s not much drama to be had in war tax resis­tance. These days, Cae­sar doesn’t care much.

What if our wit­ness was directed not at the fed­eral gov­ern­ment but at our fel­low Chris­tians? We could fol­low Quaker founder George Fox’s exam­ple and climb the tallest tree we could find (real or metaphor­i­cal) and begin preach­ing the good news that war goes against the teach­ings of Jesus. As always, we would be respect­ful and char­i­ta­ble but we could reclaim the strong and clear voices of those who have trav­eled before us. If we felt the need for backup? Well, I under­stand there are twenty-seven or so books to the New Tes­ta­ment sym­pa­thetic to our cause. And I have every rea­son to believe that the Inward Christ is still hum­ming our tune and burn­ing bushes for all who have eyes to see and ears to lis­ten. Just as John Wool­man min­is­tered with his co-religionists about the sin of slav­ery, maybe our job is to min­is­ter to our co-religionists about war.

But who are these co-religionist neigh­bors of ours? Twenty years of peace orga­niz­ing and Friends orga­niz­ing makes me doubt we could find any large group of “his­toric peace church” mem­bers to join us. We talk big and write pretty epis­tles, but few indi­vid­u­als engage in wit­nesses that involve any dan­ger of real sac­ri­fice. The way most of our estab­lished bod­ies couldn’t fig­ure out how to respond to a mod­ern day prophetic Chris­t­ian wit­ness in Tom Fox’s kid­nap­ping is the norm. When the IRS threat­ened to put liens on Philadel­phia Yearly Meet­ing to force resis­tant staffers to pay, the gen­eral sec­re­tary and clerk said all sorts of sym­pa­thetic words of anguish (which they prob­a­bly even meant), then docked the employee’s pay any­way. There have been times when clear-eyed Chris­tians didn’t mind loos­ing their lib­erty or prop­erty in ser­vice to the gospel. Early Friends called our emu­la­tion of Christ’s sac­ri­fice the Lamb’s War, but even seven years of real war in the ancient land of Baby­lo­nia itself hasn’t brought back the old fire. Our meet­ing­houses sit quaint, with own­er­ship deeds untouched, even as we wring our hands won­der­ing why most remain half-empty on First Day morning.

But what about these emerg­ing church kids?: all those peo­ple read­ing Shane Clai­borne, mov­ing to neigh­bor­hoods in need, orga­niz­ing into small cells to talk late into the night about prim­i­tive Chris­tian­ity? Some of them are actu­ally putting down their can­dles and pre­ten­tious jar­gon long enough to read those twenty-seven books. Friends have a lot of accu­mu­lated wis­dom about what it means the prim­i­tive Chris­t­ian life, even if we’re pretty rusty on its actual prac­tice. What shape would that wit­ness take and who would join us into that unknown but famil­iar desert? What would our move­ment even be called? And does it matter?

—–

Any­one inter­ested in think­ing more on this should start sav­ing up their loose change ($200 com­muters) to come join C Wess Daniels and me this Novem­ber when we lead a work­shop on “The New Monas­tics and Con­ver­gent Friends” at Pen­dle Hill near Philadel­phia. Methinks I’m already start­ing to blog about it.

Sheehan thoughs over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org

Just a lit­tle note to every­one that I’ve blogged a cou­ple of posts over on Non​vi​o​lence​.org. They’re both based on “peace mom” Cindy Sheeran’s “res­ig­na­tion” from the peace move­ment yes­ter­day.
It’s all a bit strange to see this from a long-time peace activist per­spec­tive. The move­ment that Sheehan’s talk­ing about and now cri­tiquing is not move­ment I’ve worked with for the last fifteen-plus years. The orga­ni­za­tions I’ve known have all been housed in crum­bling build­ings, with too-old car­pets and fur­ni­ture lifted as often as not from going out of busi­ness sales. Money’s tight and careers poten­tially sac­ri­ficed to help build a world of shar­ing, car­ing and under­stand­ing.
The move­ment Shee­han talks about is fueled by mil­lions of dol­lars of Demo­c­ra­tic Party-related money, with cam­paigns designed to mesh well with Party goals via the so-called “527 groups”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/527_group and other indi­rect mech­a­nisms. Big Media likes to crown these orga­ni­za­tions as _the_ anti­war move­ment, but as Shee­han and Amy Good­man dis­cuss in today’s “Democ­racy Now interview”:http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07%2F05%2F30%2F1343232, cor­po­rate media will end up with much of the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars can­di­dates are now rais­ing. Shee­han makes an impas­sioned plea for peo­ple to sup­port those grass­roots cam­paigns that aren’t sup­ported by the “peace move­ment” but this rein­forces the notion that its the mon­eyed inter­ests that make up the move­ment. I’m sure she knows bet­ter but it’s hard to work for so long and to make so many sac­ri­fices and still be so casu­ally dismissed–not just me but thou­sands of com­mit­ted activists I’ve known over the years.
There are a few peace orga­ni­za­tions in that happy medium between toad­y­ing and poverty (nice car­pets, souls still intact) but it mys­ti­fies me why there isn’t a broader base of sup­port for grass­roots activism. I myself decided to leave pro­fes­sional peace work almost a decade ago after the my Non​vi​o​lence​.org project raised such piti­ful sums. At some point I decided to stop whin­ing about this phe­nom­e­non and just look for better-paying employ­ment else­where but it still fas­ci­nates me from a soci­o­log­i­cal perspective.