Monday, July 28, 2014

Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!)

A few years ago, I stumbled on a book called Thinking Recursively. It opened my eyes to the power of things that propagate in a self-imitating way.

Recursive thinking is very familiar to computer scientists; it needs to be on the radar screen of social activists.

In a way, Malcolm Gladwell touched on some of the ideas in this book in his own work, The Tipping Point, with which many of us are familiar. The essential connection that Gladwell makes in his book is that for an idea (or organism or movement) to propagate, it needs to be reproduced at a rate equal to or greater than 1.0 (on average) by each entity that encounters it. Otherwise it peters out.

That's why the archetypal activist structure is the phone tree. (Imitated and amplified, of course, by newer technologies like Facebook and Twitter.)

(Of course, American revolutionaries of an earlier era were all about getting the word out!)

So I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

I conducted an interesting experiment with this a few years ago: a group of us committed to tweeting about ending the war in Afghanistan every week, on Tuesday -- #AfghanistanTuesday -- and the hard core called ourselves "Tuesdayistas".  The hallmark of a Tuesdayista? The commitment to encouraging others to be Tuesdayistas, of course!

In 140 characters or less, that can be expressed as:

@(friend's screen name here) PLEASE! Become a and ask 10 more folks to (become a and ask 10 more folks to (become...

OK, maybe that's a very nerdy expression of the idea of recursivity. But it started me thinking about the need to find the right balance between activism that consists principally of doing something, myself, and activism that consists of involving more people in doing that something. And to be sure that what I really do is "involve more people in doing that something (including involving more people in doing that something (including . . . . . ) )."

All of us are familiar with the need in our groups to do "outreach." How many times do we return to this issue, only to drop the ball?

There are lots of tools available today for conducting activism, many of which fall under the rubric "social media." There are many techniques for using social media effectively. But the most important is to understand how to propagate "recursivity."

What you can do

EASY: Share this post with people in your affinity group and discuss how you will put "recursivity" into action consistently.

EASIER: Personally invite one person to be an activist today. (Show them how you do it!)

EASIEST: Tweet this post to several people (including @scarry) and ask them to share it with others.

Related posts

This exchange has always stuck with me, because once you peel away the hopeless competitiveness and lack of compassion of these two characters, you are left with a grain of truth: if you want to succeed, you need to go where the conversation is taking place. The question for us: are we willing to check our egos at the door and get busy talking to people?

(See Antiwar Agitation in 2014: Less Mercutio, More Larry Levy )

There is an eerie similarity between events in the book Paul Revere's Ride and events in our world today. I'm thinking particularly of how a network of mass resistance springs into action.

(See American Rebellion: Just Think What They Would've Done with Twitter!)

Those words -- "I became a peace worker" -- stuck with me. What might it mean for someone to become "a peace worker"? At the time I was not involved in activism at all. Could it really be that people were called to this work the way Kazashi described? It was quite clear to me that he had devoted himself -- heart, mind, body, and soul -- to this work.

(See Obama in Japan: How About a Pivot Toward Peacemaking? )

Tuesdayistas are people who (a) take time each week to participate in a national (and now global) conversation about ending the war in Afghanistan; AND (b) help spread the word by reaching out to others (who will reach out to others (who will reach out to others .... to do the same!

(See I'm a Tuesdayista!)

In "USA Today Goes Viral" (New York Times, July 14, 2014), we learn that the paper with one of the largest daily circulations in the country has seen the handwriting on the wall and is requiring all its journalists to learn to drive readership via social media.

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me)