An electoral strategy by itself is not enough. Success comes by combining an electoral strategy with a strong base in social movements that have the ability to disrupt everyday life, whether through strikes, sit-ins, or any of many other tactics developed by those who practice strategic nonviolence.

Fresh Start For the Left: What Activists Would Do If They Took the Social Sciences Seriously

Where do we go from here?

In late 2011 hundreds of Occupy encampments sprang up all over the United States and around the world. The year began with massive, dictator toppling “Arab Spring” uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Large demonstrations riveted Wisconsin as protestors pushed back against the governor’s attacks on public employees. Huge anti-austerity protests rocked Spain, Greece, Italy and elsewhere.

These global uprisings were the first sustained, large-scale protests millions of ordinary people all over the world had ever witnessed or participated in. Entrenched power structures in every corner of the globe got a jolting reminder of where real power actually resides: in an awakened and mobilized public.

Much of the inspiration leading up to Occupy came from Cairo’s Tahrir Square that resulted in the Egyptian Revolution, and the 15-M Movement sparked by Spanish “Indignants.” Mobilizations like these laid much of the groundwork for the Occupy movement that was soon to come. Now that the feeling of indignation has ignited all around the globe, where do we go from here?

Fundamental Questions

We might start our journey by asking ourselves a few fundamental questions, starting with this one: Is an atomized, me-centric society of individuals—each conditioned to maximize consumption of consumer goods and services—compatible with any form of genuine democracy? In other words, if my main focus is on maximizing my individual self-interests, and that maximization comes at your expense, is that my problem? If my self-interested pursuits destroy your livelihood, why is that my concern?

While thinking about these questions, let’s imagine if we were to operate our households in a similar mindset. The bigger and stronger adults in the home might feel perfectly justified in gobbling up all of the food while letting the children go hungry. And if a spouse thought the neighbor down the street could make her a better offer, she might end up spending the evening with him instead of her husband. Naturally, most of us would view such household behavior as pathological and deranged. And rightly so. But why do we tolerate similar behavior in our communities, and encourage it throughout society?

The obligations that members of a household have towards one another are not precisely the same as those shared amongst an entire community. But the household analogy is useful enough to remind us of the obligations we do have towards each other. If my efforts in maximizing my own self-interests result in conditions that make it nearly impossible for you to realize any meaningful “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” then those words lose any genuine meaning.

To restore legitimacy to those words—“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—we might continue asking ourselves basic questions. How do big, disparate groups of people cooperate more fully around our common interests—economic, environmental, social, and so on? In a society so heavily conditioned to maximize self-interest to the exclusion of nearly everything else, how do we even recognize what our common interests are?

Observers have long noted that the myriad of organizations working on economic, social and environmental justice tend to operate in relative isolation. In contrast, governments, large corporations and other major institutions usually operate within a more cooperative and strategic framework. As the dominant players in society, these large institutions craft the social and economic policies that set the agenda for the rest of us. As in our household scenario, that agenda is often unhealthy—not only for the rest of the “household,” but for the agenda setters themselves!

Bringing society into balance demands that our culture’s “heads of household” operate with a healthier, more holistic understanding of their role in society. But the rest of us must also do our part. Our task is to create and maintain the kinds of bottom-up, people-powered networks capable of crafting social policy that benefits all of us. Whether we like it or not, we’re our society’s ultimate “check and balance.”