I want to tell you a secret. Or maybe “secret” isn’t the right word since it’s pretty evident when you think about it. Either way, virtually nobody wants to talk about it.
And what’s worse, they plan movements and actions as if this secret doesn’t exist.
Are you ready? Here goes:
If we are going to win, we have to convert people to our side who currently disagree with us.
We want to think this is not true. We want to believe that because of social media, the strength of our ideas, and the rightness of our cause that we can find what Richard Nixon called “The Silent Majority” that agrees with us but just is not being talked about or listened to.
But the truth is, that silent majority doesn’t exist. Because we have had the internet widely available to the public for more than 2 decades now, and they haven’t shown up yet. Just because you can find someone who already agrees with you in Peoria, Illinois, doesn’t mean you have anything like critical mass to change the outcome of an election.
No, changing the world will require the cooperation of those who currently disagree with you.
Let’s do an exercise. In your mind, imagine the last time you went to a crowded place – an airport, a bus station, Walmart, wherever. If it helps, and you are in a place where it’s safe to do so, close your eyes.
There are people everywhere. All kinds of people – some fat and some thin, some white and some people of color. Some gay, some straight. Some men, some women, some are older and others are kids. Republicans, Democrats, Independents. All kinds of people.
Most of those people don’t want the better world you are offering. They don’t share your dream. Because they have a lot of things going on in their lives, and their own self-interests, and so your dreams are not their highest priority. Most of them, even if they like your ideas, will just find it easier to go along with the Powers That Be, content to live their life on default.
If your stated goal is resistance, then almost by definition, the majority of the world disagrees with your goal. Because if they agreed with you, then you wouldn’t need to resist.
Back to our imagination: you are surrounded, in a large public place, with people who, by and large, disagree with you. So my question is this: Let’s say you win. You get the better world you are wanting. What do you do then with the people who disagree with you in the better world you are dreaming of?
What do we do with them in this new world we are building? Because if we succeed in building this better world – and I’m planning on it – then we either have to learn how to convert them to our side, or… I dunno – lock them in a cage? I mean, seriously, what will their place be in this new world you dream of?
More than a decade and a half of building intentional cross-class and cross-racial relationships has taught me that people only change if they have reasons to change.
It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are – we learn from others.
And if we are to have any influence in changing the minds of others, we have to learn what they want and find ways to show them how our goals align with their self-interest. Because people, by and large, are motivated by their own self-interest.
The world would be a much more fun place if we could just show up at marches and denounce the oppressor class and buy fair trade coffee and talk smack about corporate interests, but the reality is, to build this better world, we have to find a way to get others to buy into it. Because the better world we all dream is possible is only possible if we can all achieve liberation.