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New Rules for Radicals: 10 Ways To Spark Change in a Post-Occupy World

The world is changing quickly, and we need to help steer it according to our shared values -- our vision of what might be.

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The first rule is this: The world is different now. The rules have changed.  

Since Occupy, we all understand this. Nothing works now the way it did even just a couple of years ago. Political tactics that haven’t budged public opinion in years — like petitions and big street demonstrations — are suddenly working again. Narratives that seemed unassailable — like the primacy of free markets and low taxes — are being openly questioned. Doors that used to be closed to us are now opening. The media that once ignored us is now starting to listen. The conservatives are shaken and fumbling, stuck on autopilot and unable to re-route away from their old course even as disaster looms dead ahead. What’s going on here? 

What’s going on is that we are (finally!) in the first giddy months of a deep-current sea change in American politics, the kind of realignment that happens once every several decades. This change has put us into a whole new political era, one that runs by an entirely new set of rules — and one in which a great many impossible things may, all of a sudden, become possible. 

The reasons for this shift are complex and wonky, and are the stuff of other articles. But we all sense it, and we all want to know what it means. 

As a Silicon Valley brat-turned-futurist, I’ve spent a lot of my life in a culture that churned constantly with this kind of upending, unending change. There are things tech people know in their bones, survival strategies and cultural knowledge and habits of mind and specific attitudes that allow one to stay loose and adaptive in times of turbulent transformation.  

So, with that, we are already on to Rule Two, which is really the most important one: 

2. No despair. Despair is a waste of time and energy. 

Anger is useful. It gets the blood moving. It gets people out of their chairs and into the streets. Harnessed quickly to constructive action, it’s the fuel that drives change. But anger, once generated, also cools and congeals quickly into frustration, cynicism and despair. Indulging in our daily two-minute hate may be cathartic, but ultimately, it doesn’t change a damn thing about our situation. Even worse: it curdles, producing paralysis. Worst of all: once it starts festering, there’s nothing left to do with it but turn it on each other. 

So: let’s drop that cool, cynical, I’ve-seen-it-all, let’s-not-get-too-excited-here stance. Stepping back from the pain by telling ourselves sagely that it’s all too much, our enemies are too strong, and there’s nothing we can do — that’s the lazy way out. Yes, you are no doubt right: and yes, it sucks mightily. But the answer to that isn’t to sit around indulging in a group bitch session about how awful it all is. The answer is to get off our butts and get back to work, because life is short and there’s a whole planet out there that needs to be fixed on our watch. 

3. Try everything. 

Because I have no idea what will work now, what we can ask for or expect, or where the boundaries of this new landscape lie. And neither do you. (Thrilling, isn’t it?) It’s all up for grabs. So, try everything. Try it, even if you’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. Try it, even if it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try it, just because it’s there. It’s going to take many thousands of experiments before we really understand the contours of this new political and economic reality we’re living in.  

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