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6 People You Need to Start a Revolution

Successful change movements run on diversity. Here are the essential skill sets no revolution can win without.

Photo Credit: Oregon DOT


With the 99% Spring up and rolling and set to bring 100,000 new activists to the party this weekend, there's some increased friction between various progressive groups who are working to expand the movement this year.

It's a good time to remember that mass movements are — by design and necessity — big and diverse, encompassing lots of different kinds of people who bring all kinds of skills, resources, interests and priorities to the table. As progressives, we've always believed that that diversity is our most important strength.

There's not enough that can be said about the genius of Occupy at raising America's awareness of the corporatization of our culture, and defining and framing the predations of the 1 percent against the 99 percent as the defining conflict of our age. But now it's time to take the message out of the parks and streets and into the American mainstream. If the goal is to build a truly diverse nationwide movement that will change the foundations of the American economy, getting more established groups like, Rebuild the Dream and the labor unions involved can only be a good thing.

For the revolution to spread, the Occupy protestors need to be joined by other people — very specific kinds of other people, in fact. Centuries of social change theorists going back to Marx and before have figured out that successful revolutions require certain recurring character types and skill sets. History tells us that the relationships between these very different groups are more often than not fractious and prickly -- and, in fact, revolutions (like the French Revolution) can very easily fail when they're seized and overwhelmed by vicious infighting between people who are nominally on the same side.

(A sober reminder: The Terror was, at its core, a purge against "co-optation": Robespierre was determined to preserve the purity of the revolution at all costs. A majority of the people who went to the guillotine, including, ultimately, Robespierre himself, were on the side of the revolution.)

At some point, we have to decide we're going to trust each other, or this new revolution simply isn't going to work. Based on the patterns of history, there are six categories of people without whom no modern revolution has ever succeeded. And that success only happened when members of all six groups were able to put their personal misgivings aside, honor and value the irreplaceable knowledge each one brought to the table, and consciously built up enough mutual trust to bring about the future vision all the parties shared.


There's no doubt about it: you need rabble-rousers, organizers, rally makers, protest leaders — the people who know how to turn masses of people out into the streets, keep them there for as long as it takes, and get the rest of the country (media, politicians, the man and woman in the street) to pay attention to what they're saying. In every generation, this requires different skills, different technologies, and different tactics. But without these people, you don't have a movement.

That's the piece of the equation that progressives haven't been great at for a long time, and that Occupy revived for us with tremendous originality and flair. They kicked open the door, went in, and dragged America to the table for a new conversation. When the activists move, history gets made.


But even the best activists can't move the masses if they don't have a coherent story to tell, clear arguments to make, and game-changing policy changes to demand. Every successful movement has a compelling, factual story about why change must happen and well-reasoned theory for how that change must occur. This R&D function is what intellectuals bring to the revolution.

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