When I was in high school, I conducted a gruesome science experiment: I tested the impact of dwindling space on white mice. Randy males and females were allowed to multiply at will. I proportionately increased food and water with the increased mouse population; the only limitation was space.
The overcrowded mice resorted to bloody aggression. Desperate to maintain their space, they turned on each other. Young mice attacked their elders. Parents ate their babies. Every mouse fought to protect its turf, like beleaguered activists vying for the last space left from which to maintain their sense of purpose.
One of the greatest obstacles I see to creating significant change in my community – or in any community – is turf-building. I see it among the privileged progressives in America, I see it among the mainstream media who live or die by ratings points, and I even see it here on this site.
When one is driven out of power, when power is driven out of one, choices are limited: fight back, beholden oneself to the powerful, or withdraw. I’d always measured power in stingy units of information and influence. Power was something to seize, or at least cozy up to, and once in its proximity, to hoard. This definition equates power with control, with conquest, and limits power to a finite commodity. It stems from insecurity.
Now, I want neither to fight nor to embolden those who justify the ends by justifying their means. I no longer care about being important, I want to do something important, something significant for the refugees I’ve met. I don’t know what that “something” is, but I’d hoped harnessing social media could get me closer.
But even social media sites that promote social change require their writers to give up their rights. Writers of Huffington Post, a liberal blog, for example, are unionizing after the site reaped a huge profit for the founder – after years of siphoning free copy from struggling writers. Elsewhere, writers are refusing to provide free copy to web sites that require relinquishing all rights and control over their work. More interested in demagoguery than democracy, some of these web sites seem too afraid or too distrustful of actual political and economic power to seize it and then pass it on.
Until these institutions recognize that power is attained best when it is given not taken, that turf does not equate influence, and that the old paradigm won’t die if we keep cutting and pasting boiler-plate legalese, true change will remain elusive.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle I see to creating change in my community is just plain weariness. Optimism gets strangled in the fine print. And, my goodness, we do get a lot of fine print, don't we?# # #
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future Application: Challenges and Solutions to Creating Change.