No 380 Posted by fw, December 27, 2011
Just to recap – This series, based on Tim Gee’s Counterpower: Making Change Happen, really began with a review of his book. The review led to a purchase. And a cursory skim of the contents convinced me the book warranted this series. Part 1 presented a selection of highlights and main ideas from the Introduction, focusing on what prompted Gee to write the book, the four stages of development of successful populist campaigns, the three types of Counterpower that people can use to remove or neutralize the power of elites — Idea Counterpower, Economic Counterpower, and Physical Counterpower — and how Counterpower strategies and tactics have evolved over time.
Following the series’ format, this post, Part 2, encapsulates highlights and main ideas of Idea Counterpower, excerpted from Chapter 1, How Counterpower helps movements win.
Gee introduces the Chapter with this quotation —
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” —Martin Luther King Jr
Those with power rarely yield it voluntarily. But the lesson from the past is that “for every aspect of power wielded by the “haves”, the “have-nots” can wield more.” Counterpower, the ability of the powerless to remove or neutralize the power of the powerful, is the game-changer.
Here are a few examples of past Counterpower successes –
Given that well-organized populist campaigns can win concessions from, and even overthrow, oppressive powerful regimes, Gee raises two incisive questions, which his book seeks to answer:
His quest for answers begins with an analysis of the nature of power:
Corporate and government elites have a hidden advantage in the sense that their position of power is accepted by law-abiding citizens as the social norm. But over and above this, powerful elites exercise ‘idea power’, ‘economic power’, and ‘physical power’, which activists must confront with Counterpower.
The power of elites can be transformed into Counterpower though well-organized, popular resistance. Gee boldly claims:
“If we can find ways to use these to undermine the power of the haves, then we are more powerful than they could possibly imagine.”
To find these “ways”, he looks to the past to find examples of how these three types of power and Counterpower have been used.
According to Gee, powerful elites manufacture a façade of “philosophical legitimacy” to normalize their worldview. In response to elitist worldviews, past social movements have commonly employed their own innovative brand of Idea Counterpower. The most effective populist campaigns don’t just inform, they inspire.
Gee draws from history to provide these examples of Idea Counterpower —
Gee emphasizes —
“Idea Counterpower means so much more than simply talking to people. Yet too often, campaigns use only the most pedestrian tactics.”
In the next sentence, he segues into Economic Counterpower, which will be the focus of Part 3:
“Even those that go beyond the conventional methods still often restrict themselves to Idea Counterpower alone. . . . Other forms of Counterpower are needed to force recalcitrant targets to change. One such option is Economic Counterpower.”