History does us a tremendous disservice when it obscures the conflict and dissent within the movements that change our world. Take the example of two of the most important reform movements in the history of United States, women’s suffrage and black civil rights. The general lesson is that an extraordinary leader (or two) organized the people to take collective action and overcame opposition and achieved victory. This is the myth of reform. The truth is messier and full of conflict and squabbling and petty jealousy.
We almost never hear about the struggle within the struggle. Women’s struggle for the vote was riven with conflict from within as they fought with difficult strategic decisions such as should they abandon the struggle for suffrage to focus on abolition first to the question two generations later about whether they should abandon the struggle during WWI – so as not to appear unpatriotic. These struggles led to factions and splintering and whispers and gossip and sexual slanders of some movement leaders. Yet they prevailed and today we seem to think some women marched in the street and got the vote just like that.
Take just one small sliver of the Civil Rights struggle – the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We are taught that Rosa Parks committed the individual act of civil disobedience that sparked a spontaneous boycott that eventually ended the segregation on the buses in Montgomery. Well, many, many, many blacks had been arrested for this in past throughout the South. The reason this time was different was that this arrest was planned and executed after nearly two years of planning. The plan began in May 1954 and she didn’t sit on the bus until December 1955. The boycott itself lasted for a year – from December 6, 1955 to December 20, 1956. In the meantime, organizers sought buy-in and pledges from church leaders and the community. This was the least spontaneous act of civil disobedience you can imagine – even choosing who would be arrested was a committee decision. With this long effort in consolidating support in the community – they were able to sway even those who doubted the wisdom of the boycott to participate and keep their opposition muted and within the organizing committee. When the organizing behind the civil disobedience is hidden from history – how are we to learn the sort of slow heavy lifting that goes into effect organizing strategies.
If I were a conspiracist, I might believe this a deliberate effort to discourage people from organizing to change the decisions that affect our lives. Our efforts never have the extraordinary leaders because of course, leaders are only extraordinary in hindsight. Worse, we expect our efforts to conform to the completely false story arc of reform – the story arc that ignores the missteps, infighting, second-guessing, personality conflicts, jealousies and pettiness that all had to be overcome in order to Overcome.
What does this have to do with Second Life and fashion? Well, there are incipient movements to tackle the issue of content theft. These are the Step Up Campaign and Artist’s Voice. Certainly a petty issue relative to suffrage and civil rights, but for content creators who rely on Second Life for real life income, it is a vital issue. Both campaigns ask for all of us to commit to demonstrate to Linden Labs our serious concerns about content theft. The Step Up Campaign has asked everyone to not upload anything to Second Life on November 5th. Artist’s Voice is asking for a 48 hour moratorium on commerce on November 5th and 6th. There are, of course, many opinions about whether these actions will work, whether they are effective, strategic and so on.
My response is I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. Anyone who expects the first actions of a new campaign to succeed is unrealistic. The history of reform is full of success built on failures. People have worked for health care reform since Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. It took 72 years to win the vote for women. Just the Montgomery Bus campaign took more than two years. Success is seldom overnight and expecting wins with the first efforts is a recipe for despair.
I think that since we are taught this mythology of reform, we set false expectations on today’s organizing efforts. This plays out in different ways. We adopt tactics hastily without laying the groundwork for them. We also expect instant success and if we fear a tactic may fail, we allow our opposition to drive a wedge into the group, splintering the effort. We don’t need the opposition to divide and conquer us, we do that ourselves.
So this is what I think. I think whether or not you can participate wholeheartedly and completely in the moratorium, you can still support the goals of the group by keeping your opposition to those tactics proactive – avoiding the splintering and factionalizing that destroy many campaigns before they even get off the ground. You can brainstorm new tactics, come up with ideas for more effective outreach, think of alternative strategies. You can also get ready to boost the morale and bolster the spirits if the planned efforts do not succeed. Since success on the first effort is rare – this morale-boosting is likely to be needed.
As for me, I will support the moratorium and engage in no commerce on those days. I have no idea if Gidge will or not – and support her decision either way. Having no real income in Second Life, I am in no place to judge the decisions of others. I hope those who do not participate can, however, support the goals of the campaign by not personalizing their opposition and attacking the campaign and its organizers. Principled opposition within a campaign prepares next steps – it does not hope for failure to prove itself right. Instead it focuses forward, to the next steps. The key to doing this is remembering the long term goals – and recognizing that campaigns are won incrementally – and that wins are built on losses.