Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Rethinking protests / institutional power in the next half century

Had a great, albeit brief, conversation at the bar last night and it was provocative*. We started talking about protests in the next century. The overarching question we discussed was, "Will protests occur in the next 40-60 years? How will the nature of protesting institutional actors change in the next half century?"

Here's a proposition:

Let's say institutions in the world, traditional ones, are losing power and centralized influence. Here's an example: State and Local Government. To deliver public value, cities and states aren't capable of "going it alone" nearly as much as they used to. They partner with not-for-profit organizations, private sector orgs, and ordinary citizens to enact their public mission. In a way, State and Local Governments aren't fully responsible for the services they provide because lots of organizations are working together to provide them and State and Local Governments don't have total control of the outcomes they intend to achieve.

This is one example, and there are more in the private sector.

During our conversation, we debated this point - are contemporary institutions really losing power and centralized influence? A counterpoint (I'm paraphrasing someone else's ideas - forgive me if it's not clear...It's me losing things in translation) to what I've said above is that corporations are consolidating power and becoming more monopolistic. If anything, old-school corporations are being replaced by newer ones but power is still concentrated within traditional institutions.

So that's one question to discuss - are traditional institutions losing power and centralized influence? Reasonable people could disagree on this.

Let's assume for a moment that the answer to that questions is, "yes." If so, what becomes of protesting? Here's the rub - if institutions are losing power and centralized influence, it becomes harder and harder to identify who is most responsible for a social injustice. When that's the case and you have a grievance, who do you take it to? If you want to protest, who's front-yard do you make a ruckus in?

So that's the second question - Assuming a world where centralized influence is corroding, who do you raise grievances to? How will protests change in the next half century?

*I'd like to shout out to NA, MN, and RP, we were all talking about this together. Any good ideas expressed above are probably theirs. :-)


So, I'll punt on the first question, because I happen to think the answer is "yes." But let me do more than raise a question - let me take a stab at thinking about it. I think protests become less common. I think that citizens will more likely work directly with institutions to shape them and change them. If there's no face-man to smear, my logic goes, why not find someone to work with and change it.

Or, you could create your own alternative. Instead of spending time and energy protesting, you could build something better. This is much more possible than before because it's easier to communicate and collaborate AND barriers to entry for lots of seemingly impenetrable institutions are falling.

In my (perhaps idealistic) view, we'll spend less time antagonizing and more time collaborating. I don't only think we will, I think we should. If protesting isn't going to work, at least in the way that it used to, we can't afford to just let social problems fester - we've gotta do something about them. The best part is, we ways that we've never seen before in human history.

So here's a wacky idea (that I need to develop further) though...I've been sitting on it for awhile. Why don't we more readily accept that central institutions may not exist in the future, in the way that we think of them. This is problematic because we should have someone who is responsible for addressing grievances, probably government. Someone, or some group, has to be responsible.

So what if we did this. Let's jump on board with a collaborative mindset and built cross-sector teams focused around "missions" right from the get go. One institution - likely government - becomes the point guard on the team and everyone is transparently responsible for delivering the public value the group sets out to do in their mission. Instead of organizing government by functional area with ongoing responsibilities, why not make it more challenge-specific? That way you cut through red tape because the team has a clear focus, and you suddenly have a place to go with grievances. It's a win-win.

There's a cool paper/video that is in line with this idea, sort of, it's super legit if you're a management/gov nerd.