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Arms for the Poor

Never before has the poor been so well-armed. Not with guns, but with the weapons of the digital age. In civil societies, where democracies prevail, political succession and policy-making is conducted at the end of a pen, not a sword. Well, maybe not so much a pen anymore, but certainly by some recordable communication device.

Armed with mobile phones, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter and the like, the poor are able to find others like themselves; people who are frustrated by their lack of economic opportunity. These tools allow them to organize, petition the government, mobilize online and offline actions, create a movement, and capture political parties.

Once upon a time, it took lots of money to do this; money the poor did not have. Now social capital afforded by all these amazing toys can compete with the financial capital that has dominated politics and policy-making up to now. It is only a matter of time before the poor master there use and match the political might of financial titans. After all, money in politics is used to buy the means to influence people: the public, the press, and lawmakers. Now, it takes orders of magnitude less money for people to get their message out, build their audience, community, and movement.

I am not saying that it will happen right away, though both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements suggest we are getting there. And I am not saying all poor people can afford the technology discussed here.

But I am saying even those too poor to afford the tech have friends and family who can. So they are never more than one degree removed from this new source of power.

In the end, political change in civil societies will come from connecting online and offline social networks. But the online tools available to the poor today arm the poor with the ability to capture the government, making them a real, emerging opposition party.

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