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To overthrow a tyrant, try the 3.5 Percent Solution
A study of 323 uprisings against repressive regimes yields stunning insights.
- No democracy movement has ever failed when it was able to mobilize at least 3.5 percent of the population to protest over a sustained period
- At that scale, most soldiers have no desire to suppress protesters. Why? Because the crowd includes their family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
- With a population of 327 million, the U.S. would need to mobilize about 11.5 million people to assert popular, democratic power on the government. Could that happen?
In the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Western democracies were giddy about the global victory of market-based liberal systems. Decades of the Cold War were over. The logic of markets, rights, contracts, and law prevailed. It was, Francis Fukuyama famously declared, "the end of history."
But in the last decade, authoritarianism has staged a comeback. Putin and Xi have consolidated power in Russia and China. Eastern bloc nations have revived ugly forms of nationalism. The U.S. and Britain have disavowed their durable alliances and free trade. Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines have cracked down on the opposition, as have Brazil, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. When the U.S. deposed Saddam Hussein, Iraqis did not greet Americans as liberators.
Stunned, small-d democrats now understand the leveling, destructive power of globalism. If Twitter can be used to rally pro-democracy activists in Tahrir Square, it can also be used to spread hateful lies and revive old prejudices. Angry mobs, living in online echo chambers, can be riled into dangerous wars against democratic norms and institutions.
Can anything be done to confront the rising tide of authoritarianism? Research suggests a simple answer: Put millions of bodies in the streets to demonstrate, peacefully, for democratic values.
No democracy movement has ever failed when it was able to mobilize at least 3.5 percent of the population to protest over a sustained period, according to a study by Erica Chenoweth of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Maria Stephan of the U.S. Institute of Peace.
In their book, "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict", Chenoweth and Stephan analyzed 323 political and social movements that challenged repressive regimes from 1900 to 2006. Such mass demonstrations are so visible, they found, that no one can ignore them. Their diversity and networks—with connections to schools, unions, churches, media, sports teams, fraternities, and even the military—gives them a superhuman voice and spirit. At that scale, most soldiers have no desire to suppress the protesters. Why? Because the crowd includes their family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
Call it the 3.5 Percent Solution.
What is the 3.5 Percent Solution?
Let's suppose that Americans wanted to stand up against government repression. How could everyday Americans not just speak out, but also force elites to radically change direction?
With a population of 327 million, the U.S. would need to mobilize about 11.5 million people to assert popular, democratic power on the government. Could that happen? Maybe. More than 2.6 million people took part in the Women's March, in cities all over the country (and world), on the day after Inauguration Day 2017. The U.S. would have to mobilize four times that many to push the reluctant Washington leaders.
That would take a lot of work, but it's possible.
A. Philip Randolph, front center. Civil Rights leaders holds hands as they march along the National Mall during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Washington DC, August 28, 1963. The march and rally provided the setting for the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr's iconic 'I Have a Dream' speech.
(Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
The logic of mass mobilization was first explained by a labor leader named A. Philip Randolph, who organized the black Pullman car porters in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1941, Randolph organized masses of black men to march in the streets of Washington to protest discrimination in the war industries. President Franklin Roosevelt called him to the White House, made some vague promises, and asked him to call off the march. Randolph said no, not until he got a signed executive order. Eleanor Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia pleaded with Randolph to step aside. FDR dreaded the prospect of long columns of black men—maybe 100,000 of them—marching down Pennsylvania chanting about discrimination.
When Randolph stood firm, Roosevelt relented. He signed Executive Order 8802 and Randolph called off the march.
Randolph understood that reform requires activists to put their bodies on the line—peacefully. Without a willingness to be visible and accept consequences, like getting beaten or thrown into jail, the people in power do not take the opposition seriously.
"Here's what we have to say to all of America's men and women falling in the grips of hatred and white supremacy: Come back. It's not too late. You have neighbors and loved ones waiting, holding space for you. And we will love you back." – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
As Gene Sharp points out in his three-volume masterpiece, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, regimes gain power when ordinary citizens consent to their rule. Usually, that consent is tacit, when people pay taxes, accept government regulations, and follow basic practices like sending kids to school; sometimes, it's explicit, like adhering to court decisions and voting in elections. Nonviolent demonstrations, in effect, withdraw that consent. And no regime can survive when too many people refuse to obey the regime's orders.
The most important demonstration of our time, the 1963 March on Washington, attracted from 250,000 to 400,000, according to crowd experts. Randolph called that march too and hired Bayard Rustin to organize it. The star power of Martin Luther King and other headliners like Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez made it historic.
The Roger Bannister Effect
Roger Bannister breaks the tape as he crosses the winning line to complete the historic four-minute mile record in Oxfordshire, England. 6th May, 1954.
Photo by Bentley Archive/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images
That's a far cry from the 11.5 million people needed for a 3.5 percent march. That's where the Roger Bannister Effect comes in. Before Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, many believed the feat impossible. Within a year, four others beat the mark. In the last 50-plus years more than 1,000 people beat it. Once people achieve a breakthrough, others duplicate it. The mind shapes what's possible.
Such is the case with protests. Demonstrations have become as much a part of the system as elections and lobbying. In recent years, countless protests have surpassed one million. Worldwide, five million joined the women's marches in 2017.
So think of the 3.5 percent goal, or 11.5 million people, as the political equivalent of the four-minute mile. It might seem impossible, but it's actually quite possible.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest China's effort to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong to China, where party-controlled courts mean rigged trials. On one day, crowds were estimated to reach more than one million in a nation-state of 7.4 million residents. That's about 13.5 percent. More typically, the marches numbered in the hundreds of thousands, hovering around the magic 3.5 percent mark. The trick is to sustain the effort. The movement has to be ready to mobilize on short notice. Succeed once and it's easier to succeed again—not automatic, but easier.
How to protest – and succeed
Protest movements attract the greatest, most diverse crowds when they focus on the consensus goals of fairness and democracy—against brutality and corruption—and keep their protests nonviolent.
If Americans ever wanted to stage a 3.5 percent March for Freedom, then, they must embrace a message that is both specific and mainstream. In 1963, the civil rights movement made a bold call for basic human rights, against the centuries of violence and indifference to the plight of blacks. Americans today would have to adopt the same kind of simple and clear message.
What universal values might such a march champion? Start with fair elections (against foreign influence, gerrymandering, disenfranchisement, and big money). Broaden that appeal to include civil liberties, not just for Americans but for the "wretched refuse" seeking asylum and protection from civil war and life-threatening violence in other lands.
Foreign policy might offer another set of universal values to rally protesters. Most Americans support the idea of opposing brutal dictatorships and embracing democratic allies. With its vast consensus, global warming might make another focal point for rallying the masses. It depends how well the organizers frame the issue.
Specific ideas also need expression in universal outrages. In their marches for democratic revival in the U.S., protesters could cry out against specific grievances, like Russia's cyberwar against the U.S., abuses at the U.S.-Mexico border, voter suppression, and Saudi Arabia's murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But getting too specific carries risks. On issues lacking a broad and deep consensus, the protesters risk alienating potential allies. So should protesters rally for Obamacare and the $15 minimum wage? Maybe, maybe not. If these issues cannot rally the masses—for the long haul—maybe they should be left off the agenda.
"Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen," Timothy Snyder writes in his manifesto On Tyranny. "Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them."
The key is to make it easy for people to rally. Organize everywhere. Any place where people gather for parades and rallies—streets, parks, public squares, campuses, stadiums, auditoriums, churches, schools—get the necessary permits. It won't be any trouble in places with strong traditions of activism; but it will take work in less energized places.
The marches should also avoid the degrading rhetoric that certain destructive forces use to attack their enemies. In 1963, organizers approved most signs people carried at the March on Washington. That's going too far, but today's activists should focus on a strong assertion of values, not ad hominem attacks. Protesters should avoid also the bitterness and personal attacks common in social media. It might sound old-fashioned, but keep it clean. Don't try to "win" arguments with vitriol. Avoid tit for tat. Repeat, relentlessly, what matters: Stop the violence. Stop the lawlessness. Stop the assault on democracy.
Organizers should train marshals to keep things peaceful and nonviolent. Nonviolent movements have twice the success rate of movements that involve even occasional use of violence. But nonviolence doesn't just happen. It's a skill—a hard skill. But anyone who wants can learn it and will have the support of countless friends and neighbors once the big day comes.
The protests should always appeal to the better angels of our natures. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we have to condemn racism but appeal to the better natures of people caught in its thrall. "Here's what we have to say to all of America's men and women falling in the grips of hatred and white supremacy: Come back," AOC said. "It's not too late. You have neighbors and loved ones waiting, holding space for you. And we will love you back."
Students take part in a march for the environment and the climate, in Brussels, on February 21, 2019. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has inspired pupils worldwide to boycott classes, urged the European Union on February 21, 2019 to double its ambition for greenhouse gas cuts.
Photo EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
A protest demonstration is really a physical challenge to the regime: We're here and you can't push us around. We will assert ourselves. We will prevail.
No great movement can win without putting bodies on the line. "Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen," Timothy Snyder writes in his manifesto On Tyranny. "Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them."
Ultimately, the greatest impact of 3.5 percent protests could be at the ballot box. Democracy, by its very definition, thrives only when lots of people go to the polls. People need a reason to vote. If a positive force does not surge through the country, people will get stuck in the better-of-two-evils mindset. That's enervating; it's exactly what the enemies of democracy want. The 3.5 percent demonstration is the best way possible to arouse Americans who fear for our democracy.
Civil rights activists have always known, in their heart, the truth of Chenoweth and Stephan's argument. America's greatest lesson in the power of protest came in the civil rights era. "It's just like geometry," James Bevel, one of Martin Luther King's acolytes said. "You add this, you add this, you add this, and you're going to get this. It's like a law. You can't miss with this.
"If you maintain your integrity in your heart and honestly do your work, and your motive and intention is right, and you go and seek what's just, there is no way for you not to achieve your objective."
Charles Euchner, who teaches writing at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, is the author of Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington (2010) and a forthcoming book on Woodrow Wilson's campaign for the League of Nations. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.
- If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
- Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
- In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?
- A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
- This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
- The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
Mind the cues<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="CabkeAzx" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="169377c88f392a86f6c42180b74820a5"> <div id="botr_CabkeAzx_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/CabkeAzx-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/CabkeAzx-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/CabkeAzx-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The gulf in accepting the science behind climate change also exists among party elites. It is well known to any American who is attentive to the news, as party leaders are often more than willing to discuss their take to journalists.</p><p>Using polling data going back to the 1980s, the researchers were able to create a chart showing the aggregate amount of climate skepticism among the general population. A similar diagram showing the Republicans' skepticism dating back to 2001 was sourced from a previous, similar study. It was shown to be highly correlated with the one produced for this study.</p><p>These charts were compared with media content from prominent newspapers that included implicit or explicit stances on climate change by significant political figures. These thousands of articles were classified by using key terms and which major political figures were quoted or referenced. The researchers compared the number of cues over time to measured skepticism and looked for "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granger_causality" target="_blank">Granger causality</a>," the tendency for one variable to predict the future value of another variable.</p><p>The model shows evidence of both in and out-group cue effects, though the repulsion to out-group cues was much more evident. A significant increase in Democratic cues in favor of climate science was followed by a rise in skepticism among Republican voters. Importantly, the cues lead, rather than follow opinion, and do so with consistency. Changes in view did not predict changes in the number or direction of cues. </p><p>The researchers also surveyed nearly 3000 adults to demonstrate the concept. This involved showing them a statement on the scientific consensus around climate change and a cue from either a Republican or a Democrat. This test confirmed the previous observation and provided further support for the notion that signals from leaders cause an increase in skepticism among some respondents.</p><p>Before my left-leaning and Democratic readers get too smug, this research references previous studies demonstrating a similar effect in the lead up to the Iraq War. However, in that case, the Democratic Party elites' mixed messages were countered by a Republican Party united behind the idea of invasion. The effect on the Democratic party rank and file was similar to that observed in this case. </p><p>Several other studies have examined effects similar to this for other issues. This study's importance is its focus on out-group cues and the effort placed into demonstrating a causal relationship between the statements of certain party elites and public opinion. Most previous studies focused purely on in-group cues or failed to differentiate between the two. </p>
Can thinking about the past really help us create a better present and future?
- There are two types of counterfactual thinking: upward and downward.
- Both upward and downward counterfactual thinking can be positive impacts on your current outlook - however, upward counterfactual thinking has been linked with depression.
- While counterfactual thinking is a very normal and natural process, experts suggest the best course is to focus on the present and future and allow counterfactual thinking to act as a motivator when possible.
“Upward” versus “downward” counterfactual thinking<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1NDYxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDM2MDY2OX0.njWs1qrV1vDBxU1V75tUduUW4TjJvEHglDWsK8ZF2l4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C556%2C0%2C209&height=700" id="a15fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98314d4d2b256ed08f42d369fe4ae080" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="concept of man thinking about the past one line drawing counterfactual thinking" />
What are upward and downward counterfactual thinking?
Image by one line man on Shutterstock<p><strong>What is upward counterfactual thinking?</strong></p><p>Upward counterfactual thinking happens when we look at a scenario and ask ourselves "what if" in terms of how our life could have turned out better. </p><p>Examples of upward counterfactual thinking are: </p><ul><li><em>"I wish I had taken that other job instead of this one 10 years ago - my life would be so much better if I had." </em></li><li><em>"I wish I would have gotten the part in that high school play, maybe I could have gotten into a theatre school and became an actor…"</em> </li></ul><p>Both of these examples have the ideology that if you had made different choices, your life right now would be improved. </p><p><strong>What is downward counterfactual thinking?</strong></p><p>Downward counterfactual thinking is, naturally, the opposite of upward counterfactual thinking in that we think about how things could have been worse if other decisions had been made. </p><p>Examples of downward counterfactual thinking are: </p><ul><li><em>"I'm so thankful I studied secondary education in university instead of psychology like I had originally planned - I love teaching high school kids and I never would have gotten to do that…" </em></li><li><em>"I'm so happy I left David when I got the chance, I can't imagine still being in an unhappy marriage with someone who doesn't support me…"</em> </li></ul><p>In these examples, we see the idea that if you had made different choices your life would not be as good as it is right now. </p>
How counterfactual thinking can impact your life<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1NDYxNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjI2MDQxOX0.DIVQ-Yk0d6yE3tc743MH1Fz2pOg1TGHLmhp8dPp9UdY/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="522d7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="da7df6ad916b043e3610223900d0f8df" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="man thinking what if written on chalkboard" />
How do upward and downward counterfactual thinking impact your life?
Photo by Brasil Creativo on Shutterstock<p>While many people don't see the point in "what if" scenarios, various studies have found that downward counterfactual thinking can be more associated with psychological health compared with upward counterfactual thinking. Not only that, but research has also shown upward counterfactual thinking can be linked with current and future depression.</p> <p><strong>Downward counterfactual thinking tends to be more associated with psychological health </strong></p><p>According to a <a href="http://journal.sjdm.org/jdm06136.pdf" target="_blank">2000 study</a>, downward counterfactual thinking can be linked with better psychological health compared to upward counterfactual thinking. More importantly, in cases where downward counterfactual thinking did lead to negative feelings, those feelings acted as something of a motivator for people to take productive actions to better their current situation. </p> <p><strong>Upward counterfactual thinking tends to be more associated with depression </strong></p><p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735816301714#:~:text=An%20upward%20counterfactual%20(as%20opposed,Markman%20and%20McMullen%2C%202003)." target="_blank">According to a 2017 study</a> that pooled a sample of over 13,000 respondents, thoughts about "better outcomes" and regret (upward counterfactual thinking) were associated with current and future depression. </p> <p><strong>Downward counterfactual thinking can actually improve your relationships and is more often engaged in by women than men.</strong></p><p>In a <a href="https://dspace.sunyconnect.suny.edu/bitstream/handle/1951/67589/Studer_Thesis.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">2016 research paper submitted</a> to the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, downward counterfactual thinking in regards to romantic relationships was associated with relatively positive relationship outcomes. Interestingly, women were more likely than men to engage in downward counterfactual thinking about their romantic life. </p> <p><strong>Upward counterfactual thinking can have some benefits in certain scenarios. </strong></p><p>When we look back after a failed test and think "I wish I would have studied more" - this motivates us to study harder the next time a test comes up. In this way, upward counterfactual thinking (or the negative version of "what if") can actually benefit us. </p> <p><strong>This can be difficult, though, because much of the time upward counterfactual thinking is more associated with a pessimistic outlook that can be unmotivating. </strong></p> <p>Thinking in the past tense can be motivational (and even healthy) at times, but the best thing to do is look forward. </p><p>While counterfactual thinking as a whole can be used to motivate us to make better choices or appreciate where we are in life, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201809/the-psychology-what-if" target="_blank">this Psychology Today</a> article suggests that we should come up with ways to move on and focus on the present and the future instead of the past. Using counterfactual thinking as a motivational tool can be very helpful if we don't get stuck in the "what if" mindset that tends to pull us out of the present and back into the past, where things will always remain the same. </p>