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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join The Daily Show comedian Jordan Klepper and elite improviser Bob Kulhan live at 1 pm ET on Tuesday, July 14!
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."