Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

The Power of Protest

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Perhaps not since the Vietnam war have there been so many marches and demonstrations in the USA, where people have been protesting our government, its policies, practices, and the various actions it has taken. (Full disclosure, I have taken part in more than a few protests and rallies myself.)

The current administration is perceived by many –  if not the majority – as incompetent, divisive, fundamentally corrupt, lawless, operating outside of the constitution, ignoring the checks and balances which define our democracy, imposing needless cruelty, perhaps illegitimate (with Russian fingerprints all over the last election) and certainly not operating in the best interests of the nation, let alone the planet.

In addition to the alleged obstruction crimes that the Mueller Report identified, the president himself is seen by many professional psychologists and psychiatrists as unwell and unstable. One group, Duty to Warn, is working on a Kickstarter-funded movie to document that assertion.  Duty to Warn advocates for the removal of the president under the 25th Amendment stating that he is unfit to serve. The group pointedly states that the Goldwater Rule, imposed by the American Psychiatric Association to prevent its members from diagnosing someone without personally assessing them, does not apply as there is a higher order rule, which is the duty to warn if someone poses an imminent threat to others.

Additionally, Dr. Brandy Lee, psychiatry professor at Yale University and a renowned expert on violence and forensic psychiatry, co-authored a report on the president’s mental state as documented in the Mueller Report from the sworn testimony. In sum: “What the special counsel’s report revealed, through consistent and abundant data, was a pervasive and profound pattern of lack of capacity. This was demonstrated by: lack of basic comprehension (or the ability to take in information and advice without undue influence from false beliefs or emotional need); faulty information processing (or the ability to appreciate and make flexible use of information and advice without false representation); lack of sound decision making (or the ability to consider consequences based on rational, reality-based, and reliable thinking without interference from impulsivity, false beliefs, or fluctuating consistency); and behavior that places oneself or others in danger (such as inciting one’s followers to commit acts of violence and boasting of one’s own repeated violence). These are crucial failures in the basic components of mental capacity test, which in his position constitute a medical emergency that requires a response.”

Psychiatrists often use the term Malignant Narcissism to describe the president’s mental illnesses while Clinical Psychologists and those who work in the employee selection space would often describe him as suffering from the Dark Triad, a trifecta of malevolent mental illnesses. Regardless of which term is used, there are many who are deeply concerned and are raising those concerns publicly. Long term observers of this president, such as Tony Schwartz, the author of The Art of the Deal, have also noted significant cognitive decline and increasingly discuss concerns about dementia in addition to his other issues.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has been reluctant to begin impeachment proceedings, worried that it will distract from winning the presidency and the Senate in 2020 and will play into the president’s hands. Lawrence Tribe, the noted Constitutional scholar and Harvard Professor, has proposed and actively advocates a path by which just the House can begin an Impeachment Inquiry and hold a trial, even if removal by the Senate won’t happen given its Republican majority.

The big question is, do all of these protests and actions matter? Can enough citizens of this country raise their voices loud enough and often enough to effect change now, or will change have to wait until the next election in 2020? There is legitimate concern about the level of Russian influence on the outcome of the election, especially given that Congress and the White House are doing little to nothing to protect the election process itself. It has become increasingly clear that various members of Congress and the president’s inner circle have deep financial ties or other connections to either Russia or China.

Michael Shermer, writing in The Moral Arc, cites the work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan. These two political science researchers entered into a database all forms of political protest, reforms, and revolutions that have occurred since 1900, both violent and nonviolent. Since 1900, non-violent actions had twice the success rate as violent actions. Non-violent actions are increasingly becoming more effective while violent actions are becoming rarer and when they occur and are largely unsuccessful. In answering the question why this change has occurred, Chenoweth states, “People power.” Non-violent actions have lower barriers to entry, attracting a more diverse group and a larger percent of the population. They are also more representative of the population in terms of “gender, race, age, political party, class and urban-rural distinctions.” Her data showed that non-violent protests that are active and sustained in an ongoing fashion, and which draw about 3.5% of the population, are always successful in meeting their goals for change. And once they hit that 3.5% threshold, involving that significant portion of the population they were always non-violent.

The current population of the USA is 327,000,000 +/-. In order to reach that critical threshold of 3.5%, a cross section of 11,445,000 people would have to engage in ongoing sustained, non-violent political protests. Sounds like a big number, but given the emotions that are running quite high and the level of outrage in the country it sounds quite possible.

Take Hong Kong as an example of what protest can accomplish. This last weekend, on June 16th, it was estimated that 2 million of Hong Kong’s 7 million people turned out to protest non-violently against an extradition law that would have allowed mainland China to take a citizen from Hong Kong to stand trial in China. Given China’s murky and opaque judicial system Hong Kong citizens were concerned that the law could be used to stifle political dissent and anyone could be snatched at any time. Given the size of this and previous protests the Hong Kong governor, who is approved by China, withdrew the law for consideration at this time. This protest involved much more than 3.5%, but does show the power of protest.

Does this or can these rules-of-thumb of protest apply in the corporate world? About 4,000 Google employees signed a petition demanding “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” (NY Times June 1, 2018). The employees were concerned that Google’s AI technology, including its facial recognition work, was going to be used to improve targeting of drone strikes and did not want their work to be used in the killing of people. After the petition Google withdrew from its AI military contracts. So, do the numbers hold up? Alphabet, the parent company of Google employs about 72,000 people. Therefore the 4000 petition signers represented about 5.5% of the workforce, which is above the non-violent and successful change threshold.

These are but a handful of examples but the numbers are somewhat startling and gives a sense that a relatively small percentage of non-violent protesters, who sustain their protest over a period of time, can affect change in the political as well as corporate world.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

June 18, 2019 at 8:57 pm

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