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Powershift (what current events mean for Surfrider)

October 05 2011 | Strategy, Activism, Culture Shifting, Modern Activism,

I’ll never forget the early days of the internet because when I push today’s global events through that set of lenses... things make more sense.

What was crystal clear in the late 90s was that the web wasn’t simply another communication medium or another channel of content, it was an enabler for massive (world) change. 

Thinking back to that era, it was wild to watch the daily play-by-play from the side the internet early adopters were on.  We operated with overflowing, unbridled enthusiasm.  What we saw from our side was opportunity and potential for big changes... changes large enough to shift entire industries, governments and cultures.  There are parallels to what we see today with the people that are hip-deep in social-change movements around the globe.

In the late 90s, when e-businesses were being formed in coffee shops, there was a palpable disconnect, a wall of sorts, that separated internet early adopters from the more traditional brick-and-mortar established businesses.  The brick-and-mortars were companies like Blockbuster and Barnes & Noble who had billions to lose.  Brick-and-mortars weren’t going to be swayed by upstarts like the fledgling websites Netflix or Amazon who had nothing to lose and everything to gain. We all know how that story played out (and continues to evolve) the power shifted from one point to another.

So what does this mean in the larger context of global cultures, world economies and organizing?

It means a shift started awhile ago and we are not going back to how it was before.

It means that “power to the people” signifies something much different now than it did a decade ago. 

I remember watching the pro-democracy demonstrators inside Iran during the Green Movement in 2009.  The truth is that I wasn't on their side of the fence, none of us were.  Unless a person has an active role in a movement they can’t see what insiders see (and it’s important to understand that distinction).  We all saw the Green Movement story in our newsfeed complete with pictures and videos that stirred our emotions.  The people behind the movement saw an entirely different life but the Green Movement was defeated.

What many of us fail to understand is when an idea like this doesn’t take hold, like Iran’s Green Movement, it’s not really a failure.  It’s an early chapter in a book... it’s a software release that will be updated in future versions.  Apple failed miserably with the Newton long before the iPhone broke through. 

What is clearer to see today is that what happened in Iran years ago helped spur change in Egypt.  In Egypt the movement stuck.  It’s messy to be sure... but it forced out a multi-decade leader and shifted the entire power structure.  Power shifted from point A to point B.

Egypt's events translated into unbridled enthusiasm for others across the Arab world.  Now the entire region is going through a power shift.  It’s stunning to watch in real time.   Again, I’m guessing very few readers (regardless of our opinions of those seeking freedom and democracy) are truly “on" the side of those fighting for change.   I'm not suggesting we're on the opposite side.  We are on neither side as we're not engaged enough to be on one side or the other.  We are voyeurs that may have tweeted some support or Paypal'd some funds.  We are not risking our lives.

When I watch the growing numbers connected to Occupy Wall Street it’s the same thing all over again.  The “99%”, the people showing up and protesting, don’t see the same thing the “1%” see.  They have completely different perspectives.  The protesters are the equivalents of people like Jeff Bezos and the people in Tahrir Square.  They see a better place.  They see opportunity.  They see positive change.  They have everything to gain and very little to lose. The "1%" don’t see these things because they live in a world based on a historical, skewed separation of power where a few rule the world, change for them would mean having less... change is bad.

And so the powershift will continue to morph, evolve and move ahead.

It will be anything but easy, seamless or gradual.

We can be absolutely sure that there will be massive bumps in the road.  Ask anyone that has taken on an industry from the perspective of a startup.  In a startup you can wake up to find out that your company died overnight due to a competitor leap-frogging you or a funding/acquisition round that shifted the field enough to make your offering superfluous.  A similar thing is happening with geopolitical forces.  It’s exciting and unnerving at the same time... but it won’t stop.

So what does this mean for Surfrider Foundation?  It means everything to us.  Our future IS this.

At our very core, the essence of Surfrider Foundation is the idea that there is meaningful power in connecting and organizing individuals to move forward and demand that our coastlines and oceans are preserved.  That power can manifest itself into coastal victories and it can be seen in cultures shifting towards environmentally-aware stances.

Surfrider is literally optimally architected for these times.

It’s not going to be centralized, legacy-thinking organizations that shift power and embody the “think globally, act locally” mindset.   It’s going to be grassroots movements like ours that enable individuals to shift power into their hands.

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