Strong people don’t need strong leaders.
According to Wael Ghonim (@Ghonim), the Egyptian Google exec who is emerging as the most recognizable face of the resistance movement in Egypt, the activists who planned the Egyptian uprising “designed their movement to be anonymous and faceless, without a clear leader.”
In her piece on Wael Ghonim and the Egyptian uprising (which touches on the role the net played in encouraging dissent), TechPresident’s Nancy Scola (@nancyscola) mentions this same theme of a leaderless movement, an idea she borrows from another well-known Google employee @JaredCohen:
It’s anecdotal, sure, and it’s easy to overextend the idea, but there’s a way of looking at what’s actually happening in Egypt as much as a “basically leaderless” movement, to borrow a phrase from State Department official-turned-Google official Jared Cohen, perhaps, as one that had a Facebook group as a leader-by-proxy until the human behind it emerged.
A while back a friend sent me an article called ‘An End to Movements’ by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff (@rushkoff). According to Rushkoff the failure of mass movements in the US is their inability to connect us to each other and to reality…instead mass protest connects us to image, to myth, to abstraction:
In our current position, when disconnection from the real world is itself a cause for concern, movements only serve to disconnect us further from the actionable. They give us content for websites, language for our bumper stickers, and faces to put on our ideals. But they distract us from the matter at hand, and worse, turn our attention upward toward brand mythologies instead of immediately before us to the people and problems that need our time and energy. In the place of real connections to other people, we get the highly charged but ultimately fake connection to an image.
While Rushkoff’s article addresses mass movements in the US, I would like to hear Rushkoff’s take on the Egyptian protests, especially given the role that many-to-many communications channels appear to be playing in cultivating human-to-human connections on the ground in Egypt.
From the Tao Te Ching:
When people have nothing more to lose,
Then revolution will result.
Do not take away their lands,
And do not destroy their livelihoods;
If your burden is not heavy then they will not shirk it.
The sage maintains himself but exacts no tribute,
Values himself but requires no honours;
He ignores abstraction and accepts substance.
Be sure to check out Anthea’s recent blog post – “In Search of A Humble, Charismatic Leader” – about an NOI-sponsored panel discussion (#noiegpyt) on leadership and organizing within the Egyptian revolution.