Listen: Activist, Author Micah White '04 on Why Protests Fail

This spring, Micah White '04 gave a talk, "Why Do Protests Fail?" White argues that while protest is undeniably cool again, if recent protests are evaluated by their outcome, not their rhetoric, it is increasingly clear that contemporary forms of activism are resulting in diminishing effectiveness. Despite their size, sophistication, and speed, he says the last decade of social protests have largely failed to achieve their desired social change objectives. If protest as we know it is broken, he asks, how do we fix it?

White evaluates various theories for why contemporary protests are failing. Is it a lack of demands? Police repression? Absence of leadership? Or something deeper? His goal is to develop a general theory of protest failure grounded in the concrete experience of contemporary activism. Guiding his inquiry is the hope that understanding protest failure will better equip today’s democracy activists for creating positive social change in their lifetimes.

White is a lifelong activist who co-created Occupy Wall Street, a global social movement, while working as an editor of Adbusters magazine. While at Swarthmore, he sparked the nationwide Diebold Electronic Civil Disobedience.  Widely recognized as a pioneer of social movement creation, White has been profiled by The New Yorker and The Guardian, as well as The Bulletin, and Esquire has named him one of the most influential young thinkers alive today. He is the author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution

White graduated from Swarthmore with a B.A. in philosophy and earned a Ph.D. in media and communications at the European Graduate School.