Followers leading the way


liverpool courtesy AFP

Courtesy : AFP

Followers can now force the establishment to back down.

Liverpool football club decided to jack up the highest stadium ticket prices for next season.  In a synchronized move, 10,000 fans exited the ground during a premier league match featuring liverpool. The message went out loud and clear. The club owners scrapped their plan.

The Energy & Resources Institute ( TERI) in India decided to elevate R.K.Pachauri to the newly created post of executive vice-chariman. Mr. Pachauri, a feted environmentalist, had earlier been accused of sexual harrasment and a case was on. In a co-ordinated move, 20 students wrote to the Vice-Chancellor and said they would not accept their convocation degrees from a person involved in a sexual harrasment case. Pachauri was on a long leave before due to this case. He decided to not attend the convocation and is reportedly going on leave again. Why he was elevated inspite of his situation defies understanding.

Facebook decided to make use of its overwhelming captive followership among Indian citizens and lobbied hard for Indian followers to support its Freebasics initiative. Amazon has a one-click arrangement for people to buy on-line. Facebook created a one-click petition plea for followers to back it’s initiative. It did not work. The more facebook pressed on, the more it spawned a counter-establishment response among people in India. Followers across the board created enough pressure for the telecommunications regulator to shoot down its proposal.

What is happening out here?

Between the decision and action, there is a space and time that can be effectively mobilized by people who want to contest the decision. People are able to organize and create momentum for their counter-establishment point of view via mediums that are not under the total control of anybody. Earlier the decisions were made away from scrutiny.

Union Carbide turned out to be deadly in 1984. No matter how hazardous the nature of its undertaking, I am sure it was nowhere so difficult to set it up then than it would be now. Decision-making was in the corridors of power and people were nowhere as clued in about the implications of the decision. Now, things stand changed. Whether it is a nuclear power plant or a coastal road, even before the decision is made; there is a splash. The rippling effects make everyone converge around the subject matter and the decision becomes contestable. People collaborate through special interest groups, craft a strategy, rope in influential supporters and take the establishment head-on.

How does the establishment respond?

It goes even more covert on the things it really considers to be core to its functioning. For the establishment, certain controversies that play out are an acceptable price for being able to keep its core-interests unharmed. In other words, they do their best to not let their core-interests become a contestable agenda. But, that is a subject for another day.

For now, followers are learning to not take things lying down. There are co-ordinating better, organizing better, and amplifying the pressure that they can bring to bear in the court of public opinion. They are learning to strategize and influence popular perception in ways that leaders, organizations, and public authorities have to take heed off. They are legitimating this process of organized protest and helping it take root in civic society.

The followers are leading the way.


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