The power of people

We’ve long known crowds can influence widespread change, but will the summer 2011 social protests pay off?

Social justice protest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Social justice protest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was quite a sight, with thousands of runners dashing through Jerusalem’s streets last Friday. I was not one of them, but I was there to witness the event. The sheer number of people, 20,000 supposedly, running through the 3,000-year-old city, was a welcome change from the usual traffic jams that clog its streets.
It appears easier to run when there are thousands of others running alongside you.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of influence this number of people could have if we all showed up outside President Barack Obama’s hotel during his upcoming visit.
What if 20,000 people protested against his common sense-defying decision to soften his demands on Iran at the latest P5+1 negotiations in Washington? Or his wish to put the creation of a Palestinian state on an express train, thundering through all the issues as if peace really is attainable, as if the Palestinians really want it and only Israel is blocking their way?
Based on his speech at AIPAC this week, it appears that outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak believes peace cannot be achieved in the near future.
We live in a naive world where ambassadors and diplomats strut around lavish government halls, trying to make a difference. The United Nations operates as one huge facade to corruption and waste. The US ambassador for management and reform at the UN recently called for an “inebriation-free zone” after becoming fed up with foreign diplomats who constantly showed up drunk at important meetings.
Meanwhile, the world has not managed to prevent nearly 100,000 deaths in Syria, nor has it prevented the daily abuse and torture of North Korean civilians in prison camps.
Credit does go to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News for asking former basketball star Dennis Rodman the hard questions over his recent trip to visit North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Rodman’s fascination with the 28-year-old dictator is reminiscent of other times in history when naive people failed to confront blatant human rights violations.
As John Avlon, senior political columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast notes, Charles Lindbergh “cozied up to Adolf Hitler in a naive attempt to keep America isolationist in World War II” and “American singer, actor and attorney Paul Robeson was taken in by the Soviet Union and proclaimed its lack of segregation was evidence of freedom’s progress while millions were being murdered by Joseph Stalin in gulags.”
Avlon also points out that numerous Hollywood stars and famous singers spend time with and perform for dictators in exchange for huge sums of money.
Luckilt, most people aren’t as foolish as Rodman.
What’s astounding though, is that the people being taken in by Egypt’s promises to reform or Palestinian guarantees to pursue peace aren’t clueless entertainers, but are supposedly educated and worldly individuals.
Which is where we, the people, come in.
Leaders can no longer ignore the anger and frustration of the masses. We continue to witness this on a daily basis in countries surrounding Israel.
Rumors are that the US administration has plans to force peace between Israel and the Palestinians – a peace that the Palestinians could never maintain, let alone be sincere about. If this is the case and Israel’s leaders and diplomats cannot convince them otherwise, then it will be up to the people – to us – to gather as one massive group made up of thousands of civilians, to protest against the inevitable wave of terror that would accompany an Israeli pullout from the West Bank, an influx of Palestinian “refugees” or a large prisoner release.
Crowd psychology dictates that ordinary people can influence drastic change and bypass the system simply by gathering in large numbers.
On a domestic level, it was the power of the people that pushed Yair Lapid to the position of kingmaker and now, for the first time in a long time, without holding our breaths, it looks as if the status quo, from which many citizens have long wanted a change, may truly end.
And if the alliance between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid pays off, it will have been the result of the sheer will and power of civilians to demand and influence change.
The summer 2011 social protests that took place across the country were a clear expression by the people to demand change for the people.
If that change does not come about quickly enough or in a fashion that satisfies the public, it would not be surprising if the country’s citizens again feel the need to gather on the streets and collectively demand further change.
So far, it is obvious here and in our neighboring countries that crowd psychology works.