The power of “we”

BAD 2012Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is the power of “we”. So I thought I would throw a few observations out there.

About how Jimmy Savile got away with his abuses for so long, at least in part by denying his victims the power of “we”. They were isolated individuals, lacking the confidence that they would be taken seriously if they spoke up. Now, when the first accusations came out, the trickle quickly became a flood, with each person speaking out giving more and more confidence to other victims, making it easier for them to do the same. This is what can happen when people are denied the power of “we”.

And about how nine year old Martha Payne in Scotland harnessed the power of “we”, blogging about the her school dinners. The local council responded by banning photography in the school canteen, but the resulting media attention force the local council to overturn their ban. This is what happens when people reclaim the power of “we”.

What would have happened in the village of Nyololo, in Iringa region of Tanzania, last month, if there had just been one journalist present rather than eight? We know what did happen – that the journalist Daud Mwangosi was killed by the police – because there were plenty of other journalists present, and because they shared their photographs and testimony widely online.

In this case, the power of “we” made a cover up impossible. The seven other journalists present in Nyololo could not be prevented from telling their story. And the messy mass of Tanzanians on social media – on twitter, facebook, blogs and Jamii Forums – got the story out so well and so quickly that mainstream media couldn’t be silenced either.

One final point, a slightly contrary one. What happens when the power of “we” goes out of control? Isn’t that the case with the witch-hunts of 17th century Lancashire and 21st century Tanzania? Mob-rule is anarchy: brutal and unjust, even though it may genuinely represent the will of the majority.

Churchill is supposed to have said that “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Thankfully he also left us with one of the most memorable quotes in defence of democracy:

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”