Few people can argue that Bruce Lee had an easy life. Growing up in the streets of Hong Kong and Macao, Lee had to fight for his life all the time, often against very unequal odds.
Many parallels exist between the modern activist and the life of Bruce Lee. Embattled and driven away from his home by the threat of violent street gangs, the young Li Jun-Fan took on an English name, and put his family name after the first, as is the Western custom. This was the transformation of the name from Li Jun-Fan to Bruce Lee.
Similarly, the Arab Spring movement was not the Arab Spring when it arrived in Spain. It was neither Arab nor Spring in the US. In both places, it reinvented itself, first with the name and then with actions that fit the situation. Without knowing it, they had followed Bruce Lee’s model.
Bruce Lee’s life followed a philosophy he called Jeet Kune Do (JKD, meaning “Way of the Intercepting Fist”). The summary of this philosophy is simple and direct: discover what works, discard what doesn’t work, and let go of the need to follow the rules (especially if the rules don’t work). Learn everything, and then fuggeddaboudit (forget about it).
Use the rules as a starting point for what’s been done, but not a limitation about what’s possible or not. Conventions and styles and rules only serve to constrain us, and they prevent people from getting the full potential from anything when they do.
Begin with what is expected, and then move to what is unexpected.
Change the rules.
Imagine yourself in a room. A guy walks in with a big walking stick, and a cup of tea. He hands you the tea, and says: “If you drink that tea, I”m going to hit you with this stick. And if you don’t drink it, I’m going to hit you with this stick.” So what do you do? Some people give the answer that they would drink the tea anyway, and just take their lumps, but at least they get the tea. But that’s the conventional thinking hard at work.
What’s the real problem? It’s not the tea, and not even the old man. It’s the stick. To solve the problem, you must take the stick away. You don’t have to become the old man who uses the stick to beat other people, but you at least have to remove his ability to use it against you.
In the context of activism, the stick represents the power of law. And the rule of law should reign supreme, but if that law undermines the voices of the people, we should definitely consider that a problem. To take the stick away, we have only to ensure that the system permits us the ability to act.
If the system is so corrupt that it doesn’t permit us to gain a voice, then the only way to change it nonviolently is by taking over the system as a whole. We should accept this not as a rule, but as a mechanism: a natural law, like gravity or the idea that the Earth is curved. We should question these only as far as we can prove them to be true. It’s the results that matter.
We should in fact focus on the results as evidence of what works or not, but we should also understand that not everyone looks at the same thing as a result. Some look at the benefit of the journey as the result, while others look at the intention and direction of the effect of action. Some see the result as the instructive nature of the journey, while others see the result as what happens when the journey is finished.
The convention of speech means that we have common graound in understanding words and definition. And we need that for success: clear communication has never been more important than it is today, especially in social media and other text, where the inflection of our voices don’t partially convey the meaning of our words. But even in speech, we can innovate, and we have. Take n0h8, for example, which is pronounced “No Hate”. Another example: the word Occupy. It’s completely changed in meaning from just a few years ago because of our collective experience.
We have to remain creative. We need the logical side, too. If this is going to work, we have to learn to take a positive delight in what differences we have. But that doesn’t mean we should accept a consensus that engages in counterproductive measures, like hatred, intentional ignorance, or greed. We shouldn’t accept lust for power as representative of our aims. We should stick to the principles and ideals that brought us together in the first place.
We still have groups which want to protect the rights of what they feel is slipping away (the white supremacist Traditionalist Workers Party is an example). And it’s okay for these people to voice their opinions. But they don’t represent us. They don’t represent the ideal of us. And so we are tempted to make rules to keep them out.
But these kinds of rules are how trolls gain power. Instead of creating more rules that other people can change, we should work to simplify and lessen the rules, so that change is not only more possible, but inevitable. The more rules we have, the more handholds there are for those who want to co-opt power. And so maintaining simplicity is important.
The golden protest principle is to remind people that they are there to support our protest, not to take over our protest for their aims. But the rules of protest themselves are changing, solely on the basis that people in power aren’t listening. They tune us out, not because we’re wrong, but because another voice speaks more clearly to them. And so the art of the protest is gone, because nobody actually listens any more.
Protest is dead. Long live the protest.