Activist and author Kate Davies responds to Paul Hawken about the nature and future of the worldwide social movement that has arisen in response to widespread ecological devastation and global warming.

Hooray for Paul Hawken! His article “To Remake the World” in Rachel’s News #908 and his new book “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming” are extremely timely and thought-provoking.

Hawken has put his finger on a global phenomenon that has been growing since the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Largely unacknowledged by the spotlight of media attention, a new social movement has been quietly gaining strength in the U.S. and internationally. In bringing it to light, Hawken has revealed a trend that is positive and hopeful at a time when these qualities are sorely needed in the world.

Although he has done an outstanding job of describing the new movement, several points call out for further exploration.

First, Hawken shies away from giving the new movement the full recognition of a name, calling it instead “this unnamed movement.” This is a little strange because it has already been given several names. My favorite is “the new progressive movement,” in homage to the U.S. Progressive Movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The new progressive movement embraces many of the same principles as its predecessor, including beliefs in truly democratic institutions and processes, efficient government and the elimination of corruption, social and economic justice, regulation of large corporations and monopolies, and environmental protection.

He also asserts that the new movement lacks many basic attributes of previous social movements, specifically an ideology, leaders, and internal organization. Let’s look at each of these in more detail.


Hawken says the new movement does not have an ideology and its “big contribution is the absence of one big idea.” He is right — in a sense. The new movement does not impose a rigid article of faith on its members, but it is guided by one big, inspirational idea. Indeed, Hawken acknowledges as much in the article’s title.

The movement’s big, inspirational idea is that ordinary people, acting together, can “remake the world.” Collectively, empowered citizens can do more than just succeed on individual issues, like climate change or immigration. They can do more than just win legislative victories, like banning toxic flame retardants or protecting endangered species. The new movement is motivated by the transformative idea that by working together citizens can recreate the whole of society.

This is not a new concept. It is the same one that stimulated the birth of this country. But it is an idea that most Americans seem to have forgotten of late. In today’s social and political climate, the thought that ordinary people can shape society — rather than just relying on politicians, corporate leaders and economists — is truly radical. This may not be “ideology” in the sense that Hawken uses the word, but it is a “big idea” that motivates the entire movement.

In addition to this, there are four goals or aspirations that unite much of the movement:

** Creating an open, participatory and fully accountable democracy;

** Social and economic justice;

** Sustainability for people and the planet; and

** Health and wellbeing for all.

Most members of the new movement are committed to all these goals, even if they work on only one. Collectively, they provide an inspiring and world-changing ideology, especially when combined with the idea that empowered citizens really can remake society.


Hawken states that the new movement has few recognizable leaders. He says: “Its leaders are farmers, zoologists, shoemakers, and poets.” In short, there is no Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi to look up to and venerate.

Going one step further, I would say that the un-acclaimed leaders of the new movement exemplify new types of leadership. Transcending traditional concepts of charismatic and authoritative leadership, they are extremely low key and modest. They are people who emerge in response to specific situations and then relinquish their role when circumstances change. And they are people who serve a group rather than impose their will upon it.

The new movement is not alone in embodying new types of leadership. Many organizations are now experimenting with different approaches. Indeed, innovative ways of thinking about leadership have become very fashionable lately. Many authors, including Ronald Heifetz, Peter Senge and Meg Wheatley, have advocated many innovative ideas, such as:

** Seeing leadership as a process of relationship, rather than control;

** Recognizing that there are many different types of leaders;

** Thinking about leadership from a systems perspective; and

** Focusing on the adaptive challenges of long term change, rather than imposing immediate technical fixes.

They highlight that the concept of leadership itself is changing. So it should not be surprising that the leaders of the emerging movement are different from those of previous movements.

Internal Organization

Hawken asserts that the new movement does not have any internal organization, saying: “It forms, gathers and dissipates quickly,” an organic process that is “dispersed, inchoate, and fiercely independent.”

This is true, but the idea that the emerging movement is more of a loose network than a coherent organization is not new. In early 2004, Gideon Rosenblatt, Executive Director of ONE/Northwest, published a paper called “Movement as Network: Connecting People and Organizations in the Environmental Movement.” In it, Rosenblatt made the point that the strength of the environmental movement is the countless links between people and organizations, rather than the people or the organizations themselves.

Although the “movement as network” idea espoused by Hawken and Rosenblatt has much to commend it, social movements need at least some internal organization. Without any lasting internal structures, it can be difficult to sustain the long-term political momentum needed to successfully confront the entrenched power elites.

So what types of structures would be helpful? There are many candidates including policy “think tanks” to facilitate strategic planning, national or regional groups to help local ones mobilize the public, research units to provide information, educational institutions to provide training and support, groups with expertise in communications, and last but not least, organizations with fundraising experience.

Beyond “To Remake the World” and “Blessed Unrest”

The next step beyond Paul Hawken’s article and book is to ask: “How can we build the new movement?” The answer may determine not only the success of the movement itself but also whether it can truly “remake the world.”

I believe that the emerging movement needs to deepen its understanding of what it takes to achieve systemic social change. This will require a greater understanding of the culture it wants to transform and a more strategic approach to advance progressive change.

Understanding Culture

Many members of the new movement are natural activists — me included. By this, I mean we want to identify problems and solve them. We want to fix what’s wrong with the world! Our strengths lie in targeting specific issues and promoting solutions.

But this emphasis on particular problems means that we pay less attention to the cultural origins that cause the problems we seek to correct. Developing an in-depth understanding of the fundamental economic, political and social forces that shape western culture is essential to identify the leverage points for change. If the new movement does not have a comprehensive knowledge of the culture in which it operates, how can it hope to intervene effectively?

This is challenging because issues are usually represented separately from each other by the media and other mainstream social institutions. Unemployment is portrayed as a different issue from racism. Racism is framed independently of environmental quality. Environmental quality is described without any connection to the economy. This fragmentation makes the public perceive individual issues in isolation from one another and prevents them from seeing the common cultural origins that connect different issues.

A Strategic Approach to Progressive Change

Activists’ usual emphasis on immediate solutions also means that the new movement pays less attention to strategies for long term success. As a result, it is relatively unskilled at achieving lasting, resilient change. Although the emerging movement is good at winning battles, it needs a better understanding of the strategies necessary to win the war.

Developing a strategic approach to progressive change will require knowledge of how social change actually happens. So how can the new movement acquire such knowledge?

1. One key source of information is previous movements, such as the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, and women’s movements. These and other movements have not yet been adequately studied for what they can teach the new movement about progressive social change.

2. Current thinking about the process of social change provides another source. Ideas about social constructivism will be particularly relevant.

3. A third source is adult learning theory. Much work has already been done on the relationship between learning and change that will be helpful.

In summary, the emerging movement could learn a lot about the process of progressive social change that will enable it to be more strategic.

Closing Comment

Paul Hawken’s article and book make an important contribution to progressive social change. They describe what has previously been an unnoticed, but widespread, movement and in doing they so make it much more visible.

But Hawken’s work is double-edged. At the same time as he describes the new movement, he asserts that it is fundamentally indescribable, saying: “No book can explain it, no person can represent it, no words can encompass it.” This remark runs the risk of being more poetic than helpful.

Indeed, on the basis of these words, Hawken’s readers may question the existence of a movement at all. If it cannot be explained, is it in fact real? If it cannot be represented, does it actually exist? If it cannot be encompassed, is it really a single entity? I fear that Hawken’s dualistic representation of the movement could dilute its significance and effectiveness. It also threatens to undermine his central thesis — that there is a new global movement for progressive social change. Hawken’s true gift is to help us all see just how real this movement is — real enough “to remake the world.”


Kate Davies is Core Faculty in the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle. She is currently working on a book called “Making Change: Ideas, Values and Strategies for Building the New Progressive Movement.” ___________________________________________________________________

The Burgeoning Global Movement: A Response To Kate Davies

“What is new is that the largest movement in human history has built itself without being master minded from above. This is why I use the metaphor of this movement being humanity’s immune response to political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation. The movement is not merely a network; it is a complex and self- organizing system.” –Paul Hawken


By Paul Hawken

I so appreciate Kate Davies’ thoughtfulness and enthusiasm _Remake_the_World  [in Rachel’s #909, responding to my article from Orion .] Her writing demonstrates a deep knowledge of the inner and outer workings of social change organizations in the United States. I want to respond to her points, however, because I believe she simplifies a book  (and a social movement) that is diverse and complex and then draws conclusions that may not be applicable to the breadth of it.

In fairness to us both, Davies is responding to an excerpt from Blessed Unrest  that was compiled and published in the magazine Orion. I was concerned when my I saw the draft of the excerpt because it skims the book, taking paragraphs and sections from different parts of my writing and stringing them together as if it were one coherent piece. The book is far more granular, not so generalizing, and more intricate than what was excerpted.


I would not state, as does Davies, that a “new social movement” has been quietly gaining strength since the 1999 WTO protests. One of the reasons I wrote the book was to provide expanse, depth, and history to a movement that has a longer narrative than what is often reported.

Davies states that I shy away from giving it a name. I do because when someone names it, they limit and constrain it. She proposes that it is the “new progressive movement,” an homage to the U.S. Progressive Movement of yore. While that is true in some quarters, this unnamed movement also pays homage to many other prior movements in the world. The movement in South America has very different roots than does the movement in India, as does the movement in South Africa, Germany, Italy, China, etc., and none of these have origins in the U.S. Progressive Movement. One of my goals in writing the book was to help readers, especially Americans, see this movement as global, not Euro- or North American-centric. We have to be careful not to place old frameworks on it and assume that this is the Progressive Movement redux.


I did not say that it lacks leaders: I said that it did not have a leader. This is a pluralistic movement, no one can speak for it all, not me, not Davies, or anyone else, and that is its saving grace. We both agree that this movement demands a very different style and process of leadership; we are seeing it, and such true leadership couldn’t come any too soon. What we see in politics and business is an ersatz leadership that serves concentrations of power, not people.


We are in fierce agreement when it comes to the idea that this is a bottom-up movement that is reimagining and remaking the world. To call that an ideology, as she proposes, is not accurate. Ideologies are beliefs that frame economic and political activities, and this movement is collectively about ideas. Davies refers to the many different ideas to make her point, and that is precisely my point. I distinguish between an idea driven movement and an ideologically driven movement. Right wing fundamentalism, whether it be religious, economic, or political is ideological. When you try to impose your view of the world on others, it is no longer an idea but an ideology. All ideologies, right, left or center, dictate and constrain where as ideas expand possibility and liberate.

To say that the ideas that inform this movement are the same that give birth to this country is a hopeful statement, but not borne out in fact. This country was founded by privilege and was dominated from the outset by the privileged. I believe we are moving from a world created by privilege to one created by community. This is a fundamental and global shift, one much resisted.

Davies list four goals or aspirations that are common to the movement:

– Creating an open, participatory and fully accountable democracy;

– Social and economic justice;

– Sustainability for people and the planet; and

– Health and wellbeing for all.

I agree, except these are not ideologies. These are values, and they are becoming universal, and are being expressed from the bottom-up. This is a critical point because every ideological movement in the world has caused suffering, violence, and loss. The world has paid a tremendous price for such ideologies and this movement has gone another direction. This is not a quibble, but a fundamental distinction.

Internal Organization

To say that the movement needs some “internal organization,” as Davies proposes, assumes that there is an internal. This is an old paradigm; there is a movement, let’s get in front of it and organize it. Like Gideon Rosenblatt, author of “Movement as Network,” I believe that the organizations that comprise it need to work more assiduously on cooperation and linkages. However, internal organization requires a hierarchy and that is different than cooperation. What is needed is happening: more coordination and collaboration, and of course increased attention on collaboration is needed to become more effective. It is time to link and connect up in more powerful ways. The movement is atomized because that is how it came into being. It now has the communication and technological tools to work for more closely and effectively. However, when Davies writes, “How can we build the new movement?” I get a little uncomfortable. I think the right question is how can we better serve this movement. What is new is that the largest movement in human history has built itself without being master minded from above. This is why I use the metaphor of this movement being humanity’s immune response to political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation. The movement is not merely a network; it is a complex and self-organizing system.

I agree with Davies when she says that organizations need to deepen their “understanding of what it takes to achieve systemic social change. This will require a greater understanding of the culture it wants to transform and a more strategic approach to advance progressive change.” My caution here is about speaking of the movement in general or even monolithic terms. That is the point I try to make herein and in Blessed Unrest: you can’t fit it into a box, description, or silo. Americans love to do that, but it just won’t work. To say the movement should do this, or should pay more attention to that, presumes that the writer knows what this movement is, and contains an underlying assumption that the movement Davies knows is the same one as the movement in Kenya, Kerala, and Kobe.

What I came to believe in researching Blessed Unrest is that we can only see our own network. We tend to think of the movement through the lens of our initial experience. This is similar to the famous Steinberg cartoon showing America as seen by New Yorkers, with New Jersey forming a large landmass to the west and the rest of the country receding until there is a tiny sliver called California. That is the network affect, a kind of illusion that our brains mimic constantly. We are vastly mis-educated as children into thinking that problems are linear and can be solved by linear thinking. If ecology teaches us anything, it is that we live within and are permeated by, right down to each cell, non-linear systems that cannot be predicted or “strategically addressed.” The awe I have about this movement is that it appears to me to be the first social movement that collectively expresses this non-linear understanding without ever stating it or necessarily realizing it.

Davies prescriptions are based on her experience with a fraction of the movement. It is not that her recommendations are incorrect, it is just that we have to be careful, especially as Americans, to presume we know what is right for other cultures, traditions, or peoples, or in this case, the whole of the movement. We Americans, especially we white Americans, invariably get it wrong in our earnestness to “help” others. That is why I said, “no book can explain it, no one person can represent it, no words can encompass it.” Davies faults this statement as amorphous and dualistic, but in response she makes generalizations and proposals that might well be looked askance by organizations in other parts of the world.

Finally, when Davies calls this a new movement, we have to be careful that we don’t fall into a kind of narcissism. This movement goes back centuries, even millennia to the teachings of Buddha, Mencius, Lao- Tse, Rabbi Hillel, Jeremiah, and others. These teachers long ago started social movements by re-examining the very notion of what it means to be a human being. They were not starting religions but ways to address the suffering of others. We are progressive, yes, but we are also ancient. This movement is helped by the thousands of generations that preceded it, and serves the thousands that will follow. This is why I say it is comprised of social justice, environmental, and indigenous organizations, and has become the most complex association of human beings ever assembled in history. I believe this association defies typologies and names, but is hungry always for the intelligence, kindness, and generosity exhibited by Davies’ concerns and writing. I am deeply appreciative of the core of Davies’ message, which is, as I read it, that we have to come together in a more pro-active and vigorous way. The problems we face are like nothing humanity has ever confronted, and we must rise to this challenge in a way we have never done. That is what I hear from Kate Davies, and I am grateful for her insight.