New world order challenges the old


"People get ready, there’s a train a coming", goes the 1965 gospel-inspired song by The Impressions.

The song’s political message is as relevant today as in 1960s America, given the grassroots activism happening across the globe – aided and abetted by the power of social media.

Whether it’s Catalonians, Hong Kongese, Extinction Rebellion activists, or protestors occupying Ihumaatao in Auckland, there’s a discernible dissatisfaction with the current world order and disregard for decisions made by our forebears.

Articulate protest leaders have tapped into a “woke” middle class who are prepared to take time off work to march in the streets and disrupt their less woke colleagues.

Political leaders and traditional institutions are grappling with how to respond – some preferring force to uphold law and order, while others take a softer approach of talking through the issues.

One of the fault lines of recent unrest is generational, as epitomised by Sweden’s teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

According to Thunberg, adults “are failing” children.  Older generations have “stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," she told the UN Climate Summit recently.

The impact of her activism is known as “the Greta effect” and has boosted support for Extinction Rebellion or XR – a British-based, global protest movement that uses civil disobedience to force government action on the environment.

Thunberg has also contributed to flygskam or 'shame of flying' to draw attention to the impact of air travel on the climate.

As SenateSHJ Partner Darren Behar has written, Thunberg has demonstrated the power of narrative – a major factor in the success of activists everywhere.

Organisations who bear the brunt of this activism need to develop their own narrative and a wider range of tools to respond – brute force or filibustering won’t be enough when faced with megaphone diplomacy and woke stakeholders.

Time to get planning and get smart before the new world order leaves us all behind.