Disillusioned with traditional protest, activist, writer and Occupy Wall Street co-creator Micah White moved to rural Nehalem, Ore. — population 280 — not long after the Occupy movement fizzled out to run for local office and test out an idea of social change.
"We could have activists take over small towns for the benefit of people who live there and the people who are going to move there, and actualize all of the grand ideas that we have on the left," he tells me. "That's where I'm at as an activist, thinking, 'Is that possible?' "
I reported from Nehalem and toured the town with him. I also interviewed White at length at his home there. Here's that conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You've gone from trying to look at the big picture, global "We are the 99 percent," stop the money in politics, end corporate greed down to 280 people. Why go small?
I think one of the things about being an activist is what you have to do is you have to first create a theory of social change and then also you have to test it out. Occupy Wall Street tested out a grand theory of social change, which was basically, "If you can get millions of people into the streets, largely non-violent, and unified behind a central message, then change will have to happen." I think we spread to 82 countries. It was amazing. And it didn't work.
In that constructive failure I re-assessed and I was like, "You know, I think the reason it didn't work was because there's something fundamentally broken about protest." I ended up moving to small town Oregon and realizing, "Here's another theory of how social change could happen."