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Agents of Impact: The Popular Uprisers

Impact Alpha, Nov. 31 – Social protests are spreading across the globe. The protests, from Santiago to Beirut, are sparked by local grievances: a metro-fare increase, an inept administration, an unfair law. Demonstrations have been led by young people; the supposed adults have messed things up. Collective protest surfaces the latent sense that economies and societies are not working well for a broad aspirational majority. And the response often reveals the widening gap with an out-of-touch elite.

In Chile, more than a million people – one out of every 17 citizens – took to the streets, forcing the cancellation of major international events (see No. 1, below). Globally, some six million people participated in September’s climate strikes. The next mass action in the U.S., planned by the young people behind the Sunrise Movement, is set for Dec. 6. “For our entire lives, politicians have sold our futures to the highest bidder,” Sunrise tweeted. “Our generation is saying, ‘Enough.’”

Popular uprisings are messy. But the convergence of the climate justice and social justice strands is a needed wake up call. The youthful protesters, ImpactAlpha has argued, are more “pro-business” than global leaders slow-walking solutions on climate change and inequality and exacerbating systemic risks. Taking to the streets in massive numbers and refusing to back down, the popular uprisers could forestall even deeper economic dislocation in the long run.

The “outside game” of civil protest can “change the math of the inside game,” as David Leonhardt writes in the Times. This week, striking teachers in Chicago and autoworkers in Detroit were able to drive new contract terms. With millions of citizens protesting for economic opportunity, good governance and climate action, it’s time for a new social contract as well.

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