Slowly, Then Suddenly: How Big Change Happens

In the wee hours of a spring morning nearly 10 years ago, I was abruptly awakened by an earthquake.

My sleep-fuzzy brain found the moment difficult to parse. The house had become a huge vending machine; a giant had put his money in, but his candy bar got stuck and he was shaking it free. My then-husband cried, “Get to the doorway!” To the doorway I ran.

The shake was a 7.3 on the Richter scale. And while no one died that morning, we had another significant earthquake just a few months later that killed 185 people.

Earthquakes seem sudden. One minute, you’re lying peacefully in bed; next minute, the world turns upside down.

But they’re not sudden, not really. The plates move against each other and the friction builds up for years, decades, centuries, until the pressure finally becomes too much and something has to give.

The social unrest we’ve experienced over the past six weeks seems sudden. But it’s not, not really. The forces have moved against each other and the friction has built up for years, decades, centuries. The pressure has finally become too much -- something is giving, and it’s giving towards justice.



The protestors aren’t just Black people; they’re a broad coalition of humans who understand that systemic racism is a collective problem. The fight isn’t just in the streets; it’s in the boardrooms and the shareholder meetings. And the penalties are becoming significant enough that companies no longer have the luxury of not paying attention.

Last week, according to AdWeek, “three separate letters signed by 87 investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the NFL’s Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its controversial name.”

Imagine you’re the CEO of Nike -- a company renowned for taking a stand on major social issues. What would you do?

This month, hundreds of companies -- including Adidas, Unilever, Verizon, Colgate-Palmolive, Pfizer, and more -- are boycotting Facebook to force the social media platform to address the effect it has had on our society.

According to Stop Hate For Profit, the organizers of the boycott, Facebook “allowed  incitement  to  violence  against  protesters  fighting  for racial justice in America… named Breitbart News a ‘trusted news source,’” and “turned  a  blind  eye  to  blatant  voter  suppression  on  their  platform.”

The movement is not yet overwhelming enough to ensure a result. Facebook spokesperson Tom Channick told CNN that the platform makes policy changes “based on principles, not revenue pressures.”

Perhaps that’s only because the revenue pressures aren’t yet great enough. That same CNN report shows that, even with the big names on board, the bottom-line impact to Facebook is minimal. But the more pressure from the public, the more pressure on advertisers to pull their budgets. And the more pressure from advertisers, the greater the incentive for Facebook to make changes.

Given its historic recalcitrance, those changes would seem sudden. But the pressure has been building for years, and it’s reaching a breaking point. While Mark Zuckerberg has said that the advertisers will be back, he’s also agreed to meet with Stop Hate For Profit. If Facebook change its ways, that will be a seismic shift for the better.

1 comment about "Slowly, Then Suddenly: How Big Change Happens".
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  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, July 4, 2020 at 9:05 a.m.

    Let's not forget the effect of demographics.  18 & under are now majority non-white.  BLM isn't about sticking up for someone else.  It's about them and their futures...

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