The right to protest is a fundamental human right. It is a right that should always be available to anyone. One can disagree with someone, while at the same time agree that they have the right to express their opinion. Protest is the last resort when a system fails, but increasingly I think it’s becoming the first thing we resort to, and this has me worried.

If we want change, we need to think about how we create that change in the most effective way possible and protest is rarely it. Changing someone’s mind is one of the hardest things you can do, and if the goal of changing someone’s mind is also to change their actions in a significant way, then the odds of succeeding is minuscule. Ask yourself, when was the last time someone changed your mind, and how big was the impact of the world?

Imagine if we convinced everyone who doesn’t believe in global warming, that global warming is real and man made. If all the people who previously didn’t believe in global warming, adopted the lifestyle and the emissions of the average climate change believer, would the world be saved? Not likely. The truth is that changing other people’s minds is both hard to do and not very effective if you want to change the world.

People seem to think that we need to be in agreement to solve problems but we don’t. If you think wind power is the solution to global warming, and someone else thinks its solar, a third thinks its nuclear and yet someone else thinks its carbon capture. Fine, you can each go and build out each respective technology, without first agreeing on the mix, or what will be the most cost effective of the solutions. What matters is that you act. The future will sort out who was right anyway.

If 0.1% of the population thinks there is a future in Fusion energy, that’s enough to make a good attempt at it. If you succeed, the other 99.9% will come around to your way of thinking. When Tesla started out, the vast majority of the car industry thought battery powered cars wasn’t viable. Today every car maker is forced to respond to the reality of battery powered cars, because they exist. Tesla did not campaign for battery powered cars, they just built them, and for every new model they convinced a few more people. So even if your ultimate goal is to change people’s minds, maybe action is the best persuasion?

I think the internet has made us think that  we are doing something, when we are protesting, when we are really not. The internet has made it possible for anyone to protest, but it has also devalued protest, because everybody is doing it all the time. I want people to try to start considering what actions they can take that aren’t protesting.

If the collective efforts spent around the world complaining about Facebook were put into making alternatives we would have hundreds of very well funded endeavors by now. After all, Facebook was created by one guy in a dorm room. Mark Zuckerberg controls Facebook, not because he was the leading protester against MySpace, but because he built it.

My grandfather who was a professor at a university once said about his less gifted students “Be Courteous to them, but don’t waste your time on them”. At the time I thought it was a rather Elitist statement, but I’m coming around to it. It can be upsetting and irritating to be confronted by people who are wrong, but the reality is that most people who are wrong don’t matter that much. They won’t be the people who shape the future. Some of them will eventually see the light, but that’s their journey. It is OK not to engage with people who are wrong. Doing so is draining. This is why protesting takes a lot of energy mentally, and tends to take you into a dark place. I find that doing something proactive, no matter how small, has the opposite effect.

The nefarious thing about protest is that its de-powering. When you protest you concede that the decision is someone else’s, and that you are asking them to change their minds. By making it up to them to affect change, you empower the people you disagree with. Millions of people protested the Iraq war, but Geroge W. Bush and Tony Blair still choose to just ignore the protests. Sometimes I think democracy has tricked us into thinking that change happens when the majority wants it to, but that’s rarely true. Change comes from small groups of people who make the change happen because they are passionate enough about something to make it happen.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking “What can I do, I don’t have money, power or influence?”. You can do a lot. It’s a matter of getting into the mindset of seeing your possibilities. Engagement is power. I don’t know what kind of change you are passionate about, but to illustrate I’m going to assume you are passionate about climate change, and in particular solar power. I’m going to assume you have some time (If you don’t have time to act you don’t have time to protest), an internet connection, but no special know-how, connections or money.

The first thing you can do is to try to learn as much as you can about solar power and what it takes to get it installed on your roof. There is a lot of information online, and you can pretend shop to figure out what vendors are available, what the options are and what the costs are. Try to reach out to anyone who has put solar on their roof and ask them what their experience was like, what tips and advice they have to others that want to do the same. Try to find someone who is about to install and ask if you can help. Maybe all you can do is help hold a ladder, but as part of it you can learn how it all works.

Once you know a little bit, go online and say you are willing to help anyone install solar power on their roof for free. Use your research to help people who don’t know where to start. Then ask if there are others who would like to devote a weekend to help install solar on a roof. Create a group and learn from each other. Maybe you can attract some retired electricians to your group?

Once your group gets a few members maybe you can reach out to sellers of solar panels and see if they can help get your group certified to do the installation? Maybe you can negotiate a better price for people who get solar installed using your group. Find out if there are subsidies or financing and how to apply for it. Maybe you can reach out online to people who have unused tools cluttering up their garage that they can donate to your group. Keep it up and after a few years, you may have a group that every weekend installs solar on a new roof.

Why would a small group of people holding ladders and telling people where to buy solar cells make a dent is a global environmental emergency? If 1% of the population did this and we assume that there are 4 people living in every house, and that it takes 4 people to do the installation, and that each member is part of installing 20 buildings a year. 100% of the population would have a solar powered home in 5 years.

The world has a lot of problems, and we cant all engage in all of them. We have so many problems that there is no problem that can demand the full attention of the majority. We have to be able to solve problems without first agreeing on the solution. Action will solve far more problems then protest.

People should protest, but it should be the last resort, not the default.