There comes a time when the people have to act directly to bring about necessary change. The raison d’être almost always involves the failure of the formal political process -- politicians -- to move decisively on issues people want to see addressed. Direct action of this sort can topple governments when there is sustained mobilisation and a clearly defined outcome. Witness the Middle East.

Over the past 50 years, direct, mass action by the people worldwide transformed countries and altered our way of thinking about critical issues. Whether it was the courage of the US civil rights activists; the unity of the Czechs in Prague Spring, the commitment of Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo in Argentina; or the symbolism of the Tiananmen Square protests, the point is clear: people can make change when they act collectively. Another point is equally clear: we should not, because we cannot, always rely on our politicians to make the change we want.

Bermuda’s two most important changes, racial desegregation and universal suffrage, were won as a direct result of popular protest after politicians rejected pressure to implement these reforms. Government began taking young people seriously after the 1977 riots; and it showed greater respect to the unions after the 1981 general strike. These examples all point to the necessary role Bermudians can have in shaping the society they want when there is a gap between the politicians’ timetable for change and that of the people.

Throughout history reformers have always used the most useful forms of communication to spread their message and reach out to supporters. In a world where the channels of communication have become so diverse and easily accessible it seems we have substituted Facebook, Twitter, blogs, talk radio and BlackBerry Messenger for social activism and engagement. Unlike the popular uprisings in the Middle East where these technological innovations have been used as tools to organise and mobilise, in Bermuda we seem content to have the message reside only on the medium. And so, the passion for change attributed to some talk show callers is not actually accompanied by action to achieve that change; and the extended critiques of government in cyberspace, cloaked in a veil of spineless anonymity, typically remains an act of self-gratification. Change will not come about because of a status update on Facebook.