Reihan Salam’s “Snowdenites Are Winning” piece is fascinating to me, following on the thread of my recent posts on the Citizenfour documentary and perspective on prevailing opinions.

So how is that the Snowdenites are winning? They’re winning because they don’t actually need a majority of the electorate to embrace their position in order to achieve their goals. They merely need a vocal, well-organized minority. For example, the NSA needs people with the technical skills to make their vast surveillance apparatus work. Not shockingly, these people are often young, tech-savvy men with an anti-authoritarian streak, many of whom might identify with Snowden.

“It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting the brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” Reihan continues:

To understand how a political minority can prove politically effective, consider the ongoing debate over imposing new federal regulations on guns. Though large numbers of Americans favor new restrictions on gun rights, the “intensity of those who oppose them tends to win out. Yet intensity doesn’t mean much if it can’t be channeled into effective political action, as the University of Maryland political scientist David Karol has observed. For Karol, a key reason that gun-rights activists are so politically effective is that gun owners engage in group activities that strengthen their social bonds, like hunting and attending gun shows, as a matter of course. This makes it easier for gun advocates to reach their target audience, and it also means that when gun owners get together, they are more likely to pass along political information, like the latest outrage perpetrated by federal gun-grabbers or which primary candidate is a squish on the Second Amendment. Karol compares the gun-rights movement to other social movements, like those for alcohol prohibition, civil rights, women’s suffrage, and gay rights, which “piggy-backed on pre-existing social organizations and communities,” meaning they didn’t have to foster these connections in the first place.

I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone, but I really like thinking about “piggybacking” as a means for social/political minority causes to achieve success despite their numbers. It’s a useful framework.