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Subversive, evolutionary Catalysm is the art of figuring out how to make major social change within the system. Often without anyone noticing that the change was actually revolutionary and disruptive. Ideally, the system cheers that you've figured out a way to change it. Often the system is waiting and wanting change, but just doesn't know how to start. Ideas for change are met with resistance unless they come from the inside... So if you're on the inside, and want to make change...let's get started.

The Idea

A catalyst in science is something that you add into a system to spark change in the system. [Catalsym] has become known as a large disasterous situation. BUT Subversive Catalsym is the idea that major productive change can be made without actually "breaking" a system, but rather injecting ideas to invoke large desired change.

But to make it "stick", the change has to come from within. And it has to come slowly enough that it doesn't scare people. And that the management embraces it. Management will change. Take it from someone that has done this for decades. You often can't change the very core of a business...but you can change a LOT about it...often make revolutionary change that no one would have thought possible even a few years ago.

Examples, in story form.

Both of these examples are from government experiences. But point can be applied to any organization. If you have an idea whose time is right, you can do it too.

- GREENING ORGANIZATIONS. Years ago, in a fairly large sized town in Massachustets, we asked why we didn't recycle in our town. We met with all of the reasons. It's too hard. It would cost too much. The world isn't really burning. We protested. We brought petitions to the town. The government got all uppity that we were insane and did all they could to fight us. And we lost. Over and over and over again. Then it occurred to us to take a different tact. I went to a Selectman's meeting. And said, "do we want to be more green?" The answer yes. "Do we want to stop spending money wasting things?" Yes. "Then what's stopping us?" The first answer..."we don't have the staff to look into the options". So we offered to develop "a committee" to study the issues.

This took months. But we went along with the process. We ended up with the EXACT PEOPLE who were fighting us for years...were now ON THE COMMITTEE to make the town more green. We also called for volunteers in the local paper. Now that we were PART OF THE SYSTEM...that the committee would be "part of the government", like 20 experts stepped forward, engineers, scientists, etc. THEY figured out how to save millions of pounds in carbon/waste, AND millions of dollars in savings. We would have DOUBLED our efforts thus far, if we had started along this path, instead of going head to head with the government.

- LOW INCOME HOUSING. Years ago, we identified that the suburbs low-income housing strategy wasn't actually for low-income people. They had redefined the police to include "moderate-income" housing, so the developers would make enough profit that they'd build some houses that weren't for rich people. Trouble was that this distracted town resources into housing that low-income people couldn't afford. Way out of their price range, because you had to make $40,000/year MINIMUM to participate in the 40B program (what it became known as). So we protested. And complained. And wrote letters, and blah blah blah. THEN we decided to actually get ON the committee. Work out the numbers and voila. Now, we're working on housing collective and condo-buy-down strategies to actually help people that make less than $40K/year.

We have a ton of examples like that. Examples of how to make major change in corporations...where you have an inside track. Talk to your friends. See if people are interested in change. Then contact us. We can show you how to convince management to make social change right inside existing companies. Not all companies. But you'd be surprised at how many are waiting to change...waiting for you to start creating "the silent revolution".

volunteer @ occupyboston . org

Specific steps:


Every person has some circle of friends and/or colleagues that are part of systems. If you're the janitor at a facility, you may influence what cleaning solutions are bought, what is recycled. If you are a sales person, you may have influence over product design and/or target markets. If you are a teacher, you have influence over the future generation.

Map out people around you who you regularly come in contact with. Put their names on a white board. Under each person list the "systems" that they have influence over.

Group them by "types of system". So if it's product, or social justice, or whatever.


Don't take on too much. While you're learning, choose the "low-hanging fruit". Something easy. Recycling in your company. Changing the type of lightbulbs. Influencing the healthcare program. Start a childcare service at work. A swap day to help share items. Bartering network. Call for suggestions if you get stuck. You'd be surprised, but you may have influence over larger reaching policies. You will recognize them as you get some experience under your belt and start getting known in your town/region. You'll start to get to know who makes legislative change possible. Who might be interested in constitutional challenges.

Once you decide on the target, absorb like a sponge. Learn everything about the system you're taking on. If it's too large, choose a "subsystem" small enough that you can be the world's expert...or at least the expert in your neighborhood. Enough of an expert that you can understand the system and/or process and identify who can help you figure out specific solutions to go after.

3. ENLIST ALLIES inside and out

After you decide on a target, reach out in your community. Within the organization, start talking to see who is interested. Go slowly. Don't talk about it too much. If people ID you as a "revolutinary", you'll have more work to do to keep from scaring people. So with people who you haven't already enlisted, talk only about 10% of any conversation about "the goal". Once you've identified one or two or more people that are interested in "talking about change", go out after work, and chat it up.

Outside your organization, there are probably community groups already working on the type of change you're talking about. Those community groups may actually be part of a larger community of people that have the ear of people that are running your company or organization. And you will find that that it's really effective to feed those ears through the community groups.


As your group starts to decide on what it wants to do, make sure to include "education" in your plan. Educating people in the community is key to creating "lasting change". Change that is brought up on too quickly, or without consensus most often ends up disappearing. And the system goes back pretty much to what it was before your efforts.

BUT if you take small steps toward a goal. And build the support from within, we've seen whole companies change entire product lines and guiding principles in just a few years.

It can be done. It has to be done.


Major change is difficult and results in lots of failure. As Steve Lambert the major social change artist reminded us...the shoot for the stars, but accept little successes as huge accomplishments. So if all you do is educate a lot of people, consider that a success. And move on to another battle, on another day.

If you want the company to recycle everything, but they settle on just recycling newspapers, give yourself a pat on the back. And get back to work.

If you want the company to pay a living wage, but all you end up doing is educating about poverty, embrace yourself for having raised the consciousness of your community.


I'm writing this as a 50 year old, who was physically abused at the workplace, trying to keep jobs. Who lived on the streets. Who struggled to make a living. The abuse happens less and less. Not because some Big Brother Government saves us. But because we tell stories like this to inspire people to talk, to orgnize, to educate. To let people know that major change CAN be made in their lifetime. With a few organized people that come up with solutions to pressure management, to set new standards. To inspire people to share stories, so that we will stop the abuse. So we will pay a living wage. So we will share the stories necessary to stop people from being greedy, and to be kind to the Earth. Enough. Back to work.