Speaking (digital) truth to (analog) power

According to Urban Dictionary (most credible source EVER!), the phrase “speak truth to power” means:

A phrase coined by the Quakers during in the mid-1950s. It was a call for the United States to stand firm against fascism and other forms of totalitarianism; it is a phrase that seems to unnerve political right, with reason.


A vacuous phrase used by some on the political Left, especially the denizens of the Democratic Underground website. Ostensibly, it means to verbally confront or challenge conservative politicians and conservative ideals using the overwhelmingly logical and moral arguments of liberalism. Doing so would, naturally of course, devastate the target individual, leaving them a stuttering, stammering bowl of defeated jelly. That or cause them to experience an epiphany that would have such a profound, worldview-changing effect that they would immediately go out and buy a Che t-shirt and start reading Noam Chomsky. Unfortunately, the individuals who would use this phrase have little or no understanding of either liberalism or conservatism, and the “truth” that they speak consists mainly of epithets and talking points, memorized by rote, which they learned from other, equally vapid liberals. As such “speak truth to power” joins other feel-good but ultimately meaningless gems from Leftist history such as “right on”, “up against the wall”. “question everything” and the ever-popular “fuck you, pig”.

(Well, OK, then…)

Seeking out slightly more credible sources for the origin of the phrase leads one to a Quaker pamphlet from the 1950s. As a “trained” political scientist, I think of Aaron Wildavsky’s book and, more recently, a book by Manning Marable. Across these sources, I believe the phrase is about questioning reasoning of “the state;” it’s about bringing information (maybe evidence?) to the table with those who are in formal positions of power who may not want to “hear” it.

I suspect other THATCamp attendees find themselves in positions like those that I find myself in where I have opportunities to “speak truth to power.” I get coded as “the technology guy” and “volunteered” onto any/all task forces and/or committees (let’s call them task committees) that have any connection at all to technology. Often, those task committees are led by someone with formal decision-making authority who may or may not *really* want to hear what you say.

We all know the perils of committee work, but there are obvious advocacy opportunities presented by this work as well. So, I’m proposing a session where we share advocacy strategies. We might discuss our “tactics” within the realm of formal committee work, but even outside of it. There, the overlap with Mark Sample’s ideas around “tactical collaboration” are obvious, so perhaps we can convince Mark to grace us with his presence (and his ideas) as part of the session.



  1. Jennifer Bengtson

    Does this involve “stickin’ it to The Man”? If so, I’m in.

  2. jbecker

    Or stickin’ it to The Woman. Either way. Yeah, it involves that…

  3. Mark Sample

    It would be totally antithetical to my idea of tactical collaboration to “grace” you with my “presence”—but I’d love to be there as a fellow DH guerrilla!

    It’s worth mentioning that I came up with my original formulation of tactical collaboration after last year’s THATCamp. So this session would be taking it full circle—and hopefully broadening the idea through concentric rings.

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