That makes me wonder whether anyone is reading, and whether anyone wants to pursue the kind of group process I was hoping for when I started the blog.
So, if it’s going to be a failure, let’s follow the usual pattern we see in our corporate and governmental leaders and double down. Make it a really BIG failure. I’ll invite you all to the most ridiculously ambitious project I can think of, and wait for the dead silence.
Here’s the project: Through a sifting and winnowing of any good literature we can find on the subject, and many comments from the wisdom of the group, we’ll find a Grand Unified Theory of Getting What We Want (GUTGWWW, pronounced “gutgoo”).
I’ll go first, by asking you all to read a pretty nice piece of literature about antiwar organizing. I sent this out to most of the organizers, hangers-on, and armchair generals among local “progressives” that I knew a couple of years ago. You can find it here: https://kitchenmudge.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/antiwar_strategy.pdf
It’s all written from the perspective of trying to build an antiwar movement and ultimately bring a war to an end, but MUCH of it applies to anyone trying to organize a mass movement for anything.
For a teaser, to get you to read it, I’ll give you some excerpts and comments thereon.
Truth is not enough.
With regard to the Bush Administration, progressives are a bit like backseat drivers. We know the way, and we’re not afraid to say it boldly. But the driver isn’t listening. Not only that – he’s intoxicated, a lousy driver to begin with, and may not even have
a valid license. He’s been taking wrong turns from the start of this bumpy ride, with deadly results. It goes on and on, casualties mounting, and still we’re sitting in the backseat, offering directions, making demands, and saying, “I told you so.”
It is not enough to be right or to have the truth on our side. We need the damn steering wheel!
Written in 2007, everything observed here about the Bush administration now applies to the Obama administration. If anyone expected different, I hope that’s over now. Elections are good in their way, as a crude show of public opinion, but they rarely change facts on the ground. Other methods can be more effective. See the link in the “Misc Activism & Advocacy” section of my link collection: http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/resources/nonviolent/methods.php
Social movements often take a decade or more to show fruit. Official, electoral, legal government action is the LAST stage of any social movement. It might not appear until a popular backlash to it has already begun.
Too often we play into the negative stereotypes. There is a tendency within large currents of the movement to project ourselves as outsiders, as defectors (read
“traitors”), as different and distinct (read “better”). We talk disdainfully about society. We talk about America as if we were not part of it. This approach suits our opponents very well. In fact, whenever and wherever people start to effectively challenge power, the textbook counter-attack is to malign change agents as outsiders. When we willingly identify and project ourselves as just that, we cooperate with our opponents’ strategy to inoculate society against progressive change. We forfeit the possibility of building a popular movement.
I wrote some years ago about using the U.S. flag in our demos. That’s something we should never concede to the political “right”. It’s a flag of rebellion against a king. What could be more suitable?
Something I heard pretty early on from the right-wing media and anyone who listened to them was a belief that “protesters” (a somewhat negative stereotype in our culture to begin with) were “attacking the military”. When we anti-militarists think of “the military”, it’s a set of institutions. When people in the military, and their families, think of “the military”, it’s themselves and the community they live with, not the bosses. Much as the right likes to fabricate it, I heard of (never witnessed) only one incident of anyone shouting an insult at a uniform. One is too many. If anyone really wants to make radical change, the people in the domestic military have to be on our side. That’s how it happens. No exceptions.
In Lancaster we suddenly found ourselves with an abundance of new volunteers. The first wave of leadership in the LCPJ was mostly comprised of such persons who, like most people, already had important responsibilities in their lives. A few individuals in particular had taken on some overwhelming responsibilities. As the LCPJ took on a longer-term existence, many of these people were unable to sustain the level of sacrifice the LCPJ seemed to demand of them. For the most part these folks, while
still supportive of the LCPJ, dropped off as active participants.
Conversely, those who took on more manageable (but still meaningful) ongoing tasks are mostly still active, attending to the same roles or tasks that they originally committed to (e.g. our treasurer, archivist and designers).
Anyone who has read my “Life Without Life” entry understands what this is about. Somehow, tasks need to be clearly defined and divided up. No one can be asked to do too much. This unfortunately depends on some kind of “coordinator” emerging from the group to do all that defining and dividing. That begins to smell of “leadership”.
Dividing up tasks also depends on good communication among the people whose tasks depend on each other. People need to read and respond to their email EVERY DAY. Either that, or spend a lot of time on the phone. That’s how it works at your day job, right? But very few people seem to want to treat it like a job. Working groups are part-time jobs, and need to proceed independent of the larger body, holding their own meetings, on their own initiative, to put things together for later approval by the larger group.
Some of the older Greens among us might remember a time when we tried to use the monthly meetings to encourage break-out into working groups. Not much came of it, as I recall. The general idea was good, with the nature of working groups & such being determined by our Council, the recognized authority, such as it was, in that org. What we didn’t have was enthusiastic participation from a lot of people, and the same people coming back to continue the work started in earlier meetings.
I attribute this to the fact that, at the time, there was no really outstanding, attention-grabbing thing going on in the world that would inspire a lot of people to commit to doing a lot of work for the Green Party. There were all the crimes of the Bushies going on, of course, but not much of the public had the imagination to interpret the situation as anything but: “So let’s elect the Dems!” At another time, it might be different.
Mass psychic breaks can be key opportunities for social movements to advance progressive values and to grow. These contexts hold the peak potential
to reach out to others, to challenge long-held assumptions in the culture, and to transform grand narratives. Widespread disillusionment about the Iraq War is catalyzing a mass psychic break, opening new possible directions for popular
beliefs. Antiwar change agents have a window.
The antiwar movement, by contrast, had a moment, back in late 2002, early 2003, when a lot of people seemed motivated. If we had had general agreement about strategy and some kind of coordination team had emerged with a plan, we could have done a lot more. The same was true a year or so later, as the mounting costs of the Iraq occupation became really obvious to the public. Somehow, our local peace coalition failed to take advantage of it. I kinda suspect that we lacked the sort of organization that would guide newcomers into whatever roles they felt comfortable playing. Again, that “leadership” thing.
I was never a leader, and never wanted to be one. Our founding meetings were mainly populated with known activists, from whom I hoped that someone would come forward who had a clue how to organize. That never really happened for any length of time.
What’s more, newbies were invited into a milieu where people wanted to talk about their whole world-views in which all issues were related. This is not good for gaining recruits.
The narrative insurgent plays with ambiguity, resists labeling attempts, and does not seek to nail others to rigid positions. S/he is not overly preoccupied with the correctness of people’s political analysis. S/he herself did not arrive at her political analysis overnight, and thus recognizes that the development of analysis is a process that cannot be deposited into people’s heads. It comes through experiences and dialogue and is a self-determined process…..
The organizer’s role then is not so much to provide the most correct political line, but rather to create cultural and relational space wherein people have opportunity to reflect critically on shared experiences and develop and arrive at their analyses together.
Change agents must not focus exclusively on building their own alternative infrastructure to feed an alternative narrative that distinguishes them from others. Those who maintain this tendency confine themselves to living a story of the righteous few, in which they lack inevitably the ability to affect the changes that they long
for. The necessary numbers will elude them and the necessary resources will remain in the hands of others. If, on the other hand, we succeed in connecting with others, then there is no other. The walls between others and us start to come down. Resources become available and doors open, not magically, but through effective
organizing that is made possible through relationship.
I’ve commented to some of you before about how unwise I consider it to pack a demo with a laundry list of demands. Some seem to think this is the definition of “coalition building”. It really tends to break up a movement, making litmus tests for people who aren’t anywhere near ready to be tested. “Leftier than thou” is a loser’s game, so obviously so that it’s often played by provocateurs to divide a group.
As always, there’s no need to use your real name in comments. Everyone to whom I’ve mentioned this blog is known to be capable of civil discourse, and I’ll delete any comments that seem harmful. No reason to fear commenting.