Friday, November 23, 2007

Organizers of Actions or Organizers of People? Part 2

[The first part of this essay was posted on November 21, 2008 here.]

You might be thinking: but of course I’m an organizer of the people! I do this all the time in my work: encouraging people to participate in demonstrations, to wear orange and to give money! Indeed and that is great. But what is called for by our situation is something more than trying – and even succeeding – in getting a lot of people “into the streets.”

We are in the U.S., a country where political naiveté is stronger than anywhere else and where an abiding faith in the “representative” institutions of “democracy” remain strong and, more to the point, we’re in the biggest and strongest imperialist superpower ever in world history. What is it going to take to create a popular upheaval in such a country? The broad sections of the people and in particular the tens of millions of people who hunger for a world that is fair and just and who can’t accept this new gilded age that rests on extremes in wealth and poverty and on torture need a leadership that they can follow and that they can be part of. We need more organizers of people and we need to be the leaders of that process in which we bring forward other organizers of people.

The abdication of moral leadership by nearly the entire political leadership and media means that charting another path than the one we’re on requires that we create a competing, and ultimately victorious, alternative leadership. This is no small feat. It’s an enormous, world-historic task. Are we up to it? Can it be done? Some elements of the former leadership can be united with – there are people like Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, Col. Ann Wright, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Paul Craig Roberts, Ron Suskind, Frank Rich, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and so on – who represent varying political tendencies but who have all publicly called for impeachment and/or who despise Bush and Cheney. There are revolutionaries; there are liberals (among the people) and there are even conservatives who once voted for and even were major donors to Bush/Cheney who are disillusioned with them and now oppose them. The anti-fascist alignment is substantial and again, there is a solid core of tens of millions who passionately oppose the Bush agenda. Even if we didn’t have the majority with us in terms of their sympathies, we would have these tens of millions, which would be more than enough to do what must be done. How do we mobilize people in a way that will make a difference?

Certain sectors of the populace are key in this in unleashing larger sections of the people: youth, oppressed minorities, soldiers (both active-duty and veterans) and people in the cultural and intellectual arenas. All of these people have one thing in common: they have great credibility, for varying reasons. Youth are the inheritors of the planet, they are the new/next generation, they have more relative freedom than adults/older folks to engage in political actions, and they to a substantial extent (because they are youth) look at the world from the perspective of a greater willingness to entertain the notion of a radically different world. No revolutionary movements, no movements that have changed the face of society, have been able to do so without the catalyzing role of youth and students. Soldiers, because they have “been there,” have enormous credibility. Soldiers who come forward to expose the war crimes being done by our forces at the behest of our government provide extremely powerful testimony about the reality of this monstrous government. Oppressed minorities (e.g., those stirred into motion because of the outrages in Jena) have historically and are today in a particularly powerful position to speak truth about power and to power. And cultural and intellectual leaders are by definition models and highly influential elements.

The 333 Network - Into the People’s Hands

The 333 Network (of the Declare It Now: Wear Orange Campaign) provides a means by which we can achieve our goal of millions demonstrating – in their everyday lives - in a couple of months or so. 333’s underlying logic rests on the fact that there is a wide and deep well of latent support for mass resistance politics out there. Take a look at and read or re-read the World Can’t Wait’s Call. People who previously discounted it and thought it was alarmist (“Are you serious? You’re comparing Bush and Cheney to the Nazis?!”) are coming around and recognizing how prescient it was.

But you can’t just have a correct analysis of adversaries. You also have to have a plan for making this analysis take root and become a living expression among the people. 333 immediately places into the hands of the people the responsibility for making this campaign a success. It utilizes the pre-existing and living networks that people already occupy and it gives people a way to bind themselves more closely together with each other politically and builds a scaffolding for the movement. It gives people something concrete, hope inspiring, and very important to do beginning NOW.

333’s math is very simple. One person recruits at least three others to Declare It Now and Wear Orange who each do the same. One person can thus start a chain that will bring into political organizing nearly 20,000 people in two months. 100 people can start a pyramid that brings in 1.9 million over the same period.

What has been our experience when we take Declare It Now out to people? It doesn’t take long - if we in fact tell them even in a very few words what DIN: Wear Orange is all about - before we find that a lot of people are glad to see that there’s a way for them to show their open opposition to the regime. This isn’t overall a hard sell if we actually get into the content of what DIN is (it’s not a color accessory!) and what the basis is for it to blossom on the persons of millions of people. But it is hard to see how the chains that 333 starts from will persist.

This is where the matter of the competing, legitimate leadership comes in. What we’ve got going for us is that our adversaries are doing deeply, profoundly immoral things. They are also expressly violating key props of the historic social compact of the U.S. and ushering in some version of fascist rule. (I say some version because fascism doesn’t require jackbooted SS storm troopers marching down the street.) This is creating deep and wide fissures in the society. As Naomi Wolf points out, there is a wide sense of alarm among Americans as they watch with horror the creeping fascist atmosphere. I’ve spoken to this too in my short essay “What Time Is It?” People are feeling paralyzed and casting about trying to figure a way out of this hell they see unfolding. We have an answer to these people’s agonized questions. We have to bring this answer to them. It must be popularized through many different venues. It must be adopted by growing numbers of people and this process needs to pick up the pace – a lot!

A crucial component that is missing from this scene is the visible expression in everyday life of a moral presence in opposition to this regime. Our adversaries have a soft underbelly because what they are doing is so terrible and barbaric. They are banking on being able to get away with it and succeed in putting into place a new regime of widespread fear and terror on the home front through their control over the summits of mass media and institutional political leadership with the active assistance of the radical rightwing, theocratic fascists. DIN/333 are designed to take our strength – the majority sentiment and the fact that we have facts, truth, science, morality and justice on our side – and in particular the deep reservoir of intense support for resistance among the millions and tens of millions who hate all of this – and give it manifest expression, thereby turning it into a material force.

What Do Organizers of the People Do? (1 + 1 + 1 or 3 x 3 x 3?)

We rely on the people to act, they are our foundation, they are our hope, but we can’t expect them to come forward and be leaders to the varying degrees that are necessary spontaneously. This is the magical thinking I was referring to: the belief that calling actions will draw people to us and the movement will grow huge one of these days. We have to recognize and act on what the key political obstacles are in people’s way and address these questions sharply and creatively and relentlessly. We address these things in our agitation – in spoken and written words and in our artwork. And we have to have confidence in the people that this will pay off.

Doing a great analysis of what our adversaries are doing and then making a general call at the end that we need a mass, determined, opposition to it, then crossing our fingers (I exaggerate of course) in hopes that that mass movement will emerge through our publicity is missing the key ingredient of paying the necessary attention to the fact that we’re in America and we can’t expect a mass mobilization to materialize without having a powerful plan that we work to make it happen. A general call isn’t enough. There has to be a bridge to that place. We can’t just leap the canyon or the river. We need to build a bridge. We need to figure out the various contradictions that we face and that our adversaries face and develop the means to build upon our strengths, concentrate our strengths, minimize our weaknesses and pit our strengths against their weaknesses until the other side buckles.

DIN and 333 are the bridge. And of these two, if I can put it that way, 333 is the key. DIN and 333 give the millions that we need to step forward a means to do so. We don’t control the citadels of power and opinion making. The other side does. We have to rely on the people in their everyday lives to be the conveyors of the new order, the moral beacons and the political organizers on the day-to-day level. They have to be our daily media of opposition on the ground. They have to electrify the nature of everyday life. They have to bring to life the latent fact that we are the majority and we are the ones taking the moral high road.

What are the political obstacles standing in our way? The one of greatest importance to us internally is that we have to break with the view that spontaneity and action-organizing will get us where we need to go. (Spontaneity in this context means the belief that people will become politically active on their own and that organizers don't need to do that much to hasten this process along. Spontaneity among the people is being expressed in two major ways: "Bush and Cheney will be gone in fourteen months. We just have to wait it out until then." "I'll vote for a Democrat. Which one shall I choose?" Both of these views are terribly mistaken. Both amount to Americans being "good Germans" and complicit in the execution of monstrous daily crimes by our government. But spontaneously people don't see this. Activists who point out to people and struggle with them over these questions - the fact that Bush and Cheney are torturing people everyday and carrying out horrid deeds - have discovered that a sizable number of people will say in response: "I never thought of it that way." And they will then be willing to wear orange and open to becoming a 333 organizer, because their spontaneous understanding has been raised to a higher level. This kind of organizing has created more favorable conditions.)

We have to see that sharp political work that calls on people insistently, creatively and powerfully to step forward – and that is grounded in a rock-solid conviction that they can and will step forward to give money, to give their time, to spread orange, build 333 networks, and to make sacrifices - is what we need to mainly be doing. If we don’t do this, if we half step these appeals to people we are implicitly conveying to them the message that this situation isn’t all that serious and we aren’t all that serious. Breaking with an old paradigm isn’t easy because by definition a paradigm is something we take for granted, implement automatically, and don’t think about consciously. It’s going to take work to root out and uncover the old and struggle to replace it with the new.

Our adversaries are getting away with spectacularly outrageous lies and conduct. The media are, aside from some grumbling here and there and with a handful of brave journalists here and there, playing a crucial role legitimating these lies. We have no choice but to find an alternative way into the castle than frontal assaults. The secret lies in our mobilizing people on the ground in their everyday lives. When scientists try to carry out a massive computational project they have occasionally done so by enlisting the help of hundreds of individuals in their homes with their PCs. Collectively they have been able to pull together their aggregate computing power to accomplish the job. We’re talking about doing a similar thing with 333. 333 parties and DIN fundraisers are some ways that this kind of new paradigm organizing can proceed as “think tanks” of the future being plotted and created. The center of gravity of our outreach and follow-up work has to have 333 at its heart. This is not because 333 is the “latest thing we’re doing.” It’s because 333 rests upon a view of how political organizing must go that calls for the people to step forward and “take charge” and become what they envision.

Flyers and CDs are great, but books can’t be replaced. Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney needs to be utilized and promoted in a big way on websites, at every table people do, in every decent conversation we have with people and at every event we go to. The book does a terrific and comprehensive job of exposé, shows how this is a whole agenda we’re facing, shows and analyzes why the Democrats and corporate media are colluding, and points the way forward to the necessity for a mass movement. People need adequate political nutrition to sustain their activity. This book was written expressly to be a political weapon in this struggle. It should be used widely and popularized. Reading circles should be organized around it. These circles, where they have been created, have sustained people as organizers. If we’re going to reverse and repudiate the direction this country’s been moving in for more than thirty years, people need to deeply understand what is going on and why.

Demonstrations have a vital role to play in social change. But we need to think more creatively about what it means to demonstrate and think beyond the traditional activities of marches and rallies. As we gather the strength necessary to take on this regime and turn this battle into a truly two-sided one, then truly massive demonstrations in the conventional way of millions in the streets with banners and signs and noisemakers and a mission to accomplish will once again be possible and made real.

The strategy I'm arguing for isn't principally, oddly enough, that people wear orange. Wearing orange is the concrete and necessary manifestation of the political stand that people are taking, but wearing orange daily isn't the heart of it. The political stand is the heart of it.

333 isn't meant as a full substitute for mass demonstrations and other actions. Traditional political actions will continue to happen and will continue to have relevance. What I'm arguing for though is that we look at what we have to do and what we're facing with different eyes and approach it dramatically differently.

The strategy I'm advocating involves politically organizing the people around NETWORKS that orange is the marker and symbol of. These networks can be built through different means - including, through one to one meetings between people (people recruiting people who take up 333); through the course of mass actions; through fundraising parties; through reading circles; through phone banking...

It means a reallocation of our energy to emphasize these network building activities vs. emphasizing actions. There's a paradigm shift that is involved and necessary. Youth I think will see (and we have empirical experience to back this up) that wearing orange is cool; that they are networking with it; that they are recruiting people with it as they go about wearing it and people ask them what's that ribbon/armband for; they are also getting into political struggle with people who disagree with them for wearing orange; and that it is another way, not a substitute, but another, powerful way to take a political stand against the Bush Regime and it will encourage and is encouraging people to do other things in addition such as marches etc. (See, for example, what happened at this Chicago high school on 11/16, top two pictures above: “Mother McCauley, an all-girls Catholic high school on the south side, was full of orange-taped students and teachers on Friday. Students wrote messages like 'no war on Iran' on the orange tape and wore it all day long on their clothes, foreheads, bags, and bodies...")

In the near term, along with the 333 network building, actions that don’t require a lot of people to do – and don’t rest upon having lots and lots of people to be effective – need to take place. In fact, actions that can have wide repercussions can even be done by single individuals. For example, see the pictures at the beginning of this essay. (For details on these actions, see here and here.)

A kind of synergy of a) unconventional modes of political expression and b) smaller political exposé actions that are very focused and sharp (and that feed on each other) are what I think are both called for and possible. The main form of the unconventional modes of political expression ("a") I continue to think is DIN and 333. The smaller quick and sharp actions ("b") could take a number of different forms. Their underlying political and ideological rationale should revolve around the contradiction that AG's video makes clear (in the name of national security, these monstrous deeds are being committed...). They should explicitly be showing the contrast between the moral high road and the despicably horrible immoral things being done by our government - e.g., big photos on posters of the victims of our torture and bombings. The waterboarding demonstrations/actions received a lot of media and public attention and are examples of these "b" type actions. They should be creative, pointed and dramatic. The reality of what's being done by the Bush Regime needs to be made more real and in people's faces.

People regularly point out that unlike the Vietnam Era, no draft exists today and that a draft would escalate the protests. People also have pointed out that the victims of our government’s war crimes are far away for the most part. While these observations are true, they miss the point that if the American people were seeing more of what’s going on in their names – seeing it on their nightly news on some regular basis, or reading about it in books like Impeach the President – it doesn’t matter that much that these are foreigners who are being brutalized and murdered. Most Americans do not think of themselves as doing horrid things to others and millions would be revolted by the thought if it was in their faces more. Consider, for instance, this statement from a UC Berkeley student: “I was aware of it [torture] on a purely intellectual level but actually seeing it in person is a whole different thing. It’s one thing to know its torture and say that’s really bad, that really sucks. But to see somebody screaming and coughing and choking in front of you, it’s a very emotional experience. I went to a few rallies and things like that before the Iraq War, but then after the war launched I kind of stopped. Which is bad but I plan to go on to the protest on Friday. After seeing that I can’t really justify staying at home on Friday.”

We need to pierce the political paralysis. To do so requires that braver, more determined people step up and act (as in the "b" actions) and as the students at Morton High did recently and what these students at Cocoa Beach, Florida have been doing. It also requires that people very broadly throughout the society - in the millions - become moral witnesses and political organizers in their day-to-day lives by wearing orange.

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