Moving, Building, Growing: Reflections on the burgeoning anarchist movement
Preface: Anarchism By Any Other Name
I write this in the wake of the sophisticated attack against the anti-corporate globalization movement in Genoa, Italy. The stories I have read these past few days, and the upcoming demonstrations against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in DC, motivate me to finally write up some observations and critiques of the growing anarchist movement, which I consider myself to be a part of.
Let me first say that over the past two years, and particularly over the past few days, I have seen the label ³anarchist² thrown around indiscriminately, devoid of its meaning. Anarchism by any other name is still anarchism. So, given that it is one of the most bastardized words in the English language, I find myself questioning why I cling to it instead of creatively communicating its essence in fresh ways. The word anarchist, to many sectors (including potential allies), is synonymous with terrorist. Frankly, I have more important battles to fight than constantly trying to reclaim this label from its popular definition. However, in this historic moment in the midst of an active media marginalization campaign against anarchists, I often insist upon the label primarily for the purpose of solidarity--a core value of anarchism.
Solidarity, mutual aid, collective liberation, autonomy, empowerment, anti-hierarchy, anti-oppression, diversity, creativity--these are the social values I think of when I hear the word anarchy. However, the definition that the global power structure is trying to pin upon us encompasses chaos, privilege, unaccountability, vanguardism, terrorism, conformity, nihilism, naivety and rugged individualism. Over the past two years I have spent a great deal of energy defending anarchists to my local community and to the broader anti-corporate globalization movement. I must truthfully admit though--in this essay written explicitly for people who hold anarchistic values--that I see elements of all the above-mentioned negative tendencies within many anarchist subcultures. And I think that these tendencies could gain momentum. If it was not apparent previously, then Genoa makes it obvious that elements of the power establishment are eagerly promoting this trend.
Anarchists are in grave danger of being demonized within the broader movement. I think we need to be realistic in our assessment of this. This demonization is doubtfully because the power establishment is particularly fearful of the militancy of black blocs or any certain tactic. It is far more likely that the power establishment is fearful of the whole of the anti-corporate globalization movement--its articulation of growing popular sentiment, and therefore its potential explosion--and is pursuing a highly sophisticated marginalization campaign against anarchists in attempt to divide and paralyze the broader movement.
Anarchists need to take responsibility for countering this. We need to really think strategically and collectively (and collectively needs to include everyone, not just folks who sport circle A's), with high regard for context. I think that most of us know this, but many of our scenes lack effective mechanisms for self-critique, and we often have a thick internal culture of defensiveness to cut through.
Genoa was a wake-up call. We are in a very serious situation, but I am hopeful. Most of the analysis in the following pages is based upon conversations I've had with many other activists and organizers, and these strategic dialogues are happening all over the world. We're educating each other. We're growing, and naturally, we're experiencing some growing pains.
I mentioned (above) that this is written for people who hold explicitly anarchistic values. I want to formally recognize that anarchistic values and organizing methods have been impressively infused into many recent mass mobilizations. Many organizers, for their own strategic reasons, do not claim the label, but utilize anarchism as their praxis. The failure of many self-labeled anarchists to recognize these organizers' efforts as such, and their quickness to judge them is at the heart of the dynamics I will try to address in this pamphlet. Anarchism by any other name is still anarchism. Similarly, sectarianism, under the name of anarchism, is still sectarianism.
I want to acknowledge that I am not yet plugged into the Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) which is organizing around the fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank. I am somewhat unaware of the scene on the ground. My suggestions for the ACC are grounded in my experience with A16 and other justice struggles, and I am not at all assuming that these suggestions are not already being thought about and acted upon. Similarly, I actually think that the more general critiques put forward in the following essay, are nothing new at all, and are being widely discussed by many anarchist organizers. This is just to carry on that discussion, and to try to set a less hostile tone than these conversations often take on.
Countering Divide and Conquer in the A16 Mobilization
After the fallout over tactics in Seattle, the FBI made concerted efforts to further a wedge in the anti-corporate globalization movement through the course of the A16 organizing effort (against the World Bank and IMF) last year in Washington, DC. In classic COINTELPRO tactics their organized crime division and counterinsurgency division reportedly paid visits to labor unions, student groups and others in attempt to scare them away from participating in A16, citing probable property destruction, couched in the terms of violence. This "blackclad-scare" was recognized early on for what it was--divide and conquer--and a determined commitment from individuals and groups on all ends of the spectrum prevented this age-old oppressors' tactic from succeeding.
There were undeniably great tactical and philosophical differences between the various groups that mobilized for A16. To sweep these under the rug in order to create a united front is no long-term solution, but a determination to address these differences in open constructive dialogue internally, instead of in front of news cameras, is what enabled us to avoid repeating some of the mistakes seen in Seattle.
The tone of this dialogue was overall non-hostile and not intended to convert, but rather to raise awareness about the diversity of critiques and tactical inclinations within our movement, and to inspire strategic collective thinking. The forums for this dialogue ranged from informal conversations to listserves, working group meetings to skills trainings. During direct action preps, participants would stand somewhere along a line on a "controversy spectrogram" indicating their feelings on the appropriateness of property destruction. Generally people stood at places all the way down the line, and then they would share their reasons for their positions. This fostered a lot of mutual understanding and respect amongst people with differing viewpoints. In media preps participants brainstormed how to articulate their particular critiques (albeit pro-debt relief, IMF/Bank abolitionist or entirely anti-capitalist), to stay on message and avoid digressing into tactical debates with hostile reporters.
Arguably the most important factor contributing to the success of this dialogue was that the umbrella organization, the Mobilization for Global Justice (MGJ), took a non-marginalization position toward persons using tactics outside of the action guidelines, meaning that although we had consensed upon action guidelines, we would not condemn people who may disregard this consensus. The on-camera condemnations of fellow activists in Seattle contributed significantly, if not primarily, to the post-Seattle fallout. In Seattle some activists mistakenly judged that they could opportunistically condemn "window smashers" because they numbered so few and because they acted outside the guidelines. However, it was quickly learned that those who participated in the direct action (within the guidelines) were motivated by deep solidarity politics, and--regardless of their feelings on the appropriateness or effectiveness of the property destruction--a large portion of them would not tolerate the marginalization of their comrades. DC organizers had to deal with the divisive aftermath of the post-Seattle fallout, and for the most part were very proactive about it. In fact some of the very same people who in Seattle condemned the property destruction, were in DC enthusiastically on board with the nonmarginalization position. When approached in a non-hostile manner, people and organizations are making positive changes to accommodate these emerging powerful alliances.
About six weeks out from A16, a call was put forward, autonomous from the official MGJ, for groups and individuals who are explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-hierarchy to form a Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc (RACB). Concerns ranging from action guidelines to peacekeepers (which eventually the MGJ consensed not to include for the direct action) to reformism were articulated in a widely circulated statement. With over two dozen active groups endorsing the call it became clearer to MGJ organizers that this was a legitimate dissenting faction. A lot of the original RACB statement was littered with misconceptions based on inaccurate stereotypes. However, this was ironed out by establishing direct communication channels between MGJ and RACB organizers (eventually producing a second, more conciliatory draft of the statement). By committing themselves to open and principled dialogue, the organizers for the RACB (comprised mostly of, but not limited to, anarchists) created an atmosphere in which had anyone attempted to marginalize the RACB they would have only found themselves isolated.
Non-marginalization enabled everyone to explore tactics strategically instead of debating them morally. Creative tactics, such as guerrilla gardening, humanized the black bloc without the bloc having to dilute anything. Many black bloc affinity groups chose to play a support role for other direct action participants, communicating their commitment not only to autonomy, but also to mutual aid. Non-marginalization became not only a MGJ media policy, but a deeper reality of solidarity. Because groups were not knocking each other's efforts, there was no impassable divide at any point along the spectrum and the result was a working continuum for cross-radicalization. This radicalization process is not a one-way progression along a linear spectrum, with militants on the far end whose messianic duty it is to bring the rest of the movement up to speed. We all have something to teach, and we all have something to learn. We radicalize each other.
Black Bloc in Mass Mobilizations, RACB in A16
I want to strongly suggest that within mass mobilizations the lead-up months of preparation hold far greater revolutionary potential than the brief moments of action on the streets. It is within these organizing processes where we can find opportunities to build and strengthen relationships of mutual aid and solidarity with other groups.
Black bloc participants are often perceived as being more concerned with their own tactical autonomy on the day of action than they are with building relationships with other groups during the lead-up organizing, and honestly I think there is a lot of truth to that perception.
From Genoa, Steven Colatrella writes, "In a sense, those who directly confront the police physically...are the Warrior Society of the movement... But warrior societies defend the people, and take instruction from the communities of which they are a part. The Zapatistas made it clear in Mexico City that it is not the Subcommandantes and those with arms who decide for the movement, but the communities of indigenous people. The army carries out the decisions of the collective. I appeal to our courageous comrades who seek to physically confront the forces of global repression to see their mission as one of defending a vast mass popular movement, and not as trying to decide for us how militant or radical we must become by inserting themselves among other groups while refusing to follow the agreed upon tactics among that group."
It is also important to point out that in over six years of the Zapatista uprising, there have only been twelve days of armed confrontation. This follows a basic principle of war strategy; de-escalate on the fronts where you cannot win, and escalate on the fronts where you can. If the EZLN went around shooting up the Mexican Army each time they held a public demonstration, they would not last long at all. Similarly we need to evaluate--and constantly re-evaluate--each of our tactics within its particular context. We justifiably get defensive when more mainstream organizers condemn our comrades in front of cameras, but this does not dismiss the fact that many people within the movement, who refuse to break solidarity with the black bloc, have serious critiques of black blocs' tendency to disregard context when choosing tactics. Steven Colatrella continues, "To go to Gothenburg, Quebec, Genoa and perhaps DC and act in exactly the same way regardless of where you are is not a logical response to the presence of the same globalization everywhere. Rather it is a means of homogenizing all protest regardless of local context and meaning."
And like the EZLN, we have a fundamental revolutionary responsibility to listen to and consider feedback, and we ought to develop better collective mechanisms for accomplishing this. In response to the original version of the RACB statement for A16, Scott Weinstein writes, "This [stressing of the] individual's right to act autonomously sounds so Yankee, so American, so individualistic, and so dogmatic... Individual responsibility and rights are not the same as an individual's right to act as she or he pleases. There is a time and place for collective discipline and collective responsibility.
"If you think the collective is wrong, and your actions will help move the collective in the right direction, then plan your actions carefully and carry them out. But if you think the collective (or majority) is wrong, and you are going to do your action because it is your individual right, then you really are not thinking and acting as a revolutionary - you are simply being individualistic... This 'I do what I want' attitude is as American as the American Dream, and is one of the reasons why building solidarity with the popular movement is so difficult when such actions marginalize the actors from the movement."
Mark Laskey, an anarchist from the North Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), one of many organizations involved with the RACB, writes, "Having militant street tactics is such a small component within the revolutionary process, and we need to be very conscious of this. We must not allow our autonomy to act as militant as we please undermine our real revolutionary potential within mass movements."
During the A16 mobilization and actions, the RACB took impressive steps in moving toward a more supportive, less vanguardist, role in relation to the broader movement. Local context was discussed at length during informal strategy sessions and on listserves. (What would be the perception, natural or media-manufactured, if a fringe group of predominantly white young people trashed a city comprised mostly of people of color? How would white people wearing masks be perceived? How would the extreme militarization of downtown affect affinity groups' ability to successfully carry out certain tactics?) Most importantly, many RACB organizers took initiative in establishing principled communication with the broader mobilization. Both the MGJ and the RACB seriously considered the other's perspectives, and accommodated each other (and many would say complemented each other). This is not, as some sectarians have accused, watering down our radicalism. It's a matter of being sensitive to the needs, values, methods, space, etc. of ourallies. The RACB did this with great success, and as a direct result their participation was welcomed and appreciated by the broader mobilization.
Countering Divide and Conquer in the Present Mobilization
So this year we're building on a success in many ways. This does not mean for a moment that our work will be any less difficult. The divide and conquer strategies we're up against are intense. Because we overcame this last year, the FBI and all other conspiring parties are likely to up the heat and throw out some new tricks. Throughout the next two months it will be critically important for us to maintain good communication with each other and with other groups.
I suggest that organizers for this fall's Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC), determine to place significant energy into building and strengthening alliances with other groups. Diplomacy is a skill which we as a movement need to place a higher value upon. We go to trainings on how to climb, barricade, neutralize pepperspray, get through the jail and court systems, make puppets, etc., but how many of us have ever been to a training on how to build or repair working relationships in a coalition? This is hard, patient work, and it's becoming increasingly needed as we face higher levels of repression and more sophisticated divide and conquer schemes.
Is the ACC organizing any lead-up trainings? We could put one together that focuses specifically on diplomacy and maintaining alliances. This would not only help people learn important skills, it would also demonstrate to the broader mobilization that the ACC is concerned about its relationships with other groups.
Additionally, if the ACC takes a principled lead on establishing respectful relationships with other groups organizing against the IMF/WB, this will help to create a climate within the broader mobilization in which marginalization of the ACC is unacceptable.
Defensiveness Impedes Strategic Dialogue
Over the past two years many anarchist circles have placed significant energy into defending certain tactics--or defending our comrades who utilize certain tactics--to the broader anti-corporate globalization movement. During the planning for A16 the strong nonmarginalization position of the MGJ gave us space to step out of this defensiveness and into strategic dialogue. I hope that we claim and utilize that space again during the present mobilization. Anarchists' defensiveness, while understandable, has been an impediment to self-critique. It is actually quite alarming just how party line some anarchist subcultures have become, wherein dissent invites personalized cross-examination. If we allow a culture of ideological conformity to flourish, we will never succeed in developing strategies that are grounded in reality, because we will be cutting off our feedback loops.
It's all really ironic; while we're fighting with all we've got to defend our tactical autonomy, we're simultaneously disrespecting each other's ideological autonomy. We do this when we mock each other's ideas. We do this when we disparage the organizing efforts of other groups. We do this when we construct a subculture wherein everyone is pressured to come to full ideological agreement.
An example: Last year when I returned to Minneapolis after A16, local activists were preparing for summer protests against the International Society for Animal Genetics (ISAG). During one of the planning meetings folks were discussing how to get more people with families to participate. A friend of mine suggested adding a permitted component to the protests. She was ridiculed before the group as a liberal. In activist circles where new people may not be entirely confident or articulate in voicing their ideas and perspectives, this kind of self-righteous posturing has the effect of creating a culture of ideological conformity, where people are afraid of the social ramifications of questioning.
Challenging Privilege and Organizing for Justice
Furthermore, this more radical than thou attitude is a major roadblock to forming alliances with other groups and struggles, particularly cross-cultural alliances.
In his zine, Collective Liberation On My Mind, anarchist anti-racist organizer Chris Crass writes, "White radicals need to seriously examine how we talk about issues and tactics, in terms of what is deemed militant and what issues are described as radical, in relationship to how white supremacy operates."
Helen Luu, an anti-global capitalism organizer expounds this point, "The white standpoint used in organizing also works to marginalize the activism that people of colour are involved with because other forms of activism are looked down upon as not being radical enough. Who gets to decide what is 'radical' anyway?"
We need to examine how, as Crass suggests, "White privilege often leads to white activists thinking that their way of organizing is the only way to organize and that their tactics are the most radical tactics." We need to collectively examine how privilege operates within our organizing and actions, how it creates a disempowering and unwelcoming atmosphere for people of color and women, and how it inhibits our ability to build multi-racial alliances.
It could be coincidence, but from observing the black blocs I've seen or been a part of in the past two years, it seems to me that the tactic is progressively becoming even more white male dominated. Rather than try to tokenistically recruit more women and people of color to join our actions (in order to legitimize our actions), we who are white males need to relinquish the reins of power that our white privilege and male privilege have handed us. White males need to ask ourselves why our organizing spaces and actions are not welcoming to women and people of color, or conducive to multi-racial alliance building. We need to take responsibility for this.
If the tactic of black bloc itself is unwelcoming, then--pointblank--we should consider refraining from this tactic. Which do we value higher, building diverse, multicultural, anti-racist, gender-inclusive, queer-friendly alliances that reflect our social vision, or this one tactic? Masking up is not an inherently exclusive tactic (just look at the Zapatistas), and it's certainly not the root cause of white supremacy, patriarchy or homophobia within our subcultures. Nonetheless, we need to reflect on whether, in our context, this tactic is perpetuating privilege dynamics and interfering with our ability to build cross-cultural alliances. Black bloc is, after all, a tactic, which, like any tactic, should constantly be re-evaluated with regard for context. The elevation of black bloc from a tactic to a culture, has made it difficult for many of us to detach ourselves from it, which is essential if we are to honestly evaluate its advantages and disadvantages. Also, this morphing of black bloc into a culture has made the actual tactic inaccessible to people who are active in their own cultures and are not interested in being assimilated into ours.
I am focusing so much on this one particular tactic in order to demonstrate precisely this; we focus so much on this one particular tactic. We need to reprioritize where we spend our organizing energy. Tactics are only relevant as they relate to strategies and goals. Long-term strategy requires building collective power, which requires building alliances. If we are to effectively build diverse, multicultural, anti-racist, gender-inclusive, queer-friendly alliances, we will need to seriously challenge how white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia take form within our organizing and actions. We need to budget significant time and energy into proactively exploring these issues. We need to create spaces for this within the ACC; anti-oppression workshops and discussions would be a start.
However, white males should not reluctantly and symbolically take this on out of social obligation, fearing that "these divisive issues could paralyze our organizing." Seriously taking on these issues proactively and nondefensively will compliment revolutionary organizing. White males have a great deal to learn from organizers who come from historically marginalized backgrounds.
Crass continues, "...The voices marginalized in larger society are often marginalized in radical movements, and anarchists who champion egalitarianism have a responsibility to do much better than this. Furthermore, marginalized voices are often the most radical and realistic about social change."
Privilege Shapes Our Methodology
We need to carefully examine how privilege shapes our political methodology. In my own experience when I started to become aware, as a white, male, middle-class teenager, of the unjust systems of global capitalism and U.S. imperialism, I was rightfully disgusted. I didn't want to have any part in this oppressive system, so I changed my consumption habits and started attending various protests. Through a chain of events, I got involved in the plowshares movement. Soon I started getting arrested at demos, and before long I was pouring blood on the Pentagon. I was contemplating taking a hammer to some random weapon of mass destruction, when a high school friend pointed out an interesting dynamic. Within the movement I was immersed in, there was an arbitrary hierarchy of tactics. Coming to a protest was good, taking a bust better; pouring blood on a military target was just grand, but the pinnacle of resistance was to hammer on a missile. I recalled that many people granted me more respect and attention the further I traveled down this established tactical path. The effect was that newcomers to this movement were socially encouraged to imitate rather than to be creative and critical. And no one was talking about strategy and concrete goals.
I believe that this same dynamic is endemic in many anarchist circles today. Some variation of: taking the streets is good (as long as you don't have a permit!), direct action is better, and fucking shit up is the pinnacle of resistance. People are often cool to the extent that they embrace militant tactics, and are definitely uncool, even liberal, if they are passé enough to suggest that the group considers applying for a permit, or refraining from certain tactics in certain situations. And little, if any, time is spent discussing strategy and concrete goals.
Tactical hierarchies without regard for context, and the self-righteousness which accompanies them, persist because white activists are by and large based more in our ideological subcultures than we are in our particular communities. This is understandable. As a trend, many of us came to activism as individual defectors from places of privilege (class, race, gender, etc.). Our introductory thought processes were thus framed in individualistic terms (What can I do? How should I live?).
Patrick Reinsborough of Rainforest Action Network notes, "Most people who are involved in resistance are involved in resistance due to survival. Their community is under attack." A marginalized community under attack is much more inclined than a subculture of defectors to think collectively and to be goal oriented. Their immediate survival depends on it. They have more at stake and they did not have the privilege of choosing their issues. Abner Louima had his issue chosen for him. Residents of Viequez had their issue chosen for them. The indigenous people of Chiapas had their issues chosen for them. These people are, without their choosing, on the front lines in the war for justice and autonomy. Are they thinking in individualistic terms? Or are they thinking in terms of collective liberation? Are they trying to figure out the most militant, radical or righteous thing to do? Or are they trying to win? Sometimes an armed uprising is most effective, sometimes a peaceful demonstration, sometimes a communiqué, sometimes a strike, sometimes a boycott, sometimes a lawsuit, sometimes a petition, etc. Tactics are evaluated on the merits of how they bring the struggle closer to realizing its goals. The militancy--or lack thereof--of any particular tactic is of little or no concern.
These struggles are fought to be won. Fighting an advantaged opponent without the intention of winning is not so much fighting as it is coping. The tendency of the outgunned resister to run headlong kamikaze-style into enemy lines, is the tendency of someone who wants to be righteous- not of someone who seeks to effect change. This revolutionary self-righteousness stems from an individualistic approach to resistance, which tends to be much more prevalent among privileged defectors than amongcommunities under attack. Resisters who come from places of privilege must ask ourselves, is our intention to bring about collective liberation, or is it to be militant, radical, righteous individuals.
Collective Power Is Community Based
Another reason we tend to be based in our ideologies is because many of us, during the process of our own radicalization, became isolated from our communities (often for good reasons). In my hometown I encountered a great deal of resistance to my newfound radical notions, and not enough support to sustain me. So I went out looking for like-minded people. While this is entirely understandable, the cumulative result of so many anarchists (and other activists) coming from some variation of this experience is that we have become very insular. We spend a great deal of time refining our ideologies within our small social circles, but little time building relationships with people and groups in our broader communities. This problem is a strategic one. We cannot build a collective power base in an ideology. We can only build power bases in communities. No ideology, no matter how refined, will ever provide us with the infrastructure and networks necessary for us to effectively transform this world.
Without a strong community base, we are like a small, exposed army with nowhere to retreat. In this context, our emphasizing of militant tactics is somewhat of a bluff. We are like a bee stinging the giant of global capitalism. What is to prevent this giant from crushing us? In fighting this giant, we will inevitably face repression, but this repression will only work to our advantage as a radicalizing force if we have strong enough relationships to the hive. Will the coming repression mobilize a swarm powerful enough to defeat this giant, or will it just result in casualties?
We need to be realistic about our general overwhelming lack of a political base in our communities, and examine all of the factors which are inhibiting our ability to build one.
Too often we approach the communities in which we live in a manner comparable to a corporate chain. We try to define our movements and organizations on national and international levels, and then return to our localities with one-size-fits-all tactical solutions, as if we have a product to sell. We project our tactical hierarchies onto other people's issues and struggles. We adopt the rhetoric of (inter)national subcultures and forget the languages of our respective regions. This isolates us and prevents us from seeing the revolutionary potential within our communities; makes us feel like the righteous few.
This is informal vanguardism. This runs so counter to the anarchist value of autonomy. If we truly believe in autonomy, then we must allow particular communities to define their own struggles in their own words, and to build their own strategies and choose their own tactics. Dissing other groups because their tactics aren't militant enough, or because their critique isn't revolutionary enough, is like pissing on solidarity. Struggles must evolve, sharpen and radicalize through the participants' own processing of their own experiences. People will certainly not be radicalized on account of our being contemptuous of their choices. Our appropriate role in other people's struggles is to support them. Although all issues are connected, we must confront our privileged sense of entitlement to struggles in which we clearly are not the primary stakeholders.
For the sake of putting forward positive examples of anarchists who are acting in support roles, I highlight ACT-UP Philadelphia. There are many anarchist organizers who are highly involved in ACT-UP Philadelphia, a group which focuses on AIDS issues. During the A16 mobilization they put a lot of their organizing energy into the permitted march and rally working group. This is not because they are liberals. This is not because they believe in the state's right to require permits. Nor is it because they are inherently against militancy. Indeed, throughout Philly ACT-UP's history, they continually engage in a wide variety of tactics (they also helped organize a sizable cluster for the non-permitted direct action at A16). However, these organizers have taken on issues that are important to a sector within their own community, and they appropriately play a supportive role. The people with whom they are organizing need safe space. While this group recognizes that it is the police and their higher-ups who are responsible for compromising activists' safety, they also realistically assess that their tactical choices and approach influence police reaction, and they act accordingly. Philly ACT-UP prioritizes safety, not because they are unwilling to take risks, but because they, on principle, defer to the priorities of the primary stakeholders in their struggle. I am not highlighting this example in order to plea for less militancy, but to suggest that this approach is a good model for how activists relate to our communities. This is the real essence of autonomy; marginalized and oppressed communities determining for themselves the ways in which they bring about their own liberation. Anarchists may have a lot of ideas and values to contribute, but if our input is not offered in a humble, supportive way (recognizing that we have at least as much to learn as we have to teach), it becomes vanguardism.
Marsha Lough, a social justice advocate and community organizer, writes, "When a critical mass of people look to each other and decentralized community structures...then during crisis times they will turn to each other to solve problems, and that is, fundamentally, revolutionary. The Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords and others were a threat to the system because they created counter-institutions in their communities. Breakfast programs, running the heroin out of their neighborhoods, health care issues and educational issues were the real reasons why they were attacked with such a vengeance, not the specter of the gun. Revolutionary community organization is self-defense, which eventually may need a militia, but that is a late stage of the organization, not the building bricks. We must never bypass these steps by which communities find their own power. Tactics for tactics sake, utilized by a vanguard trying to prove its revolutionary credentials ultimately shows contempt for the very people they claim to be struggling to liberate."
Issues of corporate globalization have immense popular appeal (and therefore revolutionary potential), even according to the corporate-owned media's polls. Our opponents need to portray us as a homogenous type of people in order to successfully marginalize these issues. We play into this strategy when we let our activism be segregated from the everyday life of our communities, and when we fail to address the social dynamics which prevent us from entering into diverse alliances.
If we are to succeed, it is imperative that we become a movement of and for diverse, self-organized communities, each with its own organic culture. Accordingly, I think it would benefit us to view mass mobilizations as opportunities to strengthen and forge new alliances; and to view mass actions as collective expressions of our community based resistance, utilizing non-hierarchical decision-making structures which enable communities--whether defined by region, identity, or interests--to coordinate with one another, while maintaining their unique cultural autonomy.
In the interim we have a lot of challenges before us; countering divide and conquer, framing our tactics within strategies within context, examining privilege, building diverse alliances, and becoming more community based, are but a few of these challenges. More are sure to arise as we progress.
Last updated: August 15, 2001