Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On (Real) Movement-Building

Excellent political commentary by political scientist and activist Adolph Reed, Jr. on what voting Democratic means for the prospects of a progressive, political movement. Particularly hard-hitting and illuminating are the following passages where he outlines the futility of relying on a program exclusively dependent on appealing to Democratic politicians to realize progressive political goals:
Despite a mountain range of evidence to the contrary, we—the labor, anti-war, women’s, environmental, and racial justice movements—all continue to craft political strategy based on the assumption that the problem is that the Democrats simply don’t understand what we want and how important those things are to us. They know; they just have different priorities.

That’s why the endless cycle of unofficial hearings and tribunals and rallies and demonstrations and Internet petitions never has any effect on anything. They’re all directed to bearing witness before an officialdom that doesn’t care and feels no compulsion to take our demands into account. To that extent, this form of activism has become little more than a combination of theater—a pageantry of protest—and therapy for the activists.

Then at the apex of every election cycle, after having marched around in the same pointless circle, chanting the same slogans in the interim, we look feverishly to one of the Democrats or some Quixote to do our organizing work for us, magically, all at once.

We need to think about politics in a different way, one that doesn’t assume that the task is to lobby the Democrats or give them good ideas, and correct their misconceptions.

It’s a mistake to focus so much on the election cycle; we didn’t vote ourselves into this mess, and we’re not going to vote ourselves out of it. Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It’s not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort. Not only can that process not be compressed to fit the election cycle; it also doesn’t happen through mass actions. It happens through cultivating one-on-one relationships with people who have standing and influence in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, families, and organizations. It happens through struggling with people over time for things they’re concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program. This is how the populist movement grew in the late nineteenth century, the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s, and the civil rights movement after World War II. It is how we’ve won all our victories. And it is also how the right came to power.

Full article here from the Progressive Magazine

Cross-posted in An Ordinary Person

2 comments:

The Angry Independent said...

I share the frustrations of the author.

People continue to operate in a system that is broken... as if the problems will magically go away if you change who sits in the White House or in a Congressional seat. The fact is, the changing of figure-heads doesn't impact the quality of life all that much.

It's the system/process that needs to be fundamentally changed, and not so much the men/women who operate within it. It's the lack of effort to change the underlying system that leads to few results...
And what really annoys me is that year after year, election after election... grassroots political groups go back to the same processes and methods that they know have not worked.

There are few sustainable efforts. Groups are active around election time, but then fade away until the next election season.

I often hear people complain about the same frustrations...but few Americans even consider changing the Party monopoly that currently exists, nor are they serious about dealing with the stranglehold that Corporations have on politicians in Washington DC.

And i'm still waiting for an independent and independent progressive mass media to emerge that can compete with FOX and AM radio. It's hard to organize without a media apparatus...

Constructive Feedback said...

[quote] It happens through cultivating one-on-one relationships with people who have standing and influence in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, families, and organizations. It happens through struggling with people over time for things they’re concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program. [/quote]

As a long time critic of those that I call "Black Quasi-Socialist Progressive-Fundamentalist Racism Chasers" I must say that I am happy that someone who shares the viewpoint that I so frequently am opposed to (at least from the stand point of methodology).

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that, for Black people specifically - having yielded our racial movement to the Democratic party.....has made the Democratic Party STRONGER THAN EVER within our community but has not lead to much ORGANIC development from WITHIN our community.

I also strongly disagree with the author's conclusions. He says that these organizations should form outside of the election cycle. He FAILS to make note that STILL these organizations have their main focus on achieving benefit for the communities in question by drawing upon the resources of their "adversaries". This is mostly through government policy.

As I think about it - of course our economic receipts are drawn from others that we engage with. Where as others seek to develop a "fair society" by focusing upon both the so called "safety net" and by using government to, as a Democratic congressman from Minnesota said the other day "smooth out the rough edges of capitalism".

I believe that superior to these initiatives should be the focus upon positioning the community so that they are more competitive with other communities - offering goods and services that these others want and TAKING THEIR MONEY IN THE PROCESS.

Let me ask you - which of these two strategies build up the INDUSTRIOUSNESS and SKILLS for those in receipt of the funds?

When cities or regions are dominated by people who think as the author does we would THINK that prosperity would reign because now THEY have near complete control of the area and their way can be rendered. In fact this is not the case. Where as they damned their economic ideological adversaries when they were present - they now see that they are interdependent upon them when they depart.

More than the change in the election cycle needs to be the purging of the pure "radical/revolutionary" spirit which is often adopted for the sake of "fighting the system". In remaining at the extreme they almost always insure that the whole will suffer in the long run as America being a democratic state will have their adversaries to MOVE to a more hospitable place where they are not the bad guys.