Recent Videos from Media Mouse

Over the past several weeks, Media Mouse has produced a number of videos covering a variety of events that have happened recently in West Michigan. From interviews with authors visiting Grand Rapids to reports on recent protests, a number of videos have been placed online recently. Among the more interesting are:

Interview with Author Robert Jensen:

This interview with Robert Jensen is based upon his new book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Media Mouse asks Professor Jensen a wide range of questions dealing with the impact that pornography has on men, how to analyze pornography through a media literacy lens, and what is the relationship between the anti-pornography movement and other social justice movements.

Interview with Ben Dangl on Social Movements in Bolivia

An interview with Ben Dangl–author of “The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia”–on popular movements in Bolivia.

What do the Iraqis Want?

Mini-symposium at GVSU addresses Globalization

On Tuesday, the Latin American Studies department at Grand Valley State University hosted a mini-symposium entitled “Society, Globalization, and Natural Resources in Latin America: New Perspectives and Experiences from Mesoamerican Reef countries and South America.” The symposium featured two epakers who examined social movements and the impact of tourism.

On Tuesday, September 25 the Latin American Studies department at Grand Valley State University hosted a mini-symposium entitled “Society, Globalization, and Natural Resources in Latin America: New Perspectives and Experiences from Mesoamerican Reef countries and South America.” The forum featured two speakers, one who is a journalist with a recent book on social movements in Bolivia and the other a researcher with the Nature Conservancy who addressed the impact of tourism on the environment and economies on the Atlantic coast of meso-America.

Ben Dangl author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia spoke first. He said that the main conflicts in the past 6 years have taken place in the capital of La Paz. Bolivia has tremendous mineral wealth – tin, copper, and iron ore, resources that foreign investors want. Dangl said that a great deal of the current conflict stems from the 1952 revolution that was brought about in part by the mining unions, which fought to get the mines nationalized. In the mid 1980s the power of the miner’s union was broken up and many of those former miners went to the Chapare region of Bolivia, where most of the coca is grown. During the 1980s and 1990s the US war on drugs targeted that region with a coca eradication campaign. This contributed to greater poverty in the Chapare region, which eventually led to an organized resistance movement.

One of the main organizers that Dangl met in Bolivia was Leonilda Zurita who is a coca grower and part of the coca growers union. Coca growers in Bolivia are known as cocaleras. Zurita is now in the Bolivian Senate. Evo Morales, the current President of Bolivia, is also from the Chapare region as well. Dangle said that Morales used the power that the coca leaf has in the country by holding them up when he spoke publicly during his campaign for president.

The author then addresses what is now known as the water war in Cochabamba. In 1999, Bechtel was given a contract to privatize the water in Cochabamba. Water rates went up as high as 200%, even rain water collected was privatized. People organized against this, demanding that the water go back into public hands and that it would be affordable for everyone. Both rural and urban movements worked on this campaign to kick Bechtel out. Dangl said that this struggle is exemplary of what is happening all around the world with resource wars, but it also influenced the gas war struggle in Bolivia that was soon to come.

Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in Latin America. In 2003 a movement began to nationalize the natural gas so that the money could be used for roads, schools, and other public services. A counter proposal was put forth to export the natural gas to the US. People began to protest. People would sometimes block roads with small gas tanks to protest the policy. In El Alto, people pushed train cars off the tracks to prevent the gas from being transported and sometimes the roads would also be blocked to get the politician’s attention in order to demand that the gas be nationalized. People eventually kicked out the President Sanchez de Lozada and got the gas nationalized. Dangl said that de Lozada now resides in the US, although there is an effort to bring him back to Bolivia and try him for crimes.

Evo Morales was then elected in 2005 with a campaign to legalize coca production, to nationalize many resources and to have a constitutional convention. Some of his campaign promises have come to fruition, where funds generated from gas sales have been used for education and health care programs. Morales is also the president of the coca growers union, which many see as a conflict of interest. Part of his plan is to allow every family to grow coca on plots of land about half the size of a football field. The constitutional assembly has been resisted by other political parties and has been the biggest challenge faced by Morales to date.

The last point that Dangl made dealt with the Bolivian hip-hop movement that has played a big role in the popular movements. He showed a rap video that focuses on workers and indigenous rights. The hip-hop movement is also trying to bring ancient indigenous leaders into public consciousness, leaders who fought against the Spanish conquest (

The second speaker was Matt McPherson, an anthropologist that has worked in the Caribbean and Central America. He has worked with the Nature Conservancy in MesoAmerica. McPherson said the area he did research in has the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere. There are roughly 60 marine and coastal protected areas. Since 1997 the Presidents of the four countries (Mexico, Guate, Belize, Honduras) have pledged to protect this area. These reefs provide habitat to numerous life forms, such as whale sharks, turtles, and conch. Reefs not only protects the biological diversity, but the ethnic diversity as well – Mayan, Garifuna, Creole and Miskito. Tourism, McPherson says, has drastically changed population numbers in the reef/coastal areas. Poverty levels though, are bigger in agricultural areas, less so in tourist areas.

The scenario he laid out was this – when reefs die, fish and fishing industry die, then beaches erode, tourism moves in, and local economies are devastated. Climate change has also caused the bleaching of reefs, which can contribute to their destruction. Another issue is watershed contamination. But the area he spoke about most was how coastal and infrastructure development have contributed to the contamination. Over-fishing is another negative factor, even though fishing isn’t a huge contributor to the local economies in terms of total income generators. Tourism is another contributor to reef destruction. In Quintana Roo, with the large beaches and huge resorts are much more problematic than the smaller bed and breakfast like establishments in places like Belize which have very different beaches. McPherson provided some numbers in major tourism areas. In some communities 90% of the population is tied to tourism. Cruise ship visitors have increased tremendously. Tourism impact has many negatives that include anchoring, the trampling reefs, sewage, pollution, and extreme local dependency on International markets.

McPherson then addressed what he referred to as sustainable tourism. He says there has been an attempt to get fishers more involved in tourism activities. In Punta Allen, Mexico example they have won awards for its sustainability. They rely on lobster and have created lobster fishers in blocks where each person manages very a very specific area. They also now have tourism cooperatives that involve people who are part of fishing cooperatives. He said there is the issue of over capacity. When are too many tourists for any given area? The speaker also looked at a few communities in Belize. There has been a decline in the fishing economy in some of those communities and tourism has had a negative impact.

The difference between the information shared by both speakers seemed to be that the struggle for economic justice in Bolivia was much more of a grassroots effort to challenge neo-liberal economic policies. With the second speaker there seemed to be a sense that communities were trying to integrate themselves into these policies that promoted tourism. Integration into the tourism industry was confirmed by a website––that the second speaker provided that promotes “sustainable tourism.”

Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, and Social Change

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Ross Haenfler’s Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change is the first book I have seen that explores the “straight edge” subculture. The straight edge subculture has existed for over twenty-five years as a subset of the larger punk rock/hardcore subculture. Its members adopt a simple creed eschewing alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and promiscuous sex while immersing themselves in a musical underground that includes listening to loud and fast music, attending small concerts put on for fun rather than profit, and an emphasis on the DIY (“Do It Yourself”) ethic. To an outsider, it no doubt sounds bizarre–and indeed is on many levels–but Haenfler does an excellent job of explaining the music and the value that the collective identity has for the subculture’s participants while at the same time revealing insights into youth-based subcultures and their potential as agents of social change.

Haenfler confronts all of the common perceptions and misconceptions of the straight edge subculture–that it is overly “preachy,” that it is “moralistic,” that it is exclusionary, and others. Given Haenfler’s personal involvement in the scene and his continuing affinity for it, his ability to objectively analyze the movement is praiseworthy. He does an excellent job of pointing to straight edge’s flaws while at the same time pointing to its numerous successes. Despite all of the flaws–its male dominance, its occasional intolerance, and the propensity among a small number of its participants to engage in violence–straight edge have offered thousands of youth support for living a substance-free lifestyle, something which is certainly not encouraged within the dominant culture.

A particularly important part of the book is devoted to analyzing gender roles within the straight edge scene. Haenfler spends a considerable amount of time examining how women are able to participate within the straight edge subculture. Haenfler’s conclusions–that roles for women are limited–will not be surprising to those involved with straight edge, but the extent to which he backs up his conclusions with conversations with women and men involved in the scene is impressive. He aptly points out that while straight edge–like punk rock more generally–claims that “anyone” can be in a band or become an influential member of the scene fail to take into account the male dominance within the scene and the reality of patriarchy. In addition to his discussion of how women are limited in the scene, Haenfler examines how the straight edge scene constructs masculinity. Haenfler argues that while straight edge is in many ways a male dominated “boys club,” there is a general “progressive” form of masculinity that is favored in the scene, especially with the stated opposition to sex as form of male conquest. Still, this view of masculinity is ultimately limited because it generally fails to challenge patriarchy as few men within the straight edge scene challenge the subculture’s conception of gender.

In reviewing the book, in many ways I identify with Haenfler’s concerns about being an objective researcher, as like Haenfler I was for years involved in the Grand Rapids punk rock/hardcore scene as a straight edge member. That said, there is a possibility that my enjoyment of this book was based more on a sense of nostalgia and an ability to identify with the topic. However, Haenfler does take a very critical look at the movement and ultimately is able to make a number of important insights into how subcultures are able to challenge the dominant culture and even how members of those subcultures challenge the prevailing values of the subculture itself. Haenfler includes an extensive examination of how straight edge functions as both a subculture and even as a “movement,” examining it both on its own and comparing it to other subcultures such as punk rock. Haenfler makes a number of important observations about how straight edge has for many participants become a gateway to additional forms of resistance, explaining how many in the straight edge scene adopted vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, became involved in animal rights and other activism, and in some cases, went on to join more militant components of the environmental and animal rights movement.

Overall, Haenfler’s Straight Edge is a very intriguing book. Its appeal should extend beyond members or former members of the straight edge subculture as its complex analysis of straight edge makes incredibly important observations about the functioning of youth-based subcultures as a whole. While the book will not provide any immediate value to those involved in radical political or organizing work, it does contribute some insight into how and why the punk rock related subcultures have for years fostered a considerable level of youth participation in activism.

Ross Haenfler, Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, And Social Change, (Rutgers University Press, 2006).

The Revolution will not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

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The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex builds on a conference organized by INCITE! Women of Color against Violence that was organized to explore the formation of what it terms the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” The introduction to the book describes the Non-Profit Industrial Complex as “a set of symbiotic relationships that link political and financial technologies of state and owning class control with surveillance over public political ideology, including and especially emergent progressive and leftist social movements.” Non-profits are used by the state and capitalist interests to then monitor and control social justice movements, divert public monies into private hands through foundations, manage and control dissent in order to make the world safe for capitalism, redirect activist energies into career-based modes of organizing instead of mass-based organizing capable of actually transforming society, allow corporations to mask their exploitative and colonial work practices through “philanthropic” work, and encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to fund them. This is an innovative and challenging critique for many on “the left” who have come to occupy an institutionalized role, but it is an essential critique that ultimately offers an important vision of organizing that places people’s power and the grassroots at its center rather than the needs and desires of the state and the owning class.

A key component of the book is a critique of the foundations that so often fund the majority of the non-profit organizations in the United States. These foundations are described as tax shelters for the rich, with many wealthy individuals and families setting up foundations in order to escape the estate tax. Foundations are subject only to nominal regulations and are required only to spend 5% of their net worth per year. Moreover, this 5% can include “operating expenses” which in many cases includes salaries paid to those who established the foundation as trustees. This money, rather than going to the government via the estate tax and theoretically becoming the property of “the people” is instead maintained by those with power in society and is frequently distributed in a manner that maintains the status quo. Groups are funded based on what foundations want–not what people need–and often value individual solutions over radical structural changes. It goes without saying that the majority of those serving as trustees at foundations are white, and consequently, much of the money goes to organizations made up of white people. This keeps their money–which often originated with the exploitation of people of color and working class people–within the same power structures that control society.

Many of the authors whose essays are featured in The Revolution will not be Funded view the rise of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex as a key component in explaining why social movements are relatively weak in the United States compared to other countries. They argue that the state of the current movement is a result of a deliberate and sophisticated strategy aimed at limiting the scope of social movements via COINTELPRO, the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, and capitalism. These interlocking realities–the overt repression of the government’s COINTELPRO operations to neutralize radicals in the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex as a means of separating movements from their base, and the limiting of radical possibilities as a result of the supposed triumph of capitalism over the Soviet “left”–is articulated as an explanation for the current state of our movements. Rather than have vibrant popular move ments, the United States has a plethora of non-profit organizations that spend their time writing grants, evaluating their “performance,” engaging in an endless stream of paperwork, and providing social services that were once offered by the state. These and other tasks mean that many non-profits prioritize their relationships with “funders” over their “constituents,” seeing funders as more important in that they provide the money to keep the non-profit going. Of course, more often than not, funders are advocating more conservative goals than what an organization’s “base” would seek, and according to many of the pieces in this book, function in a way that seeks to limit calls for radical social change in the United States.

Some of the pieces also explore how organizations can exist outside of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. They are often written from the perspective of groups that have tried both methods of organizing and in some cases are written from the experience of groups that started out at the grassroots level, become incorporated as a 501(c)3, and then went back to being a grassroots organization because there were too many restrictions on their work. A contribution by the group Project South explains how they utilize a grassroots funding strategy that uses fundraising as a form of organizing. They explain that they raise money by being responsive to the community from which they originate and aim to “develop a culture of economic give and take that places value on community, collaboration, and resource sharing.” As a result, they sell organizing toolkits to sustain themselves, organize events collaboratively, and rely on their base for fundraising.

The Revolution will not be Funded is an extremely important contribution to the left. It offers an important critique of the non-profit system and outlines the ways in which it seeks to neutralize movements while reminding us that as “the left” our ultimate goal is the dissolution of hierarchy, capitalism, and oppression. It is an important critique of a system that many who consider themselves of “the left” have been integrated into while losing sight of their long-term goals amidst the regulation and bureaucracy of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, (South End Press, 2007).

The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly

From June 14 to November 25, 2006, Oaxaca City in the Mexican state of Oaxaca was in rebellion, with the government essentially in exile while the citizens occupied space and championed an alternative form of government based on autonomy and genuine democracy. The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly chronicles the five-month uprising in Oaxaca with a particular focus on the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Reporter Nancy Davies with Narco News details how the Popular Assembly grew out of a teacher’s strike and subsequent government repression to become a movement with widespread popular support and incorporated the dreams and desires of wide sections of the population.

Davies reports on many of the conflicts in the rebellion, but spends considerable time examining APPO and its methods. By reporting on APPO, Nancy Davies shares information that is missing from much of the reporting on the rebellion. She forgoes the usual “score card” that accompanies reporting–even on the Left–of popular movements; she is less interested in tallying the numbers of arrests, the numbers of injuries, or the numbers of buildings occupied than she is in drawing out the more lasting components of the rebellion. Street battles come and go and live on in movements’ popular consciences, but it is often the experiments in radical structures that have lasting impacts on their participants.

Davies explores at length how APPO functioned, sharing with readers how the movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people for “megamarches” while at the same time trying to incorporate similar numbers of people into the movement’s decision-making structures. The first Popular Assembly took place on June 17–three days after open confrontation with the state–involved 170 people representing 85 organizations. Invitations went out to “union members, social and political organizations, NGOs, collectives, human rights organizations, parents, tenant farmers, municipalities, and citizens of the entire state of Oaxaca” according to Davies and a second assembly took place six days later. The Assembly functioned as a way of making demands and dealing with the state, in this case declaring that Oaxaca’s governor must go and rejecting a settlement position offered by the state. APPO built off a tradition of “open citizen assemblies” that like APPO, rejected the participation of political parties and frequently addressed problems ignored by the state. Throughout the rebellion, Davies chronicled the decrees of APPO and gave updates on how it was functioning, offering an important contribution on a subject that was ignored elsewhere. APPO consistently grew and was able to incorporate more people into its decision-making structure and shows that despite the myths of “inefficiency,” forms of direct decision-making can flourish.

Another interesting aspect of the struggle is that the popular movement took over corporate media outlets and put them in the service of the movement. Rather than be content with coverage that sought to defame, ridicule, and minimize the movement, those involved in the movement took over radio and television stations and kept them on the air broadcasting information about the movement. It was not uncommon to hear ordinary people calling into radio shows talking about solidarity, their experiences with state repression, and the difficulties of everyday life in one of Mexico’s poorest states. At the same time, occupied television stations broadcast footage from the movement as well as documentaries about other struggles around the world. The state did eventually recognize the importance of these occupied media outlets and eventually took them back, but it is a compelling strategy for movements everywhere that experience the limits of the corporate media’s distortions.

While social conditions are considerably different in Oaxaca verses the United States, The People Decide offers inspiration to those doing organizing work in the US. It offers a glimpse of what we can (and should) build towards–a truly innovative form of self-government that makes the state obsolete while at the same time empowering people. In the rebellion, citizens were not afraid to fight back and they valiantly resisted state repression and took their struggle in new directions, including building APPO as a decision-making organization with the popular basis to replace the government. The prospects of such a rebellion occurring in the United States at the present are of course quite slim, but with organizing that emphasizes autonomy, democracy, people power, and perhaps most importantly, a willingness to imagine new tactics and strategies, those living outside of Oaxaca can learn from the rebellion and incorporate some of its lessons in our own work. To that end, Davies book is an essential reminder of the fact that capitalism has not won and that it continues to be contested around the world.

Nancy Davies, The People Decide: Oaxaca’s Popular Assembly, (Narco News Books, 2007).

Michael Albert: “To Win Our New World”

Recently at the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) conference in Detroit, longtime activist and author Michael Albert read a lengthy piece that Media Mouse found to be inspirational and a worthy anecdote to the burnout that occasionally faces those involved in social change movements.

Recently, a Media Mouse contributor attended the second national convention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The conference, held in Detroit from July 27-30. The entire convention–like any social change work–was a mix of inspiration, frustration, and learning. Throughout all of the mixes of emotions, seemingly endless panel discussions, and informal meetings, there was a sense that the work the 200 or so people who came together were actively engaged in a process that will help them develop skills necessary to build a better world.

As is the case with social change work more generally, it is easy to get burned out with Media Mouse–it seems like we are occasionally caught in a cycle of writing about the next protest, the most recent study of inequality, another act of organized racism, sexism, or homophobia–while victories are few and far between. At the SDS conference in Detroit, Michael Albert–the founder ofZ Magazine and a longtime activist and organizer on the left, read a piece that does a wonderful job explaining what we–with “we” meaning those who want a better world based on cooperation, equality, and solidarity–are seeking and rooting our actions in the history of popular struggle in the United States and abroad:

We are trying to win a new economy, a new realm of daily life and love, a new culture, a new polity, a new ecology, a new internationalism, all without hierarchies that condemn some people to subordination. We reject roles unsuited for humanity – the role of the owner, boss, manager; the role of the patriarch, misogynist, homophobe; the role of the racist, religious bigot, fundamentalist; the role of the denier, decrier, decider, dictator; the role of polluter of air, sea, and land; the role of bombardier, cultural commissar, empire expander. Gone with all of that.

We are pursuing this better world that will leave behind these horribly oppressive aspects by seeking improvements in people’s lives right now, from the washed out streets in New Orleans to the porn strewn back alleys in Chicago, from the black lunged mines in West Virginia to the dignity destroying commercialism of billboards and TV, from rural poverty to urban blight, from self-imposed diets seeking false beauty to society-imposed diets imposing criminal starvation, from the flesh houses of Los Angeles and its glam and glitter to the cardboard homes under bridges in Philadelphia, from the miles of AA meetings to the miles of local bars, from the capacity crushing horrors imposed on eighty percent of our school’s students to the elite Ivy farms spewing out scholars who lack sense and humanity, from the modern slave houses called prisons to the court houses that function like auction houses, from elections that are bought and sold by rich corporate executives investing in their preferred paths of domination to acres and acres of misguided commodity production remorselessly destroying our weather and water, from the endless skyways of half empty hotels to the endless alley ways of homeless children, mothers, and fathers.

We seek more income for the poor, more power for the weak, more status for the forlorn, more social ties for the lonely, more responsibility for all our crying souls. We seek equitable material well being, self managing influence, and mutual fulfillment of all kinds. We seek, as well, to ensure that our demands today not only partly redress the suffering caused by the world we now inhabit but also move us toward a better future in which worldly and spiritual benefits of society reach a high level and then persist due to the intrinsic logic of our new institutions rather than only when we win against harsh opposition.

And why we are doing all this? We are doing it tirelessly, steadfastly, and vigorously, for the memory of revolutionaries and visionaries and humanists from history past, for people all around us now, and for history’s and humanity’s future.

We are trying to win a new economy in which there are no classes. No one in the better world we seek will own workplaces, resources, or other people’s ability to do work. There will be no owners of Walmarts or Microsofts. There will be no private profits. There will be no wage slaves, working under the dictates of others. Further, no one will monopolize empowering conditions at work, as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and managers so typically do now, and on that account rule over those left only menial and obedient tasks. No one will earn inequitably whether from property, power, or output. No one will have more say over decisions than the fair share that we all are entitled to in accord with how much we are affected. There will be no top and no bottom of who decides what for whom. There will be no order giver and no order taker about production, allocation, or consumption. There will be no class responsible for decisions while another class is suppressed and responsible only to obey. We will all be elevated to use our fullest capacities and express our fullest desires, rather than most of us learning only to endure boredom and to obey orders showered down on us by the anointed masters of all that occurs. Our new economy will be classless, at last. Out with the old boss – and out with any new boss, too. We will enjoy a participatory economy, operating as one part of a participatory society.

But our project is not just about economics – we are not economistic. We realize that life is not working and consuming alone. For example, we are trying to win a new polity too, that will incorporate the will of all citizens in legislation, that will adjudicate disputes to produce justice, that will respond to violations to attain rehabilitation and liberation rather than vengeance and retribution. Our new polity will have citizens of diverse age, belief, experience, and knowledge, but will not have rulers and ruled. We are not merely seeking new Presidents and Senators because we understand that our political problem is government by a few – not simply the oddities of any particular few who happen to be prowling around the White House and Senate at any particular moment. We won’t have political choices mediated by dollar bills but by the will of informed citizens, each with equal rights and comparable means. We will have in our new society’s new polity, participatory democracy and self management. We won’t have information conveyed by agents of corporate power. We will have education, communication, and popular participation that together prepare all citizens to be full participants in social life and decision making. We will build and responsibly contribute to assemblies that express our informed desires for legislation allowing us to self manage our political and social life. We will build media that conveys expert information so we can function wisely. We will adopt decision methods that apportion influence over outcomes to those affected in proportion as they are affected so that we collectively self manage our conditions and projects. We might well call all this participatory politics, one more part of our new participatory society.

Beyond economy and polity, however, we are trying as well to win a new realm of sexuality, nurturance, socialization, and daily life. Do the roots of sexism reside in nuclear marriage as we know it? Do they stem from a gender division of labor that is women mothering and men fathering rather than both parenting? Is sexism born in a disparity in who does caretaking work and who doesn’t? Are there other roots of sexism, other structures that continually toss misogyny up into our lives, reproducing its contours year in and year out, and thereby subverting our potentials for sharing and caring? Whatever the roots of patriarchy are, whatever produces and reproduces sexism, it will all be transcended in a new world. Sexism will be only a memory in the new world we will win and celebrate. Will we need communal living arrangements, new modes of parenting, new ways of apportioning the labors of life, all even beyond the obvious need for fair and free access for women to all positions in society? If we do, then that’s the feminism we must and will achieve in our new participatory society. If something more or other is needed, then that too will be done. We will have participatory kinship, participatory living, in our new participatory society, nothing less is acceptable.

We are trying to win a new culture, as well, that celebrates cultural diversity while defending each community’s every participant. Our preferred new society will include social structures and relations that welcome spirituality and religious sentiment even as our new approaches escape the strictures of fundamentalism of all kinds and respect atheism as well. In our new society, we will all still celebrate, communicate, identify, and forge ways of seeing and understanding ourselves and our communities – but we will do it with mutual respect, taking pleasure not only in our own solutions but in admiring, learning from, and enjoying the rich variety of other people’s solutions too. We will choose our cultural communities freely, move among them as we choose, and refine and enrich our ties to them over the course of our lives. Racism, religious bigotry, ethnocentrism, and all kinds of self identification based on or presupposing the inferiority and subordination of others will have become a thing of the past, and our ways of constructing our communities and the institutions we adopt in our new cultural relations will have to respect, abide, and propel that outcome. New cultural institutions, that is, will guard the rights and norms of all communities, but particularly of the smaller in disputes with the larger. The name for all this might be multiculturalism or perhaps intercommunalism, another leg for our new participatory society to stand on.

We seek a greener world too, but not just sustainability. We are not content with the idea that the best we can do is to avoid suicide, which is what sustainability literally mandates. Rather, in our participatory society not only will our culture and daily life respect our natural environment, but our legislation will freely and effectively protect it and our economy will properly discern its interconnections and their value. Likewise, even beyond our own shores, we seek a community of countries that goes beyond being at peace to attain a condition of mutual benefit. We will have war no more – of course – but we will not dispense with global ties. On the contrary, we will enrich and extend global ties so that countries freely share their lessons and virtues, protect one another from harm, and exchange not according to competitive norms that ensure that trade benefits accrue mostly to whoever is richer and more powerful, but instead exchange in a way that always reduces disparities in wealth and power. In the time-honored tradition of our predecessors, we can call this internationalism, but it is ultimately just participatory societies participating in cooperative solidarity with one another.

But how do we win all this, that’s the question, isn’t it? We know we must. We know we will. But how? Of course, we only know some things about this massive question – the rest will be revealed only in the clash and jangle of struggles and constructions as we pursue the road forward. But, even now, there are some insights we can commit to, as we develop and share more.

In our future there will be participatory self management via worker and consumer councils in the economy, via people’s assemblies in the polity, and via new personal and collective arrangements in culture and in kinship as well. We can’t grow that kind of future participation using movements that are harshly hierarchical. No more of that. We can’t attain equitable remuneration, self management, classlessness, women and men in partnership, sexual liberation, political participation, wide dispersal of information, cultural intercommunalism, a wise relation to nature, and internationalism, if we use movement vehicles that incorporate the ills of the present. No more of that. We can’t have racism, sexism, or classism in our movements. No more, no more.

We will win a better world by winning sequences of improvements in people’s lives within existing society which also win our movements ever more consciousness, ever more commitment, and ever more infrastructure of struggle, until they are powerful and wise enough to win not solely modest elixirs for pain, but also the infrastructure of full freedom and liberation.

We can’t create a society of sharing souls by having fragmented, alienated movements. We can’t generate responsibility and initiative with movements that denigrate and debilitate. We can’t sustain participation with movements that are as oppressive as society at large – indeed we can’t win with these flaw in our movements since winning entails a movement of perhaps a hundred million involved participant leaders. Without movements that give their participants better lives than they would have outside, more friends, more love, more dignity, more empowerment, more knowledge, more confidence, we can’t win. So we must create such movements.

We can’t use anti democratic means to produce democratic results. We can’t use anti egalitarian norms to produce equitable distribution. We can’t use authoritarian culture and conceptions to produce participation. We can’t maintain soul wrecking values much less elitist and egocentric behaviors to produce intercommunalism.

We need to have our eyes on the real prize which is to enlarge membership, enlarge consciousness, enlarge commitment, and enlarge infrastructure, all consistent with our long term aims and not solely our short run priorities and tactics.

We do it for workers on the line, bored, tired, impoverished, and robbed of their creative days. No more Maggie’s Farm for us, instead classlessness.

We do it for women door-opened, pinched, decultured, feminized, impoverished, beaten, raped, advertised, psychologized, ball and chained. No more hustle and no more Hustler for us, instead Feminism.

We do it for Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians…nameless, robbed of dignity and means, legally lynched, harassed, low paid, running, jailed. No more plantations in the midst of plenty for us, instead Intercommunalism.

We do it for the drunks and addicts, the worn out and the never lively, for the old and ill who should be long lived and wise, for the forgotten, the dispossessed, the lonely.

For the young, schooled and unschooled, enduring boredom, sniffing glue, stealing sex and losing love, trying to escape or trying to find a way in, whether they exist under a massive thumb or are trying to grow a massive thumb with which to hold down others.

We do it for those on welfare or off it, looking into the mall or looking out from it, employed or unemployed, alone or crowded beyond sanity, hiding their sex or flaunting it, angry, sad, or mad.

We do it for all those who feel less than they could feel, for all those who have been made less than they could be in this rich land, the United States – and –

We do it for the Colombian, Paraguayan, Guatemalan, Haitian, South African, Congolese, Liberian, Sudanese, Iraqi, Iranian, Palestinian, Pakistani, Indian, Thai, Malaysian, and Chinese exploited, robbed, starved, cheated, tortured, ambushed, kidnapped, and death-squadded.

We do it for all the world’s citizens suffering the brutality and indignity of electric shocks and murdered relatives, suffering secret or public bombs, suffering Guantanamos and Abu Ghriabs, suffering poverty and even starvation, suffering the military boot and the cultural stamp.

We do it for the empire’s citizens, proud but beleaguered, and also for the empire’s enemies, our forebears:

We do it for the strikers, the saboteurs, the feminists and anarchists, the Marxists and nationalists, for those with no ideology but liberty, and for those who had too much ideology as well.

We do it for the memory of Che and the Cuban freedom fighters – we will be “guided by great feelings of love.”

We do it for the memory of Amilcar Cabral and the liberation of Africa – we will “tell no lies and claim no easy victories.”

We do it for the memory of Rosa Luxembourg and the revolutionaries of Europe – we will move, and therein we will notice and break our chains.

We do it for the memory of Alexandra Kollantai and Russians in revolt – we will not only create direct means of popular rule, we will preserve, revere, and utilize them.

We do it for Emma Goldman and the anarchists in struggle – we will dance on our way to, on our arrival at, and in celebration of our new world.

We do it for Simone de Beauvoir and feminists everywhere – we will accept no biological, psychological, or economic fate deterring women in our future.

We do it for Ho and the Vietnamese, the Vietnamese who yesterday taught us all, and who will have their day too, around the corner, over the hill, when we win the world we all desire.

We do it for r Martin Luther King Jr. – his mountain is our mountain, his vision looking into uncharted mists will become our daily pleasure, surrounding us during each breath of our lives. We will win for Martin too.

We do it for Fannie Lou Hamer and the Civil Righters, for Dave Dellinger and the new leftists, for Fred Hampton and the Panthers, for Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers, for Lolita Lebron and the Puerto Rican nationalists, for Leonard Peltier and the fighters in AIM, and for all the fine souls who resisted and died in the past and who nonetheless live on.

We do it for the young who dodged the draft. For the young who went to war and disrupted. For the young who went and died – or lived. For the Vietnam Veterans against war, and especially for the Iraq Veterans against war.

We do it for the French in the streets of May and the Italians in Autumn, for the Mexicans in the summer, and the Czechs and Chinese, for the Nicaraugans, the El Salvadorans, the Haitians, the Bolivians, and the Venezuelans. For the ANC and landless peasants movement. For the anti globalization veterans of Seattle and Prague. For the camepasinos in Brazil and the piqueteros in Argentina, for the Zapatistas in Mexico and for movements all over Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas – for the millions who opposed the Iraq War before it began and the many millions more who oppose it now.

We do it for everyone who has fought, fights, or will fight for a better wage, a better home, more dignity, more respect, a better life, a better world than they were, are, or are going to be bequeathed.

And at the same time, necessarily:

We do it against the Rockefellers, the Waltons and Buffets, the Somozas and Pinochets, the CIAs and FBIs, and the Bushs, Clintons, and Kissengers all.

We do it against the doctors coerced by their positions to deal in dollars but not in dignity, against the landlords, the corporate lawyers, and the politicians with their eyes closed to injustice or wallowing in its waste.

We do it against the owners, administrators, bosses, rapists and racists, those on top and those who aspire only to be on top, against all the dealers of bad hands, against the stacked decks.

We do it against the social ties and unties that breed the pain and all who grow ugly by benefiting from its continuance, one step above those suffering below.

We do it against the intellectuals who keep information as it if were their little toy, who enshrine their ignorance under false halos and who hide it behind big words, who justify barbarism or technically dissect it as their interests require, never shedding a tear, never raising a fist.

We do it against the media liars, the news pimps, the career thinkers with brains the size of cornflakes, the academics – left and right – who propagate propaganda to preserve this system or some other, and yes, we do it against the academics who call themselves socialists and always do nothing, the ones who succeed but don’t stay angry, the ones who don’t really care.

And finally, we will make this new world for our parents, our friends, our children, our children’s children, and for ourselves too.

To succeed, we must all soon agree on at least the essential core aspects of what a better world can and will embody.

To succeed, we must flexibly agree on what it will require to make it so, what skills must be learned, what tasks accomplished, what obstacles overcome, and to succeed, we must act, and act, and act, and refine our awareness as we learn from our actions.

Let us not mince words. Let us not call ourselves less than we are. The name for all this is revolution.

The name for those who believe in it, who aspire to it, who devote themselves to it, is revolutionary.

Till when there will be fewer acquaintances and many more friends and lovers, we must be revolutionary, we must be revolutionary, we must be revolutionary – to win our new world.

The above comes from a piece by Michael Albert titled “USSF – 2007 and After.”

Notes on the Young Left, from Two of Its Own

by Kelly Lenora Lee and Michael Gould-Wartofsky


“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it” – Franz Fanon, Algeria, 1961

The walls are going up, the wars are going down, empire pushing out, borders closing in. But look below, look to the left, look to people in struggle, and you see the cracks being made in the old order, windows being opened into another kind of world. Within the borders of a society accustomed to detachment and passivity, young people are coming to the left in search of a new way of being and seeing, without borders; of the possibility of something different; of a way to grow beyond the established horizons of the present. We want to remake a movement – a young left where our collective struggles can build and sustain a culture of justice-making, equality and freedom.

As two young radicals and as participants in recent student struggles, we hope to help reopen a conversation among the young left about the movement we have and the movement we want. Ours are but two voices, grounded in our own thinking and experience, so we wish to invite more voices to join in this conversation in the days to come. Against the system’s conspiracy of silence, a young left must find itself and speak to itself through its own collective voice.

Why now? This is a decisive moment for movements. A time not only for action-it is always time for action-but also for reflection, for reinvention. If we intend to contribute to a broad-based and deep-rooted transformation of our society, we have to collectively trace our paths towards that transformation, and shape our own work accordingly. People’s movements on all fronts are walking towards the other politics, the solidarity economy, the free society we know is possible. For our young left, it is necessary to evoke our own visions of a free society. But that is not enough. We have to actually bring it.

Making the Connections

“There’s no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we don’t live single-issue lives” – Audre Lorde

Today, the young left and its project of movement-building is complicated by the seeming disconnectedness of its many struggles. Our left seems, at once, rooted and adrift in the past, present and future, in uncertainty of where it began and where it, as a whole, is going. We fail to remember that struggle is everywhere, has always been and will always be. We also fail to remember that action alone does not make a movement. If we want to make a movement, we need to bridge the gaps which currently keep us apart, which keep us from moving toward our common goal of making this tired world new.

This project of (re)building our movement must be one of mapping and creating connections between people and peoples’ struggles, and between “issues” and the bigger systems of which they are a part. Until these systems are named, confronted and dismantled, the “issues” will never be resolved, and every generation will face its Iraqs, its Katrinas, its everyday oppressions. Creating and maintaining a movement in our young left requires a shift in how we organize with one another toward a more comprehensive and practical understanding of how our “issues” intersect, how our struggles are connected.

Building such a movement also calls for a profound shift in how we view, contest and negotiate the borders that separate us as human beings and prevent us from making meaningful connections in the fight for a more just society. We must begin to actively question and creatively approach those things that separate us, not to erase them, but to redefine them in ways that connect rather than divide us in this struggle. A movement must recognize the necessity, at once pragmatic and visionary, of solidarity across it – not unanimity or uniformity within it.

In a society where injustice permeates our lives and communities in multiple ways, a strong movement must recognize the importance of fighting injustice on multiple fronts. Our left must also understand that individual struggles are never won alone. We are struggling to change a society which depends upon multiple and reciprocal systems of oppression and domination for its survival. In order to create enduring change in such a society, our movement must nourish interconnected and mutually sustaining struggles of liberation.

Insurgent Ideas – for Action

“Consciousness Commitment = Change” – Slogan of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Movements have always been inspired by insurgent ideas, often emerging from the “organic intellectuals” of everyday life and rising up against the ruling ideas of our society. Yet the U.S. left finds itself burdened by the movemental lack of direction that accompanies action without thought. Ours is a system where even “successful” organizing does not produce substantive social change if it does not target the systemic roots of injustice and inequality. A young left needs to think critically about what it hopes to achieve through action and why. Action without insight, without strategy, will not sustain change.

On the other side of the coin, some of the left has a preoccupation with “Theory.” That is, theory divorced from its practical functions in the lived world or, perhaps more importantly, the ways in which the theoretical must be rooted in the daily experiences of people in struggle. The theoretical and ideological components in a working movement should be shaped and enabled by active, lived components. Much of the stagnation that frustrates the left is related to our tendency to organize around thinking (or talking) about social change, without putting theory into practice or practice into theory.

An effective marriage of thought and action must make critiques that are relevant to people, build connections between the seemingly separate issues they confront, and fashion alternatives grounded in their needs and desires. Thought and action cannot exist without each other. They must be in continuous conversation. This has to be a conversation shaped by all affected, led not by elites, but by insurgent ideas in action.


Their Wars – and Ours

“The project of the New American Century seeks to perpetrate inequity and establish American hegemony at any price. [We] demand justice and survival. For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.” – Arundhati Roy, Porto Alegre, 2004

Our generation watched as the rulers of the United States declared a war without end, a war supposed to last our whole lives. As we fight to end that war, let’s remember the other war of which it is a part – a world war of power and profit against peoples, one that’s been going on much longer than the “war on terror,” one that is intrinsic to the system of systems which we call capitalism, racism, patriarchy, authoritarianism. The battle lines run deep through every society, much deeper than the “clash of civilizations” touted by the rulers to mask what lies beneath. Let us unmask it.

It is a war waged every day. Its collateral damage is everywhere. Under this system, violence becomes routine, just beneath the surface of everyday life for some and painfully present in the lives and deaths of others. Many in the U.S., a step removed from the frontlines, are now bearing witness to the most visible manifestations: The occupation of Iraq. The murder of New Orleans. Armed raids on migrant families. Police terror in communities of color. The violence of the system is implicated also in the less visible denial of the means of life, dignity, and freedom to people here and around the world. It is this system, not our resistance, that calls out for justification, a call met with silence.

The system depends on the cooperation of ordinary people, not with each other, but with those who rule and exploit them. To reproduce itself, it requires their servitude, bought or coerced from them every day. But because everyone has a role in this system, everyone also has a way to resist. Every day, people face choices between tacit consent, refusal and rebellion. Many choose refusal and rebellion in ways unknown to us. For many more, the costs of rebellion are too high. But we can work to give people more of a stake in the struggle than they have in the system.

Multitudes the world over are fighting back. It is a fight for their lives-and for ours. Our common life will only be reclaimed through organized resistance, and through local struggles linked together globally across the terrain of empire. If we want to win, we have to know who our enemies are-not just one individual, corporation or government, but all of them, the ruling institutions and the systems, as well as the class that controls them and seeks to control us. We must also come to know our friends and allies, and make ourselves real friends and allies to the struggles of other peoples.

Because we are fighting within these systems-not outside them-the struggle also goes on within our movements. Movements can reproduce and reflect some of the worst features of the system, and nothing and no one can be pure. When movements fail, it is not only because of “the Man,” but also because movements are too often made in the image of the Man. Resistance cannot resist effectively if it acts, talks, and walks like that which it is resisting. So let’s ask ourselves: What are the forces of oppression and repression? What is their power made of? And how can we subvert them?

If we dare to imagine and actively pursue a future society liberated from those elements which presently colonize our minds, bodies, and life-world, we have to also imagine and prefigure emancipatory ways of being, seeing and acting. These must elaborate a more practical and visionary understanding of how social realities and identities interact and inform one another, what will maintain and strengthen the systems we seek to dismantle, and what ways of relating to one another will propel our movement forward, from below.

Capitalism and Class War

“Capitalism is blind and barbaric. It destroys everything. And to the U’wa, it says that we are crazy. But we want to continue being crazy if it means we can continue to exist” – Declaration of the U’wa People, Colombia, 2002

One of the great unspokens in our society, in the media, and even in our movements is that it’s still about class, and it’s still about capitalism. As capital globalizes, despite global resistance, we find ourselves up against a system more powerful and more predatory than ever. Most in the U.S. remain class-unconscious, even on the left, but the real face of capitalism is revealing itself from the Gulf Coast to the Persian Gulf, and in the ever-widening gulf between the rich and the rest of humanity.

In our lifetimes, we have seen the global invasion of capital into every sphere of our lives and every inch of our life-world, whether through free trade around the world or gentrification around the corner. It has established a global tyranny of corporations, ruling through the “hidden hands” of markets and states. Capitalism is the ultimate system of domination, deeply bound up with other such systems. Free markets are fundamentally opposed to free peoples, capitalist economies hostile to democratic societies.

To the few, the system gives an unimaginable power over the lives, land and labor of the many, and by “branding” the world, power over every last space, time, experience, thought, emotion. Its values lie only in commodities to be bought or sold, resources to be stolen from peoples and profit to be squeezed out of life, turning sweat, blood and mind into cold, hard cash. Today, the corporate elites are profiting more extravagantly than ever on the backs of working and poor people around the world. Welcome to globalized class war.

Class still runs as a faultline through societies, and through social movements, but there is a rumbling under the surface. The new working class is “precarious and pissed off”: In the North, working people, especially young workers and students, are condemned to indebted, indentured servitude in the service economy-denied steady jobs, health care, education, their “bread and roses.” In the Global South, corporations are recolonizing whole societies, turning them into sweatshops, slums and war zones, turning millions into migrants-economic refugees to the North. It is impossible today to speak of class without speaking of racialized poverty and a racialized division of labor.

Meanwhile global capitalism, with its logic of growth and waste, consumption and destruction, has made possible the devastation of the earth to the point of collapse. This is another face of the global class war: The rich extract the resources from peoples and their land, exploiting their labor to do so, and the poor have to suffer the consequences – draughts, hurricanes, disease, starvation. The poor are blamed, the rich are protected, and capitalism sells us “solutions” to the problems it creates.

But there is nothing inevitable about global capitalism. We are many, they are few. Working people have more power than is thought, even in the U.S. It is a power exercised through everyday struggles, often unnoticed, in their workplaces, in their communities, and also on the battleground of culture and information, from the internet to the street. Capitalism, more than ever, has within it the tools of its own destruction, but they need human hands, hands that can learn or relearn to use them.

If another world is possible, it will have to be a world beyond capitalism: a world of popular power, workers’ control, self-determination, self-creation. In the meantime, as we strive for a classless society, let’s recognize the realities of class which divide societies and movements. This divide will exist as long as we live in a capitalist world. But we can work to reconnect with working-class struggles where we are: for migrant workers’ rights, a living wage, public education, health care, affordable housing, working women’s liberation.

At the same time, we have to globalize this resistance, from the point of production to the point of communication and back. When capital acts without borders, so must we. Globally, we can organize towards a solidarity economy, not just “fair trade.” We can work against the system of profit, not just “not for profit.” We can join together in the production of a new world, instead of the reproduction of the old with a nicer look. The alternatives to capitalism will not come from blueprints or manifestos. They will be informed by ideas, and by what we learn from history, but they will be born out of the process of struggle.

Borders and Border Crossings

“All of us are fenced in and threatened with death…But the rebels, whom history repeatedly has given us the length of its long trajectory, struggle and the fence is broken…The rebels begin to recognize each other, to know themselves as equals and different” – Subcomandante Marcos

Everywhere communities are being enclosed and destroyed. Borders are being enforced and reinforced. There are the visible ones, all too tangible, that mean life or death for millions, for migrants, for cultures-from the U.S.-Mexico border wall to the Israeli “separation wall” to all the walls that protect the powerful from the “dangerous elements” in every city of the world. A young left must seek to build a world without borders, alongside the migrant freedom movement that is rising up under the slogan “no human is illegal.” It must help construct a movement of solidarity against and across those borders.

There are other borders, borders that too often go unseen, unmentioned, but remain just as powerful and just as real. Such borders do not just lie between nations. They run throughout our society and they run through our movement. We need a movement that crosses the borders that separate us, consciously and accountably. A liberated future requires a movement characterized by border-crossing – a self-conscious movement aware that is has to choose whether or not it will approach social change in a way that reproduces and maintains oppression and inequality, or in a way that not only remedies injustice, but challenges the very basis if its existence.

A movement without borders is not the same as a movement that denies the existence or power of borders. Rather, it recognizes that the social, political, ideological and geographic borders that separate and distinguish us are both meaningful and constructed. Our movement must always challenge those borders that are enforced against and between peoples, such as those drawn between nations-open for business, closed for humanity. It must also recognize that other kinds of borders are not inherently problematic. The problem lies in their function as forces of dividing and conquering.

As we develop as activists we have to explore the ways in which we maintain the divisive function of borders both actively and passively. We must unlearn the lie we’ve been taught to believe – that our differences, rather than our methods of negotiating our differences, divide and weaken our social movements. We must begin to embrace the radical notion that we have the ability and responsibility to redefine and reencounter our borders in constructive and connective ways.

Crossing the Borders of Race and Gender

Some of the most seemingly impermeable borders dividing our young left are those associated with race, gender, systemic racial oppression and systems of patriarchy. One cannot talk about building a movement without talking seriously about these issues, but differences in race and gender and problems of racism and patriarchy are the movement’s proverbial elephant in the room. These are borders that have prevented us from talking to and hearing one another, that keep us from seeing each other as allies in struggle, and from building a movement based in respect, mutual aid and solidarity.

If we honestly seek to build a world that is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist and anti-authoritarian, it cannot remain this way. Our movement needs to make radical connections across borders that do not reject the meanings created through the differential experience of oppression under systems of racism and patriarchy. Rather, we must challenge the function of categories of race and gender as borders themselves. In order to make sincere connections we cannot ignore or dismiss these borders; we must approach them in a new way.

First and foremost, we need to recognize that racism and patriarchal oppression permeate our society and our social movements in multiple and thorough ways. They are implicated in every issue we organize around and the ways in which we organize. We are not exempt from maintaining and participating in systems of privilege and oppression simply because we consider ourselves progressive or radical.

Second, there has to be, on a very basic level, an acceptance of the fact that it is privilege that allows people/groups within the left to be able to ignore or deny the ways in which systems of control and oppression operate formally and informally, within and without, on our movement. Acknowledging and addressing privilege, its systemic roots and mundane manifestations, is uncomfortable, but only because we fail to understand that privilege is not earned or deserved, but inherited under unjust, historically-rooted conditions. What we are fighting for as agents of social change is a new inheritance.

Third, there has to be a conscious shift in the way we conceive of and approach these realities of race and gender away from an elementary understanding of them as things to be conquered and eradicated, and toward borders to be re-imagined and constructively crossed. This requires a deeper analysis of how racism and patriarchy operate in our world in intersectional and formative capacities within systems of capitalist exploitation. An understanding of racism and patriarchy as systems necessitates that we approach issues of racism and gender oppression as systemic manifestations.

This may seem obvious, but our attempts at movement building are constantly and consistently upset by our treatment of racism and gender oppression as issues rooted in individual behavior and perception. We’ve got to stop saying “I believe all genders are equal” as if believing in equality produces equality. On its own, this belief does not combat inequality or build a movement able to address systems of inequality.

Likewise, we must stop saying “I do not notice racial difference” as if saying so negates racial inequality. In a society where our differences are made to function as dividing agents, and where our differences are given meaning through the most basic experiences of social, economic and political life, we certainly notice and are affected by difference. Difference, however, does not have to equal inequality based on difference.

Our own borders function positively to allow us to understand ourselves and the world we live in. Our borders generate and are generated by differential social experiences which allow us to learn from each other and grow collectively. Our borders can function as connective social tissues rather than divisive walls. Our differences, viewed and approached constructively, can be used as tools for strengthening our movements and weakening the powers, which aim to keep us divided. For this to happen, we need to recognize our ability and responsibility in defining our borders and changing the way we approach difference. We need a movement built upon border crossings.

Striking the Empire Back

“The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise.” – James Connolly, Ireland, 1913

We live in an empire state, a warfare state, a “homeland security” state. In one generation, we have seen the inexorable expansion of its powers of control and repression. It has come, not only with a bang, but with a silence. This state exists to “serve and protect”-not the people, not even the “nation,” but the interests and the wealth of the few. This fact will not change when the Bush regime is replaced with another. The only power that can stop it is popular power in a global movement.

The empire state is organized, and now privatized, for what the military calls “full spectrum dominance,” but also for corporate profit enforced by military might. In other contexts, it might be called armed robbery, even terror. On TV, they called it “liberation.” But the empire state was on the move long before the invasion of Iraq. It fought for dominance in the Cold War. Its grip reached around the world under the pretext of globalization, growth, “development.” When that fell apart, it found its best cover yet: the “war on terrorism.”

But today, more than ever, U.S. empire finds itself in a global crisis of ungovernability. It finds itself unable to control its territory, unable to pacify the resistance that’s rising anew from the Middle East to Latin America. The “New American Century” is coming to an early end in the rubble of Iraq, but it may be a long time before the world is freed of its consequences. After four years and hundreds of thousands of dead, even the rulers are looking for a way out of Iraq, but they are already preparing for the next war somewhere else.

The occupation also reaches within. Everyday life in the U.S. is militarized, criminalized and colonized. Ordinary people are forced to pay for the empire state with their money, their rights, their lives. This state’s priorities for young people are bombs, not books. Enlistments, not jobs. Prisons, not schools. The occupation abroad provides cover for occupation at home, expanding the police state and criminal injustice system that was already there. Unseen: The 2 million human beings kept in cages. Unheard: The political prisoners behind the walls. Seeing but unseen: The surveillance of every corner, every protest.

The empire strikes back-hard. But from across the world and to our own streets, resistances spread as wildfire. Not all are the same, but some are swept by a “wind below” and guided by what piqueteros in Argentina call “the militant defense of everyday life.” The end of empire will come from below, not from above. It is peoples who struggle for liberation, not the rulers, not the autocrats or theocrats. Anyone who stands against empire in the U.S. must stand with peoples in resistance.

Those who are in the “brain of the monster,” in the centers of empire, must fight it and restrain it from within. They may not have access to the halls of power where decisions are made, but they know the addresses, and they should know they have their own kind of power. If young people in the U.S. want to hasten the end of empire, they will raise its social costs. They will work to dismantle the pillars of the warfare state. They will bring the crisis of ungovernability to its home turf. They will support rebellion in the ranks and make the way for a politics of mass refusal.

To do that, they will have to make themselves relevant. The words of the rulers ring hollow in the ears of people everywhere. Do we have something better to say? Do we have the capacity to listen to what “ordinary” people have to say? Do we have something better to build with them? If not now, when?


Towards Freedom, from Below and to the Left

“Who, companero? The people, no one more than the people. And how, companero? Struggling, creating, popular power” – Declaration of the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios, Chile, 2006

Many on the left have heard it before: “We know what you’re against, but what are you for?” We have our own answers to this question, but this pamphlet does not intend to offer any sweeping proposals. Our premise is that the alternatives must emerge through the openings of everyday struggles and out of the conversation between ideas and practices. Our other premise is that it has to be up to people themselves, at every moment, to decide what their common life and their society is going to look like, work like, act like.

In a society where all power over people’s lives has been taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of the few, the rich, even this basic condition may seem like an impossible dream. But it is a recurring dream that has ignited revolutions and movements around the world, and continues to fire a collective hope today. And it must be translated into practice. For this to happen, our movement will have to build on movements that have fought before, and other movements now in motion, to reclaim and create popular power.

Our young left should be a radically democratic left, one that demands and practices nothing less than direct democracy in which everyone participates and nobody dominates. “All power to the people”: power defined, in the feminist sense, as “power with,” not “power over.” People must be free, and have the resources they need, to democratically determine the conditions and shape the possibilities of their existence. It’s not enough for this to apply to those who already have the luxury of spending their lives in meetings. It must be based in communities, in workplaces, in schools, wherever people struggle.

We have to understand that we cannot really be free until all are free, that is, until the means of a free life belong to everyone. Our movement must therefore turn its attention to fighting for autonomy and self-determination, alongside the communities affected, for all those who have been systematically denied it: For workers’ power in the workplace, for youth and student power in the schools, for empowerment of communities of color, of all genders and sexualities. For that to happen, in turn, we need an accountable left, one that recognizes, respects and responds to the collective agency of those struggling for liberation.

We also need a young left that strives towards autonomy from established power structures and institutions of oppression-even while engaging with them (not ignoring them). We are up against and inside an authoritarian system that reproduces itself not only by repressing dissent, but by buying off and coopting those who oppose it. We cannot participate on its terms, on its stage. But we must speak to the audience from among them, not above them, while showing the powerful, “Que se vayan todos”: “They all must go.”

If we want autonomy, we have to build mutual aid between movements, communities and peoples in revolt. They can no longer depend for their needs on institutions that have oppressed, exploited, stolen and killed for as long as any can remember. They have to be able to rely on each other’s solidarity.

Practicing Solidarity

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time… But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Territory, Australia

Strong movements are grounded in strong human relationships-especially relations of solidarity, of each standing together with the other from one place to another, one people to another, one movement to another; recognizing others’ struggles as our own. Yet there is a difference between proclaiming ourselves in solidarity with struggles or communities and actually practicing it. “Solidarity” has become a buzz word, but what does it mean in practice?

“Solidarity” on the left has its roots in the solidarity of labor, which united-and must one day reunite-working people everywhere with the understanding that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” There is something crucial that came out of that: solidarity is never about “helping others” because you feel like it. It’s about fighting for yourself, your family, community, class, by standing with other oppressed people against the forces that make life unlivable for all.

What might it mean to really practice solidarity in the young left? First, we have to ask ourselves about the basis of our solidarity. What are our common experiences? What conditions do we face? What struggles do we share? Solidarity begins at home, and it requires building a strong movement where we are-one that can then offer meaningful support to others as well as confront the sources of repression in our backyards. Solidarity, like the powers it confronts, must be at once globally linked up and locally rooted.

Our solidarity must be active, shown not in attitude, but in action, and it must be sustained, not fleeting. This means each standing in defense of all, whenever such defense is needed, not just when it makes the news or one’s favorite websites. And unlike charity or commerce, solidarity must be horizontal, shared below instead of from above to below. It must operate not only without hierarchies on the surface, but with a commitment to countering and transforming existing relations of power at every step-while recognize the autonomy of those with whom we are in solidarity.

Solidarity actions and movements, taking these questions seriously and working towards a stronger culture and politics of solidarity, can advance the struggle for a new world within and against the system while also prefiguring the society that is possible. Between communities, workplaces, schools and other centers of activity, we can develop and practice solidarity as active, as visceral and as global as that of the would-be rulers and owners of the world. But our solidarity, in practice, can be immeasurably more powerful.

Reflections on Solidarity with Communities of Color (by Kelly Lee)

As a working-class woman of color organizing around issues that disproportionately impact poor people of color, I am always unpleasantly surprised by the sense of entitlement among potential allies presumably acting in solidarity with the struggles of poor communities of color. In a society where most forms of inequality and injustice are increasingly impacting poor communities of color, it is essential that those seeking to work on these issues or in these communities practice solidarity.

Too often well-meaning groups of generally white, middle or upper-class activists and students come into communities of color as outside allies or through gentrification and try to organize around issues affecting these communities without creating, or often without attempting to create, meaningful and sustainable connections with community residents or the people and groups organizing from within these communities. It is a sense of entitlement associated with relative privilege that allows would-be allies to believe that they know what is best for communities in struggle.

Effective community-based organizing is actively accountable to the communities it occurs in and to the people organizing from within these communities. First, in order to create meaningful and mutually supportive connections between allies and community and peoples’ struggles, the mainstream left must accept the fact that peoples not traditionally associated with or recognized as part of the left in the United States – namely, racial minorities, immigrants and working-class folks – are, in fact, organizing and are at the forefront of progressive and radical activism.

Second, potential allies seeking to organize around issues that disproportionately impact marginalized groups must practice solidarity by respecting the experience, recognizing the leadership of, and actively supporting the struggles of those directly affected. Third, a young left must reclaim a form of solidarity that recognizes that activism and knowledge are not the sole province of peoples of certain colors, languages or nationalities, and that a movement in the left must equally and accountably nurture and connect the struggles of all.

Activism vs. Organizing

“Educate, Agitate, Organize!” – Slogan of the Industrial Workers of the World

If we are serious about working to bring another world into being, we will have to move from just doing activism to doing organizing. Within the young left, we need a movement away from single-issue activism as the means to our end and toward a conception of issue-oriented activism as a component of a greater, networked struggle against systemic oppression and exploitation, which requires a dedication to organizing. Organizing, in this sense, means building our counter-power over the long haul, not just taking to the streets for a day.

Organizing requires organization. We have to be able to organize ourselves before we can try to reorganize society. Self-organization goes hand in hand with self-determination. There are many ways of organizing ourselves; local unions, regional assemblies and “consultation with the base” are some of the more democratic ones. It is possible to organize in a way that gets things done, inspires participation, facilitates communications, keeps itself open to revision and turns hierarchies on their heads-not just the seen but the unseen, not just the formal but the informal. Eternal vigilance is the price of radical democracy. And long-term organizing may be what lies between a movement and victory.

Activism still has its critical place in a larger movement. When activists win, even something small, it has the potential to turn into something big by raising consciousness and showing power. Yet in the left today, issue-specific or single-issue activism has become activism itself. Students may organize to keep military recruiters out of their schools and this, in itself, is a valid issue. However, alone, it will not change the systems which place recruiters on school campuses, which drive recruiters to target poor public schools in particular, or which maintain and provide for a military in the first place.

Divorced from allied issues and collaborative campaigns, issue-oriented activism is simply a means of making unjust systems more bearable. We can consciously and effectively target systems of oppression only through collaborative struggle. Furthermore, we need to expand our understanding of issues often viewed as singular to include a more nuanced, complicated analysis of how peoples’ struggles are related and interdependent. Our movement needs increased analysis paired with liberating practice around how we can work together and organize in ways that create sustainable, radical social change.

The new left should not let itself be limited by standards or scripts of activism and action that do not 1. account for the experiences of peoples engaged in struggle and 2. give action power by recognizing the diverse and significant ways in which people resist and combat oppression daily. Any truly radical movement recognizes the experience and leadership of peoples organizing through informal and localized channels. We too often assume that 1. “ordinary” people are not organizing or resisting and 2. “ordinary” people are not effectively organizing and resisting. Both of these assumptions are false and ultimately destructive to any movement that seeks to radically or substantively alter the social systems which limit our existence.

Ordinary people are continuously resisting in extraordinary ways. As a movement the young left must recognize and support acts of resistance that empower people, whether or not such acts fit nicely into an activist mold of resistance. Powerful, relevant collaborative struggle will be achievable only when borders between formal activism and informal resistance are forgotten.

Imagining Liberation, Liberating Imagination

“The goal of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible” – Toni Cade Bambara

If we want a society liberated from the systems and institutions that now enchain us, we have to be able to collectively reimagine a politics of liberation. But if we want a politics of liberation, a young left will have to defend and liberate our own imagination from the constraints imposed upon it within the present system-and within the old left once known as the New Left. Movements around the world have been reimagining what it means to make a revolution. Let us begin.

The future of our young left may depend, in part, upon whether and how it moves to take up this project. The established order has survived by reproducing itself in its own image, but also by adapting and lending itself to constant transformation and innovation. Much of the U.S. left today is reproducing itself as before, falling back on old ways instead of reinventing itself anew. If we hope to win, our generation has to engage in a process of reinvention, on its own terms.

At the same time, part of the work of imagining is the work of remembering. We can mobilize the collective memory of generations of organizers, dissidents and revolutionaries, living and dead, “Old Left” and “New.” But our collective remembering can be an active, dynamic process. We can construct a counter-memory to the official history. We can bring collective memory into collective action. We can move away from trying to imitate and relive the 60s to learning from the past, to improvising and imagining new meanings for our own context.

The creative urge in our movements must be cultivated, nourished, given room to grow and to shape, not only pretty objects at our demonstrations, but our actions themselves. We must give our movement a new creativity in its form and direction, in its adversity to oppression, in its construction of another kind of politics that hastens a better and more beautiful world.

Let’s remember that these are serious times, and they call for serious creativity. Our imagination must be rooted in the real as well as the possible. Our actions must be strategic, fitted to a collective purpose, a direction, a need. Our actions must be relevant to a context, a community, a target, a movement. Still, all of that takes imagination.

Today, we fight because we must, but the new society will not be limited to a realm of necessity. It will be a realm of freedom, one in which we can think, work and create as free people. But we can begin to liberate the collective imagination through our own struggles to reimagine liberation today.


We need a renewal and radicalization of the left – a reinvention of what it means to love each other and this world enough to fight for something better together. When petitioning, voting, demonstrating and single-issue campaigning have failed to produce effective systemic change; when our organizations are working in the same communities on the same issues without even realizing it; when five thousand people are angry and hopeful enough to come out to a protest, but don’t know how to channel their frustration in a way that is effective and sustainable, we must radicalize the way we organize around issues and the way we organize with each other.

Radicality, in this sense, means being unafraid of asking and creatively answering serious questions. Questions about how our movement is failing to develop and sustain effective ways of taking action, practicing solidarity and effecting social transformation. A radical theory of social change must be useful, accessible and intersectional, meaning that it must be relevant to people’s lived experiences, easily understood and widely applicable, and aware of the complexity and interconnectedness of peoples’ struggles.

We need a practical movement, but more than that, we need a powerful movement – a movement in which even breathing, talking, listening and taking action are exercises in liberation. Our struggles must be tangible, our connections vivid. We must practice solidarity across borders, and work towards autonomy and freedom in our communities. We must strengthen a revolutionary form of unity, “from below and to the left,” that recognizes our differences and builds our collective power.

For many of us currently living and loving in the struggle, the future of our movement seems uncertain. In such uncertainty, building the new world we hope to someday know can seem impossible, but we should not let uncertainty – or old certainties – prevent us imagining impossible things into being. Our world cannot continue to live as it has been living, and we must do more than hope that our present will not become our future, or our children’s future.

Every positive change that appears to come from somewhere else, from the powers above, actually comes from below through the struggles of “ordinary” people, writing their own history. We must draw our ink and prepare to write a new history with them. Our generation does not have the luxury of cynicism. We do not have a scarcity of imagination. Resisting and constructing, remembering and prefiguring, we can make the world anew. What we have tried to present in this document are not answers, but an invitation to ask revolutionary questions, because a time will come when we will need answers.

About the Co-Authors

Kelly Lenora Lee, 22, is a radical woman of color and activist hailing from Oregon and sometimes Boston. Michael Gould-Wartofsky, 22, is an organizer and a writer from New York City, and also lived in Boston. They are part of Students for a Democratic Society, and have been involved in community/labor solidarity, anti-war, anti-capitalist & anti-oppression movements.

Professor offers a Critical Look at the New Left in Latin America

On Thursday, University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Patrick Barrett delivered a lecture on “The New Latin American Left.” Barrett examined the rise of the New Left in recent years, its successes, and its ongoing challenges.

On Thursday, April 12 the Latin American Studies Department at Grand Valley State University hosted University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Patrick Barrett who presented on the topic of “The New Latin American Left: Utopia Reborn?” Professor Barrett is part of the New Haven Center and is involved with the Midwest Social Forum.

To put in perspective what the speaker meant about the New Left in Latin America he began with a quote from Jorge Castaneda’s book Utopia Unarmed, which for all practical purposes was saying that the left in Latin America by the early 1990s was pretty much dead. The pro-business, pro-US politicians pretty much had control of the region and Neo-liberalism was triumphant. However, that same year began with the EZLN uprising in Mexico, with a totally different message than what Castaneda had written. Professor Barrett stated that:

“Today, there are new political leaders, social movements, and particularly indigenous movements throughout the region. There are also new economic models and innovative economic redistribution programs. Now ethnicity, gender and culture are part of the formula, again particularly around a sensitivity to indigenous issues. What I believe is that there is not a new Latin American Left, but lefts – many different fronts. This is all happening now, so it is difficult to say where it is going, but we can identify its origins and achievements.”

The origins of the New Left come out of the end of the Old Left demise, which culminated with the electoral loss of the Sandinistas in 1990. This also coincided with the growth of poverty and low wage work and a crisis amongst the academic liberal establishment, where the traditional Leninist Vanguard came under increasing scrutiny. There were four main factors in the rise of the New Left. 1) The economic consequences of Neo-liberal Policies, which were increased poverty and inequality. This disparity was exposed with the 1994 Zapatista uprising. As a result of this increased poverty, New Left governments also grew in places like Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela. 2) There was an emergence of new social factors like revitalized labor, campesinos, landless people and indigenous movements. 3) There was greater discontent with all political parties…Que Se Vayan todos – which means, “throw them all out!” This statement reflected that social movements were not happy with any of the existing political parties. 4) There has been a revitalization of the New Left on a global scale, evidenced by the Anti-WTO action in Seattle, the World Social Forum, and the growing opposition to the US war in Iraq.

The search for an alternative to Neo-liberalism has generated intense debates throughout Latin America. The dilemma is defined by fact that the same reasons that swept political parties out of power have been inherited by the new left governments. Brazil is a good example, with Lula coming to power in 2002. Some capitalists left the country, which caused problems, but Lula’s predecessor took on a huge loan from the IMF, which furthered the Neo-Liberal plan. Lula, caught in this dilemma, appointed economic conservatives to positions in government to oversee these IMF policies. So, the difficulty is how to promote an alternative? The New Left Agenda in some ways takes for granted market forces while calling for social reforms, thus the outcomes are very limited change. One consequence is that the new left governments are being pressured from forces on the left and right. Professor Barrett felt that “In many ways Latin America is sort of a laboratory to see how possible it is for significant social change to take place.”

There are some encouraging small-scale changes with greater community control of resources in countries like in Bolivia. On a national level there has been a change to greater nationalization of resources and an emphasis on South/South relations, meaning trade amongst each other and under the terms dictated by countries in the South, not by the US. Venezuela is also proposing an alterative to CNN for the South as a means to present news and information from a Latin American perspective.

Professor Barrett next addressed the various players towards social change – social movements, Political Parties and governments. Of these three, social movements are the most important. They provide a primary impetus for social change, through labor organizing, farmers and campesino groups, and indigenous movements in places like Bolivia and Ecuador. Where political parties have been most successful, they have relied on social movements – countries like Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. The EZLN has had the biggest impact with their idea of taking power without taking state power. Others argue that the EZLN view surrenders too much of the state to the political right. In other words, the state should be seen as a strategic terrain, with the hopes of democratizing the state in such a way that it is more vulnerable to movements from below. Struggle over the state have been very intense with constitutions being re-written, like in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. There is also recognition of democracy not being limited to representative democracy, with an increase in more participatory forms.

Political parties can serve this change by being a political arm of the social movements. They can also provide the state with a strategic direction. However, the imperative of winning elections is inherently in conflict with the demands of social movements. When parties assume office they generally want stability even if it means betraying social movements that got them elected. The Lula government is a good example of this since they have separated themselves from the workers party that got Lula elected. In Mexico, there is a division between the electoral left and the social movements. Even in Venezuela, where Chavez wants to create a broad political party, the problem is that Venezuela does not have strong enough social movements. The best scenario is that social movements push political parties, which if in office create more opportunities for greater social change. This is sort of the case is Bolivia, but in most cases there is too much division and fragmentations. A New Left movement will depend on what level the various sectors will participate in and collaborate with each other to make lasting change. Professor Barrett concluded by stating that it is to early to tell what the outcome will be and things are changing so fast that anything is possible.

After the lecture, Media Mouse had a chance to interview Professor Barrett and discuss other aspects of the New Left in Latin America. Listen to the interview on the audio section of the site.

Another World is Possible: Building Our Multi-Racial Movement: Midwest Social Forum

At the evening plenary on the opening day of the Midwest Social Forum, four organizers discussed the ways in which activists can work to build a multi-racial movement for social justice and overcome the racism that often dominates white progressive movements.

At the evening plenary on the opening day of the Midwest Social Forum, four organizers discussed the ways in which activists can work to build a multi-racial movement for social justice. The panelists—Azusena Olaguez with the Southwest Youth Collaborative, Baye Camara of Companions on the Journey, Carlos Rios of the Iowa Immigrant Rights Network—addressed a variety of issues pertaining to progressive movements for social change and race including incarceration rates and its effects on building multi-racial movements, the role of white progressives, coalition building across races, the United States’ legacy of racism and its ramifications for organizing, and the necessities of building a multiracial movement.

The panel offered a number of suggestions for white progressives and radicals on how they can contribute to the building a multiracial movement. One theme that came up throughout the discussion was that white radicals need to come to an understanding that an acknowledgement of the United State’s history of racism and imperialism must be central to organizing efforts. Azusena Olaguez explained that the primarily Latino youth that she works with have been able to recognize that there is 350 year history of slavery and racism on which the United States is based and that the youth she works with have sought out African-Americans to ask them how best to address this reality, something that white progressives never do. On a similar note, Karen Bond suggested that white progressives need to go to majority people of color organizations, sit through meetings, and feel intimidated in order to come to a partial understanding of what people of color have to go through. Baye Camara observed that white progressives have a tendency to show up once they think there is a problem and saying that they help but frequently ignore the fact that the problem may have stemmed from their failure to be there in the first place. One audience member reminded folks the underlying issue is not racism but rather white supremacy and that white radicals need to stop asking people of color in what they should do and instead talk to each other about what white folks are going to do to stop racism. Along similar lines, Karen Bond recommended that white progressives read the essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (” by Peggy McIntosh to better understand the role of white privilege in United States society. She also reminded white organizers to address racism from the beginning and to acknowledge that while it is not possible to solve the problems of racism immediately, it is imperative that they be addressed.

The panel also discussed the question of whether or not a multiracial movement is truly possible and debated its necessity. Bond asserted that she “doesn’t think multiracial organizing is always a necessary part of the process” and explained that while white progressives often gasp at this comment, the reality is that while they cannot organize for the most oppressed (largely people of color in society), African-Americans could organize around any issue and succeed because in order to survive in society they have to have an understanding of how what white people want. Bond also reminded the audience—made up of largely white progressives—that there remains a lot of organizing to be done in white communities with respect to their own racism. Moderator Salim Muwakkil of In These Times offered his opinion that in light of the high rates of incarceration of people of color in the United States that this might be an issue on which blacks and browns can unite, largely in response to questions about why there has not been a strong black-brown movement in the United States. Karen Bond argued that the fact that this coalition has not been formed stems in part from the interest of the majority white culture to keep the races separate and the internalization by people of color of the views of the majority culture. Baye Camara explained that his approach is essentially one through which he understands race and its relationship to his prison organizing, but that at this point he and prisoners who are currently incarcerated welcome whatever help they can get, or as he phrased it, “if we are drowning, we are not too particular about who is saving me.” He expanded this point later stating that the question probably should not be one of “buddying up” to people of color but building a movement that can empower people to meet their basic needs and tear down imperialism. Azusena Oleguez also made the statement that while it is important to focus on building multi-racial movements and organizations, it is also important to recognize the differences.

The panelists, specifically Karen Bond, also examined the ways in which people of color are marginalized by the corporate media, and in many cases, the independent media. Bond’s organization, the National Black Coalition for Media Justice, is addressing the issue of black representation in the media by a twofold approach of working to claim African-Americans rightful place in the corporate media and creating their own media to address the inadequacies of the dominant culture’s media system. Bond expressed that it is important to work within the corporate media because for every radical created through the independent media several racists are created by the corporate media. She also addressed the fact that the media reform movement in the United States is dominated by white progressives, which Bond argues is largely due to the fact that the privileged white activists often have the most time to work on the issue. However, with that privilege, comes a responsibility to be proactive in getting people of color involved in the movement as people of color are the most affected by the media’s racism, pointing out that “if whites have a sniffle, blacks have a fatal disease.” The media reform movement has exasperated this situation by taking the majority of the funding available for media reform organizing while increasing corporate consolidation has increased sexism and racism in the media and in some cases, such as Clear Channel’s owning of all black radio stations in Chicago, make it difficult for the African-American community to organize direct boycotts of media organizations in order to make them better serve the community. Carlos Rios also explained that the immigrant rights movement has had difficulties gaining media coverage of the immigration, as the media has only been interested in covering large events.

The panel also address the racial make-up of the Midwest Social Forum itself, responding in part to criticisms from organizations who charged that the Midwest Social Forum has failed to adequately approach organizations of color and was not organized in a way that valued the contributions of organizations of color and respected their contributions to the movement for social change. Among the allegations in a letter circulated on the Milwaukee Independent Media Center website were that:

The Midwest/Radfest Social Forum will take place July 2006 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but it is not about building a movement for a more just Milwaukee. A Social Forum should make a commitment to the struggles of the local area where the event is held. Last year, the Midwest Social Forum was named RadFest and held in posh Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. RadFest historically has been a retreat for white activists to examine and discuss social movements, and prospects for white student and white activist collaboration. The current incarnation of the “Forum” did not grow collectively out of the social forum movement, it was just renamed the Midwest Social Forum.

This year, it was decided that RadFest’s name be changed and the location be moved to a “more accessible” place such as UW-Milwaukee, ironically, one of the most inaccessible institutions in the City for Black and Brown folk. Radfest Social Forum Colonizers believed that if the retreat was held in an “urban” setting, more people of color and poor people would attend.

In addition to moderate attempts to recruit more people of color, the language of the retreat was changed to create the illusion that it would be truly multiracial and more closely aligned to a social forum. But rather than learn from work that is already being done in Milwaukee’s communities, organizers imposed their vision of what their urbanized retreat would look like, then invited people of color to join in. Sounds familiar, right?

The Radfest Social Forum is again illustration of the kinds of struggles people of color deal with when confronting white supremacy. Rather than move toward discussion before claiming the Midwest Social Forum, Radfest proceeded to bypass a process of mutual respect and dialogue between our communities of social justice advocates.

The Midwest/Radfest Social Forum used a tired dynamic that we as people of color know well: wealthy white people who have no investment in our communities came in, drew the blueprints, gathered the materials, and then invited us to do the work so it’s done right and benefits them.

Azusena Olaguez stated that he was disappointed at the turnout of people of color at the Forum and emphasized that more work needed to be done to bring them to the table as part of the effort. Similarly, Baye Comara explained that many people of color no doubt feel shut out by the process and that the only way to get them involved is to go into the communities and get people to the Forum.

Celebrating the Immigrant Rights Movement: Midwest Social Forum Plenary

The opening plenary of the 2006 Midwest Social Forum held this weekend in Milwaukee featured an important discussion of the immigrants rights movement, examining its recent successes and future organizing.

The opening plenary of the 2006 Midwest Social Forum held this past weekend was titled “Celebrating the Immigrant Rights Movement” and featured four organizers involved in the historic protests of March through May in which thousands of immigrants and their supporters took to the streets for immigrant rights in response to the passage of the draconian HR 4437 bill sponsored by Wisconsin Representative F. James Sensenbrenner. The discussion—reflecting the wide-ranging impact of the movement and its potential to reinvigorate grassroots politics in the United States—was framed as a way to both celebrate the successes of the movement as well as to address some of the strategic and tactical questions still facing the movement.

Organizer Roberto Rodriguez, a journalist and filmmaker who has been involved in the struggle for immigrant rights for many years, began by declaring that the catchphrase and central demand of the movement is “No One Is Illegal.” He then went on to state that the Democratic and Republican debate over the question of “legality” and “amnesty” was something of which the two parties should be ashamed. Rodriguez described how it is “beyond degrading” to create a system that has its foundation on the dehumanization of immigrants and then to discuss the “privilege” of making some of them citizens through “amnesty” when they did nothing wrong and were simply attempting to live. For Rodriguez, there is “no need for a category of illegal human being” and the fact that there exists such a category shows that the citizens and government of the United States have forgotten that the origins of the United States are based on imperialism and colonization. While Rodriguez described the debate as “degrading” now, he warned the audience that it “will get uglier in the next six months” as the Republicans will likely use immigration, xenophobia, and racism as a means of campaigning in the upcoming elections. In order to prevent such rhetoric from framing Congressional action on immigration, Rodriguez emphasized the importance of organizing proactively as a movement and suggested that the movement needs to stop reacting to legislative threats and put forth innovative proposals such as the European Nations (EU) program that allows workers to cross freely across borders for work.

Following from this context, two organizers focused on the successes of the movement this spring and looked towards the future of actions of the movement. An organizer from Madison, Wisconsin described how she participated in the cities April 10 march under the believe that every human has the right to live and that despite her birth in a county that had a history of oppression, she felt compelled to stand up and protest in support of immigrant rights in the United States. She explained that many children participated in the march because their parents and themselves are working to create a place where they will not feel the need to hide the color of their skin and their language. She also challenged the assumptions of many in this country that believe that immigrants have it “easy” and pointed out that when immigrating people lose their families and live in awful conditions. Christine Neumann-Ortiz, from Voces de la Frontera in Milwuakee, described how marches such as the one in Madison and the 70,000-person May 1 march in Milwaukee—were truly something to celebrate. She cited the fact that the four million people who marched in March through May were the product of sustained national organizing rather than “spontaneous” protest as has occasionally been stated by the corporate media. This organizing grew out of the passage of HR 4437 and opposition to that bill’s criminalization of immigrants and their supporters and that due to this organizing the momentum towards the complete criminalization of immigrants has been stopped and that there is now movement, while not perfect, towards legalization. Neumann-Ortiz also described how national and local organizations, churches, labor unions, the business community opposed to losing its labor force, youth, and the media were all instrumental in the success of the movement.

She also addressed the question of where the movement is going, something that many are wondering now that protests have become less frequent and now that the debate over immigration legislation in Congress has been stalled. Neumann-Ortiz described how there are national marches being planned for the Labor Day weekend (September 4th) around the country as a means of brining the movement back into streets and showing that the demands of the immigrant community have not been met. Several groups have also set a national goal of registering one million Latino voters for the upcoming election both as a means of organizing electoral support and as a way of finding persons eligible for citizenship and helping them through that process. She also explained that there has been some discussion of a national boycott of Kimberly-Clarke as the company responsible for the Sensenbrenner family fortune. She argued that the movement has been an “inspiration” and that it has given the opportunity for building relationships between groups and movements and that now the question facing the movement is “who can out organize who” with Republicans, misinformed sections of the population, and the extreme right-wing blaming economic problems on immigration rather than economic problems brought about by corporate decisions and trade policy. She expressed confidence that the movement could successfully organize the grassroots and consequently move the debate and legislation in the favor of the movement.

The final panelist, Colin Rajah of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, reminded the audience that while the debate is often seen as one involving Mexicans and Latinos, immigration is a human condition and that the plight of immigrants extends beyond those groups and that indeed people have always immigrated as becomes necessary for survivability. He cited statistics showing that cross-border immigration has increased over the past century due both to migration as well as the increase in borders. As this immigration has increased, international laws have largely shifted and now view immigration in an economic context with little respect for human and labor rights. While the World Bank has documented that remittances by immigrants’ to their families in their native countries are significant and consequently contribute to economic growth, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) view immigrants as economic units that can be used to promote trade. Even international bodies such as the United Nations, which has been the site of struggle by the immigrant rights movement to obtain protections, have adopted economic rhetoric and have abandoned their role as allies of the movement. He explained that within the larger social forum network, of which the Midwest Social Forum is a part, a migrant rights caucus has been formed and there has been significant progress towards making immigrant rights an important issue on the left.

One point of contention in the plenary was the question of supporting the Senate’s bill on immigration, S26.11. This issue was raised by an audience member who gave a brief summary of a protest that was held Wednesday night (07/05/06) in the Milwaukee area at a forum sponsored by Representative Sensenbrenner, with the audience member arguing that the bill produced by the Senate, while not as draconian as HR 4437, contains several unacceptable enforcement provisions, fails to “fulfill the aspirations of the movement,” and argued that the actual contents of the bill have not been discussed enough. In response, Roberto Rodriguez agreed that the guest worker program is the wrong way to go due to its creation of a second class of citizens within the United States who will consequently be targets for exploitation and oppression. He further stated that he believed that electoral politics are “the wrong way to go” for a movement that should be able to look and see that electoral politics have historically been unable to protect immigrants. Christine Neumann-Ortiz responded that the We Are America Alliance–a coalition of immigrant rights groups—came to consensus after extended debate that while the Senate bill had unacceptable criminalization components, it had made some achievements that reflected the success of the movement.