A Z Compendium for the ‘Summer of Convention Convergences
alphabetically: Michael Albert, Tariq Ali, Leslie Cagan, Doug Dowd, Dorothy Guellec, Robert Naiman, Cynthia Peters, Lydia Sargent, Danny Schechter, Steve Shalom, Karen Wald, and Tim Wise.
For "outward organizing and demonstrating" the movement seems on track in focusing on global economics and the WTO/IMF/WB nexus, on Mumia and Peltier, on the prison industrial complex, on international injustices with Colombia forefront, on health care, on biotechnology, on electoral reform. So I want to address "the internal focus" side of the question.
1. The Umbrella Problem
Movements elevate different priorities because people endure different conditions depending on race, gender, class, and diverse other factors. The diversity of orientation is good, but that our movements often don’t aid one another, or even compete, is bad. Different agendas need space to develop, gain confidence, and retain focus. But to win, different agendas also need breadth of allegiance, which means each has to benefit from the strength and character of the rest. We need to solve the problem of respecting diversity and autonomy, while finding ways to have an overarching sense of solidarity—everyone ultimately fighting the totality of oppressions, mutually supportive. One big step in this direction will be for the larger movements to support the smaller ones, for the richer movements to help pay the way of the poorer ones—unreservedly and with people’s bodies and resources too. That’s something worth working on.
2. The Stickiness Problem
Millions of people come into proximity of the left, participating in various events and projects, but later leave. There are many reasons why people often don’t "stick with it." Not least, a movement that can persevere over the long haul with continuity and commitment needs to uplift rather than harass its membership, to enrich their lives rather than diminish them, to meet its members needs rather than neglect them. To join a movement and become more lonely is not the way forward. To join a movement and laugh less often is not the way forward. We need to make our projects places where folks from all backgrounds would want to spend their time. Movement building involves lots of tedium, lots of hard work, but there is no reason to make movement building as deadening as possible. Movement participation should provide people full, diverse lives, not merely long meetings or obscure lifestyles so divorced from social involvement that they preclude all but a very few from partaking.
We are for ending racism and sexism in society. We know we must also finally end racial and sexual hierarchies inside our movements—because otherwise we are hypocritical, we aren’t inspiring, we suffer the ills of these oppressions ourselves, our movements will not attract or retain much less empower women and people of color, and we also won’t be able to retain our anti-racist and anti-sexist priorities outwardly. There is more work to be done, but the insight is good. We are also for ending economic injustice and class hierarchy in society. We have to realize that that has a similar implication: we must restructure our movements so that they no longer replicate corporate divisions of labor and decision-making and market norms of remuneration. This must become a priority if we are to avoid class-centered hypocrisy, become inspiring, not suffer (or perpetrate) class alienations ourselves, attract and retain and empower working people in our efforts, and, more, retain our economic justice focuses outwardly.
4. The Megaphone Problem
It is a constant refrain—"how come leftists are always talking to the choir?" There are probably some people who do it because it is easier than reaching out to folks we don’t know who may disagree with what we have to say, who may even be hostile at times. People with this insular attitude ought to rethink it, of course. But the main explanation for why people on the left are most often talking to people who are also on the left, or who already wish to be, is that the left doesn’t have a megaphone that we can shout into that is loud enough to be heard by folks who aren’t already listening to our messages. Our media is still very small reaching only folks who are already looking for it. We need to strengthen our alternative media, supporting and enlarging it, and we need to pressure mainstream media as well—but we also need to take seriously the problem of how to place left views, analyses, agendas, and visions in the face of the whole population rather than appearing only in hard-to-find nooks and crannies that people have to search for to even know we exist.
5. The Vision Problem
"What are you for" is another constant refrain from those we try to organize, or from bystanders, and even from many in the movement, especially as they sometimes feel doubts (fueled, often, by worsening lives). Our absence of vision ought to embarrass us. We need vision that is subject to refinement and not shrouded in obscurity. We need it about economics, political institutions and law, families and kinship, culture, the ecology, and international relations. We need it to inspire, provide hope, inform criticism of what is, orient long-term strategy and short-term program, and change us from being mostly negative to being mostly positive.
People in this country and around the world long since know that the basics of society never worked humanely in the first place, and that countless lives are lost. What people doubt is that anything better is possible. If we don’t talk vision and strategy, accessibly and compellingly, we aren’t talking to the real obstacles that prevent most people from seeking social change.
6. The Money Problem
We know that money matters in society, but we don’t seem to realize that money matters on the left, too. Where does it come from? How is it handled? Is it empowering a few to the detriment of the many? Is there enough? Most leftists don’t know the answers because this topic is basically taboo. Try to find essays and ruminations, much less proposals, about how events, projects, and demos should be funded, much less how the funds that come in should be redistributed among efforts. Mostly, you can’t. There is endless talk on the left about using the Internet constructively, which is good, but there is almost no talk about how to have left Internet projects generate revenues. Ignoring how we get and handle money is a dead-end approach beneficial only to those who monopolize control of what marginal monies the left now enjoys.
Five Key Areas
The new Star Wars initiative that threatens to trigger a new arms race and, linked to this, the need for a campaign against nuclear weapons.
2. Global Economics
The campaign against capitalism and exploitation which was given such a tremendous boost by Seattle.
The campaign against the bombing of and the sanctions against Iraq and its people by the United States and its English side-kick. I think there is a case for trying Clinton, Albright, Blair, and Cook as war criminals for what they have done to Iraq.
4. Capital Punishment
The struggle against capital punishment in the United States and elsewhere. What price is a human right if the right to life is taken away by the state?
The campaign for the dissolution of NATO and the democratization of the United Nations. The implementation of UN General Assembly Resolutions demanding the end of economic sanctions against Cuba.
Five of the Challenges Before Us
As I consider the immediate challenges progressive and left activists face in the coming year I find myself focusing on several major internal concerns. That is, issues our movement(s) must address if we are to be strong enough to tackle everything else. For sure, there are many problems that need our attention, that demand our organizing effort, that move us to action. Arguments can be made for focusing on a set of specific issues and each of our organizations will set priorities. But as I step back to look at the big picture there is no way I would argue, for instance, that the struggle for universal health care is more or less important than the fight for quality public education, or that abolishing the death penalty is more or less important than stopping U.S. intervention in Colombia. The central question is not so much what issue you work on, but how you do that work. While there are a host of things to consider in this regard, let me just mention a few:
1. Internal Democracy
Who makes decisions and by what process are decisions made? For the past two years I’ve been working with the Ad Hoc Committee for An Open Process, a group of lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender activists who challenged the top-down, closed door practices of the people putting together the recent Millennium March on Washington. The very short version of this story is that the largest, richest national LGBT organizations have undermined the history of grassroots involvement in setting the direction and priorities for the lgbt movement. The corrupting power of money—which usually translates into the power of mostly white mostly men— plays out everywhere in the LGBT community these days. As bad as this is, there is the additional problem that this leads to politically bad decisions being made in the name of a national social change movement. One more example: I recently attended my first meeting of the national board of Pacifica Radio. It was striking how the lack of internal democracy makes it virtually impossible to get to the substantive issues that must be discussed. The struggle to democratize the organization internally will have a direct impact on the outcome of the continued crisis, as well as on the sound of the Pacifica stations. Let me be clear here. I am not offering a model for every movement or for specific social change organizations. I am suggesting the need for a renewed commitment to a vigorous struggle for democracy inside our movements.
2. Linking New Activism to Other Organizing
I have been energized by the explosion of activism we’ve seen this past year or so: the re-energized movement to abolish the death penalty, new efforts against the prison-industrial complex, militant challenges to globalization, organizing against sweatshops, etc. But I am concerned that this new wave of activism is not being consciously connected with other traditions of social change organizing. I’ve been to many meetings in the past year related to building protests at the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer. Overwhelmingly, the discussions focused on the need to build on the energy of the Seattle and Washington, DC protests. Yes, certainly that needs to happen. But what about the organizing that has been going on for decades in communities of color, in women’s and lgbt communities, in struggles against militarism, for environmental justice, etc?
3. Bridging the Gap Between Younger and Older
In the 1960s we warned against trusting anyone over 30. Having long passed that age I stopped feeling so strongly about that some time ago, even though I can still understand the sentiment. Any social change movement needs to always be concerned about keeping itself relevant, dynamic and interesting. We run the risk of losing the power of our movements if we deny or ignore the creativity, insights and boldness of young people and newer activists. At the same time, there are lessons to learn and positive organizing traditions to build on. We need to develop ways to pass along experience without being condescending or patronizing. We need to learn how to teach our history, as we respect the new history that is being made. This is not just an issue of people from different generations being nice to and respectful of one another…although that would certainly be a good place to start. This is about understanding that our work as social change activists is a life time commitment and we all, whatever age we happen to be, are part of that process and have important contributions to make.
4. Dealing With Racism
Probably most progressive or left social change activists in this country today have some understanding of race and racism. At least the rhetoric of anti-racism shows up in more places than it used to. But I am concerned that the struggle against racism is often viewed as something "out there" and not as part of our internal work. This is wrong. We need to understand the dynamics of race and how that plays out inside our organizations. If we are not challenging racism in the many ways it is expressed within our own movements then how do we think we will ever be able to confront it in the world at large? Beyond this, we need to re-examine the ways we analyze the issues we work on, making sure our analysis has used the lens of race as centrally as that of class or gender or anything else. It is not good enough to tag on race after the analysis is done. Instead, we need to uncover how the politics of race and the reality of racism plays out in—and is central to —all of the issues we work on.
46 Z MAGAZINE JULY/AUGUST 2000
5. The Role of Government
For two decades the right wing in this country has whipped up an anti-big government outcry. Of course we know they are not really opposed to big government —look at the budgets passed for military spending, for the expansion of prisons and for policing organizations. At the same time it has become increasingly obvious how much power the corporate world has in setting the agenda for government at all levels. Progressive and left organizers need to articulate not only our critique of government but also what positive role(s) we believe government should play. For instance, we should be insisting that government serve in a regulatory capacity to at least put some limits on the power of private corporations. Government should make sure that those without resources have access to quality health care, education, housing and other basic needs. Government could even play a positive role in building bridges between diverse and often separated communities. We also need to put forth a clear set of ideas about how government could be a positive force in our lives. Every issue we work on and every constituency group we organize in has some relationship to the host of questions about the role and structure of government.
The Big Five
The most vital problems in the U.S.—racism, greed, poverty, heedless nationalism, and ubiquitous corruption, as I see them—are unlikely to be dealt with head on in the electoral process, but the support for specific and related socioeconomic policies can make headway against them. Insofar as I see them as related and interdependent, the listing is not meant to be in order of importance, all meant to be financed as necessary moving toward a genuinely progressive tax system (on individuals and corporations):
- (1) universal health care
- (2) genuine social security (with either a progressive payment or entirely governmentally funded system)
- (3) a livable wage for all
- (4) a much enlarged public housing program with its benefits entirely confined to those in the bottom quintile of incomes
- (5) an educational program concentrated on K-12 utilizing federal funds to build schools and enhance teachers’ incomes, with priority on areas of the highest urban and rural needs
Repeat: These should be seen as an integrated program in which each aspect feeds and is fed by the others.
Health Comes First
Every single person in the U.S. has an inherent right to medical care plus prescriptions without regard to income and status. One-third of our nation does not. One-third is either uninsured or underinsured.
Another important issue is the disconnect between those idiots in power in DC and the rest of the nation resulting in more initiatives on the state level. Massachusetts is one example for universal (health care) coverage in the commonwealth. The gun problem is, of course, important. There are too many guns, and the 4th Amendment is not interpreted correctly—far from it. "A well regulated militia" is not the same as every Tom, Dick and Harry, and kids too, have a right to a gun. Great Britain, the rest of Europe, and many other countries do without this, and do not suffer to my knowledge.
The death penalty must go, as the recent percentage of mistakes has shown. Sixty-eight percent of convictions overturned due to poorly represented prisoners, sloppy work, and DNA results. The following programs must go: (1) Star Wars (2) nuclear proliferation (3) troops in all those far flung countries should not be there.
Americans, a priori, feel they have a right to poke their collective noses into every conflict in the world. This is false. In a lot of cases we are not welcomed at all. We haven’t moved, in a sense, since the end of WWII when even our allies said, "Americans are overfed, oversexed, and overhere."
Of course, the state of the media is another thing. Print, TV, and even the Internet are horribly self censored and dumbed down. Official censorship can only be on the government level, but advertising blurs with content and almost everything becomes an ad. So to wrap it up:
- (1) healthcare for all
- (2) the wishes of the people and not the people in DC
- (3) realignment of priorities and expenses at the national level to reflect current conditions and rational thinking i.e. get rid of Star Wars, nuclear testing, space program, etc. And put money into national (people) programs
- (4) media should report the news, not make the news
- (5) parity for all—in France recently a constitutional amendment passed so that every election must have a 50-50 (men/women) ratio except in cities of under 2,000 population.
Maintaining momentum on issues of corporate globalization, including privatization at home and abroad and other impacts of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and working to convert the energy of this movement into concrete gains in terms of U.S. government policy. We should tie these policies to peace and anti-intervention issues, as in Colombia, where IMF and World Bank money are being used to prop up the war. We need to build the labor-community-student alliance on these issues.
The mobilizations in Seattle and Washington were wonderful, but U.S. foreign economic policy remains essentially the same on trade and investment liberalization, privatization, debt, and so on. These are policies with devastating impacts and they will likely remain the same until we succeed in forcing them to change. Demonstrating opposition is not enough. We have to engage the political process. This is difficult work, but it is possible, as was shown when we forced the U.S. goverment to stop bullying South Africa and other developing countries from providing access to AIDS drugs without paying exorbitant prices based on U.S. patents.
Also, we’re never going to be able to turn around the negative impacts of corporate globalization on people in the United States until we start to turn around these impacts on people in other countries.
This means more of everything we’re doing, but it especially means concrete campaigns, like the campus sweatshop campaign, and local Burma laws, and hopefully the World Bank bond boycott where there is a concrete local hook, a concrete goal, and a concrete threat.
2. Electoral reform
Not just campaign finance reform, but everything from the state clean election laws to the Nader campaign and overcoming barriers to third parties and getting more progressive Democrats elected and holding those folks accountable to progressive priorities once they are elected. Also getting more labor and community activists to run for office; getting more "movement energy" into electoral activism, including lobbying, demonstrations and civil disobedience at Congressional offices like we did during Contra aid; pushing progressive electoral activism to be an ongoing presence in political activism, not just at election time.
Getting more people engaged in the political process is going to take a serious push from both sides of the divide. We have to fight the drop-out/cop-out mentality that there is something progressive, rather than cowardly, in dropping out of the political process. But we also have to fight the notion that progressive electoral politics can be done with the political consultant’s template and then you can just browbeat people into participating by scaring them with horror stories about the Republican Right. We have to make electoral activism and lobbying more inclusive of the kind of energy we saw at N30 and A16.
3. Media activism
Again, we need more media criticism, like FAIR; more trying to get progressives into the media; more alternative media, with networked activities like the Independent Media Center in Washington, DC, Seattle, and projected for R2D2. We need to do all the same things for TV, not just print and radio. We should do more to critique and get into small papers and radio, do more to help people do these things in their communities.
We need to revive a vigorous discussion about macroeconomic policy and what it’s doing to people at the bottom of the economy. The importance of full employment policy at the Fed, raising the minimum wage, universal health insurance for African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, people who haven’t gone to college, and other less-advantaged folks. We need to tie this to the obscene rate of incarceration.
Effective activism needs money, it needs staff, it needs resources to communicate. We need to shake lose a lot more money for progressive efforts. In particular, we’re going to have to shake down rich progressives more and raise money in other creative ways, because if all of the progressive organizations wind up being funded by the foundations, then you’re going to have a certain kind of politics, and it’s not going to be very militant. There will be a lot of conferences and things that foundations like to fund, but you’re not going to have people pushing for concrete, significant political changes as much as you would if you weren’t dependent on the foundations.
War at Home/War Abroad
On May 15, 2000, the Boston Global Action Network (BGAN) sponsored a Mother’s March from the African Meeting House to the State House on Beacon Hill. BGAN literature invited us to "Fight domestic structural adjustment. Join activists from across the state to oppose welfare ‘reform’ and to honor the labor of women." Showing the parallels between welfare "reform" (strengthening corporations and forcing people into low-wage jobs) and structural adjustment policies in other countries ("which also strip social services and hurt the poor while benefiting wealthy corporations"), BGAN was thinking globally and acting locally. An African American mother of five, who had spent several years on welfare, took the microphone and talked about being called into the welfare office and being accused of lying in order to get benefits. Their logic was interesting: How could she possibly be surviving on what they paid her? She must be cheating, the authorities concluded, or she and her children would have starved to death by now.
Nationally and internationally, neoliberal economic policies exploit people, rob them of dignity and of a means to survive, and then criminalize them for, in fact, surviving. U.S. policies squeeze Colombian farmers to the point where the only cash crop they can depend on is coca. Domestic U.S. drug laws, meanwhile, ensure that the flow of cocaine into the country will disproportionately penalize and incarcerate poor people and people of color. Philippine nurses can’t make a livable wage in their own country, where their services are desperately needed, so they leave their homes and come to the U.S., where hospitals eagerly give them two-year contracts at substandard wages and then don’t renew the contract. Poor people all over the world, who have been "structurally adjusted" out of their livelihood, come to the United States where they can be super-exploited as laborers and criminalized as illegal aliens. Sound familiar? Like the welfare mother, if you do what you have to do to survive even minimally, you are a cheat and a criminal.
Connect the war at home with the war abroad. Note the parallels in policies. Build on the momentum from Seattle and Washington, DC, by looking around at local struggles. Show up at welfare rights rallies, union picket lines, and Mumia marches. Learn from the community organizers that have deep roots in local struggles. Create a track record of supporting their struggles. Don’t just be a globetrotter against global capitalism—showing up at the hot spots for the big demonstrations. Figure out what’s going on in your own community, and join those efforts.
In preparation for rallies and actions during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia this summer (see www.thepartysover.org), activists have put together a forum on racism and classism, featuring the director of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. This is a good solid example of creating a bridge between those who have focused their organizing against the evils of global capitalism and those who are fighting the same beast, but domestically. So, four goals for the coming year:
1. Build Bridges
Build more bridges between the global and the local. Keep organizing national demonstrations and hauling in participants from all over the country, but do better at being in coalition with local communities. We all have a lot to learn from each other.
2. Question Affinity
Small, democratic, supportive groups give people a positive way to participate in large actions, but don’t let them turn into closed circles. It feels good to talk to people you know and trust, but after the PVC pipes come off, move outside the circle. Talk to people you don’t know or trust. The feeling will probably be mutual so this might be hard work, but it’s what organizing is all about.
3. Join Something
You were tear gassed in Seattle and arrested in DC. You’ll be on the bus to Philly and train to LA. Swooping in and taking a stand is courageous and meaningful, but the movement needs you for more than that. Join an existing social change group (or start your own). Help make decisions, organize events, make the food, install the software, maintain the web sites, and pass the bylaws. Most importantly, make the effort to create mass-based, democratic organizations with sustainable infrastructures.
3. Consume This
Alternative media is where we create (and save from obscurity) a documentary record of class, race, and gender exploitation. It is where we think about what we want, what we envision for our collective future. We need an alternative media in order to communicate with each other, share information, analysis and culture, debate each other and learn from each other. We need radio, film, books, magazines, and Internet access. Buy alternative media. Write for it. Use it in classrooms. Donate to it. Work in it. Make it lively. Consume it.
4. Show Me the Money
The movement needs money—to pay for staff and the work of organizing. It can’t be done on a shoestring. Social change takes a long time; it needs long-term commitment. It requires funding. Give money if you have it, and if you don’t, find someone who does. Challenge the funding community to be responsible to activists and organizers, rather than vice-versa.
Moving Forward, With Laughter
1. Reforms and Civil Rights
It’s always important to pressure for changes within the system that could improve people’s lives. In addition, it gives activists important and useful work. It connects us with communities we care about and belong to. But it can become debilitating in the absence of a larger movement for social change, because there is only so far you can go within the existing system so…
2. Build Alternative Institutions
We need to counter the crap with more than one-day demos and projects that only last five years or less. We need more alternative, self-sustaining, lasting institutions that are based on a radical critique of current institutions and society, on a radical vision of an alternative, and that are organized around the principles of participatory democracy. We need more non-hierarchical non-sexist, non-racist, non-classist institutions and projects that are creative and productive, that can provide a model of "what we want," and that give activists meaningful work, an opportunity to stay involved and to learn/improve skills, including producing, writing, speaking, organizing, and a living wage. They can also provide the basis for a larger network with huge organizing potential.
Just for starters: there should be a radical student organization on every campus in the U.S. and elsewhere. There should be an alternative progressive newspaper on every campus, funded in large part by progressive faculty. There should be the same things in every community—geographical or otherwise, and on and on.
3. Founding a National Organization
Ever since the New Left splits (from 1969 through 1975 or so), everyone I know that’s doing radical, movement, or grassroots work says we can’t start an organization yet (or ever): it’s too soon, it’s too elitist, it’s too time consuming, it’ll never work/there are too many disagreements. That’s why I’ve never understood the remark: "You’re just preaching to the choir. What choir? Would that be a group of people all singing the same song at the same time, in harmony? I don’t think so. The opposite seems to be the case. There’s no choir because we wouldn’t even show up for practice because we might have to be in the same room together for five minutes. This has got to stop. We can’t keep waiting around for every leftie to agree and/or love each others’ politics, and/or for "the masses" to have their "consciousness raised." Either we believe in our analysis of what’s wrong and in principles underlying a better, more humane society, or we should all forget it and go swiming. It’s time to get together, adopt a set of principles, have a founding convention, and move forward.
4. Create a Comedy/Satire Troop
I’m serious. We’ve got a lock on the pain, degradation, suffering, etc. What we need to show off is our senses of humor, which are vast and varied. We could get a troop going from participants at Z Media Institute alone. We could be on every campus, in every community, on national tour….laughing our way to "victory."
Media in the Spotlight
I have been involved in all sorts of solidarity movements, mostly as a journalist, so I am enthusiastic about all of the momentum around global justice issues, and the causes that engaged me then and engage me now—racism, equality, economic fairness, and real democracy.
I became a media worker to spotlight global problems and in the course of that work realized that the media is one of those problems, if not a major one. I came to see how media oligoplolies function as ideological cheerleaders and marketing arms of the push towards globalization from above to benefit those who are above.
That’s why I think that media education and activism has to be a central focus—challenging flawed coverage, creating new outlets online and off, and mounting campaigns for more access and diversity of viewpoint, like the effort to put the public back in public television.
Increasingly when issues are not on TV or in mainstream press, they don’t exist for most people. We have to understand how this industry works and make it a priority to learn from the media-entertainment complex.
My five-point program on media issues includes:
- 1. Practice media monitoring
- 2. Promote media literacy education in schools and communities
- 3. Struggle for anti-trust legislation and a Media and Democracy Act
- 4. Challenge unfair media practices globally
- 5. Create and support independent media
Please see and read what others are doing and saying. Build coalitions. Learn skills. Become better communicators. Take media seriously. Remake media adventurously.
Build institutions and practices that will create the left community that can sustain radicals in non-radical times. We’re in this for the long haul. If all we do is encourage people to super-human levels of commitment for a few years and then let them burn out, we’re doubly burdened. Fanatics often have trouble relating to real people, which makes the building of a mass movement difficult. If all we offer people is a choice between all or nothing, between being a 24 hours a day/7 days a week revolutionary and being apolitical, many will opt for the latter. We need to be able to welcome and nourish people at all different levels of political activity.
2. Talk to People
Radical movements of the past had person-to-person contacts at the center of their activities: organizing unions, voters in the South, students against the Vietnam war, women against sexism. A great many leftists today are in institutes, think tanks, and NGOs, doing good work to be sure, but not as connected to everyday people. We need to reclaim this connection if we are to build a mass movement.
Think about, grapple with, and develop a vision of the future. How can we figure out whether the reforms we seek, the coalitions we join, or the arguments we advance make sense if we don’t have a goal to measure them against? This doesn’t mean we need to engrave in stone every detail of a socialist future, but if we don’t know the general direction in which we’re heading, we’re going to get lost.
Create institutions that will allow the transmission of knowledge from one radical generation to the next, so that the same bone-headed mistakes don’t have to get repeated each time around. Obviously, no generation is going to want—nor should it want—to be handed the answers from on high. But self-critical, inter-generational conversations are essential if we are to move forward.
Let 100 flowers bloom. At some future point it will make sense for all left forces to come together organizationally; there is no doubt that in unity there is strength. But not yet. At the present time we have so many voices, so many projects, so many programs—but these are not the cause of our current confusion, but reflections of it. There is little benefit in artificially joining together on the basis of a program that is likely to be wrong or ill-conceived. So let different groups take different approaches, and perhaps common positions will emerge out of our experiences, successes, and failures.
1. A New World Information Order
Remember that phrase? (Fighting for it earned the UNESCO chair Alioune Sene the undying enmity of the Reagan-Bush government and ultimately his seat. The first African head of a UN agency was eventually ousted after a vicious U.S.-led smear campaign against him). Whoever controls information and information flow controls the world, and right now a small handful of megaconglomerates control media in ways unimaginable when media critics first started talking about the dangers of media monopoly. As more and more information is concentrated in the hands of the right-wing defenders of capitalist ideology, we have to find other ways to ge information and ideas out massively. If we don’t win this battle, it will be almost impossible to win all the others.
2. Follow-up to WTO-IMF- World Bank Demonstrations
The fantastic step forward provided in Seattle was that an amazingly wide range of groups and individuals were able to identify Global Corporate Capitalism as the Main Enemy. But knowing who your enemy is is only the first step. Strategizing about where to go to bring it down is essential, as is continuing the efforts to broaden the awareness created in Seattle and DC (an awareness that already existed in other parts of the world, by people who had previously demonstrated against these entities, and with whom we should continue to join forces and learn from).
3. Fight for participatory democracy in the U.S.
While admittedly not very likely if we don’t carry out the first two, showing people that we do not have the real democracy people assume we have and offering viable alternatives for a form of elected government that has not been bought and paid for by the corporations is a worthwhile goal.
Reestablish normal trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba—not on the condition that Fidel Castro dies or that the people of that country give up their sovereign right to run things their own way, but by getting our government to acknowledge that the U.S. does not have the right to tell any other people in the world how to govern their lives. And not because inundating Cuba with the "American (capitalist) way of life" will inevitably make Cubans become eager capitalist consumers like ourselves, because we still have a great deal to learn from Cuba. This is a good time for us to start putting out alternative information, tell people the truth about Cuba when it might actually fall on receptive ears.
Continue exposing and opposing the prison industry, in its broadest sense—from the racism, sexism and classism inherent in who gets arrested for what, and how they get punished, to the privatization of prisons, exploitation of prison workers, brutality of the system, and implications of all this for the broader society.
Prioritizing the most "critical" areas for the left (however one may define it) is always a dicey proposition as there are obviously so many things which need and deserve the attention of a committed left movement. But from my perspective—clearly influenced by the work I do around race and racism—I would have to say that the following four are certainly among the most important focal points for the coming years:
Those who call themselves "leftists" or "radicals" or "progressives" must make conscious efforts to ensure that the movement against corporate capital/globalization is a representative movement. This means that we will have to listen to what communities of color (in this country and around the world) are saying about their needs and concerns relative to globalization issues, and we will have to prioritize their agendas and leadership within this movement. As people of color are the most immediate and obvious victims of international capital and corporatist "free trade," those in the white left, in particular, will have to be willing to (possibly for the first time) take marching orders from people of color, take a backseat to their leadership and agendas, in order to truly make the movement grow and serve the interests of the world’s majority. Likewise, the growing movement for liberation from the current corporatist model, must be as representative as possible in terms of class/economic status. Activists and organizers who come from economically privileged backgrounds will need to take care to prioritize working-class leadership and that of poor folks: both of whose insights on these issues are often invaluable, but overlooked, because they are not always as steeped in the rhetoric of the organized left (even though they usually grasp the deeper concepts better than more privileged leftists).
We must also prioritize (and link with the above item) the growth of the prison-industrial complex in the United States. The explosion of incarceration in the past two decades, and the increasing use of prison labor for private profit (and to save states money as well) represents the internal construction of sweatshops and virtual slavery in this nation. Remember, the 13th Amendment did not abolish slavery, but only did so for those not convicted of a crime. As such, states and the federal government can and will use those mostly black and brown bodies in jail or prison to drive down labor costs, and to fulfill the economic needs of strained state coffers. By prioritizing the struggle against the prison-industrial complex, and linking this battle to the larger battle against corporate capital, we can make the latter more representative and effective.
3. Criminal Injustice
We must develop a comprehensive response to racism in the criminal justice system—starting with the racial profiling that begins the process, and following all the way through to the sentencing stage. So long as racial profiling is not only allowed but rationalized by social scientists, syndicated columnists, juries, and average folks, people of color will continue to face harassment, brutality, police misconduct, and even death all in the name of so-called "crime control." The rationalization of racism and discrimination that has been so prominent in recent years (especially since publication of books like The Bell Curve and D’Souza’s The End of Racism) is doing harm to people of color all across the nation, and harming most whites as well, by helping to instill fear and distrust in the latter towards the former—much to the detriment of workplace or neighborhood unity and solidarity.
The organized left should commit itself to a serious consideration of some form of reparations for the African American community. Such reparations may also be due to other persons of color assaulted by this system, and if so, should likewise be supported. The organized left must join with those whose call for such restitution has been ignored for so long. Even making the issue of reparations one that we openly discuss and debate amongst ourselves can further the cause of justice, by forcing an honest reflection on the system of white privilege and racial oppression that has marked the nation’s history. It can encourage a greater understanding of the harm done to the African continent by slavery (and later by colonialism), and force a real consideration of the economic and cultural damage done to all Americans as a result of institutionalized racial oppression (not only in the U.S. but throughout the Americas as a whole).
We must openly discuss and develop alternative models and systems that we think are superior in form and content to the system(s) we are seeking to replace. So if we are taking aim at the system of capitalism, we must articulate an alternative vision of how an economy could and should operate, and begin to break down how that might work in our own communities and localities, as well as in a larger sense. For example, the left could (at a local level) begin to offer alternative economic development models effecting everything from production, to consumption, to taxation in the communities where we live. So if there is discussion of these kinds of issues, we should be there, providing models and ideas that demonstrate alternatives to private-sector/corporate driven, top-down city management and development schemes; alternatives to gentrification, alternatives to massive land-giveaways, corporate tax breaks, etc.
We should put forward not only alternative economic system models, but also alternative models for policing and law enforcement that would place power and autonomy directly in the hands of the communities most negatively effected by crime and current methods of "crime control."
This is a list that I genuinely believe represents "must-do’s": it is inclusive not exclusive, and without these things at the forefront of the left in the coming years, I fear we will continue to bounce from small victory to small victory to large setback, never really rooting ourselves in the analysis and counter-vision needed to replace the many flawed systems that currently perpetuate such grave injustices here and around the world. Z