And the only reason I'm singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if you’re in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in say "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.” And walk out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both [gay] and they won't take either of them. And if three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin’ a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it's a movement.
And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.
-Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant, 1966
Sure, building a movement takes more than singing, or writing blog posts. Especially in times like now, which seem more barren for racial justice advocates, environmentalists, peaceniks, leftists, etc. in the US than the comparatively heady days of the 1960s.
Listening to the popular live recording of Alice’s Restaurant, there is a great interplay between Arlo Guthrie’s hilarious ramblings and the audience’s laughter and singing along. Without denigrating the many fine and socially conscious musicians and audiences of today, a certain elan comes through in the recording which is harder to feel these days, one that might be worth thinking about for those interested in building a movement.
Here are some questions, provoked by the opening quotation from Alice’s Restaurant. What are we (whoever we are) asking people to join? Is it building toward something concrete? At the same time, is it at least a little fun? Is it part of something big and affirming, though embracing struggle … a movement? Is there an organizing strategy likely to appeal to a broad base, or is it tailored to fit the choir in predictable and ineffective ways?
These questions come up often enough on Z, around projects like the proposal for a Fifth International and building an institutional framework for participatory economics. In my own experience as a lawyer in the US, I have found my participation in the National Lawyers Guild to be very positive. The Guild has a solid grounding in social justice captured in the motto “to the end that human rights shall be regarded as more sacred than property interests”, with a network of people’s lawyers across the country, and even with some dedicated staff in a national office and in large chapters and projects around the country, funded by modest budgets that many other social justice organizations do not have. But at least in my local chapter, and to some degree at the national level and in many other chapters around the country, we’re not feeling much like a movement, and that’s a part of the problem.