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Failing Ourselves?


Fearing the successes of the Sanders campaign will dissipate has highlighted our need for developing shared program able to sustain lasting organization. But the daily pressures of trying to survive and organize with few resources, poor health care, no daycare, and great debt already consume most activists’ every available minute. So how can we also arrive at shared program?

What if a sizable and admirable group of activists proposed a collective process of openly and patiently talking about, debating, refining, and then sharing emergent program? Perhaps such an approach could gain momentum to generate sufficient unity to facilitate lasting new organization and mutually supportive movements.

With that possibility in mind, some folks started contacting other folks, and with a lot of back and forth generated a document, and then with a whole lot more back and forth, many more people signed on, and before long it was time to go public with 87 signers of “Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward.”

The 87 geographically and politically diverse signers offered their thoughts as a starting place for people to collectively develop shared program. And they didn’t just offer possible ideas but also a web site built by two of the signers. A couple of hundred more people visited and signed on. A few commented in the forums or added a blog post.

To garner help, the letter reproduced below went to dozens of alternative media outlets, as well as to a wider circuit of hundreds more activists and writers.

Hello,

87 people including Noam Chomsky, Hilary Wainwright, Walden Bello, Kathy Kelly, Bill Fletcher, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Leslie Cagan, Marina Sitrin, Laura Flanders, Michael Albert, and 77 more signed a collective document titled Possible Ideas for Going Forward. They address economy, gender, sexuality, race, ecology, health, education, and international relations. They offer the document hoping to facilitate a wide discussion arriving at shared program. The document is a starting point. The authors explicitly seek participation to take it further.

For that pursuit, two of the document’s signers created a site called People for a Shared Program. The site presents the original document, hosts commenting, forums, and blogs, and will post weekly revisions that incorporate user recommendations for the document’s improvement. The site welcomes anyone who supports openly developing and sharing program to visibly sign on to show their support.

The site is here: http://www.sharedprogram.org

We all agree the left needs to develop solidity and coherence. This site furthers that task. Please give it some visibility however you are able. Perhaps sign on yourself. Perhaps post content relating to it.

Envision single issue efforts retaining their earlier priority, but adding a degree of multi issue attention and support, and receiving back support from others…in a tapestry of mutual aid.

Envision operations that are already multi issue and clear about their aims, explicitly coordinating and intertwining their agendas with those of other operations.

Envision that the current upsurge of progressive electoral activity around the world attains programmatic depth and solidarity based on wide discussion and comprehension that crosses borders and increases activist comprehension and commitment.

Broad agreement sufficient for arriving at such shared program very likely already exists, though invisibly, without wide public expression, and without mutual recognition and support. The aim of this project is, therefore, to reveal shared desires, to give them clarity and depth, and to give them clear voice.

Everyone urges bottom up participation. Everyone urges having solidarity based on listening and hearing and engaging with folks who have different priorities.

Envision progressive media outlets, activist projects, unions, political parties, and mass movements not only debating possible new programmatic ideas, and not only demonstrating about and working on their own current priorities, but adopting considerable shared program.

Please visit the new site People for Shared Program. Consider the current version of the “Possible Ideas for Going Forward” document on the home page. If you agree with its 87 signers that it provides a useful jumping off place for necessary programmatic discussion, please Sign On in support.

But mostly, if you are so inclined, please contribute to trying to develop and spread shared program. That is the crux of it.

You could join the forum discussions. You could post a blog. You could spread knowledge of the project and the site to other venues and organizations like we are trying to do with this email.

You could urge people you know, or an organization you are in, or media outlets you relate to or that you work with to discuss, enrich, correct, refine, and augment the evolving possible ideas document, which will be updated weekly. Indeed, you could just pass this invitation on to others.

Without alternative media visibility, this effort will fail. But if alternative media highlights it, urges it on, and joins in exploration, criticism, and debate, the effort can succeed.

That is why we hope you will give serious visibility to the site, perhaps linking to it, perhaps running an article or editorial about it, perhaps running a criticism, an extension, a debate – or whatever suits you.

Thank you for helping this effort.

People for a Shared Program

Okay, so what happened in reply to that quite unusual request for help?

No alternative media replied to the email message in a substantive way that addressed its contents. Less than a handful even acknowledged receipt. A few ran the initial programmatic document, but only one media institution published any kind of article of support or criticism by someone on their staff. Only one site published special links and entreaties.

Indeed, only four of the 87 co-authors of the document wrote anything public trying to draw attention to the site to further the process. Some co-signers asked an organization they relate to or people they work with to consider the project, but with little success so far.

What should we make of all this?

  1. First 87 writers and activists offer serious substantive ideas for something virtually every leftist would say was critically needed. Many of the 87 are routinely published in alternative media worldwide. A considerable number are not just regular writers for one or more outlets, but even have major editorial responsibility for an outlet. Many are widely known, generally read, and highly appreciated by virtually all left organizations.
  2. Second, the document is sent out, and an invitation to visit and relate to a site designed to facilitate discussing and developing shared program is also sent, plus entreaties to support the effort.
  3. Third, alternative media is essentially silent. Writers who are not co-authors of the document are silent. Writers who are co-authors are nearly silent. The call to publicly and seriously develop shared program seems to resonate with very few people.

So what does that mean?

Media outfit after media outfit, activist after activist, writer after writer, and of course co-author of possible programmatic ideas after co-author of possible programmatic ideas, would all agree, I believe, that we need sustained, multi issue, cross constituency organization and that for that we need shared program that is democratically generated.

They would also all agree, I believe, that for these aims, we need to take initiative. And I believe they would also agree that if organizations and movements around the world responded to the 87 author group document and its associated site by augmenting its ideas in order to move beyond the initial contribution toward shared program, everyone would deem it a wonderfully hopeful pursuit.

So initiative is taken and establishes a flexible, open approach. Yet so far, it may as well have been one hand clapping. There is barely more than a soft yawn. It appear that activists would like to see such an initiative disappear, not flourish. Yet we know that activists would no doubt like to see such an initiative flourish, and certainly not disappear.

You might wonder, why so I troubled? What could anyone do other than softly yawn. Things like this catch on spontaneously, don’t they? They go viral on their own, don’t they? This effort hasn’t caught on yet, so you might deduce that there is nothing for you to do. After all, why should you act before many others are already involved?

You are buried in tasks and responsibilities, and also trying to survive. You have to deal with today’s problems, pressures, priorities. Why should you address something outside your current agenda – especially if others are not doing so yet, and if it may come to naught?

The answer is, you should ignore this bottom up programmatic effort unless you think that without shared program all other work will be less effective than it needs to be. But that is precisely the project’s claim. Until we who seek social change collectively develop considerable shared program, our disjoint efforts may sometimes win modest short run gains, and may sometimes engender or aid some upsurges, but they will not yield lasting, sustainable, processes of change.

If, however, you think that arriving at shared program is an essential aspect of progress, here are some things you might do, very productively, now, that would take only modest effort beyond psychologically acknowledging the importance of the pursuit.

You could:

  • Go to the site and read the document.
  • Offer reactions at the site in order to contribute to improving the ideas to hopefully get them to a condition that will be widely shared.
  • Write articles, blogs, and comments about the project or about programmatic ideas, not just for the provided site, but for other outlets, both to express your views and to attract more people into the process.
  • Urge organizations you are part of or movements you participate in to help the left settle on shared program as one part of their agenda.

The above simple steps, seemingly very modest, would, if done by 10 or 20 much less 50 or 500 individuals, have a major effect. But, beyond individuals, what about alternative media institutions? What could alternative media do to aid an endeavor like this other than softly yawn?

  • Prominently publish the initial document. Isn’t a document about program signed by 87 prominent leftists, many of whom alternative media almost reflexively publishes when they write alone, worth the space?
  • Urge your readers to submit reactions and, indeed, urge your regular writers to offer their reactions. Isn’t participating in an open process of developing cross border and cross constituency program worth the space?
  • Put links and even supporting commentary on your site to propel involvement. Isn’t directing people to endeavors like this part of alternative media’s task?
  • Use your sites’ pop up capacity to promote people becoming involved in developing program. Or should we place intrusive pop ups on our sites only to pursue our own fund raising?

I invite whoever reads this essay to write to me.

Please tell me if I am crazy for thinking these types of response ought to be quite widespread.

Please tell me if I am crazy for thinking that the deafening silence greeting 87 writers offering a site to collectively, transparently, and democratically relate to programmatic ideas points to something wrong not with Sanders, not with the police, not with mass media, not with the government, and not with corporations – but with us.

13 Comments

  1. H H May 31, 2016 5:27 am 

    Even after 2008/9, the majority of people (including the latte-sipping “leftist” “activists”) living in the Western imperial homeland are still too comfortable to risk a real change. That’s why.

    • avatar
      James May 31, 2016 11:34 am 

      A real change to what ? To what? What,what,what what what? Only seven what’s , I’m obviously not very bright!

  2. avatar
    Paul Street May 18, 2016 9:11 pm 

    i want to second a lot of of what Paul D says above. As I went through the shared program (and I do think the language could do with sounding less technical-bureaucratic) it struck me that this is sort of the longstanding left progressive agenda (though with some parecon inserted, I guess) I’m not sure we lack alternative ideas and proposals either on the level of reform or on the level of alternative social/societal vision. Our main problem and deficit is organization — relative lack thereof. “The problem,” Paul D, writes, “is the lack of organization and seeming inability of leftists in the US to get organized and stay organized.” Yes. I can just hear folks saying “great….your 87 writers and what army?!” To quote Stalin of all people: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” And right now I do think the Sanders thing and the quadrennial election madness is sucking up most of the air in the room when it comes to what is to be done. I think as the madness fades and the Democrats likely keep the White House (which helps the Dems properly wear the stink of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire and eco-cide and patriarchy and racism), time could be ripe for new organizational efforts. ” And just to be clear I of course support the ideas and am one of the signers.

    • avatar
      Ed Lytwak May 19, 2016 3:04 pm 

      In the day, when liberals had a political problem that they didn’t have a good solution for, they would say “educate.” The idea being that if only people knew what was good for them, they would positively respond. For the Left, the default solution to intractable political problems, i.e. why the Left is so ineffectual, is “get organized and stay organized.” I know this is not the place for a discussion of “organizing.” But, the word has been so over-used that I for one don’t even know what it means anymore. For the Left, “get organized” has become a kind of ritual mantra to magically solve any political problem.

      • avatar
        James May 19, 2016 9:14 pm 

        Ha, took the words right out of my mouth. One would think after 150 years since say, the Paris Commune at least, organising and staying organised would be a cinch. Perhaps we all need to read Paul and Mark Engler’s “important book”, This Is An Uprising:How Non-Violent Action is Shaping the Twenty First Century? Or perhaps not, we probably already know it all like we already have a clear and coherent shared program!

        Just go for it. To the barricades.

        • avatar
          James May 20, 2016 8:14 am 

          But I must say one thang. I find that nothing Michael Albert is advocating militates against organising. In fact, all through the election extravaganza or whatever it is, he has been advocating organising. For the radical left to jump on the coat tails of Mr Bernie (Red) Sanders (you could add Stein as well if you want) with a shared program or the prospect of developing one, in order to garner wider exposure for more radical proposals and possible momentum via greater media attention. There is nothing in the PSP that militates against any organising, much less during the election extravaganza. If ya got time to comment here and say shit, ya probably got time to comment there I reckon.

    • avatar
      Mark Evans May 31, 2016 8:45 am 

      Hi Paul,

      You write, “I do think the language could do with sounding less technical-bureaucratic”.

      Great! You can make suggestions for changes to the language in the forum of the Shared Program site.

      You also write, “I’m not sure we lack alternative ideas and proposals either on the level of reform or on the level of alternative social/societal vision. Our main problem and deficit is organization”

      Okay, so how do we build that organisation? Again I would suggest that one way is to participate in the development of shared program – by interacting with others on the Shared Program site. Your contribution could be to make the language less “technical-bureaucratic”, as you put it whist also building community and suggesting ways to organise in the process – something else that is accommodated by the site forum.

      It seems to me that both of the issues you raise can be addressed by the Shared Program initiative.

      Let me know if I am missing something. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you there soon…

  3. avatar
    Henrik Hansen May 18, 2016 7:37 pm 

    You’re either busy being born or busy dying.
    But it’s not possible to see what the project is right now, so people hesitate, i think.
    Maybe, just maybe, show in the sidebar, how many has signed in number, and maybe the organisations logos also, so we can see the increase and feel it’s being born and strong, or something like that. That’s my 2-cent.
    And yes, i have been trying to spread the word. By writing an article about it to my country’s progressive media outlet (which still needs approval), and by communicating it across different organisations, parties, groups and movements.

  4. avatar
    Ed Lytwak May 18, 2016 4:37 pm 

    I’m one of those folks that signed on to People for a Shared Program (PSP), like I have to IOPS and several other similar worthy endeavors, such as The Next Systems Project. Although I have spent large parts of my life as an activist, I’m currently not very engaged in political activism or organizing, having lost confidence in overtly political action to make the needed transformational change. I’m not a writer and haven’t contributed anything to PSP or any of the other similar projects, but it’s not because I don’t think they are worthy or deserving of support and participation, although I do hope to do so at some point. What do they say, hope is always the last to die?

    One reason, I haven’t participated so far, is a matter of priorities and making the best use of limited time for such things. Like so many, I do want to see some desperately needed change but I am unsure of the best way to make a difference, given limited time and resources. One reason, participation in PSP is not a priority for me, is that I don’t think that a shared program is a vital necessity for moving forward. Part of this is because I believe that cultural – rather than political – revolution is the best way forward. But, the main reason is that I feel shared values, not a shared program, are what is most important. The strength of all those who want transformative change is in our diversity of approaches to cultural and political revolution. It is a diversity of cultural and political programs uniited by shared values that are most important, not agreement on a unified program. As long as a program is in accord with these shared values, (which PSP seems to be), I’m supportive but how much is determined by life’s competing demands on my time and energy.

    P.S. For me, those shared values could be summarized as autonomy (self-rule), self-reliance and resilience together(home-spun), empowerment for all (truth force) and solidarity (uplifting all).

  5. avatar
    Paul D May 18, 2016 4:25 pm 

    Michael,

    I think that I am of at least normal intelligence, but reading the text of your letter above, I could not understand what you are asking for. The letter was written in a very wordy cold bureaucratic style (like a lot of your writing) that makes radical social-economic change sound like the specifications for public works engineering project. My old favorite is your “balanced job complexes” when you could have called it “workplace equality” or some other far more appealing term. So, through all the wordiness, you seem to be simply saying that we need to get together and coordinate on things we agree on. But as Tyler wrote, we already agree on most things – and nit-picky ideological quarrels aside, we usually do coordinate on them – for example in the organizing of mass demonstrations.. The problem is the lack of organization and seeming inability of leftists in the US to get organized and stay organized. Why have movements in N. America seemingly at the peak of their visibility and effectiveness, suddenly and inexplicably, disband – poof!? Sometimes, it is deliberate like the Pittsburgh Organizing Group did a few years ago or Common Cause in Toronto did a couple months ago. Sometimes it is because a more mainstream organization starts allowing radical-left/anarchist committees to form within it – creating considerable growth and energy to the organization, then suddenly, out of fear of loss of funding from wealthy donors, the bourgeois elements in the organization kick all the radicals out even at the cost of relegating the organization back to obscurity. This is what the Thomas Merton Center did in my city. I think your previous article asking why the left cannot get organized is the one that warrants much more discussion. I intend to have a talk with my brother and his partner who have lots of hands-on organizing experience (I have little besides sending money and showing up for the demonstrations) and I hope to provide you with some more thoughts in a few days.

    • avatar
      Paul D May 18, 2016 4:29 pm 

      (hopefully the paragraph breaks work this time)

      I think that I am of at least normal intelligence, but reading the text of your letter above, I could not understand what you are asking for. The letter was written in a very wordy cold bureaucratic style (like a lot of your writing) that makes radical social-economic change sound like the specifications for public works engineering project. My old favorite is your “balanced job complexes” when you could have called it “workplace equality” or some other far more appealing term.

      So, through all the wordiness, you seem to be simply saying that we need to get together and coordinate on things we agree on. But as Tyler wrote, we already agree on most things – and nit-picky ideological quarrels aside, we usually do coordinate on them – for example in the organizing of mass demonstrations.. The problem is the lack of organization and seeming inability of leftists in the US to get organized and stay organized.

      Why have movements in N. America seemingly at the peak of their visibility and effectiveness, suddenly and inexplicably, disband – poof!? Sometimes, it is deliberate like the Pittsburgh Organizing Group did a few years ago or Common Cause in Toronto did a couple months ago. Sometimes it is because a more mainstream organization starts allowing radical-left/anarchist committees to form within it – creating considerable growth and energy to the organization, then suddenly, out of fear of loss of funding from wealthy donors, the bourgeois elements in the organization kick all the radicals out even at the cost of relegating the organization back to obscurity. This is what the Thomas Merton Center did in my city.

      I think your previous article asking why the left cannot get organized is the one that warrants much more discussion. I intend to have a talk with my brother and his partner who have lots of hands-on organizing experience (I have little besides sending money and showing up for the demonstrations) and I hope to provide you with some more thoughts in a few days.

  6. Tyler Healey May 18, 2016 2:39 pm 

    We have shared program. There are no major policy disagreements within the revolutionary left.

    The real question is how to get the policy enacted. It may be time to perform a massive act of civil disobedience in Washington. We could submit the shared program to Congress and demand action.

  7. avatar
    James May 18, 2016 2:32 pm 

    I reckon I’ll stick with the majority of well known signatories. They’re probably friggin’ scared. Chicken shit to step out of their comfortable off white towers, get serious and mix it with us regular swill. Plus they probably didn’t think the thing through when they signed on. “What, I have to follow up? But I got all these serious articles to get done and a book to finish! Seriously, I thought it was a joke!” You know, they just thought it wouldn’t amount to much and just disappear, like when some decided to join the ICC for IOPS. Or maybe they just thought they’d get involved initially and sign on because a few other important names did and they didn’t want to be the one who didn’t. Who knows? I’m not gonna kick ordinary folks arses but I will kick that of and reserve my sarcasm for those with a more experienced and seasoned background, because I just reckon it’s slack and they deserve it. As to being crazy, well, welcome to the friggin’ club Michael. We may be mad but we’re entertaining.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Wg-q8vSPxao

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