COVID-19, and before Covid everything else, has raised a question that is now percolating, and even reverberating. And then came a white knee crushing a Black neck. A dream so long deferred suddenly exploded in city after city. What’s next? From the social distancing, what? From the fumes and flames, what? From the bodies in morgues and the ashes littering streets in hundreds of cities, what? Are we going back or are we going forward? Keeping our distance and feeling incredible anger are both understandable, both warranted. The former uniquely now. The latter since before whenever. But how does either become sustainably constructive?
A school burns. Its lunches for youngsters become unavailable. A call goes out. In hours the school’s community generates truckloads of food. Mutual aid makes social distancing become constructive.
A man is choked to death in a modern day lynching meant to scare and subordinate. People in his community, and in all communities, feel rage and lash out. Do lasting connections form? Do thousands of local organizing efforts, mutual aid associations, and even grassroots assemblies become new sinews of new movement growth? They can, but if they don’t create lasting connections, one to the next, each upsurge will wilt in splendid isolation.
So what glue can network it all? Perhaps we need future-seeking anger. Perhaps we need positive passion. Could vision of a better future be our needed glue? Could vision of what we want, not just for survival but for liberation, move us from disorganized disparate resistance to highly organized coherent rebellion?
Can post Covid lead us toward post racism, post sexism, post authoritarianism, post capitalism, post global warming, post war, rather than leading us back to the ugliness that preceded and provoked our current crises?
What can make this moment’s passion positive? What can make this moment’s anger future-seeking? Fuck it all – what do we really want?
Some people will say the only solution is more authority, more surveillance, more domination. Call out the cops. Call out the national guard. Call out the army. They will seek to parlay current chaos into accelerated regimentation. They will play on fear to birth more fear. Some who do that will ignorantly believe what they are saying. Some who do that will despicably want no more than their own safety and enrichment.
Others will avoid the questions entirely. They are pained, and they want no more pain. Their feeling is fair enough, but somehow they think looking the other way is valid, moral, worthy, and for that matter even a pain-diminishing approach. They will seek to laugh and not feel the encroaching pandemonium. “I must go where it is quiet.” It is an understandable sentiment, but they are the good people who will do nothing and thereby, against their own better natures, abet evil.
Some other people will curiously address these questions. Their inquiring and all too abstract minds want to know. “I want to understand.” They may gain knowledge. They may even share it. But with only curiosity, will they move beyond words?
Some people will approach the questions desperate, their equanimity shattered by their own oppressions. “Get me outta this place.” They will seek relief and with good reason. But only desperate, theirs will be a lonely pursuit.
Finally, some people will approach the questions curious, desperate, and also passionately angry. “I want safety and comfort for all.” They will cultivate intent. They will seek collectivity. They will want to know what’s next so they can help make it happen.
Trying to embody that last most positive motivation, and feeling that vision of a better world can help glue disparate energies into a powerful sustained force, we in Collective 20 wonder what can all us who want a better world already agree on regarding its features? What can we agree we don’t want? What can we agree we do want? What unresolved issues can we agree we need to all together further investigate by thought, experiment, and construction if we are to arrive at a shared perspective of how a better world can fulfill our many and varied desires? Into the streets with vision. Into action with destination. What can resistance advocate? What should activists consider and even try out?
The ideas we offer below address aims, organization, and organizing. They combine insights from many decades of diverse anti-racist struggle, global climate activism, international immigration activism, LGBTQ organizing, feminist activism, struggles for economic and social justice, anti-fascist organizing, movements for electoral and judicial innovation, labor organizing, anti-war organizing, anti-imperial organizing, and much more.
Six overarching values inform and guide our offerings below, and we hope you will find the chosen values as congenial and helpful as we do.
Decisions ideally ought to be collectively self-managed, not authoritarian, not elitist.
Material benefits and social circumstances ought to be equitably distributed, not grotesquely unequal, not at all unjust.
Mutual aid and empathy ought to be institutionally nurtured and defended, not competitive greed, not anti-social brutishness.
Diverse cultural and social community preferences ought to be celebrated and protected, not denigrated and denied, not choked to submission.
Natural habitats and environments ought to be societally respected and protected to ensure sustainability and ecological diversity, not to exploit and violate to extinction.
Worthy values should apply not only to each society, but internationally to the community of all societies so all societies prosper in internationalist peace, not dissolve in internecine war.
We tentatively write what’s below because we believe attaining a much better world will require considerable mutual aid and shared priorities including self-consciously proposing, discussing, augmenting, refining, and finally collectively advocating and implementing a shared path forward.
Our words therefore provisionally seek discussion, addition, deletion, and refinement. We hope only to provide grist for a wide ranging conversation about winning a better future. The elements we offer here may have merit, or they may not. They are not so much answers as questions and entreaties. Either way, whether our views prove helpful or dismissible, the point is to embark on conceiving and then employing worthy vision.
Who Decides What?
What of governance, the polity? Most broadly, can we agree we want to fully liberate political life from elitist domination? Can we agree we want no more bought and sold officials? No more rampant corruption and coercion? And can we agree that these gains require new participatory political institutions that take account of and benefit all citizens equally?
If so, can we agree that to eliminate political elitism, we will need transparent mechanisms to carry out and evaluate political decisions and to convey to all citizens information, confidence, and self-managing say as much as possible proportionate to effects on them?
And wouldn’t that in turn entail establishing grassroots venues for popular participation, augmented by frequent direct participation or, when needed, recallable and accountable representation and delegation that utilizes voting options such as majority rule, other voting rules, or consensus, each as needed to best approximate self-management – all facilitated by advanced public education?
Likewise, to benefit all citizens equally won’t new political institutions also need to guarantee maximum civil liberties to all, including freedom to speak, write, worship, assemble, and organize political parties? Won’t new political institutions need to welcome, facilitate, and protect dissent and diversity and to guarantee individuals and groups information and means to pursue their own goals consistent with not interfering with the same rights for others? Won’t new political institutions need to foster solidarity even while they also provide inclusive means to fairly, peacefully, and constructively adjudicate disputes and violations of agreed norms to preserve justice while promoting rehabilitation?
If many can agree on even roughly the above elements of political vision including adding whatever refinements, additions, and deletions they desire for improvement, wouldn’t we then be in position to develop, explore, and test proposals for using councils, assemblies, communes, and nested networks of these for legislative functions? And in position to develop, explore, and test proposals for means of adjudication and enforcement when needed, and for structuring executive institutions so that all together compose a political vision for a new, better, society? What kind of neighborhood assemblies and networks and layers of such assemblies would fulfill our emerging aims? What kind of judicial bodies? What kind of executive rights and responsibilities? These are matters to consider, explore, and resolve.
In short, if activists from diverse constituencies and movements could arrive at broad shared agreement about various creatively refined and augmented political aims, couldn’t we then use our shared agreements to assess how best to actively participate in public political life to attain our desired ends? What structures would facilitate success? What structures should be avoided? What then, should we demand and build to lead where we wish to arrive in the future? What should we oppose and reject? Not only for society but also in our own organizing?
And if across a wide spectrum of movement activism and constituencies we were able to collectively start to achieve such shared views, couldn’t we then develop coordinated campaigns designed to win immediate beneficial electoral, legislative, and adjudicative gains that would benefit diverse constituencies now but also move society toward our ultimate aims? Immediate gains like eliminating the electoral college, enacting ranked choice voting, eliminating voter discrimination based on ID requirements or former jailing, enacting an Election Day holiday, enacting mail ballot voting, imposing accountability and term limits on legislators, defunding and redefining police mandates, enacting community control of police, eliminating military weaponry for police and even for much of the military, eliminating jail terms for victimless crimes, releasing all political prisoners, and much more. And couldn’t we discuss and organize these immediate efforts in ways that explicitly explain longer term aims and link to them thereby arousing desires to seek more while developing means to do so until success?
Who Produces and Who Consumes What?
Beyond polity, what of production, allocation, and consumption – the economy? Can people who reject current capitalist inequality, alienation, and class division broadly agree that attaining better economics requires implementing new workplace and allocation institutions that ensure that no individuals or classes are privileged and that all workers and consumers are able to participate fully in determining their own lives?
If so, can we then also agree that new economic institutions will need to preclude owning productive assets such as natural resources and factories, thereby ensuring that ownership plays no role in decision making influence or in people’s share of income? No more 1% above, perverted by greed and domination. No more 99% below, subordinated and subjugated by lack of property.
But to attain even more comprehensive classlessness, can we further agree that new economic institutions will also need to ensure that all workers have a say in decisions to the extent possible proportionate to effects on them, sometimes best attained by majority rule, sometimes best attained by consensus or other arrangements, all to avoid some people, empowered, dominating other people, disempowered?
And if we can agree on some variant of that, can we also agree that accomplishing such extensive classlessness will entail eliminating corporate divisions of labor that typically give about a fifth of workers predominantly empowering tasks while consigning to four fifths mainly rote, repetitive, and obedient tasks to ensure not only fairness of circumstances but also that 20% no longer dominate 80%?
And could we then even also agree that to that end it follows that new institutions will need to ensure that each worker enjoys a socially average share of empowering tasks via new designs of work that convey to all sufficient confidence, skills, information, and access to participate effectively in decision making? Not only would people then have a formal right to economic decision making influence, they would also have the personal means and inclination to employ their right. With these additional commitments getting rid of the old capitalist owner would not elevate a new coordinator boss. Classlessness.
At the same time, to attain equity, can we also agree that new economic institutions will need to ensure that workers who work longer or harder or at more onerous conditions doing socially valued labor should equitably earn proportionately more for doing so, but that no one should earn payment according to property, bargaining power, or even the value of their personal output, while of course all who are unable to work should receive full income nonetheless? And can we agree on all that to avoid some having not solely gargantuan profit-based income and wealth while others endure barely any income and near total impoverishment, but also to avoid unwarranted and vast income differentials for power or for output due to equipment, genetic endowment, or anything other than personal effort and sacrifice? Citizens would in that case get more of society’s product because they work longer or harder or under worse conditions to contribute to that product, but not for owning property, for bargaining power, or even for output due to lucky genetic or technical factors beyond their control.
And finally, if we are to achieve all our economic desires noted above, however dramatically augmented and creatively refined by collective assessment and experience, can we agree that new economic relations will need to avoid both market competition and top-down planning, since both competition and top-down planning, in any and all combinations, produce class rule, alienation, and various other ecological, social, and material violations? And can we agree that we will instead need to find ways to determine what is produced and consumed by whom in ways that get the job of allocation done not only viably and without undue waste or strain, but also consistently with all our other values and aspirations?
And if we can agree on any semblance of such economic aims, creatively refined and augmented by research and experimentation, couldn’t we then conceive and test new work arrangements, new norms of remuneration, and new means to negotiate economic inputs and outputs by examining the potential roles of workers and consumers councils and federations of councils, new divisions of labor, and new methods of accounting and assessing economic options with whatever additional facilitating structures we find necessary?
And if across a wide spectrum of movement activism and constituencies we were able to collectively start to achieve such collectively developed, refined, and shared long term aims, couldn’t we then develop coordinated campaigns designed to win immediate beneficial economic gains that also move society toward our ultimate aims? Gains like free medical care for all, free education for all, cancelling student debt, higher wages for all below some cutoff and lower wages for all above it, vastly greater high-end wealth and property taxes, strengthened health and safety requirements, legal limits on banks, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and fossil fuel companies with violations punished by transfer to public ownership, extensive unemployment insurance and social security gains, and new laws benefiting union and workplace organizing, corporate accountability, workers control, and much more. And couldn’t we discuss and organize for all these immediate aims in ways that explicitly explain longer term aims and that link to them thereby arousing desires to seek more while developing means to do so until success?
That would put economic vision for the long-term to work to inspire and guide economic struggle in the present. A good thing, no?
Who procreates, births, nurtures, loves and lives?
Beyond polity and economics, what of procreation, nurturance, and family? Can we agree that liberating gender and sexuality requires implementing new kinship institutions that ensure that no individuals or groups – by gender, sexual preference, or age – are privileged above or dominate others?
And if so, can we also agree that to attain that participatory goal new gender and kinship institutions will have to not privilege certain types of family formation over others, but instead actively support all types of families consistent with society’s other broad norms and practices? And can we agree that new relations will need to promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all its children, including affirming the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging? And can we agree on the need to minimize or eliminate age-based permissions, preferring non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is too old (or too young) to receive benefits or to shoulder responsibilities?
Can we agree that new gender and kin institutions will need to respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but also to reject such ties as ways for sectors of the population to gain financial benefits or social status others lack? And can we agree on the need to respect care-giving as a central function of society including making care-giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities not least to ensure equitable burdens and benefits among men and women for all household, child raising, and elder aiding practices, but also for the enrichment of personality and affirmation that sincere care-giving conveys?
And can we also agree that new gender and kinship institutions will need to centrally affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, and mutual intimacy while ensuring that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others including providing diverse, empowering sex education and legal prohibition against all non-consensual sex?
And if we can agree on some such array of kinship aims, creatively refined and augmented by collective assessment, research, and experimentation, couldn’t we then better conceive and test new family arrangements, new norms and structures of parenting, and new arrangements of loving and living, nurturing and schooling?
And if across a wide spectrum of movement activism and constituencies we were able to collectively start to achieve anything like the above shared views, couldn’t our emerging and evolving levels of agreement and our unfolding explorations of what we want for a better home life and procreating, living, loving, schooling, and caring then inform how we address immediate issues of feminist change, of laws and structures bearing on gender relations, and of age and sexual relations, thereby bringing feminist and LGBTQ and age-related activism into touch with our long term kinship goals and vice versa?
And couldn’t we then develop coordinated campaigns designed to win immediate beneficial kinship gains that also move society toward our ultimate aims? Gains like full abortion rights, advanced parental paid leave for men and women, extensive excellent free day care, extensive non gender discrimination laws, free public schooling at all levels with vastly expanded resources in underserved communities and neighborhoods, revamped vastly improved free care for the elderly, and much more?
That would put kinship vision for the long-term to work to inspire and guide kinship struggle in the present. A very good thing, no?
Who converses, celebrates, dances, dines, sings, communes, and worships?
And in turn can we agree that new cultural and community relations will also have to guarantee free entry and exit to and from all cultural communities including affirming that communities that guarantee free entry and exit can be under the complete self-determination of their members so long as their policies and actions don’t conflict with society’s broader arrangements and liberties?
And if we can agree on something like such cultural/community aims, properly refined and augmented by research and experimentation, couldn’t we then conceive and test new cultural arrangements in and between our racial, religious, and ethnic communities, new norms and structures of celebrating and of interrelating?
And if so, couldn’t our emerging and evolving levels of agreement and our unfolding explorations of what we want for better intercommunity and community relations then inform how we address immediate issues of racial justice, religious freedom, police violence, migration, reparations, borders, and more general race and ethnicity related policy and structure, thereby bringing anti-racist and intercommunalist activism into touch with our long term community goals and vice versa?
That would put community vision for the future to work to inspire and guide community struggle in the present. A very good thing, no?
Beyond national borders what of international relations? Can we agree that attaining desirable international relations requires implementing new international institutions that ensure that no nations or geographic regions are privileged above others?
If so, can we agree that new international relations will need to end imperialism in all its forms including colonialism, neo colonialism, and neo liberalism which will in turn entail diminishing economic disparities in country’s relative wealth, protecting cultural and social patterns interior to each country from external violation, and facilitating international entwinement and ties as people desire?
But if we can agree on something like that, then can we agree that new policy and structures will need to foster equitable internationalist globalization in place of exploitative corporate globalization and in turn discover and establish means for localities and regions to maintain autonomy and avoid external violations, while also enjoying international mutuality and solidarity, and for security without militarism, dispute resolution without war and coercion?
If so, couldn’t our emerging and evolving levels of agreement and our unfolding explorations of what we want for international relations then inform how we address immediate issues of trade, immigration, borders, international aid, international law, and war and peace, thereby bringing internationalist activism into touch with internationalist vision and vice versa?
That would put internationalist vision for the future to work to inspire and guide international struggle in the present. A very good thing, no?
Beyond the social, around the social, overarching the social, allowing or disallowing the social – what of ecological relations? Can we agree future worthy ecological relations will require new participatory ecological norms and practices that reverse resource depletion, environmental degradation, global warming, and other ecosystem disrupting or civilization threatening trends, not only for humanity to thrive, but even to just survive?
And can we agree that to become sane much less wise, new ecological relations will need to facilitate ecologically sound reconstruction of society that accounts for the full ecological as well as social/personal costs and benefits of both short and long term economic and social choices, so that future populations can sensibly decide levels of production and consumption, duration of work, degrees of self-reliance, levels of energy use and harvesting, pollution norms, climate policies, conservation practices, consumption choices, and other aims and activities bearing on planetary stewardship in light of ecological implications and as part of their freely made economic, political, and social decisions about future policy?
And if so, can we also agree that new ecological norms and practices will also need to foster a consciousness of ecological connection and responsibility, so that future citizens understand and respect the ecological precautionary principle and are well prepared to decide policies regarding related matters that transcend sustainability such as animal rights or vegetarianism consistently with broader agendas for other social and economic functions?
And if so, couldn’t our emerging and evolving levels of agreement and our unfolding explorations of what we want for ecological relations then inform how we address immediate issues of land use, pollution control, resource depletion, and global warming thereby bringing immediate ecological activism into touch with long-term ecological vision and vice versa?
At a time when ecological deterioration threatens to obstruct and literally swamp into extinction all our other concerns, all our other agendas, mustn’t we put sound ecological vision for the future to work to inspire and guide sound ecological struggle in the present. And wouldn’t that be a very good thing?
Who/What Wins a Worthy Future?
If activists and all who desire change can arrive at a desirable vision even roughly of the sort broadly suggested above, but of course adapted, refined, and continually updated in light of new insights gained from new experiences, while that would be good and promising, it would certainly not itself constitute a new world.
A desirable vision can help inspire and inform fighting to win a new world as well as help guide building a new world, but the fighting and the building has to happen for emotional and mental desires to translate to real world outcomes. And such fighting for change and building its attributes isn’t a matter of each individual acting as an isolated atom, divorced from the rest, as is so common in our contemporary condition. Instead, collectivity is a prerequisite of success. Human atoms ricocheting here and there won’t achieve a new world. Such a magnificent accomplishment will require coherent movements with cohesion arising from shared methods and organization. And so can we agree that effective and worthy organizations are needed for groups to work collectively together with shared intentions while learning, retaining, and collectively applying lessons from their own past as well as from their newly unfolding experiences?
But if so, can we agree that to be effective and worthy, an organization must not only galvanize and apply people’s energies coherently, but also plant the seeds of the future that we desire in our present to inspire, learn, and lead where we wish to go?
And can we then also agree that an organization’s structure and policies, while of course regularly updated and adapted, nonetheless should always strive to implement the self-management norm that “each member has decision making say proportional to the degree they are affected”?
And to that end, to be effective and worthy can we also agree an organization needs to be internally anti-racist, feminist, participatory, and classless including being structured so that any minority that is initially disproportionately equipped with needed skills, information, and confidence does not form a formal or informal decision-making hierarchy, leaving less prepared members to only follow orders and perform rote tasks?
Likewise, over time, can we agree that to be effective and worthy an organization should apportion empowering and disempowering organizational tasks to ensure that no individuals control the organization by having a relative monopoly on information or position, and that no subset of members has disproportionate say whether due to race, gender, class, or other attributes?
If so, can we agree an effective and worthy organization should monitor and work to correct instances of sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia as they may manifest internally, including having diverse roles suitable to people with different backgrounds, personal priorities, lifestyles, and personal situations?
And can we agree that an effective and worthy organization should celebrate internal debate and dissent as positive, making room, as possible, for dissident views to exist and be tested alongside preferred views? And that it should guarantee members’ rights to organize “currents” or “caucuses” and guarantee “currents” and “caucuses” full onus-free rights of democratic debate?
Likewise, can we agree that an effective and worthy organization should ensure that national, regional, city, and local chapters as well as sectors of the organization can respond to their own circumstances and implement their own programs as they choose so long as their choices do not interfere with the shared goals and principles of the whole organization or with other groups addressing their own situations?
If we can agree on even some variant of the above, refined and amended based on emerging experiences and new insights, can we also agree an effective and worthy organization should provide extensive opportunities for all members to participate in organizational decision making, including engaging in deliberation with others so as to arrive at the most well-considered decisions while implementing mechanisms for carrying out collective decisions and monitoring that such decisions have been carried out correctly? And that a liberating organization should expect members to actively participate in the life of the organization, including taking collective responsibility for decisions and presenting a unified voice in action?
If so, then can we also agree that an effective and worthy organization should establish internal structures that facilitate everyone’s participation including, when possible, offering childcare at meetings and events, finding ways to reach out to those who might be immersed in kinship duties, and aiding those with busy work schedules due to grueling work conditions, long hours, and even multiple jobs?
By Way of What Organizing
Even if and when, activists with diverse backgrounds and personal priorities arrive at collectively determined and continually updated shared vision and organization, can we agree that to win their sought aims will require always incorporating seeds of the future in the present, always growing membership and commitment among the class, racial, and sexual/gender constituencies served and leading the efforts, and also always winning reforms without becoming reformist?
And can we agree that to incorporate seeds of the future in its present class, race, gender, sexual, age, and power relations, effective and worthy organizing needs to not only constructively address the ways it’s members act but also actively establish internal norms and support including building exemplary workplace, campus, and community institutions that represent and refine the values of the movement and which the organization can point to as liberating alternatives to the status quo it combats? Seeds that enhance hope, test and refine ideas, and learn experiential lessons that can inform strategy and vision.
And that it should seek to develop mechanisms that provide financial, legal, employment, and emotional support to its members so that its members can be in a better position to participate as fully as they wish and navigate the various challenges and sometimes negative effects of taking part in radical actions. And that it should work to substantially improve the life situations of its members, including aiding their feelings of self-worth, their knowledge, skills, and confidence, their mental, physical, sexual, and spiritual health, and even their social ties and engagements and leisure enjoyments?
A virus rampages. Weather warps. Seas rise. Governments stiffen. Arms proliferate. Lies upon lies scream infantile idiocy. Some, sadly, bystand. Some, worse, applaud. Ostriches and celebrants on a global Titanic.
But many, many other people are distraught, angry, outraged. We ask, we answer, we call, we aid, we support, we march, we coalesce, we demand, we strike, we occupy, we construct.
Looking backward confronts looking forward. What will emerge? Will the backward flow start to drift, slide, and then finally advance our way? Or will we tire, tumble, turn, and then morbidly gravitate their way or just lose momentum?
Will we wind up with yesterday, re-entrenched, regimented, and even worsened? Or will we attain tomorrow, diversifying, enlightened, and even liberated?
This is not academic. This is not TV. It is not movies. It is not games. This is life and life only. Or it is death and death only.
Without shared, continually refined vision of a worthy future and without shared, continually updated strategic means to pursue it, no matter our anger, passion, and drive, we will get yesterday, only much worse.
But with vision and with informed continually updated strategy, our anger, passion, and drive can take us to tomorrow, only much better.