For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing every day but, with the exception of a few spontaneous poems, little of it has been showing up on this blog. That’s because I’m finally earnestly putting my energy into a couple of bigger writing projects that have me really excited. I’ve been preferring to keep my head down, working quietly until these pieces are further along.
One of the pieces that’s really pushing me is an attempt to develop a more sophisticated and articulate synthesis of some of my favorite ideas about revolutionary strategy and organization. I’ve been thinking and writing about these topics for years, and I’ve never attempted to publish or even share any of that writing beyond this page—which has an average of just 16 readers! Now I’m ready to change that, as hard as it feels sometimes.
One thing that has been encouraging to me in the last couple of weeks is the recent report, “More Than We Imagined” by a grassroots research/listening project called the Ear to the Ground Project. The authors of this slick report interviewed more than 150 committed activists about the state of the movement, and what the authors have to share is quite encouraging. You should read it. It’s a pretty quick read.
There’s a lot to process in the report, but here are just two things that stood out to me:
1) This report provides a little window into just how much the U.S. radical left has matured in its ability to handle complexity, diversity, and disagreement. For far too long, I believe that the left the world over has been pinned to the ground by a certain antagonistic and polemical style of idea-building that has its roots in the cantankerous personalities of Marx and Lenin. That approach to disagreement has done significant damage to our ability to build a meaningful movement of movements, and it’s something that we don’t talk about enough. One of the many things that I really appreciated about David Gilbert’s memoir of the Weather Underground Organization, Love and Struggle, was that he explicitly named this phenomenon for the problem it is. However, this report shows a healthy, optimistic, and cooperative orientation that is becoming increasingly common on the left.
On page 20, the authors even state, “We originally planned to map out various ‘camps’ to show the central debates within participants’ responses; however, distinct camps did not emerge. Instead there was a high level of consensus. This was a surprise to us. This is not to say there are not differences, but the differences arose in degrees of emphasis rather than outright disagreement.”
This is extra good news because my read of the report is that it skews pretty clearly to the post New Communist Marxist side of the left—especially toward a particular tendency of activist-of-color-led Marxism-Leninism that has brought us a ton of the current campaign and base-building formations we see across the country. To see that the U.S’s most dynamic and powerful Marxist tendencies are demonstrating this kind of dialogical style is great for the entire U.S. left and it should really be acknowledged as a milemarker toward a more sustainable revolutionary current in this country.
2) When asked to identify movement weaknesses and challenges, respondents said:
-60% said that our current organizational forms are insufficient.
-50% said the movement is fragmented.
-33% said that our movement and organizations are not “at scale.”
-33% said we lack a clear, inspiring vision of the world we are fighting for.
-32% said that our grassroots organizing and activism lacks a shared long-term strategy.
-30% of participants said that the culture of the social justice movement is too negative,
and reproduces destructive practices we’ve learned from the broader society.
-25% of participants said that the disproportionate power of foundations and donors in the 501(c)(3) system is harmful to movement building efforts.
-15% of participants said there is a lack of investment in grassroots organizing in key communities and sectors—namely in the South, in African American communities and in rural areas.
The authors also point to four problematic dynamics related to building a better movement culture:
-Self-marginalization and “localism,” or thinking too small
-Racist and patriarchal practices within the movement
-The movement does not act like we plan to win lasting and fundamental change in our communities, workplaces or the world
-We have an inability to have healthy dialogue, debate and disagreement
While it’s always tough to hear a list of problems and challenges, I find these observations highly validating. I think participants in this research project really are highlighting some key difficulties that we face, and I think so many of these problems are interrelated. As I am arguing in my upcoming piece about organization and strategy, I believe that issues of resources, political culture, self-marginalization, lack of “revolutionary confidence,” and fragmentation actually have a lot to do with the first problem mentioned—our lack of experience and experimentation with more dynamic and open organizational forms. I think the organization question, which really unfolds into a bigger question of our daily movement practices, has so many things to offer us on all these counts—if we are willing to go beyond the old ground of party-building, non-profits, cadre groups, and collectives.
I’m running out of internet time, so that’s all for now, but I’m so excited about writing, reading, and thinking these days!