January 2014

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The title line is one of the biggest cliches that our social movements have come to know. Oh, how many millions of times it’s been said, in how many thousands of interviews, panel discussions, memoirs, hagiographies, lectures to young militants at the knees of their elders.

Repeated. Repeated. South Africa. The Soviet Union. China. Cuba. France. Venezuela. Spain. The labor unions. Civil rights. The Green movement. The non-profit sector. Even Occupy.

It’s so tired, so rote, the disconnect between the insurgent ideals that social movements use to rally their forces and destabilize power, and then the betrayals that they commit once they have become the new establishment.

But cliches exist because they contain common truths. They unearth common problems that need solving. And this problem of power, of how to utilize it and sustain it and keep it rich, lively, participatory, and well-dispersed–oh this problem is something really worth pondering.

Power. Popular power. My intellectual and political passions just keep narrowing in on this idea, and on the challenge of making it more than a slogan. I’ve got these two writing projects just floating here, gathering pieces of evidence and argument, getting stronger and more interesting the more I read, and talk, and work my day job. Anti-authoritarian movements do not like to plan for the realities of power; they like to imagine themselves always banging on the walls outside. I want to help movements think of ways we can more firmly embrace the question of power–and not just shallow, disruptive power, but generative power, creative power.

The job of our movements, the absolutely most pressing job, is to help people prepare themselves for power. It is the only way that anti-authoritarian movements will ever win. We win when so many millions of us are so damned confident and practiced and even bored with the realities of people power that it feels like a forgone conclusion that we should just be running all this shit ourselves, all together, all the time.

The slow drips that become lasting shapes…

On my living room bookshelf there are two little stacks of DVDs that I borrowed from two different friends about 5 years ago. I walk by them every day, and I notice and think about them every couple of days. They remain there, in their same little stacks. Every time I think about them–probably hundreds of times now–a combination of logistical anxiety and accumulated shame–for the lateness, of course, but even more for the crime of never having watched them–win out over any intention of returning them. It feels like an impossible task, like it’s the kind of act meant for someone far above my station. I’m the guy who loses things I borrow from my friends. I don’t have the dignity to be anything else.

In these small stacks of DVDs, there is so much to understand about me. The weight that such stupid little social shit has, and the ways that I freeze. And freeze. And freeze for years. Until the smallest in-actions begin to form into a life that is, quite unintentionally, viciously anti-social. Like slow drips that develop into stalagmites and stalactites, a sharp, more permanent form emerges.

Perhaps even more curious is that for me, as a writer who sometimes tries to describe fictional characters, it feels so distant, so difficult, to imagine a person who could have an easy time returning those things. Could it really be so easy? Something that, for me, is like the plodding social navigation of a monstrous and archaic tanker could be, for someone else, like a zippy summer jet-ski trip? Who could possibly not be tormented?

And so the day that these DVDs get returned? Surely it will be the sign of a much more profound rising.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi