I’ve spent forty years of my life as a serious activist. I’ve been to prison as a result and I’ve also had fun. I’ve been involved in one way or another in about every “issue” to come down the left wing pike during that time. I’ve seen some changes. I haven’t seen nearly enough. I’m tied of hearing about past movements. Though I was there, I’m tired of hearing about the 60s. The suggestions I’m about to make are aimed at folks one hell of a lot younger than me. Young activists have the energy, the spirit, the strength to make things happen. Young activists have not become cynical like so many of my compatriots.
I should note that I come from a framework which I would describe as anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and Marxist. For me, what we used to call the primary contradictions are race and class. It is through that prism that I view the world.
TOO MUCH THIS AND THAT
Today we have people working on a multitude of different issues. Most of them are perfectly worthwhile, need to be dealt with and all that. However, when we focus all of our energy on our own particular cause we are spread too thin. We accomplish too little. We need to create a mass movement. We need a couple of major causes upon which to concentrate. This doesn’t mean you, your friends, or your organizations cannot continue to work on and organize around your own issue whatever it may be. Not only can you, but you must. Again, there is much to be done. However, to build a real mass movement that results in sustained change we need to line up on a few core issues. I’m suggesting two major causes that all of us can organize around.
WHAT THAT SOMETHING IS NOT
It is not the anti-war movement. Why? Unlike the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era, today there is no good guy. Back then, we could all rally around the struggle of the Vietnamese people for national liberation. Well, hopefully we are not about to rally around the Taliban or Al-Quieda. Not too many people are going to sign up for that assignment, including me. This, of course, does not mean we should stop calling for US troops out of Afghanistan, but it does mean we aren’t out chanting “Tal, Tal, Taliban is gonna win.” If anything, we should be supporting some sort of true liberation movement in Afghanistan, a progressive one. If it isn’t there, it isn’t there. The people of Afghanistan, of course, deserve OUR support. Unfortunately, at the moment, they don’t have anyone substantial in the fight, so to speak. It is going to be impossible to build a huge anti-war movement when neither side of the warring parties offer anything progressive. We can’t create a progressive struggle for liberation in Afghanistan, but we can encourage one and that is what we should be doing while trying to get foreign troops the hell out.
It could have been anti-globalization. I think it almost was. The evil of globalization was something to build a militant international movement upon. The only problem was that it was pretty complex for a whole lot of people to understand – most especially Americans who like things very simple. Still those organizing around the issue did a hell of a job and were making tremendous headway creating a truly international movement. Then, however, just as that movement was gaining real strength along came the invasion of Iraq and the anti-war movement which ended up sucking the life out of the anti-globalization movement. Had the anti-war movement latched onto and become a part of the anti-globalization movement something very interesting might have resulted.
This isn’t to say there should not be an anti-war campaign. Of course there should. This isn’t to say there should not be an anti-globalization campaign. Of course there should.
However, in my humble opinion, it is going to be impossible to build THE MOVEMENT upon these smaller movements.
As I said, I am going to present you with two major causes with which to rally around. These causes are distinct, yet must be linked.
Fighting racism is a cause we must all embrace. Until we confront all forms of racism, until whites confront their white skin privilege, nothing we do is ever going to be truly revolutionary or even progressive. Until our movement confronts racism and white supremacy there will never be real change. Racism is engrained in our psyche, in the fabric of our being. In the U.S. at this time in history we must continue to and increase the struggle against racism. This is simply our duty. Without confronting racism and white supremacy any mass movement we create will degenerate and become reactionary.
In America, it is racism directed at African Americans that has been most primary. We cannot forget this. We cannot pretend it is no longer true. We are not living in some post racial America.
At the same time as their population increases in the U.S. we are and will continue to see increasing racism directed at Hispanics. The anti-immigration forces are merely the beginning of what is no doubt to come.
Whites must act under the leadership of people of color in this aspect of the struggle. African Americans don’t need whites to organize them, neither do Hispanics, or American Indians or any other people of color. White people must strive to become “race traitors.” White people must strive to learn from the likes of John Brown. Whites must organize other whites. White people must be on the front lines fighting white supremacy, everyday, everywhere.
So what is this other big issue you ask me? I am talking about global warming and the environmental destruction of our planet. It will eventually devastate us all, whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, all of us. Men and women, gays and straights all of us. And not just us. All the free wild animals of the planet are being destroyed right alongside us. It is the creatures of the planet, the fish of the sea, the birds in the air, the great cats, the wolves, the bears that are the ones dying off right now. Not tomorrow, right now. They are being poisoned today. Their habitats are drying up, melting, dying even as I write this.
This is an issue tinged with all the others as well. Who is and will suffer first and the most amongst us – people of color, the indigenous, people in the developing countries, working people, the poor. Who will suffer last amongst us? You guessed it – white folks, the wealthy, the United States, Western Europe. Who causes most of the suffering – the rich, the powerful, the huge corporations, mostly white, mostly men, mostly the big developed countries. What has to go to save the planet? Capitalism has to go, traditional states have to go, racism has to go, the way we organize our societies has to go, our current way of thinking itself has to go. We have got to understand that ultimately we, and the animals, the plants, and water and the air – we are all connected, all essentially one. We all live or we all die.
I am not for going quietly into the night. The movement we build must be one that convinces more and more people to look beyond tomorrow morning and beyond the end of their nose. That is particularly difficult here in America. But we, you and I, must know time is simply running out. We either get this done in the next few years or we might as well throw in the towel. It is possible we are already too late. I’m 60 years old. I’ll probably live a relatively normal life span (which doesn’t mean I don’t care about what happens, which doesn’t mean I don’t want the Earth to live on after me). I’ll tell you what, if you’re twenty, if your two, if your one of the famous unborn, well, you ought to be mad as hell at the rest of us. And you sure as hell will be one day. Only it may be when it is hot and dry, when there isn’t much to eat or drink. It may be while wars and civil wars rage across the planet as nations and regions run out of water, or food, or land, or power. When it gets like that people will fight back and with each other. However, it’ll be for nothing then.
And by the way, the future is now. People are starving now. Islands are sinking now. Coastlines are going away now. Deserts are expanding now. Rainforests are disappearing now. The ice caps are melting now. Greenland is becoming green now. We can no longer look at record floods in the north of England and say, “well you can’t blame any one incident on global warming.” The “one incidents” are adding up too quickly. We can’t just shrug off the fact that every fish in the damn world is carrying carcinogens in their systems right now. We can’t shrug off the fact that mother’s milk is turning to poison right now. We can’t pretend that the great aquifers under the Great Plains States are drying up now. Tomorrow is today.
We must act now.
WHO SHOULD BE ON BOARD
All progressive forces should be on board – whether you call yourself a revolutionary, a communist, an anarchist, a socialist, a liberal, a pacifist (or not) – this movement needs you. There is no room in such an undertaking for anti-communism and there is no need that everyone subscribes to the exact same “line.” The truth is that debate within the movement is a good thing, not a bad one. The truth is that a little ideological struggle is not something to fear. The truth also is that all of us have to be willing to understand who are our friends, who are on the same side as us. We have to realize that in a mass movement no one grouping can hold sway over everyone else. That just won’t work.
Further, no one has to stop doing what they are doing now. No one has to stop being an animal rights activist, no one has to stop fighting for gender equality or gay rights, no one has to give up the class struggle or the women’s movement, no one has to stop fighting police brutality, no one has to stop trying to abolish the prison industrial system, no one has to stop organizing workers, and no one has to stop trying to free political prisoners. All of that needs to be done. I believe that a mass movement will actually benefit every one of these battles and more. If we can build one large mass movement based upon the issues I am putting forward, each of us will also be aided in our own individual work. I’ve seen it happen. It has happened. It always happens.
However, I’m not talking about the smallest common denominator politics here. I’m not for rallying everyone around the lowest level that we can find. One of the problems encountered by the anti-globalization movement was the troubling reality that there were those on the right, even racists, who latched on for their own reasons and with their own agendas. We do not want those people with us. Just because someone says they are against global warming does not make them our friend. Just because someone is against globalization, does not make them our friend. We must be watchful and we must make constantly clear that we are about justice, freedom, equality. We must be clear that we are against racism, nationalism,sexism, religious bigotry, exploitation, big power hegemony and what I would call imperialism (but you may call something else). We are against needless wars.
SOMETHING IS MISSING
Some of you have probably noticed that I have not discussed tactics. That is intentional. There are a number of reasons why I have made that choice. They include:
• The internet is no place for such a discussion.
• In earlier drafts I did in fact include a section on tactics. What resulted was the centering of the discussion on tactics at the expense of everything else. That was my fault, but it was not something I wanted to happen.
• In all honesty, I am not that comfortable with my ability to develop a rational position on tactics. I believe that future conversation with many more people involved will be necessary to even begin that discussion.
• We do not need to decide tactics right now.
When the discussion of tactics does happen what we need is to find ways to effectively organize and educate ourselves and others in a manner which can most effectively at this time move forward the agenda of fighting racism and saving the earth.
What I have presented here I present with all humility. I could be way off base. I recognize that. What I most want to do is get the discussion to move forward on how to build a true mass movement so that we can begin creating it. I do not believe that discussion can last forever. I believe that time is crucial.
If you have other ideas, and I’m sure you do, you should put them forward.
December 1, 2009