My website, Be Freedom, is dedicated to movement activism and social transformation in the US. Are you active in the labor, environmental, womens, student, anti-war, or LGBQT movements? Is your local cooperative or community garden an important part of your life? Did Ferguson or Occupy light you up? Are you thinking about the big changes — about how to build a better movement for freedom, democracy and environmental sustainability?
We all need to think about the political and rhetorical strategies, organizing methods, mindsets and projects most likely to promote a broad and spirited movement. This blog aims to contribute to a discussion of how we move a little further down the long road of the American Revolution.
Be Freedom is aimed primarily at activists and organizers who already understand that their campaigns and projects are part of a broader movement for social transformation. If the history of the last 100 years has not convinced you of the need for fundamental change then this blog may not be for you.
The blog hopes to articulate strategic concepts that activists and organizers can translate into practice depending on their situation and capacities. We need a practical theory that can help us find ways to work the big changes while immersed in our day-to-day political struggles. Transformative activism requires both “eyes on the prize” and “feet on the ground.”
But, as long as you are engaged in a political practice, then I hope the arguments presented here will provide interest and advantage. Political practice might encompass all sorts of activities from community projects like coops or gardens to direct confrontation with the corporations that control our lives.
Talk is cheap. We are what we do.
While Be Freedom will focus on possible strategies, methods, and organizing principles; history and political or cultural analysis also matters, insofar as it applies to the development of a clearer strategic sense.
Strategic thinking may involve analysis of current conditions, or statements of desired goals but is primarily characterized by a proposed course of action. Strategic questions ask “how?” How do we create the transition between what is and what ought to be? An effective strategy proposes how existing consciousness, resources, and capacities can be marshaled to achieve a range of political ends. Strategy try to answer the hardest questions of all—what to do next and how to do it.
Effective organizations regularly use a strategic planning process. While there are several variations all include: an assessment of the various forces in play; yourself, allies and enemies; a short list of goals; the selection of tactics and demands; and most crucially — matching the tactics and tasks to the organizational resources already in hand. In the spirit of experimentation the results must be evaluated, criticized and the plan revised. If your intent is to enlarge your resources, the process is the same. We start from where we are.Comprehensive campaigns are good examples of strategic planning.
Since strategic planning is specific to each campaign, Be Freedom will focus on the general questions of strategy. I propose a preliminary discussion of the transition between “what is” and “what ought to be,” rather than choosing between visions, ideologies or issues.
We are overwhelmed by issues. We scurry from one crisis to the next but with little aim to our movement. Yes, there is value to a rapid response network but in the absence of a coherent strategy responding to hot button issues keeps us reactive and defensive. As the old saying goes, “the issue is not the issue.”
We also have our fair share of visions. A great deal of good work has gone into describing the better world we would like to see. While it is vitally important to have direction, we have little idea of how to make the transitions to the world we want.
American radicals also have a tradition of ideological debate and polemic. Many a long hour has been spent in heated argument: making fine points that have few real world correlates. The relationship between ideological struggle and movement building is anything but clear. Organizing and movement building happen primarily because of what people do: their skills, abilities, relationships and strategies. Ideas exist best in action.
By temporarily suspending the issues, visions and ideological concerns that so often preoccupy activists, we can explore more deeply the subject of political power and strategy. Because the problems of power effect us all, Be Freedom hopes that these resources will be of use to activists from various social movements from wide-ranging political perspectives.
Strategy is permanently provisional. Strategy is always a work in progress, a unending discussion open to revision based on practice and the changing political context. Strategic writing is generally short because it remains undeveloped and because so much of strategy is in the doing not the saying. And, because it is among the most challenging work before us. But the sad fact remains that much of labor and social activism is simply reactive or willfully avoids strategic work.
Be Freedom will address the basic outlines of strategy by discussing the Inside/Outside Strategy (IOS) as a candidate for the primary strategic context available to social movement activists.
It is also important to identify diversions and substitutes for strategy. We need to be much more conscious of the ways that American culture shapes movement activity and how some cultural tendencies divert us from achieving our immediate goals let alone our long term visions. Even more difficult is to identify those cultural characteristics and political traditions that provide valuable raw material for a transformative vision and strategy.
Strategy begins with existing conditions and existing consciousness. There is no other starting point. History and culture can be a prison or a platform, but have no doubt that the past exerts an inescapable gravity on our work, ideas and perceptions. Recognizing the power of historically conditioned cultural codes is an important if rarely taken path toward understanding our place in the world.
Our first step then will be toward working on the problems and possibilities of social movements in the United States.
John Adams observed, “The revolution was in the minds of the people” and as Bob Marley sang, “None but ourselves can free our own minds.” Harriet Tubman’s triumph was also her lament, “I freed thousands of slaves; I could have freed more if they knew they were slaves.”
Maybe we can dare to go where Audre Lorde leads us. “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situation… but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors tactics, the oppressors’ relationships.”
Our minds: the first, last and never-ending battlefield.