Building Anti-Authoritarian Movements With the Size and Resilience to Win
by Jeremy Louzao
“Another world is possible,” says the slogan on the old pamphlet. I ask you if you believe it.
“I don’t know,” you reply, squinting, hesitant. “I think so.”
I tease you lightly for your uncertainty, but you’re facing down, carefully preparing your words.
“It all just seems so far gone,” you say. “It seems like there’s so much wrong in the world, I don’t know if I really believe it can be changed. I can say I believe it, but honestly? No…I just don’t see it. It’s too late for us. Pieces, yes; pieces can be improved. But the whole thing? It’s just too big.”
I’m looking down now also, nodding and listening. You continue.
“I’ve gone to meetings, I’ve gone to marches, I’ve wanted to change things for so long, but that’s never how it works out. It’s a grind. Chasing ideals grinds us down, you know? With the backlash we get, the constant uphill climb towards too few victories, the infighting, the feelings of guilt and judgment and misunderstanding…it gets so tiring. And that’s just in fighting for those little pieces! Who knows if we’ll win anything meaningful from all of it. So, people get burned out even in the planning stages of a project. They just stop showing up at meetings. If it’s this hard now, while we’re so small, focusing small, what reason or room is there for focusing big?
“I don’t know if another world is possible, but I do know that I get exhausted when I think about it.”
You turn to me, and I look up at you. There is a recognition there. The same sadness, the same tiredness, the same dissatisfaction. And underneath all that, the same fiery desire. There was a time, and we both remember it, when just standing up and fighting was enough to keep us going. When the struggle seemed like this vast, open field, full of possibilities and strange new ideas. Names and dates and histories that we didn’t quite remember, but were inspired by nonetheless. But after the bombardment of court dates and grant deadlines, after all the dysfunctional groups and the scathing political gossip, after all these years of the same marches on the same routes to the same buildings in order to hear the same speeches…
…we need something more to keep us going.
In our silence, there is a dialogue between us, as both of our minds circle around the same thought:
There was a time, at least a moment, when another world did seem possible. We wish we could get back to that.
Right now, within our radical, anti-authoritarian social and environmental justice movements, I believe that there is a hunger for some new approaches. I believe that there are many people, just like me, who deeply want to believe again, or maybe for the first time, that another world is possible. I believe that there are many of us who are pining for our movements to become more personally sustainable; for them to develop ideas and practices that better energize and inspire us; and also for them to become more effective at making us effective at transforming—not just lightly tweaking—society.
There is a burning desire for new ways of thinking and orienting ourselves, for new ways of organizing ourselves, and especially for new ways of relating with one another, both inside and outside of “the movement.” Many of us want something more.
Yet, sadly, even with all of these desires pulsing within us, most of us have been too quiet about what we’re wanting, talking only amongst our closest friends and colleagues, complaining, wishing—even talking shit about each other—but feeling too busy, too uncomfortable, or too insecure to speak up about what we need. While so many of us have our heads ducked behind the sandbags, always distracted by the urgency of the ever bright, ever loud NOW of growing crisis and austerity, even more of us stay hidden behind fear and self-doubt, unsure of how to articulate what we wish for our movements, and unwilling to risk the rejection that might come from pushing for something beyond activist routine. Whatever our reasons, a silence overwhelmingly prevails. And being silent about the kinds of movements that we want—and deserve—only helps to guarantee that we will never see them become real. If we want something more, we need to talk more openly and energetically about it. Together. Then we must build it. Together.
So, taking my own fear and self-doubt shakily by the hand, I am here to present you—and anyone else you’d be kind enough to share it with—with a humble, yet lofty proposal. A proposal for something more, for something quite different.
In this piece, I propose a different way that we might approach radical, revolutionary, transformative politics. I propose experimentation with new and unique political spaces—both conceptual and physical—which hold closely to a belief that another world is possible; which use that hope to build for the long-haul and on a large scale; and yet which, at the same time, hold us, nurture us, and ignite us as real people as we struggle daily, yearly, multi-generationally to get where we need to go. I propose that these spaces must go beyond the traditional organizational styles and formats that we’ve become used to—be they campaign organizations and coalitions, non-profits, collectives, spontaneous mobilizations, cadre groups, or revolutionary parties. Instead, I propose rethinking many of the assumed conventions and truisms of Left movements, and reaching out even more widely into society and history—even into enemy territory—for lessons and inspiration.
What results from all this is a multifaceted, ambitious set of ideas that I believe to be potentially innovative, powerful…and perhaps a touch wacky. It is a proposal for a vision-centered, mass-based orientation toward building movements which, for short, I call a mutual inspiration approach.
The Structure of This Essay: First the Forest, Then the Trees
In the pages that follow, I will explain what this mutual inspiration approach is, why it might be useful, and how it might work. To introduce this approach well, however, is going to take some time, and so I have organized this piece into two parts.
Part One is kind of like the zoomed out, more theoretical view that grounds the proposal. It opens with a brief brush with grumpiness and negativity, taking time to name the dissatisfaction that has brought me out of my own silence in the first place. Then, it ventures to explain some of the bigger themes of what “something more” means for me. These themes are framed as four intimately connected needs that I believe are crucial to building stronger, healthier, and more transformative social movements:
- Revolutionary Imagination: We need movements that unflinchingly stake out and bring life to what we are fighting for.
- Mass Scale: We need movements that are built to grow, that open opportunities for anyone’s participation, and that are enthusiastically prepared to move us from the fringe to becoming a mainstream counter-power.
- Creative Militancy: We need movements that greatly expand our tactical toolbox, allowing all of us to help build disruptive and constructive power and capture popular imagination.
- Mutual Inspiration: We need movements where we support each other as the people we are right now, while inspiring each other to grow over the long-haul of struggle.
After Part One has explored why these four needs are so critically important, Part Two will describe how a mutual inspiration approach might help our movements to achieve them. Through a series of ten linked proposals, I will offer a pretty unique mix of ideas, spaces, and structures, I will lightly sketch how they might work on the ground, and then I will offer some basic suggestions for how potential supporters can jump in and begin to contribute.
Although this writing is a bit lengthy, this is not meant to be a talking head piece. This is a detailed invitation—a proposal for a distinct approach toward movement building that some of us in Seattle hope to actively experiment with, starting right now in the fall of 2014. After you have traced the steps of these ideas, I hope you will have a clear sense of what’s on the table and will feel moved to take it further.