I propose that our movements put effort into creating numerous avenues and opportunities for people to contribute in both large and tiny ways.
As discussed earlier, capitalism knows how to ruthlessly and efficiently exploit people’s free time and capacity—their labor power—to build massive wealth. Similarly, traditional electoral campaigns and big reformist activist machines like labor union campaigns and environmental groups have developed all sorts of sophisticated ways to get even non-activist people to lend a phone call, a check, or even a house party of friends and family. Radical movements are bad at this, partly for the good reason that we don’t want to instrumentalize people, but also because we have that cynical, often subconscious elitism that tells us that if people aren’t equally down with all the political details and aren’t willing to make the same time commitments, then we just don’t have much to throw their way. But what if we operated from the assumption that even busy and activism-phobic people might still have revolutionary leanings? What kinds of spaces could we open for them to lend a quick hand?
The reason I laid out the five proposals above is because, woven together, I believe they create a skeletal structure for opening up huge avenues of creative activism and organizing to more people through crowdsourcing. We create rich points of access for all sorts of people—even if they have only 30 minutes a week to give toward any cause—to draw inspiration from our visions, sign on to our points of unity, look at our calls for solidarity, and think seriously about where they might fit in. But it’s up to us to open up the potential spaces for their contributions.
What about a smartphone app that lets people anonymously put in the addresses of abandoned buildings that might be ripe for occupying, or for uploading and tracking where ICE immigration agents are patrolling? What about downloadable guides of non-awkward conversation starters about various topics that people can use with their friends, families, co-workers, or on the bus? Or fun yet subversive discussion guides for people to host viewing nights of popular—and seemingly non-political—tv shows, movies, or televised events? What about a “meeting pal” program that let’s people with free time agree to take notes or set up video chats at meetings for people who can’t leave their houses for reasons of ability or life commitments? Or a “refreshments for revolution” website that allows kitchen-lovers to sign up and simply deliver delicious homemade goodies to pickets or occupations? What about a postal stamp-sized sticker craze where anyone can write little stories or quotes on tiny stickers and paste them all over public spaces? What about piggy bank projects that let thousands of people drop in their loose change for a year and then put it toward explicitly constructive revolutionary projects? What about a “neighborhood narratives” project that offers a template of interview questions that anyone in a neighborhood can answer and post, telling stories of their hopes, struggles, strengths, and needs?
These are potential experiments that come from just 5 minutes of brainstorming. They may or not be useful, and likely some already exist, but the point is that there are a ridiculous number of possibilities for how people can genuinely and creatively support our movements at all levels of capacity, skill, and commitment. We just need to set the parameters and invite the help.
I think it’s worth exploring the bike project example a little bit further here. So-called “lifestyle” projects like bike collectives, community gardens, and food pantries are common amongst many fellow radical type folks, but in the current landscape they can kind of waste of a lot of revolutionary energy because they are isolated from a bigger movement infrastructure, and often evolve into future professionalized non-profits or even vanguards of gentrification in the poor neighborhoods where they usually start. At the same time, I don’t think we’re going to convince people to stop working on them. Instead, I think they can easily be helped to work toward a more revolutionary purpose.
If a more or less inactive but sympathetic person walks into a radical bike project, and it’s just framed as a bike project, what is the potential for inspiring and harnessing that person’s creative activity toward revolution? Beyond reducing their consumption and carbon footprint—which is at least something—not much. They might be inspired to take a tire patching class, or even to become an occasional volunteer, but it kind of ends there.
But imagine if that project–with the same enthusiastic bike activist volunteers putting in their same creative work and hours–was branded as, wedded to, and at least lightly accountable to a larger project of building a counter-power society. On the wall there would be explanations about the larger project, sign-ups and notices about other linked projects, invitations to mass assemblies, etc. When the inactive person walks in to get their bike fixed, they are also told (in a respectful and non-pushy kind of way) about how the bike project operates and how it’s rooted in this vision for a new society. There are clearly presented volunteer opportunities, event opportunities, and crowd-sourcing activities. This person may say no to all of this stuff, but they came in to fix a tire and they leave having at least briefly engaged with a transformative vision for society. And if it was done in a responsible and friendly way, it won’t push that person away in the future, either.
If that same stuff is happening at the food pantry, conflict mediation center, radical mental health center, with shared branding (like a little logo on all the fliers and brochures that says “member of the new society building project”), each and every day that these projects are providing their alternative services, then there is a substantial opportunity for engaging thousands of people a month–especially in a big city like my home of Seattle. And if these were all linked to a common volunteer management system, a common internal education system, and a shared donation or income-sharing system, there could be really effective harnessing of people’s activity. And if these projects were even further linked and accountable to mass-based decision-making assemblies, this could truly crystallize into mass-level popular power. Moreover, if this project were linked or federated at the national or international level, it could also allow people to continue and link their work as they travel or move, instantly hooking up with projects in other locales.
What’s special about this approach is that it turns our small scale projects–and their distance from our large-scale vision–into an asset rather than a liability. When we have a clearly articulated vision for the structures our communities need, when we see the gaps from what we have and can communicate that openly and transparently, then people who are inactive will perceive a clear, concrete invitation to not only be active, but to think creatively to solve meaningful, potentially revolutionary problems.
Another strength of this approach is that it doesn’t ask people to change their interests to suit a singular, linear Revolutionary Strategy. It doesn’t tell the bike activist, “hey, you’re wasting your time and you should study more Marx,” (which they won’t do anyway, they’ll just think you’re a jerk, I can personally assure you). Instead, it actually takes people’s existing interests and even their hobbies and it invites them to connect with a more revolutionary edge–something they are often yearning for anyway. And it would even give existing alternative projects an opportunity to link in and affiliate themselves without too much muss and fuss.
In the end, it’s all about expanding our capacity for collecting, moving, harnessing, and crystallizing people’s powerful human activity, so that we can rival and replace the heartless and senseless empires that currently use our energy to rule over us.