I propose that our movements stake out political space around a broad vision of grassroots social transformation, spending time and energy to flood mainstream culture with the questions and possibilities that such revolutionary imagination brings to the surface.
I take this as a social fact: every day, at every moment, all of the people of the world have the opportunity to rise up together, to occupy their communities and workplaces, and to completely halt many oppressive systems where they stand. All it would take is one big, collective refusal, a “No!” stretching from the ports to the prisons, from the bedrooms and kitchens to the schoolyards and barracks, followed then by what the Zapatistas have called the many yeses that spring from grassroots collaboration.
This is a power that just lies there, underneath our feet all the time, dormant but breathing, and which usually only comes out in brief spurts, spontaneously, somewhat chaotically, and not very successfully. In order for this power to be used successfully in a lasting, deeply democratic way, a critical mass of people need to not just recognize their collective power (both disruptive and constructive), but feel ownership, comfort, and confidence with it, with a strong sense of where they want to take it and how to avoid its many pitfalls. Essentially, I think we win when hundreds of millions of people, through conscious practice and preparation, have reached a point where they feel their people power as an old and trusted friend.
Taking inspiration from the anarchists of the Spanish revolution, I call this “The Idea,” the utopian and incendiary core that, in my opinion, makes revolutionary imagination so powerful and appealing. I sum up “The Idea” as this:
Together, the vast majority of people on this planet could rise beyond the hierarchies and oppressions that bind us. Together, we could build a more free, just, and cooperative world.
There will come a time when we are enough, and when we are ready.
Until that time, we will prepare.
I believe that this idea, stated even as simply and broadly as this, should be staked out as a political pole, as a rallying point for organizers and movements. Like so many political positions in history—“Are you a Communist?” “What’s your take on abortion?” “Do you believe in human-caused climate change?” “We are the 99%”—I think this idea should be popularized and flooded into daily discourse, a potential stance that anyone could expect to be asked about on a first-date or at a family barbecue.
I believe that a rallying point this clear yet wide open, a tent this big, is much more useful than the endless squabbling and cat herding of trying to get 21st century people to all commit to Anarchism, or Participatory Socialism, or Multiracial Feminism, or any other more specific and nuanced brand. All of those ideas are still there—as are their critical debates—to develop and draw from, but history has shown again and again that mass counter-power comes from popularizing and unifying around a bigger idea than any one ideology allows.
Concretely, then, how do we establish this idea as a political pole and raise awareness of it? While I do dare to say that we can learn and apply some pointers from the marketing and public relations industries—repetition, constant presence, authentically warm emotional associations, messaging that can go viral, attractive and memorable symbols and imagery—I think the deeper answer comes from how we organize ourselves and frame our work in social movements. I try to address this in each of the next sections of this proposal.