I propose that our movements ground their understanding of their work, and the success of that work, in relation to their contribution to a larger ecosystem of movements, and that they strengthen this ecosystem using 3 specific communicative and collaborative tools:
1) points of unity
2) solidarity call and responses
3) questions of tension
Because I believe that winning over the long-haul means eventually ending all systematic forms of oppression in every single state, city, and neighborhood in our country, linked with similar revolutionary changes all over the planet, any anti-authoritarian counter-power worth its salt must be holistic and widespread. With care, time, and attention, we really do need to build holistic, liberatory cultures and institutions in almost every state, city, and neighborhood. The vast majority of people in each of these locations will need to be actively participating in directly democratic ways. Liberation doesn’t mean having kick-ass multicultural alternative schools in Boston and then having to go all the way to Houston to access effective and empowering support for mental health and healing from trauma. Liberation must be understood as having structures that serve all people in every single location where people live their lives.
While it may be useful for some single-issue movements, the all-too-common leftist mentality of a linear march toward revolution simply won’t work for building this kind of a counter-power. We cannot possibly achieve the wide array of changes that this approach demands within a movement that is trying to move in one straight, neat line, with certain issues, people, or parties in the lead (as revolutionary subjects), and with all the rest of us following behind (as more or less objects or instruments). We need a more open and productive way of thinking about our struggles. Instead of trying for a singular, grand, unified Movement, I believe revolutionary counter-power should be built by a massive, diverse, ecosystem of movements, organized around a politics of solidarity.
In an ecosystem of movements, there is no front or back, there is no margin or center, and there is no one revolutionary subject like the proletariat and peasants of old, or the third-world nationalists of the 60’s and 70’s. Rather, every one of us is a revolutionary subject, and every aspect of our lives is a possible site of revolutionary struggle. Every single authentic attempt to undermine and replace the current system should be celebrated as a part of the ecosystem, and we should recognize how vital it is to always have activists, organizers, and movements who are called to different issues and different styles of fighting. After all, diversity is fundamental to any healthy ecosystem.
Lucky for us, this ecosystem already exists. We already have thousands of groups and issues and campaigns all over the place, almost all at least lightly linked through social and subcultural ties, and sometimes even more formally gathered through inspiring spaces like Social Forums. What really needs a boost though, is the root system underlying our ecosystem—our mechanisms for coordination and for mutual solidarity.
Up to this point in these proposals, I have mostly described ways that individual groups or coalitions can better integrate revolutionary visions, needs, and strategies into their own areas of work. That is, I’ve mostly been proposing ways for groups to strengthen their individual positions in the broader fight for a better world. But how do all these different groups, with their disparate imaginations, priorities, styles, and strategic approaches, form and coordinate meaningful, durable links? How do we escape the silos that currently divide us in our different niches of the activist world?
I want to describe three tools that I think can help unlock the nascent potential in our ecosystem of movements, if used regularly and with fidelity: points of unity, solidarity call and responses, and questions of tension.
Points of unity are the easiest to grasp because they are used all the time to form coalitions and alliances. They are usually relatively concise and clear statements of all the areas where multiple groups politically agree and wish to work together. This is where different groups can sort through their various visions and values, acknowledge power needs that they share in common, and work toward integrating and overlapping their projects to more robustly cover multiples strategic areas of focus. Once points of unity are established, then any group that agrees with them can sign on, and as situations evolve those points of unity can be updated or even dissolved if they end up wearing out their welcome.
With points of unity politically uniting multiple groups, there are all sorts of structures for these groups to coordinate together, such as general assemblies, conferences and forums, spokescouncils, or smaller strategic meetings with directly accountable representatives. Points of unity provide a backbone of trust that opens a lot of political space for experimentation.
While points of unity can help us delineate what we agree on within our ecosystem of movement, solidarity call and responses, the second proposed tool, guide us on how to back up our agreements with action. Currently, when a movement is heatedly engaged in a struggle, it will often put out a call for solidarity, explaining the context of its struggle and how other movements and individuals can help. Maybe it will call for people to make phone calls to local representatives, or participate in an international day of action, or send supplies to a place of particular need. I think that this tool should be stepped up, made more dynamically interactive, and adopted as a common practice for all times, not just for intense fights. In addition to groups and movements making their individual calls for the kinds of solidarity they can use, groups should also get in the habit of publicly responding with their capacity and commitment to show solidarity for others. Moreover, when groups know that they have particularly unique skill-sets, capacities, or access to resources, they can make pre-emptive offerings of solidarity before anyone has even asked. To briefly use the language of capitalism, it’s like a sharing of our movement wide supplies and demands for solidarity. This might sound cumbersome, and even ten or twenty years ago it would have been, but with modern online tools, people do exactly this kind of coordination and sharing for all sorts of things, from baby registries to fantasy football leagues, to getting schools supplies privately donated to poor schools.
Further, solidarity call and responses allow the groups that are most affected by an issue (the ones calling for solidarity) to lay out what is most helpful and unhelpful, while at the same time allowing those who are offering the solidarity to have ways to express themselves if they feel like they are being taken for granted, underutilized, or have new ideas for how to help. Through this, solidarity can become a much more ongoing, dialogical process of coordination—ideally previewing and practicing the back and forth coordination needed for a non-capitalist future.
The third proposed tool, questions of tension, is aimed at what our movements are usually way too touchy to talk about: all the places where we differ and disagree. I believe that as groups are working out areas of unity and solidarity with each other, instead of completely shying away from areas of tension, they should actively take the time—and even use specially reserved spaces and processes—to reflect and write down their tensions, in the form of shared questions that they can’t yet agree to answering in the same way, but which will remain in the air as challenges for the future. For example, a coalition that feels itself strained by disagreements about non-violent direct action vs. property destruction or even armed self-defense might include an agreement to “respect a diversity of tactics” in their points of unity, while also acknowledging a potential question of tension around “how do we decide what tactics to consider off-limits in our work for liberation?” Having been put out into the air, willing groups can then make time later to further explore questions together, get help from grassroots researchers and other experienced movements, or even ask for conflict mediation to help settle things.
I should emphasize, though, that these questions of tension are most useful for what groups can acknowledge as political or philosophical disagreements, and should be differentiated from more interpersonal or stylistic issues. Thus a bad example of a question of tension would be “why do you have so many racist and macho assholes in your group?” While a question like this does suggest genuine political disagreements about how groups should practice liberatory behaviors and hold members accountable, there is some more direct and individual conflict that would need to be hashed out and resolved before any mutual investigation into differences would be possible.
With these tools in hand, I think that our movement groups should be calling each other, setting up gatherings, engaging each other in widespread processes of rapprochement. We should see a constant flurry of common points of unity and solidarity call and responses flying up on websites. We should see our precious—and way underutilized—movement researchers poring over requests for help with ongoing questions of tension between groups. Over time, we should see the currently informal and frayed roots of our movement ecosystem flourishing into solid and vast webs of mutual agreement, solidarity, and debate that crisscross the globe.
Over time, I imagine the evolution of a kind of alternative nationalism—inspired less by the identity-based or geographically centered nationalism of past decades, and more inspired by attempts to build grassroots autonomy, as many indigenous movements are doing. As statements of vision and values link and strengthen into multi-movement points of unity, they can then evolve into even stronger declarations, even a constitution, for a kind of alternative nation—a project of constructing a functioning parallel society right here and now, all over the place. This wouldn’t be mere symbolism, but a concrete project of identifying all of the structures that an alternative society would need, and then actually supporting people to build pieces of those structures now, to whatever capacity they have. The lone radical bike project, for example, wouldn’t be a lone bike project, it would be the autonomous transportation or ecology arm of a much larger project; and it would actually be accountable to the needs that such a project entails, not just the subcultural proclivities of people who like bikes and hate cars. Same for the community accountability collectives or self-healing groups—they would be understood as accountable to and preparing for the society’s needs for safety and defense.