Movements And Leaders Have Seasons

Over the last two years, social movements, organizations and leaders around the world have been thrust into a period of tumult, transition and uncertainty. These moments of crisis in our personal lives and in society can force sudden changes in our capacity to respond. What happens when we are not able to offer leadership like we used to? Or inversely, what happens when we do have the energy and capacity to respond, but our efforts don’t yield the results that are expected?

Responsibility is the essence of leadership, and millions of community leaders who are working hard to resolve difficult, structural problems are uncomfortable when they feel like they need to respond to the moment, but are unable to. This can lead to burnout, or worse: leaders leaving the movement altogether, creating vacuums of leadership that don’t honor the cycles of our own development.

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Building Collective Power Within Our Organizations

As we imagine an alternative society, we should think about how we will create something more collective, something where all people have a voice. Most of us come from a tradition where a select few make large impactful decisions for social justice organizations. Organizations have practices that at times feel inadequate and inaccessible for all. How do we move more towards a democratic collective process?

These questions come to mind as many movement organizations are wrestling with creating collective democratic power internally. How can processes be more transparent in the organization—and how do we balance that with some need for confidentiality? How do we balance legal obligations/liabilities and honesty?

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People In Prison Organize Collectively For Survival

On this show, we talk about how to build the relationships and analysis we need to create movements that can win. When we have talked about the rise of fascism, and how to fight it, I have often made the point that we have a lot to learn from prison organizers, who operate under the most fascistic conditions in the United States. But amid this pandemic rollercoaster of hope, disappointment and uncertainty, I feel like we also have a lot to learn from imprisoned and formerly incarcerated organizers about how to sustain ourselves and each other psychologically during hard times. So, today we are going to hear from Monica Cosby, a formerly incarcerated Chicago organizer whose insights about mutual aid as a form of social life support are invaluable right now. We are also going to hear from Alan Mills, the executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center about the fight for mental health care in Illinois prisons, how COVID has affected the situation, and what we can do about it.

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Think Outside The Protest Box

Protest. Petition. Call your senators. Nothing changes, right? No matter how large our demonstrations get, no matter how many millions of people write and petition politicians, no matter how many people get arrested in front of the White House or at our state capitols, it seems that our (supposedly) elected officials keep turning a blind eye and deaf ear to our cries for change.

In fact, there’s even a study out that shows that in 20 years on 2,000 different bills, we, the People, got our bills through Congress a whopping 0.0 percent of the time. (Yes, you read that correctly. Zero point zero. In other words, “never-ever-not-once”.) Only businesses and rich people managed to get legislation passed. And sure, it looked like we had a few victories, so long as one of those other groups were aligned with us.

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Healthy Group Accountability: Learning How To Learn

A team of facilitators from our organization, The Wildfire Project, was invited to support a base-building group whose staff was absolutely burnt out. Our first workshop brought their staff together with a volunteer leadership team (from their base) who, until then, had been minimally engaged. Staff shared their overwhelm and laid out their workload. It was clear that unless the whole group took collective ownership and responsibility for the direction of the organization, it would collapse.

We ended that first session together on the other side of that breakthrough: feeling grateful, connected, and on-purpose. But the more difficult work began when we came back together to make that vision of shared leadership real.

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Social Banditry For The 21st Century

At least as early as the first century A.D., shiftas of the Horn of Africa renounced their allegiance to emperors, government and law, and took to the wild where — through their disruptions of the usual business and trade — they would manage to survive as outlaws. For centuries, the Balkan haiduks roamed their lands, stealing from their Ottoman occupiers. Yi brigands and others from across the Chinese frontier sustained their economies in large part through raiding during the early 20th century. From 1917-1937, Peruvian women led bands of sharpshooters by horseback to rob the rich and give to the poor.

Despite limited research and the folkloric fictionalization of the Robin Hoods of our past, social banditry seems to be present wherever even the most primordial forms of civilization have offered class inequalities.

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Digital Corbynism

The first time I saw protesters dancing on the roof of a police van was at a May Day demonstration in London in 2002. Over the dulcet acid techno beats of a bike-powered sound system, a friend explained that we were imitating the Reclaim the Streets movement of the 1990s—free parties on highways doubled as tactics of resistance against infrastructure projects in the name of halting ecological and capitalist crisis. I learned then that I had come too late for anything new. The late British cultural theorist Mark Fisher described this era as one of nostalgia (-algia, the suffix, signifies pain, distress). Thanks to the ideology of what Fisher called “capitalist realism,” faith in the future had been canceled.

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Beyond Mobilizing: Towards A Movement That Builds A Base For Power

As I wrote not long ago, the North American anarchist movement has reached a crossroads. The movement must decide whether it will continue to remain a relatively isolated subculture or broaden its horizons and reach out to new groups of the oppressed. In short, I argued that the movement must turn its focus to mass organizing or risk becoming a marginal force in the political struggles to come. But what exactly would such a shift look like, and how would an organizing movement operate in practice?

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Get Up And Get Going: How To Form A Group

Becoming radicalized in a small town by yourself, seemingly in the “middle of nowhere,” can often be one of the most difficult experiences you may ever encounter. But even harder than the feeling of being adrift can be the desperation of not knowing how to go about attempting to make the leap from being just an individual with a set of ideas to someone that is part of a movement and specifically, a group of people who are organized in a set area, acting in concert, with that movement.

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Navigating The White Water Of These Turbulent Times

The latest lurch in global statecraft — Trump’s dissing NATO allies then playing footsie with Vladimir Putin — leaves many scrambling to maintain some balance. Republicans for whom the enemy status of Russia is an article of faith are beside themselves. Democrats are running out of adjectives to describe Trump’s behavior. And activists who have been around for longer than the last election are wondering how to steer a steady course in the midst of extremities. It reminds me of whitewater rafting on the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia, the kind where people aren’t supposed to even get into the raft unless they’ve had prior experience. I never paddled so hard in my life. At one point, even our guide was tossed out of the raft; thankfully a nearby kayaker grabbed him and returned him to us.

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How To Get New Activists To Stay Engaged For The Long Haul

I’m convinced that finding a group where they felt both included and effective has been a key difference between the students who have engaged in meaningful, ongoing activist work and those who haven’t. Deeply engaging newcomers also gives organizers a chance to counter the despair and disempowerment that easily surface when people don’t see immediate results, especially in this political climate.

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Using Public Spaces To Organize Communities

By Sam Allen for Transition Network – One summer night in 2014, Lucille Burns, a 34-year-old mother, was shot and killed while trying to break up a fight. Tamar Manasseh, a mother of two who had already seen too much gun violence in her Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, was devastated. Then she sprang into action. As she wrote in her recent op-ed for Truthout, “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had a theory, though: If enough adults, mainly moms, sat outside in lawn chairs and eye-catching shirts, violence would cease. I knew how much my own teenagers hated to be watched and how different their behavior was when they were, so I figured all teenagers would pretty much react the same way to supervision. So, I started my project: Mothers Against Senseless Killings. Every evening, we set up our lawn chairs and a barbecue grill on the block where that shooting took place — a block that had also seen high levels of gun violence in the past. We fed not only the bodies of the people in the community, but also their souls.” In the three years since MASK was formed, not a single act of violence has taken place on their block – not even a fistfight. Volunteers sign up to feed the block every summer night, and special events draw crowds to the corner, like the MASK Back-to-School Block Party with backpack giveaways, DJs, barbers, braiders, face painters, and tattoo removal services.

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Organizing Tenants In The Rentier Society

By Michael Byrne for ROAR Magazine – These organizations are developing new ways of responding to the growing conflict between tenants and landlords and between housing as a right and housing as a financialized asset. They aim to become more than radical activist groups, but rather to organize tenants en masse and to change the structural conditions and policies which condemn tenants to a life of high rents, frequent evictions and low-quality housing. All the organizations mentioned above are involved in collective action in response to individual issues, in particular rent increases, evictions and poor housing standards. This involves providing information about tenants’ rights, negotiating with landlords, media campaigns targeting specific landlords and taking legal cases. For tenant organizers this is about tenants working together to fight for their rights, rather than charity. Renting can be an isolating and individualizing experience. The only time a tenant is likely to reach out to others is during a particular moment of crisis, such as a rent increase or eviction. These moments provide the possibility to de-individualize the experience of renting, but also to politicize that experience by showing that by working together tenants can change their reality. Yet this kind of “case work” brings its own challenges — and not just in terms of the considerable resources it requires.

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A Manual For A New Era Of Direct Action

By George Lakey for Waging Nonviolence – Movement manuals can be useful. Marty Oppenheimer and I found that out in 1964 when civil rights leaders were too busy to write a manual but wanted one. We wrote “A Manual for Direct Action” just in time for Mississippi Freedom Summer. Bayard Rustin wrote the forward. Some organizers in the South told me jokingly that it was their “first aid handbook — what to do until Dr. King comes.” It was also picked up by the growing movement against the Vietnam War. For the past year I’ve been book touring to over 60 cities and towns across the United States and have been asked repeatedly for a direct action manual that addresses challenges we face now. The requests come from people concerned about a variety of issues. While each situation is in some ways unique, organizers in multiple movements face some similar problems in both organization and action. What follows is a different manual from the one we put out over 50 years ago. Then, movements operated in a robust empire that was used to winning its wars. The government was fairly stable and held great legitimacy in the eyes of the majority. Now, the U.S. empire is faltering and the legitimacy of governing structures is shredding. Economic inequality skyrockets and both major parties are caught in their own versions of society-wide polarization.

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What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In?

By Mike MIller for Counterpunch. We need to build it. That will require talking with people who now don’t think the way present movement activists do; it will mean listening to them, and gaining their trust; developing relationships with them; engaging them in not only protesting but in becoming co-creators of the movement and organizations required to turn around the ship of empire that the U.S. has become.

To imagine what this might look like, add a “0” to the numbers of people participating in what are now considered “mass actions”. And imagine them being sustained over a long period of time. And imagine already existing civic organizations (unions, congregations and others) growing in membership because of their involvement in the cause. And imagine new organizations being formed by people who now don’t have a continuing voice in civic affairs. And stretch your mind a little further to imagine permanent organizations being built that unite all these forces. That’s what “big organizing” would look like.

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