ten commandments of effective struggle… (interview with Mike Davis)

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Last week (November 12) RAIN had an email interview with Mike Davis.

Rest of the interview will appear in the printed version of RAIN (coming out later in December) but below is one of the answers. 

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rain- What do you see when you compare the youth-led movements of the 60s with what has occurred since, i.e. the anti-corporate globalization movement and now the Occupy movement? Do you think the Occupy movement will have a long lasting impact? Will we see some profound radical change?

Mike Davis:

Right now the Occupy movements are candles in a storm.  Can they kindle real social fires?  Especially when so many dark forces are being released by the global depression?

I have no profound answers and the Sixties are, at best, only a partial template, if that.  But I would advocate ten commandments of effective struggle, synthesized from the experiences of both the 1930s and 1960s.

First, the categorical imperative is to organize or rather to facilitate other peoples’ self-organization.

Second, leadership must be temporary and subject to recall.  The job of a good organizer, as it was often said in the civil rights movement, is to organize themselves out of a job, not to become indispensable.

Third, protesters must subvert the media’s constant tendency toward metonymy – the designation of the whole by a part, the group by an individual.  (Consider how bizarre, for instance, that in the USA we have’ Martin Luther King Day’ rather than ‘Civil Rights Movement Day.’)  Spokespeople should regularly be rotated.

Fourth, the same warning applies to the relationship between a movement and individuals who participate as an organized bloc.  I very much believe in

the necessary of an organized revolutionary left, but groups can only claim authenticity if they give priority to building the struggle and keep no secret agenda from other participants.

Fifth, as we learned the hard way in the 1960s, consensual democracy is not identical to participatory democracy.   For affinity groups and communes, consensus decision-making may work admirably, but for any large or long term protest, some form of representative democracy is essential to allow the broadest and most equal participation.  The devil, as always, is in the details: the necessity of rotating positions, ensuring that any delegate can be recalled, formalizing rights of political minorities, guaranteeing affirmative representation, and so on.

At the end of the day, good anarchists, who believe in direct self-government, will find much of value in Roberts’ Rules of Order  (a useful technology for organized discussion and decision-making).

Sixth, an ‘organizing strategy’ is not only a plan for enlarging participation in protest, it must also be a strategy for aligning protest with the constituencies that bear the brunt of exploitation and oppression.

For example, one of the most brilliant strategic moves of the Black liberation movement in the late 1960s was to take the struggle inside the auto plants in Detroit.

Today, ‘Occupying the Hood’ is a similar challenge.  And the Occupy movements must especially respond to human rights crisis in working-class immigrant communities.  The immigrant rights protests five years ago were amongst the largest mass demonstrations in US history.  Perhaps next May Day we can hope to see a convergence of all the anti-inequality protests  on a single day of action.

Seventh, building movements of poor and working-class people require organizational infrastructures to deal with elementary survival issues (food, shelter, childcare) and to overcome unequal educational and skill backgrounds.

In the long winters ahead, survival collectives which enable lives of struggle are more essential than ever.

Similarly we must rebuild the apparatus of movement-committed legal professionals (like the National Lawyers Guild) that played such a vital role in sustaining protest in face of mass repression in the 1960s.  Likewise we need to establish local and national bail funds.

Eighth, the future of the Occupy movement will be determined less by the numbers in Liberty Park (although its survival is a sine qua non) than by the boots on the ground in Dayton, Cheyenne, Hattisburg and El Paso.  The geographical spread of the protests is in many cases equivalent to growing inclusivity of people of color and trade unionists.  The advent of social media has dramatically accelerated such growth, as well as creating a space for discussions between (non-leadership) activists all over the country and the world.   But Occupy Main Streets need more support from better resourced and mediagenic metropolitan groups.  A national speakers and performers bureau would be invaluable.

Conversely, it is essential to bring the stories from the heartlands and borders to national protest audiences.   The narrative of protest needs to become a mural of what ordinary people are fighting for across the country, e.g., stopping strip-mining in Mingo County, West Virginia; reopening hospitals in Laredo; supporting dockworkers in Longview, Washington; fighting a fascist sheriffs’ department in Tucson; protesting death squads in Tijuana; or global warming in Saskatoon; and so on.

Ninth, the increasing participation of unions in Occupy protests – including the stirring mobilization that forced the NYPD to back down from its attempt to evict OWC –is mutually transformative and raises the hope (unrealized by the anti-Vietnam student movement) that this can become an authentic class struggle after all.

Yet at the same time, we should have no illusions that the majority of the union leadership is still committed to its disastrous marriage to the Democratic Party, as well as to internecine union wars that have squandered most of the promise of a new beginning for labor.   Anti-capitalist protesters need to more effectively hook up with rank and file opposition groups and progressive caucuses within the unions.

Tenth, one of the simplest but most important lessons we learned during the Civil Rights era was to learn to speak in the vernacular.

Thus a good starting point for an agenda that would unify the greatest number of people in the current rebellion is FDR’s 1944 campaign platform: An Economic Bill of Rights.  This was the most advanced reform idea to arise from US labor and democratic forces in the twentieth century.

It is a clarion-like definition of the essential rights to employment, housing, healthcare and decent life.  It should be the existential minimum demand for any movement proclaiming to oppose inequality.  It also embodies every neoliberal and reactionary’s worst fear: a foundational entitlement to economic justice.

When the famed writer Upton Sinclair undertook his sensational and nearly successful campaign for Governor of California in 1935, his manifesto, ‘End Poverty in California Now,’ was essentially the program of the Socialist Party translated in New Testament parables.   FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, by the same token, is incontestably the legacy of the mainstream but objectively anti-capitalist.

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