rn: Broadening the base for anti-globalization revolution


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

I agree with the ideas of Michael Albert below, that the current
revolutionary movement needs to broaden its base of support and be sure to
find ways for people who are not in a position to travel and protest to
contribute meaningfully.

I want, in this context, to mention my friend Aaron Koleszar. He went to
Seattle (ended up on the front page of TIME being arrested...) and to
Washington, DC. He's going to Quebec next April too (for the Summit of the
Americas, which is aiming to bring in the FTAA). Aaron manages to do all
this AND to keep in touch with other issues and activists, effectively
"broadening the base". I can recommend his e-mail list to everyone,
especially Canadians, who care about GMO's, justice for native people, the
revolution, etc.! To get on his list, write to Aaon at <•••@••.•••>.

all the best, Jan
Date: Fri, 06 Oct 2000 17:27:27 -0300
From: •••@••.••• (John DiStefano)
To: Jan Slakov <•••@••.•••>, •••@••.•••

Dear Jan,

"If you are not outraged, you're simply not paying attention."--trenchant quote
from a bumper sticker I read somewhere.  And it's true.

I'm attaching an article Michael Albert, sysop of ZNet, wrote very recently and
which I find extremely relevant to where we are at now, almost one year after
Seattle.  Please post.


The Trajectory Of Change

                                      By Michael Albert

     I think we have a problem. From Seattle through Prague and San
Francisco, we
have established an
     activist style needing some mid-course correction.

     What’s the problem, you might ask? Thousands of militant, courageous people
are turning out in city
     after city. Didn’t Prague terminate a day early? Aren’t the minions of
on the run? Isn’t the
     horrible impact of the WTO, IMF, and World Bank revealed for all to see?

     Absolutely, but our goal isn’t only to make a lot of noise, to be
visible, or
courageous, nor even to
     scare some of capitalism’s most evil administrators into shortening their
gatherings. Our goal is to win
     changes improving millions of lives. What matters isn’t only what we
are now
achieving, but where we
     are going. To win “non-reformist reforms” advancing comprehensive justice
requires strategic thinking.

     But isn’t that what’s been happening? Aren’t we strategizing about
these big
events and implementing
     our plans despite opposition?

     Yes, but to end the IMF and World Bank now, and win new institutions in the
long-term, we need
     ever-enlarging numbers of supporters with ever-growing political
and commitment, able
     to creatively employ multiple tactics eliciting still further participation
and simultaneously raising
     immediate social costs that elites can’t bear, and to which they give
in. That
is dissent’s logic: Raise
     ever-enlarging threats to agendas that elites hold dear by growing in
size and
diversifying in focus and
     tactics until they meet our demands, and then go for more.

     From Seattle on, if we were effectively enacting this logic, steadily more
people and ever-wider
     constituencies would be joining our anti-globalization (and other)
Our activities should
     have continued to highlight large events when doing so was appropriate and
useful for growing our
     movements, but they would also emphasize more regional and local
in smaller cities and
     towns and directed more locally, reaching people unable to travel
around the
world to LA or Prague or
     wherever. There are folks working on all this, to be sure but they need
help, and these trends
     need greater respect and support.

     Why aren’t our numbers growing as much as we’d like? Why aren’t new
constituencies joining the mix
     as fast as we would like? Why aren’t the venues of activism
diversifying more
quickly to local sites and

     Part of the answer involves no criticism of our efforts. Progress,
after all,
takes time. Movement
     building is not easy. Another part of the answer, complimentar, is to note
that in fact there is some
     rapid growth – for example, the proliferation of IndyMedia projects
alternative local news and
     analysis. Indymedia operations and sites now interactively span nearly 30
cities in 10 countries, a
     virtually unprecedented achievement. But IndyMedia growth occurs by
the involvement of
     those who are already largely committed. Of course that’s not bad. It’s
wonderful. But it is internal
     solidification, not outward enlargement. Similarly, the preparation,
creativity, knowledge, and courage
     of those who have been demonstrating are all impressive and growing.
But this
too occurs not based
     on outreach, but by manifesting steadily increasing insights and
among those already

     Let me try an admittedly stretched but Olympic analogy to illustrate my
Imagine a marathon
     race. As thousands of runners burst out at the starti, folks are
bunched in a
huge moving mass. Yet
     however entwined at the outset, everyone competes. These faster runners
to escape the
     impact of the huge mass. They break off and speed up. In time, inside this
fast group too, there is
     uneven development. Some runners are having a better day, for whatever
reasons. Before long, they
     want to open a second gap, now between themselves and the leading group
have been part of,
     and to extend that gap sufficiently so those left behind lose momentum for
want of connection with
     the inspiring faster runners, just as had been done to the massive pack,
earlier. Eventually, it happens
     yet again, with the few who will compete down the stretch breaking away
the already tiny lead

     Like a marathon, movement struggle goes a long distance, requires
and has to overcome
     obstacles. A big population is involved and we would like to succeed as
as possible. Speed of
     attaining our ultimate ends matters greatly and even reaching secondary
like ending a war,
     ending the IMF, raising wages, or winning a shorter work day is better
than slower. But still,
     winning social change is not like a typical race, or shouldn’t be,
because the
winning logic isn’t for
     those who develop unequally and are “faster” to leave the slower pack
and cross a finish line
     first. The only way to win the “social change race” is for the whole
pack to
cross together, as fast as
     it can be induced to go. The fastest and otherwise best activists need
to stay
with the pack to
     increase its speed, not to go as fast as they can irrespective of the
pack, or
even slowing it. A little
     spread between the more advanced and the rest, in the form of exemplary
activity, may be excellent,
     but not too great a spread.

     So here is our current problem as I see it. There is a partial
between many of our most
     informed activists, and the bulk of people who are dissatisfied with the
status quo but inactive or just
     beginning to become active. And this disconnection induces some to become
highly involved and to
     interact fantastically well with one another, even having their own
subculture, but to lose
     touch with others who become long distance spectators, watching the
action, or
detached from it
     entirely. I speak every so often at college campuses and there this
is perhaps easiest to see.
     The activists look entirely different, have different tastes and
talk different, and are
     largely insulated rather than immersed in the larger population beyond. The
situation exists in
     communities as well.

     Lots of factors contribute, of course. None are easy to precisely identify
much less correct. Still, one
     that is relevant here is that over the months since Seattle dissent has
to mean for many looking
     on, traveling long distances, staying in difficult circumstances, taking to
the streets in militant actions
     involving civil disobedience and possibly more aggressive tactics, and
risking arrest and severe

     This is a lot to ask of people at any time, much less at their first
entry to
activism. For example, how
     many of those now participating in events like LA and Prague would have
so if it wasn’t the
     culmination of a steady process of enlarging their involvement, but instead
they had to jump from
     total non-involvement to their current level of activity in one swoop?
Consider people who are in their
     thirties or older, and who therefore often have pressing family
responsibilities. Consider people who
     hold jobs and need to keep them for fear of disastrous consequences for
themselves and the people
     they love. How many such folks are likely to join a demo with this type
about it as their initial
     steps in becoming active – a demo seeming to demand great mobility and
involving high risks?

     The irony in all this is that the efficacy of civil disobedience and other
militant tactics is not something
     cosmic or a priori. It resides, instead, in the connection between such
militant practices and a growing
     movement of dissidents, many not in position to join such tactics, but
certainly supportive of their
     logic and moving in that direction. What gives civil disobedience and other
militant manifestations the
     power to force elites to submit to our demands is the fear that such events
forebode a threatening
     firestorm. But if there is a 2,000 or even a 10,000 person sit-in, even
repeatedly, but with no larger,
     visible, supporting dissident community from which the ranks of those
sitting-in will be replenished and
     even grow, then there is no serious threat of a firestorm.

     In other words, dissent that appears to have reached a plateau,
regardless of
how high that plateau
     is, has no forward trajectory and is therefore manageable. Plateau-ed
is an annoyance that
     the state can control with clean-up crews or repression.

     In contrast, growing dissent that displays a capacity to keep growing, even
when much smaller, is
     more threatening and thus more powerful. Civil disobedience involving a few
thousand people, with ten
     or twenty times as many at associated massive rallies and marches all going
back to organize local
     events that are still larger, gives elites a very dangerous situation to
address. Through personal
     encounters, print, audio, and video messaging, teach-ins, rallies, and
marches, folks are moving from
     lack of knowledge to more knowledge and from rejecting demonstrating to
supporting and when
     circumstances permit joining it. A huge and growing mass of dissident
restricts government
     options for dealing with the most militant disobedience. This is not a
of dissent for elites to
     easily manage or repress, but a trajectory of forward-moving growth that
elites must worry about.

     It follows, however, that if the state can create an image in which the
people who should come
     out to demonstrate are those who are already eager or at least prepared to
deal with gas, clubs, and
     “extended vacations,” then at the demos we are not going to find
parents with
their young babies in
     strollers, elderly folks whose eyes and bones couldn’t take running through
gas, young adults kept
     away from danger by their parents concerned for their well being, or
working people of all
     kinds unable to risk an unpredictable time away from work. Add to this mix
insufficient means to
     manifest one’s concerns and develop one’s views and allegiance locally, and
the movement is pushed
     into a plateau condition.

     The problem we have, therefore, is an operational disconnect between the
movement and certain
     types of organizing, and therefore between the movement and the
uninvolved but
     receptive public. I know this assessment, even moderated by recognition
of all
that has been
     accomplished and recognizing that there are even energies directed at these
very problems, will sound
     harsh to many folks, but even with the many exemplary exceptions, it is
important to acknowledge
     that these matters need more attention.

     Consider but one example. The internet is a powerful tool, useful in
many ways
to our work. But with
     the internet, mostly we are communicating with folks who want to hear
what we
have to say. They
     come to our sites and participate in our lists because they are already
of the movement. How
     else would they know where to find us? This is similar to what occurs
with a
print periodical or radio
     show that we might have in our arsenal of left institutions. Only those who
subscribe or to listen
     almost always because they already know that they want to hear what we
have to
say, hear our
     message. Don’t get me wrong. This is good, for sure—and I have spent a
lot of
my life working on
     such efforts which I feel are  part and parcel of advancing our own
insights, solidarity,
     and commitment, and of refining our methods and agendas, tooling and
ourselves for the
     tasks at hand. The trouble is, returning to the earlier analogy, if done
without prioritizing other more
     face to face and public activity, it can lead to us becoming a breakaway,
intentionally or not, and
     thereby largely leaving behind the constituencies we need to
communicate with.

     Another different kind of organizing is explicit outreach, aimed not at
solidifying and intensifying the
     knowledge and commitment of those who already speak our language and
share our
agendas, but at
     reaching people who differ with us. This is what is going on when we
hand out
leaflets or do agitprop
     and guerilla theatre in public places. It is what happens when we hold
rallies or teach-ins and
     we don’t only email those eager to come, but, in addition and as our main
priority, we go door to door
     in our neighborhoods or on our campuses, urging, cajoling, inducing,
and even
pressuring folks to come
     to the events. This face-to-face interaction with people who aren’t
with us already, or who
     even disagree strongly with us, is at the heart of movement building. It is
harder and scarier than
     communicating with those who share our views, of course, but it is even
important to do.

     To the extent outreach is going to touch, entice, and retain new people
in our
movements, it has to
     offer them ways to maintain contact and thereby sustain and grow their
interest. If the end
     point of a face-to-face conversation about the IMF, for example, is that we
urge someone to travel
     500 or 1000 or 5000 miles to a demonstration, sleep on a floor or not
sleep at
all, and take to the
     streets in a setting where, whether it is warranted or not, they expect
to be
gassed and face arrest
     and extended detention keeping them away from kids and jobs, few if any
newcomers are going to
     jump in. But, absent continuing involvement, with nothing obvious and
meaningful to do, there is no
     way to retain contact to the committed activist community that has piqued
their dissident interest.
     As a result, their anger will most likely dissipate in the fog imposed by
daily life and mainstream media.
     Thus, without mechanisms to preserve and enforce its initial impact,
to new folks won’t take
     hold. We plan the next demo, go to it, and celebrate with the same
crowd as at
the last demo.

     I think this picture, with many variations, broadly describes a major
that prevents our
     efforts--as fantastically impressive as they have been—from being not just
impressive, but
     overwhelmingly powerful and victorious. So I think more attention has
to go to
expanding and refining
     our agendas, not to eliminate our more militant tactics – not at all –
but to
give them greater meaning
     and strength by incorporating much more outreach, many more events and
activities that have more
     diverse and introductory levels of participation, and also more local means
for on-going involvement by
     people just getting interested, all still tied, of course, to the
national and global
     movements for change.