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Richard Moore

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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 money 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

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
comprehension 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) movements. 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 organizing, 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 more 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 gatherings?

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 providing 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 refining 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 connections among those already involved.

Let me try an admittedly stretched but Olympic analogy to
illustrate my point. 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 want 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 they 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
from the already tiny lead pack.

Like a marathon, movement struggle goes a long distance,
requires endurance, and has to overcome obstacles. A big
population is involved and we would like to succeed as quick
as possible. Speed of attaining our ultimate ends matters
greatly and even reaching secondary aims like ending a war,
ending the IMF, raising wages, or winning a shorter work day
is better quicker 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 behind 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 disconnection 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 supportive 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 division
is perhaps easiest to see. The activists look entirely
different, have different tastes and preferences, 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 come 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 finally risking arrest
and severe mistreatment.

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 done 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 aura 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
dissent 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 humanity restricts
government options for dealing with the most militant
disobedience. This is not a plateau 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 only 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 average
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
potentially 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 part 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 awareness, insights, solidarity, and commitment, and of
refining our methods and agendas, tooling and retooling
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 public 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 agreeing 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 more
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 initial
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, outreach 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 problem 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 over-arching
national and global movements for change.

Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
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