by Bob Banner
Will they become just like the 60s radicals or will they become a genuine and formidable political and cultural force?
There’s been much written about the protests against the WTO, NAFTA, the FTAA, IMF and the World Bank in such places as Seattle, Philadelphia, Seattle, DC, Los Angeles, Quebec City, Genoa and others. The violence always seems to get the attention from both mainstream press and the alternative press. The mainstream focuses on the “violence” directed against private property while the alternative press publishes reports of violence against people in the streets and in the jails.
This is so typical that it is no longer surprising. It all happened before and before that. The 60s witnessed the same thing: mainstream press focusing on the alleged violence against private property, deluding themselves into imagining that they were objectively reporting news. They could not see their own complicity in a different yet more insidious form of violence while the alternative press (mostly in print form, at that time) tried its best to cover the unreported and underreported stories of an inherently flawed system.
Today the movement challenging globalization includes a much wider diversity of people. Environmentalists, social justice advocates, students, working people, older people and indigenous peoples are all taking to the streets. And the antiglobalists are taking the media into their own hands with web sites, video streaming, public access television, radio stations via the web, satellite TV, micro-powered radio stations as well as print media.
The purpose of this brief essay is to beg the question: how will young people sustain the protests; what will they do when they return home, and will they become any different than their 60s radical predecessors?
The protests have been exhilarating, without a doubt. There are numerous 60s protesters who have been awakened as if in a comatose state for 20-30 years. Let’s hope the same thing will not happen to the young radicals, idealists, hopeful social-change agents who are now waking up to our vast problems.
The 60s radicals presented a portrait of America that stunned “normal” ordinary citizens. These radicals wanted a halt to the exportation of Americana, to the homogenizing of the third world; wanted to stop the US as global policeman; wanted an end to the ecological devastation that was occurring on a massive scale with air, water and soil pollution; wanted a more equitable money exchange for minorities and women; we wanted an end to historical lies in our educational system; wanted to create more humane and creative schools. But somehow all these social issues which were at the front of young people’s minds back then simply petered out… fizzled out….
Why did it happen? Do falling in love, getting married, getting a job, buying a house somehow become prerequisites for falling to sleep over the needs of social change and activism? Where did all that youthful vigor go? To rock concerts, to discovering computers, to creating sprawl, to settling into the American dream, to swimming in the vast ocean of consumer accumulation so that no time is left to spend on social change, let alone personal reflection on the purpose of life. I have yet to read how the new activists will not repeat their predecessors’ acculturation.
What will happen to your enthusiasm and vigor and anger and love and deeply felt grief at what’s happening to the world? The protests are great. They organize, they publicize concern; they radically educate and reeducate the people who have never heard of imperialism, globalization, IMF conditionalities that rape third world countries, subscription farming, sustainable agriculture, organic food, local currencies, shamanic interpretations of the desolate white man’s world…. They excite the old-time activists who have become armchair revolutionaries at best.
What will happen when young global activists return home? to rent a house or an apartment; to get that needed job in order to pay for the next major antiglobalization protest or simply to buy food and pay the rent. And what jobs are there? Will all that incredible technical knowledge of web video-streaming the streets of Genoa during the various steet protests come in handy when applying for the dot.com career?
One force that did occur during the 60s is that a large amount of environmental activists turned to Law. They saw that laws needed to be changed; new laws that protected the environment needed to be created and implemented. Many enviro activists moved to DC to work with the top ten environmental organizations. According to Mark Dowie (author of Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the 20th Century), those folks made up the third wave of environmentalism, and to a large degree have failed. With all that vigor, all that idealistic enthusiasm, they went to DC to lobby for the benefit of the earth, and time after time they got brutally dismembered or totally coopted where many of the important environmental laws on the books are being stripped away. It’s painful to witness.
Fortunately Mark Dowie goes on to speak about the fourth wave of environmentalism (which is in its early stages) that is LOCAL, that is grassroots, that is collaborative with various types of people: housewives, minorities, workers, students, teachers, and religious folks all coming together to work locally, to fight the global fight in their own bioregions.
Lets hope that the young protesters bring their anger (not their violence; there is a big difference), enthusiasm, vitality, creativity, political analysis and growing commitment to their localities, to their cities, rural towns, neighborhoods, parks, city councils, planning commissions, rivers, waste water systems, agricultural zones, backyards, schools, unions, movie theaters, radio stations, and television networks.
If this growing movement does not go local then it will die a fast death. There will be no sustenance, no sense of continuity, no sense of place, which are the basic ingredients for creating a sustainable society.
It is easy to travel to a distant place, mill around in a large crowd, shout, demonstrate, argue, drum, dance, and attend conferences where brilliant spokespersons eloquently express a new vision, to the clamoring and outpouring of ecstatic applause. That is easy… and inspiring.. and a visceral sense of solidarity is in the air and sweeps into your body that you might not have ever felt otherwise. Yet, it’s all an initiation.
What happens when you come back home and see your peers getting the corporate jobs and settling down in the suburbs with a family? What happens when you see your friends opt for security against a backdrop of ongoing ecological devastation, increasing cruel inequities and a horrific somnambulistic denial that is oh so cunning as it is desirous. What do you do?
Will you become another victim of cyber activism… linking with web sites and chat groups and listservs that support your various cause(s)? Can sitting in front of a screen ingesting information about what’s wrong with the world assuage the desperate need for interconnectedness and the knowledge that you are indeed making a genuine difference? How can you guarantee that one’s inevitable bout with personal despair amidst the deluge of corporate messages won’t jade you into becoming another member of the ever-popular and growing nihilist cult?
The incredible popularity of the internet attests to our need for interconnectivity, yet by itself it will remain a counterfeit. It mirrors our need… everyday we link to it… everyday we send another email, another petition on-line, another request to send a letter to our representative, another plea for social justice. Yes, it’s all fine and wonderful but we also need to go out and work in our communities. The immense challenge ahead of us (for both young and old activists) is to collaborate with others in the non-virtual physical dimension so that we not only sustain ourselves emotionally and psychically but socially as well.
The following are certain activities that perhaps can sustain the young global activists, as well as those veteran 60ish activists who have become enamored and invigorated by the new rebellious spirit (just witness the older folks listening to and becoming rejuvenated by the likes of a Julia Butterfly Hill around the nation!).
Some ideas to sustain radical activism so despair, cooptation, and a weakened posturing can be dealt with:
1. Get access to the local media by establishing a web site, or a listserv (which is great for alerts, pot lucks, local demonstrations, conferences, speakers, videos). Become a presence in the weekly entertainment tabloid or start a zine that focuses on keeping anti-globalization activities alive. Take free classes at the various public access studios in order to start making films about local concerns so they can be aired on public access and elsewhere.
2. Gather all the very cool documentaries that you can from friends, producers, and independent distributors, and house them at an independent video store or office. We discovered that they get rented and viewed more frequently at video stores rather than collecting dust at enviro or peace centers. You also have a diverse group of people browsing the video store. [See the ad in this issue for VideoProject!]
3. Get a coffeehouse or bank or church or public center to show videos to groups of people. Discussions after viewing a documentary with coffee and treats can be fun, not only to meet other change agents but to actually see those folks you’ve been emailing regularly, for example. These meetings are also great for discovering who the wannabees are and who the genuine motivators are in town (and support them!!!). The purpose is not only to educate yourselves, but also to strengthen your groups, your allies, and your collaborative vision and to create more effective activism.
4. Start a local currency to support people who desire to create a viable network of skills and resources. It’s a great way to say no to globalization, since all local currencies remain 100% in the local economy. It’s also a great networking forum.
5. Bring the protests home. See Deborah Lagutaris’ article in this issue focussing on how to collaborate with other social justice groups for a common purpose.
6. Create dinners for bringing social change agents together. After the dinners have local activists speak about their project(s) whether it be animal rights, cleaning up the creek, demonstrating against the GAP. You will be blissed out when you discover who is in your backyard doing very incredible activism: a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer who wants to get the word out, a core group who is working on a living wage ordinance…. And they need the media attention and the support of others.
Dinners can be held at a public place; or have a pot luck at someone’s house or simply charge for a great meal (we discovered there’s many people who love to cook for large groups of people) or rent out a section of a larger restaurant and charge enough to make everyone happy.
7. Find a venue where you can have a larger audience in case someone from out-of-town or a local person comes to speak who has done something outstanding like publishing a book, directing a film, returned from Iraq or Cuba or from an anti-WTO demonstration in Prague or a sustainable learning center in Costa Rica, Baja or Occidental, California.
We discovered that the local library has a great community room that is inexpensive, convenient and accessible. Having literature, tea, fair-trade coffee, organic treats, Yerba Mate, etc. can make it a festive community-building adventure. We’ve had people speak about permaculture, seed-saving, deep ecology, voluntary simplicity, globalization, growing food….
8. Start study groups: After the events in Seattle, we started a group studying globalization issues, learning about the issues so we could become more effective in speaking to others about it. Most of the globalization policies seep into local issues, like creating a living wage, getting more coffee houses to carry fair-trade coffee, and creating ordinances to help city officials dialogue about how rampant globalization is affecting the local economy.
The above list is but a mere sketch of what local community activists can do to keep the flame of the global protests alive and thriving where we actually live, the place we call home. We cannot depend solely on the works of global activists, no matter how exciting, sincere, passionate and inspiring they are. To actually incorporate many of the grandiose schemes of the new vision of a sustainable society, we need to act in the here and now, with what are essential and unique issues for the local community.
A Word of Warning:
When I heard Jello Biafro at the Seattle protests, he commented on what people ought to do when they returned home after Seattle. Not only did he say, “Don’t blame the media, become the Media!” but speak about the issues of globalization to people you wouldn’t ordinarily speak to. At work, school, parties… bringing the discussion of globalization in a way that includes all of us. This crisis goes way beyond the usual left/right rift. Globalization affects all of us. In short, he wanted us to bring the message of our protests home to our local communities.
The tough aspect of bringing the global protest home is that there will be much opposition and ridicule. Or there might not be many people to join you in viewing the documentary on the destruction of small farms or listening to the passionate presentation from one who has just returned from Cuba. It is one thing to feel the solidarity and support in large antiglobalization demonstrations, but, when one doesn’t get that type of support it will feel like rejection for thin-skinned and sensitive activists.
When it comes to collaborating with other local groups for the creation of an initiative or an ordinance or to discuss various strategies of a protest, it takes tolerance, patience, compassion and effective communication skills to make it work. This was the challenge for the 60s protesters, and I think we failed miserably. Many of us went to college to get the degrees to get the job to make the money to buy the houses to sprawl out with the new car to buy the stocks to maintain financial security for a future, and meanwhile lost what the revolution was all about. Some went within themselves to study meditation, yoga, altered states, metaphysics, various other spiritual traditions and disciplines, only to stay obsessed flirting with their own individual psyche’s liberation at the expense of the larger body politic’s liberation.
1. Stay put, get to know your place, your bioregion, your water, soil, farmers, city councils, Board of Supervisors, political parties….
2. Learn patience and tolerance for other viewpoints. Focus on the commonality of purpose and don’t get seduced into fighting over the small differences.
3. Know that this is for the long haul. Short solutions are for the simple-minded. We’ve had an addicting momentum of ecological, economic and spiritual devastation. To overturn or make a dent in this catastrophic momentum will take immense energies, commitment, imagination and passion. If we insist on activism at the expense of our souls, we will wither away. We cannot afford to burn out and fall prey to the cult of despair and nihilism. We cannot do it alone, and hopefully by having community-building practices in place we will be building our grounded beingness so that our actions, our activism, will include the vision, peace, wisdom and sustainability that we seek.
Bob Banner publishes HopeDance Magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] or through the website at www.hopedance.org.