Don't Just Protest, Organize!
by Joaquin Cienfuegos
I sometimes get lost in the rhetoric of some the activists and organizations that make up most of the left today. The talk of revolution and resistance; which I find myself to use this terminology in many dialogues, and conversations with friends and comrades.
However, there are differences in how we define those terms according to differences in politics and ideological positions -- and there are those who just sit back and talk about those things with no real experience in putting anything into practice.
When I first got involved in activism I would always refer to myself as a revolutionary, and would overuse the word revolution -- and on some instances it lost its meaning to me. The thing is we're not living in what they call a "revolutionary situation or crisis" like what the 60's were to a lot of these "revolutionaries." We're not living in Red China, or 1917 Russia -- but to me a revolutionary is someone who fights and organizes for fundamental change, not someone who just romanticizes history and preaches to the quire.
What has become the norm for activists, is mass protest politics – anything else to them is counter-revolutionary. Not to say that going to protests doesn’t contribute to building a movement for change, but when this becomes THE resistance – then that’s when we have to begin to be really critical.
Have protests really been effective? Have they really challenged power? Have they really empowered anybody?
These are key questions, and we should always raise debate over changing the power relations that exist in society. Most of us are constantly trying to learn, and re-examine how to be better organizers and how to create more organizers – and we struggle not to become demoralized by the lack of creativity and innovativeness in the “mass movements.”
I feel that mass protests are not enough, and they’re not effective in empowering the people who go to these protests. The only people these protests reach out to are people who already see themselves as activists and many other liberals. No clear message gets sent out besides vague slogans like stop the war and stop bush. No one sees the protest because the streets are closed off, and the corporate media only gives us 5 seconds on the 10 o’clock news.
The challenge to the state in the sixties was not only college students taking to the streets, but poor communities and oppressed people becoming organized, self-sufficient and autonomous (and those who did that were the ones that came under the most brutal repression by the state, i.e. the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords Party, and others who did the same). To those so-called revolutionary state socialists, a mass protest is the epitome of revolution but to many pro-organization anarchists the free breakfast program what was challenged the power relations and what helped many poor Black communities become self-sufficient and broke a lot of dependence from the government while influencing and inspiring other oppressed people to do the same.
I feel though, that we DO need a multi-faceted strategy, and there are many contradictions in capitalist society that we have to get at and exploit to build the change we want, but we put too much emphasis on electoral politics and permitted marches. You can look at the actions, and events in Los Angeles and examine what gets more support. How many people attend an anti-war rally, and how many people support or even know about people who are organizing locally or globally direct-democratically (anarchist only in principle but not in name) and creating dual power while challenging capitalism?
How much support does Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Palestine or other struggles have? Even though they don’t have a “democratically elected” president, to me those struggles are inspiring.
How about here in Los Angeles:
The South Central Farmers, who are one of the most crucial struggles here in the city. A community garden, which has become more than just a community garden. It has become a political struggle, one for land, for food, and for autonomy. This has become a huge threat to the city itself, because they fear South Central becoming organized and self-sufficient. They rather build another warehouse in an already industrialized part of Los Angeles, where that land can feed over 1,000 people. To many people the experience of land theft is not new, this country was built on it. How many protests are called to support them?
How many liberals speak out against police brutality? Perhaps because they come from privileged backgrounds and have not experienced it in their communities.
How many mass protests have been called to support the port truckers, housewives and women of color, Watts, Compton, people who get evicted from their homes to make way for gentrified communities, political prisoners, shutting down the California Youth Authority, and all these countless issues that affect us.
Where does funding go? An organization like the Youth Justice Coalition who is organizing to not only shut down the California Youth Authority and stop police brutality – but putting forward some real concrete demands and mid-term solutions to the problems we face or into campaigns to elect officials that will sell us out at the end? The YJC is not the only folks who find it hard to get funding for their community projects there are many others, since our movement is not yet in the place to sustain itself.
Now I know that different people will be brought into the movement by different issues, and use different tactics to get their message across, which is a good thing, and all those different struggles should be able to organize on their own terms. The problem I find, is that the left tries to build a false sense of unity – and the demands we always put forward are not feasible for the majority of people. Not to say that stopping Bush or the War is not desirable, its just that its not going to happen anytime soon – and most people who live in our communities might agree with us, but won’t know how they can put a stop to those things in the short term. They are affected by those things whether they know it or not, but most folks struggling in their daily lives – do not have that as their top priority in their list of “Surviving Under Capitalism.”
Even though I’ve left the Marxist ideology behind, one quote I’ve always like from Marx is, “Capitalists/The Bourgeoisie creates their own gravediggers,” (I’m paraphrasing). This is definitely true for Bush and the war. One thing that they’ve succeeded in has been in making many people angry, and has made them want a way out of this way of life.
The question then is what now? Do we replace this society with another set of rulers who rule in the interests of the people? Do we tell ourselves that we are incapable and unable to organize ourselves – because those have and always will be the social relations?
I would disagree. I feel that what we do now is organize to build the structures that would replace the state. We begin the process or regaining control and power of our communities (by organizing around issues that directly affect us and our neighbors and building direct-democracy), our workplace (by fighting for better conditions and firing the boss), and our schools (by challenging administrations and taking control of our resources and creating our own curriculum). We create the world we want in the future -- right now. We practice self-organization, and we learn as we teach. The government and other oppressive institutions would be challenged, but principally we would stop depending on them – eventually it’ll just be like burying something that has been dead for centuries – because “power” will be in our hands. Then we would defend and safe-guard what we have created throughout different autonomous regions – and we will learn from each other. This form of organizing is much more concrete, and will have much more of an effect not only in the long run but right now. Those who wish to support revolutions in other parts of the world, need to start by being part of the process here or in their own community while building international solidarity.
The world will not change unless we organize, and organize to take it back!