Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Professionalization of the Movement: Opportunism and the Institutional Left

By Joaquin Cienfuegos

The times we are living in are crucial, the overall planet is at stake, state violence and repression, plus everything else this oppressive system of capitalism-imperialism-colonialism-white supremacy- and patriarchy brings down on us.  The main question is how we are allowed to fight and struggle, versus how we need to fight to win.  It always comes down to strategy and tactics, and connecting what we are doing today to a larger vision.  Part of this though, is not only having internal dialogue, but also struggle, because the reality is that our movement is being held back by professionals, opportunists, and people who collaborate with the state, and this is something I've spoken to in the past I think, but I want to expand on this dialogue and connect it to what is happening more recently with electoral politics, non-profit industrial complex, academia, and professional activists in general.


How we need to organize vs. How we are allowed to organize

At the moment you can say we have a sort of political awakening, and people are discussing politics on a daily basis.  The media is full of political debate, and people are encouraged to participate in this process.  We see this whenever there is an election.  The superstructure and system as a whole allows for people to get involved politically, or at least this is what is needed for their form of democracy to "work."  There needs to be the illusion of people being involved in a political process to give legitimacy to their "political show" which is pretty much a sham.  The ruling class of this empire, very much knows what they are doing and there is no intention in giving power to the majority of people who have no real institutional power under this society.  It is clear that the popular vote does not elect presidents, who at the end of the day just act like mouth-pieces for the empire, and really do not run the empire all by themselves.  They will never allow for their power to be voted away, and they run this election con game to give some legitimacy to their illusion of choice.

Last couple of elections we've seen the one candidate with populist rhetoric, to galvanize the young people who are are overall upset at the direction this society is going, and want to do something to change it.  They are told by the ruling class that they can do something: they can elect this "revolutionary" candidate, because there is Democracy in this country.  Obama represented that, especially in his first term, with his rhetoric of "Hope" and "Yes We Can," and now Bernie Sanders represents that, with his promise of "Free Education,"  and social democrat reforms.  At the end of the day both still said they will uphold u.s. imperialism, and we know that Obama very much did abroad and at home, deporting many and continuing an agenda of repression and attacks on "civil liberties" within the u.s.

Not only do we have the mainstream media mobilizing people around electoral politics but we also have what I know as professional activists or the institutional left steering people to support the candidate who they also sell as someone who will solve many, if not all our problems.  The professional activists or the institutional left is anyone who is basically getting paid to do organizing or to do political work, anyone from local politicians, union officials, non-profits or non-governmental organizations, academics looking to take credit for a movement, or any activist in the spot-light looking to have a political career in the future.

The fact of the matter that this happens every election to me, doesn't seem like a coincidence, but a strategy not only by the ruling class, who we know that they wish to hold power over the people, but also the role the professional and institutional left play in the movement.  Many things have been written about where their money is coming from and who are their funders, and we can go into each professional activist listed, and each one is unique but make up the overall institutional left.

"Most non- profit boards are made up of professionals and often representatives of private corporations who are major donors. Second, there are few non-profits that are member supported financially with any significant dues base. This has transformed many grass roots [Community Based Organizations] founded in the 60’s-70’s from local government critic and watchdog to local government sub-contractor." (From "Why Non-Profits Can't Lead the 99% )

" I thought of my past a lot during the Belong Campaign. At one of our meetings, about three months into my tenure, I looked across the table at the people in nice suits, drinking coffee and eating bagels, talking about solving this poverty problem by increasing these community members’ sense of belonging. These people, my colleagues, traveled the world—Australia, Africa, and throughout the U.S.—speaking on panels and at conferences about their innovative new approaches to increasing resilience. Making money off poverty was their vocation. They were compensated for these studies, creating a career out of their ludicrous idea of 'resilience,' that the circumstances of these people’s lives were somehow a result of their poor choices or ill behaviors." (From
"Resilience Is Futile: How Well-Meaning Nonprofits Perpetuate Poverty" by Melissa Chadburn)

These quotes just speak to me about professional activists/organizers and the institutional left and what their role is in the movement.  We understand where the funds come from, but overall, at the end, anything that poses a threat to the system is also in direct conflict with these organizations/institutions because they are also extensions of the state, not just because of the funding, but because they hold a stake in the system, and their unconscious mission is to survive by continuing to gain this funding and comfortable position within the establishment.  At the end, the directors and professionals want to get paid, while still spouting progressive rhetoric.

There have been many cases where these non-profits have not only taken the side of the police and the state, but have shown they work closely with them, which shows their role as an extension of those repressive institutions.  In 2007, after the police attacked the May Day (International Worker's Day) march in McArthur Park, a majority Central American community, CHIRLA (Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles) and its director Angelica Salas blamed young anarchists and Cop Watch LA for the police attack, and put out the same position as the LAPD.  The following year she openly said in the media that CHIRLA and their May Day march would work with the police, putting the blame on the people and building closer ties to the state apparatus.

Another example that proves what role these organizations play, was in Anaheim when the community rose up after the police murder of Manuel Diaz in 2012.  In an article by The Rebel Press, "The OC Non-Profit Complex At the Service of the Police State,"  they expose e-mail communication between the Anaheim PD and the OC Human Relations (a major non-profit) and its executive director Rusty Kennedy:

"On July 24th, 2012, just days after Manuel Diaz was shot and killed by an Anaheim PD officer, Kennedy sent Chief Welter an e-mail titled 'APD Shooting Follow-Up' in which his initiative and readiness to cooperate with the efforts of the police were obvious.
'I and my staff are completely available to you 24/7, let me know how we can help. If you would like another set of ears at the table as you process this and plan the community relations aspect, I can come over now.' Suggested Kennedy.
A briefing he sent to the OC Board of Supervisors was also included in the body of the e-mail.
'OC Human Relations Commission responded late Saturday afternoon to a growing fracas in Anaheim where a young man was shot and killed by the Anaheim police after a pursuit.'
'We dispatched a bilingual team that checked in with the APD on site, engaged community members and sought to be helpful, staying till the incident wound down. Then Again on Sunday we sent staff to the APD where a demonstration took place.' "
The article further exposed emails between OC Human Relations, the Chief of APD, and other OC Non profits (OCCCO, OCCORD, and Los Amigos of OC).  Canvasing in the community by these non-profits gave intelligence to the Anaheim PD, resulting in raids and arrests of "gang member" youth involved in the rebellion, and work "public relations" for the police, to also pacify people even after the raids, and continue to give information to law enforcement of people most likely to rise up again.  Part of this alliance was also because some of the non-profit's funding directly comes from the police, "Financial records from the City of Anaheim show that since July 2006, OC Human Relations has received $67,955 from the Anaheim Police Department. Of that amount, $22,251, or 33% of the entire total, was disbursed between November 2011 and September 2012 alone. Several invoices and check request forms show even the monies the city uses to pay yearly dues to OC Human Relations comes out of the police budget, not the general fund."

This also brings up the question that the system is okay with people resisting and being politically involved, because as mentioned, it gives this system legitimacy, but it is controlled resistance.  The professional activists and institutional left, give us the options in which we can resist and participate, in my opinion, a sham movement.  We are only allowed to go so far, if people decide to take things further, into direct action, or even if communities erupt in spontaneous rebellion, they always bring in those professional activists to calm the situation, and the police to control it.  Anyone outside of these institutionalized actions is seen as a bad protester (in some cases are called anarchists, or are even labeled as a provocateur) for choosing to take on different methods of struggle, or go beyond how we are allowed to fight within the institutional left.  Everything done by the professional activist is for publicity, for media attention, even staged actions, where people are allowed to join in their actions, but are controlled at the end of the day.  The more radical sections of the movement are isolated and pushed away, because it makes for bad publicity, for these "agents of pacification", their role is to pacify people and control how they fight.

The Problems with Petty Bourgeois Leadership

To talk about professionalization, we also have to look at the class character of the people pushing these reformist agendas.  In the imperialist u.s. we definitely get imposed a certain type of leadership, especially for oppressed communities.  We always get sold, the pacifist, non-violent leadership, and also the petty bourgeois, and upper middle class people of color, who "made it" in this system, as something we at the bottom should aspire to.

Of course in times of crisis, these folks also speak out, but from their own class and social position.  They too promote peace, and building alliances with the police and state as a whole.  These are their limitations of their privileged position.  A person's politics and struggle will only go so far as they are allowed to by their class and social position, at the end of the day, many will not commit social/class suicide and give up their wealth and power.  This does not mean they cannot support radical movements in different ways, it just means they cannot lead and should not lead.  There's a reason why the system promotes and imposes leaders on us, because they are afraid that all we have to realize is that we have nothing to lose.

So those at the bottom should be at the forefront and put forward our own vision and demands for our own autonomous movements.  Many are starting to do this already, all over the world, and we can look to examples like the Zapatistas, and other indigenous people's movements, to Rojova.  Imperialist societies creates the need for people to compete for "leadership," even for a spotlight in a movement, and there is a need to define what real leadership is and what is needed.

Leadership, is not static, but dynamic.  It should not be a person who forces or weasels their way  into a position of power.  Especially if they don't practice self-sacrifice, and have not done any good deeds and continue to do so in a "virtuous" way. What this society promotes is illegitimate power.  Leadership is something that has to be transformed into a process of building a capacity to fight, live free, and be truly autonomous: meaning that we are capable of making our own decisions, and live independently of this system.  Where all of us see ourselves as responsible for each other, the planet we live on, and the future, instead of putting that responsibility on an individual or group of individuals.  From the time we are born, we give someone authority over our lives.  We need to change that, starting by not romanticizing people with power and believing that someone else will lead us to freedom.  We must do that for ourselves.  We can learn from people who have knowledge, skills, and wisdom, and their role will be to pass on these lessons to create more "leaders" who are ready to be good human beings and are prepared to protect their communities and the world as a whole.

Autonomy vs. Institutional Left

"These college-educated revolutionaries unknowingly impose their particular experiences on the revolutionary movement, and particularly, on working class people. They have played a crucial role in unknowingly preventing any working class leadership from developing." (From "The Problem with College Educated Revolutionaries" by Arturo Castillon)

I'm writing this as a critique, but I always want to put forward ideas for dialogue in our communities for different ways we can organize outside of state institutions (including the professional activist organizations).  We need a revolutionary praxis on autonomy.  I do feel there are some people that are doing this or trying to do this, from the grassroots level (meaning with no outside funding).  The solution to the institutional left is autonomy and that looks much different then anything they and the empire propose for us.  It means we work with indigenous people of the land in particular and oppressed people in general to create a better world, beginning now, and create our own "institutions," (for lack of better words).  Autonomy is grown from the inside, meaning no activist with privileges (especially race and class) can come into a community they are not familiar with, from, or invited to, to tell folks how they will liberate themselves.  You cannot impose a vision, or freedom, and you cannot build autonomy also, without participation of the original keepers of the land, at least those who aren't cooperating with the state, haven't sold out, or are part of the institutional left themselves.  Also what is your relationship to the community where you live or you organize.  Do folks there see you as an opportunist who is just using them for a political career, or are you building trust, seeing what their needs are, and struggling to change the conditions together, without a self-righteous savior approach from the organizers?

The institutional left was put in place because there was a void left by the destroying of organizations like the Black Panther Party, Young Lords, American Indian Movement and so on.  After the state waged war on these revolutionary organizations, they understood why they had mass support.  They implemented non-profits and NGO's to institutionalize the serve the people programs, while pushing the oppressed into acceptable fields of struggle: unions (who sold out decades ago and are tools for the democratic party), academia, and of course electoral politics.

If you work for any of these places, this is not a critique about you, especially if you are just using your job to get ends meat, I'm talking about the leadership of those institutions who know very well what they are doing, and very much have a relationship with the state.  My opinion is that these non-profits and other institutions like unions, should give resources to the grassroots, with no hidden agenda, without trying to lead us.  If not communities and radicals who work within them should expropriate those resources for the grassroots.  Even though I'm not a mass organizer myself, this is not my role, I understand that we need activists, and we need organizers to gather support for grassroots and movements for decolonization but we have to also analyze who are our friends an who are our enemies.  We have to also wage internal struggle, because many of these professional activists and the institutional left as whole stand in the way of liberation.

That is all.  Lets fight until we win.


Also check out:

http://therebelpress.com/articles/show?id=44

http://therebelpress.com/articles/show?id=17

http://thisisbobbylondon.com/2015/04/16/how-to-kill-a-movement/

http://blackagendareport.com/node/4941

2 comments:

Admin said...

More 'food for thought'...
http://allpowertothepositive.blogspot.com/2015/11/if-you-willingly-support-amerikkka.html

Luis Diaz said...

I liked this overall, but want to point out two things. Black bloc and so called provacateurs usually are not from the communities they rage agains the police at. So really there are two camps that are outsiders attempting to direct marginalized communities. Also many original panthers were college educated. Our struggles in north america are different than those in chiapas and rojava and all we can do is learn from them while implementing our own kind of autonomy.