Politics Without Power II: Changing Societies Is Changing Minds, Research Time, 17/05/2016

Continued from last post . . . I mean, that’s the weird paradox about political organizing, especially around elections. So much of the work of running election campaigns is about getting people to follow orders. 
“This many volunteers to canvass those streets. Leaflet the two blocks adjacent to that zone if you have time, but our polling indicates strong support for The Other Guys among that group, so just make our presence known. 
“The candidate is talking to residents in these two tower blocks and then doing a barbecue at the community centre in the middle of the Tibetan neighbourhood. So I need all the Buddhist volunteers to go there, and bring their freedom flags and the Beastie Boys mixtapes.”
Sir, yes sir. 

I’ve been one of those volunteers. So I know how important discipline and organization is to a campaign. There’s a clear hierarchy – volunteers, organizers, directors, strategists. There’s a clear goal – get our candidate into office. And there’s a clear threshold of victory – win the bloody election.

Bernie Sanders never stopped struggling for a better world.
Neither did a lot of people. But the task is a lot harder
than just changing a bunch of laws. People chafe under
laws they think are unjust. Just as Sanders, King, and
countless others chafed under Jim Crow, countless more
chafe under equal rights and anti-discrimination laws.
Movements like Occupy, Idle No More, and Black Lives Matter never had that. Their goal is an immense transformation of the entire society in which they exist. People say the Occupy protests failed. Do you really think they could have succeeded just with a bunch of people sitting in a park for a few months?

Changing society is a long game. It’s literally reaching into millions of people’s heads and changing their wiring around. Using all platforms of communication, demonstration, journalism, theatre, art. You have to create a whole new way of life and then seduce a country’s entire population into joining you.

A few protest marches won’t do the job. There’s no election day to change society itself. 

An election campaign, in contrast, requires a firm trust in the status quo. No one is after a truly radical change in the direct messaging of an election campaign. The main message of any such campaign is “Our candidate would be better at this job you have to vote for than these candidates. Please vote accordingly.”

I’m being a little sarcastic, of course. 

When I think about the history of liberation movements in North America, I remember the Civil Rights Movement – the time of Martin King, Malcolm, Jesse Jackson, Jon Lewis, and Al Sharpton. With that abrasive little Jewish ally Bernie Something hanging around in the background.

When I learned about the history of the King-era movement, I learned about their cause as a great victory. Jim Crow laws were wiped away, state-enforced segregation was illegal in the South for the first time. The law guaranteed equal treatment for people of all races. It was a win.

But the more I learned about the material inequalities black Americans face, the more I realized what a hollow victory King’s movement was. The law no longer kept black and white people separate, but real estate practices and urban development plans did. 

What would Malcolm think if he could see today's
And the crack epidemic first destroyed families and care networks across America’s black communities. Its eventual alleged solution incarcerated millions, justifying the draconian police force in the name of racialized images of superpredators. Which sounds a lot like certain descriptions of young black teenagers as hulk-like bulletproof animals

And Donald Trump could very well become President of the United States on a platform built on racism, the incitement of violence, incredibly shady links with Russian oligarchies and organized crime, and the admiration of authoritarianism.

King, Malcolm, Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers. I feel like all these men died for nothing. 

But I was taught in school and countless history shows on television that these men died for the sake of a victory. Didn’t racism end with Jim Crow?

No, because we didn’t change society. And I think this is what the modern social movements for the rights of marginalized people in North America are really all about. I don’t think anybody really serious at Occupy really thought they’d take down a trillion-dollar industry with a sit-in. 

The goal was to change how people thought about that trillion-dollar industry, to hammer home the pain that industry caused millions of people across the world. The Sanders campaign has been the most visible means to continue that conversation, get people thinking about what our priorities as a society should be. 

Once you get people thinking, that’s the start of the process of change. People have to change their own subjectivities, their own mind-sets, their own character. Your role is as a provocateur. To get people to realize that, actually, something is terribly wrong, and you may have a part to play in that wrongness, and that you can correct it.

But there’s one question left: What would be the answer to that wrong? And how do you get people to agree to that one answer? . . . To be continued

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