Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security intersectional meeting May 18, 2018
Summary of Notes.
THE CURRENT POLITICAL MOMENT
Trump is not the problem, but rather a symptom of this historical moment. This moment is an interregnum, a period in which the old order is dying and the new one has yet to be born. World-wide, long-established political parties and systems are collapsing. Polarization of wealth and the erosion of democracy prevails in many countries.
Large numbers of people want fundamental change to the system, but most are reacting out of fear. Fear without hope is what fascism feeds on. Powerful political factions and right-wing parties in many countries are displacing the general fear and anxiety onto the classes of people scapegoated in their societies.
There will be another financial and economic crisis, and probably within 3-5 years. The tools used in response to the 08- 09 crash, can’t be used for the next one. In this context fascism may arise, for there is nothing else to replace the collapsing order.
Our movements now are weak. Labor movement is in decline. There is no political party that represents the interests, and particularly the economic interests, of the vast majority of the U.S. population. The “Bernie moment” was a glimmer—but we have a long way to go. The Poor People’s Campaign shows some promise, but its protest orientation has limits, and can’t be an
overarching political instrument.
The international order of things that has prevailed since the end of the Cold war is rapidly eroding. Capitalism’s post-Cold War surge took over Russia and China, but is reaching its limits of needing new markets. The result is a new round of competition among the leading economic and military powers, with US trying to keep its edge, especially militarily.
With this comes a resurgence of danger of war among nuclear-armed great powers. The dangers are exacerbated by a resurgence of blood and soil nationalism. There are similar patterns in many countries, but each distinctive according to its particular national identities, and the identities of national minorities. All of this will be intensified by the next major economic downturn—which will be a true crisis moment.
All of this is happening at the same time as developments that make it difficult to understand the moment, to communicate with larger publics, and to organize. The fragmentation of the public sphere into multiple publics by thousands of mass communications channels and the internet, the peace and shallowness of the 24/7 news cycle, and the de-funding of public education systems all contribute to an erosion of the capacity for critical thought, and to a general dumbing down of public discourse.
The vast majority of people have little time to grapple with issues that don’t seem to affect their immediate concerns. People are stuck in survival mode, stuck in drudgery, with their attention focused on basic needs: housing, health care, decent education, a living wage.
OBSTACLES TO EFFECTIVE CROSS-ISSUE WORK
— The differing priorities of different constituencies
We are moving towards a majority-minority culture. But we are so divided—and the divide and rule strategies of those who rule have been effective. What opposition there is in this country is fragmented by identity, by class, by generation, by world views and approaches to politics, and in many other ways. Identity politics of one or another kind prevails, and so far intersectional analysis and organizing efforts have not succeeded in forging a common vision or larger common organizing vehicles. The majority of white people remain isolated from people of color, resulting in a lack of cross-cultural understanding. To the extent that there is a “left” that still sees a role for class analysis, it too is fragmented, with a variety of left sectarian groups with varying, and often conflicting, world views.
Different political priorities reflect differences in experience rooted in class, identity, and generation. Many wanted to believe Obama represented a breakthrough moment—but meaningful policy changes didn’t happen. Occupy and Black Lives Matter have been significant generational experiences, responses to economic crisis and intensifying state violence, manifesting changes in what it means to be left and progressive in this moment. What is hopeful is that there are many forms of resistance breaking out.
The system isn’t broken when it manifests white supremacy—it is designed that way. The people at the top put their resources into military and police to protect their money and power. One of the complexities of talking about war and peace issues and their relationship to other issues and movements is that historically militarization and police occupation are perceived as one phenomenon by those who are policed. Much of the left liberal community will not address the policing issues. We have to talk about the legacy of settler colonialism in the US. The military occupation domestically never has ended. From this perspective, prison and police abolition are central priorities.
The same mechanisms are re-inscribed by the non-profit industrial complex. Many essential voices on these matters can’t afford to show up in meetings like this—or don’t want to. The core issues never seem to get addressed.
Few are identifying goals where our movements overlap. What steps are needed to get to “common” security? We have yet to develop a common vision of this—or of the “commons.” Also still marginalized is discussion of reparations. Is there a path to a vision rooted in some concept of restoration–restorative justice, and ecological restoration?
–The dominance of the two-party system and the absence of a political party or other vehicle for the expression of mass opposition
One way or the other, the dominance of the two-party system demands our attention. Hillary Clinton and the dominant strand in the Democratic party are corporate neoliberals. Nonetheless, we can’t entirely rule out electoral strategies and coalition building with some Democratic Party elements. But dragging them towards more progressive positions always is difficult. How do we at least raise the profile of more social democratic positions while selectively forming alliances with the center-right against the radical right?
There are some glimmers of progress, but promising efforts often are coopted. Examples: There is an ideologically new Left element of the movement, that came out of the 1960’s movements, and has given rise to mass mobilizations in the service industries. But the ossified labor organization style of the Cold War 1950’s remains dominant in many union contexts. In the movements for immigrant rights, there was a huge surge of activism beginning in 2006. This largely autonomous upsurge got diverted into Beltway organization-dominated strategies that gave a lot away— e.g. a militarized border, limited temporary immigration status. Each iteration of “comprehensive immigration reform” was worse.
The vehicle develops the message, not the reverse. We need to talk about power—both corporate and political. It is hard to expropriate corporate power. The Left seeks state power, so the vehicle typically has been a political party. But it appears impossible to take over the Democratic Party. However, thinking about governing, and the path to governing, helps to overcome sectarianism, as some kind of compromise of particular interests is necessary to form coalitions capable of taking
–Lack of international connections, coordination
The problems of a large segment of the population being politically disengaged—and ignored—because they are struggling for day to day survival is the same in Europe. So too the displacement of the fear and resentment engendered by polarization of wealth, erosion of living standards, and insecurity into xenophobic and nationalist politics. Militarization is proceeding in Europe as well. The 2% of GDP NATO target amounts to a doubling of military spending. Where is the international movement against the resurgence of blood and soil nationalism, especially between Europe and the US?
There have been no common events against these phenomena. We lack a US/Europe common learning process and strategy exchange. There are promising developments in Europe that might be learned from and reinforced. Jeremy Corbyn might become prime minister of the UK. There is strong left opposition in Germany and to a lesser degree in France.
–The absence of war and peace issues from most oppositional discourse and from most “intersectional” efforts
The manifestations of resistance like the Women’s March, climate campaigns, etc. do not make links to war and peace issues—and when asked to do so often explicitly refuse. How do we make the case that the vast resources going to the military makes progress on other public policy/human needs issues impossible?
We need to think about why sensible arguments, like those for moving money from military spending to spending for human needs, are not working. There are a number of possible reasons for this. Many people likely understand that if you cut $200 billion from the military budget, it wouldn’t be spent for human needs, but for more tax cuts for the top few percent. The United States now is in the grips of classical militarism. It remains all too rare for people to directly address militarism in progressive discourse. For most working on other issues, opposing militarism is seen as a risk, an impediment to making progress on your issues.
FRAGMENTS OF A WAY FORWARD
There is no coherent alternative narrative, no coherent oppositional political identity. We need a systemic alternative. There were a lot of theories of change in the 20th century, but we haven’t evolved one for this moment. We need to identify what is common in our work, rather than what’s different. We need an alternative narrative that resonates with much broader constituencies. We need an analysis that focuses on the common causes of the oppressions and dangers we are struggling against, rather than only on their effects.
We need to talk about what kind of structures we can build to fill the void. Are we experimenting enough to bring people together to practice political action and democracy? Are we putting enough resources into alternative, pre-figurative social structures? There are efforts of this kind underway, such as the solidarity economy movement.
We may be part of an emerging majority. Many strands of this are visible, from the women’s marches and related organizing efforts to the elements in the teachers unions who have pushed their unions to stronger, and more system-critical, positions.
We must put more concrete effort into overcoming divides of class, identity, and age. There is much talk about people of color leadership in progressive movements—what are the conditions for making this real? We need to identify who has power in our movement collaboration discussions. We need to figure out how to get through generational change while building an instrument to challenge power.
We need to strategize better together—and to evaluate how well our strategies are working. We don’t have a stable space where this can happen. We need Some center or centers where organizations can come together; not necessarily a permanent convergence, but a space that encourages stronger collaboration. We go to each other’s events when we can, but its inconsistent, and not done strategically. We share core values, but not strategies.
We need to find a way to organize around common values, even though not everyone can work on everything. But the values need to be named and identified. A vision can’t just be assumed, it has to be articulated. We need to find ways to bring our different strengths together in a positive way: what are the different roles organizations and people best can serve in a coalition?
Building relationships and trust is central to effective organizing. There are concrete ways to do this. such as “each one bring one,” every coalition participant bringing a younger person from their movement or organization. Being mindful of the needs of the different communities that are part of a coalition—such as providing for child care—also helps build trust.
Proposal: Have a discussion of this kind in a public space, in the Boston metro area; (and some skeptical responses). There could be a Boston area movement building conference after fall elections, with intent of creating an optimistic vision of collaborative work.
But how valuable is it to have another “mission statement” discussion? We need to focus more on actions rather than more meetings unrelated to particular actions. Intersectional organizing is a great frame, but you need something more specific. People are not going to want to join the conversation unless there’s a common project.
Calling a meeting for a vision is premature. A lot of smaller conversations need to take place first. So too networks to bring such a meeting together, perhaps the first step should be to strengthen diverse informal networks of organizations.