Moving to Action

October 25th, 2011 | Posted by Daniel Roth in Articles & Essays | Writing by Our Members

Holism and Dual Power

Attempting to frame issues in boxes is always problematic. A holistic view of the world demands that we have agile and fluid outlooks. It demands that we understand the problems of our world as interconnected. This makes it hard to simplify our thinking so that it can be communicated concisely. Nevertheless, I am going to attempt a bit of framing and category-making to help conceptualize our strategy for change.

When we view the world through a holistic lens, the world can become confusing. Issues blur into one another. Economy becomes intertwined with community, while politics and interpersonal relationships become indivisible. All of the models, which we use to organize our perspective(s), begin to climb on to one another and create an interesting and confounding mess in our minds.

Our analysis of the world right now creates a web with the issues that we face. Our vision for a better world touches on all the spheres that we can see. Here, I want to take moment to delve deeper into our strategy and organize types of institutions, so that we can begin to move ourselves toward action.

We often speak of dual power as a model for getting from the present to the future. Dual power is a model that understands the importance of creating both alternative institutions and counter institutions in order to move towards our vision. Briefly put, alternative institutions are institutions which embody the spirit of our vision for a better world. Counter institutions both protect the alternatives and attempt to convince ever widening circles of people that our holistic vision is, at least mostly, on the mark.

What follows describes the way we can engage in movement building towards an egalitarian, participatory, and free world. This can be done both by building toward our visions today, and by building partnerships, changing minds, and protecting our visionary structures. What follows should clarify and illuminate a few things.

Dreams and Experiments

So, how can we describe these institutions with a bit more specificity than the above broad strokes offer? Alternative institutions can fit into one expansive category. These alternatives are the structures, organizations, unions, and communities of the future, but now. Alternative institutions can be egalitarian worker collectives in factories, classrooms, and office buildings. They can be food coops, which provide healthy sustenance in our many food deserts. They can be experimental, democratic schools. They can also be participatory community councils. Of course, the above examples don’t cover all the possible alternatives that we can build now, but they may be helpful in bridging the gap between the real and the ideal.

We need to be building towards our visions and experimenting with our dreams right now. Alternatives, if it is not already clear, are supposed to exemplify a world that is free from oppression in all its forms. The alternatives that work will be become the mainstream institutions as we work to change our societies. If we are successful they will cease to be alternatives. Instead, they will be the norms. Believe it or not there are thousands of beautiful examples of alternative institutions all over the continent and around the world. Some institutions in some civil societies and even some governments are attempting to grow out of the oppressive reality of today. We need more. We need to continue to build radical media outlets, participatory councils in our communities, collective workplaces, and democratic day cares and schools.

Making it Happen in Three Ways

Making change happen takes more than experimenting with our dreams and building our visions in the present. Any movement that is going to survive needs to address the need to support and protect the alternatives to the status quo that we build. Counter institutions are meant to protect the alternatives and draw people toward our movement. A public alternative school program that is under attack from the Right needs people who are willing to protest cuts to education budgets and occupy the school board. Keeping abortion safe and legal requires political advocacy and education for communities. Changing the way we interact with our environment demands us to gather together millions of people in order to educate ourselves, change our policies, and stop those who would put profit before life.

Counter institutions safe guard our alternatives and engage people in our movement in three ways:

  1. Advocacy
  2. Communication
  3. Direct Action

Arranging counter institutions into these three groupings can help us to understand what needs doing. It can also help us to understand what each of us wants to do. Importantly, a great many of us don’t have access to communities and partners with the space, time, and means to create alternatives right now. This means that the broadest movement that we will build will include huge numbers of people who don’t necessarily build the alternatives, but engage in one or more of the above streams of pushing the mainstream toward those alternatives.

Advocacy encompasses political action in elections, encouraging people to vote, lobbying, and even meeting potential funders for our movement (yes, the non-profit model perpetuates capitalist oppression as much as the next model, and as we move forward we will find ourselves moving away from it). Advocacy is an important example of working for non-reformist reforms. To put it simply, we work for achievable change while keeping our eyes on the prize. Non-reformist reforms are about working for the small wins, while being explicit about our larger goals and vision.

Advocacy, to some extent, can be defined as working within the current power structures. It is a necessary part of our movement because, without people in the mainstream, we can never hope to pull the mainstream toward liberation. While we work for reform through advocacy in the short term, we recognize that it is certainly not enough.

Communication is another way of saying education. Communication involves writing, art, teaching, journalism, and any other way that you can think of to get our message out into the world for people to see, read, hear, and think about.

Communication describes the act of engaging in dialogue with other people and even masses of people. The art we make, the stories and essays we write, and the groups we educate are all opportunities for us to allow people to engage with our ideas and join our movement.

Direct action includes occupying a building of strategic importance or workplace strikes, or street demonstrations or self-defense.

Direct action is exactly what it sounds like. When a movement can engage in meaningful and swift direct action it means that there are significant numbers of people who are in that movement and that those people are ready to act on a moment’s notice. A group may utilize direct action through striking, protests, or sit-ins when a government attacks civil liberties. Direct action through a strike is vital for protecting workers who are being unfairly treated. An organized movement can even use direct action to protect people from violent opposition to their ideas or identities. Good direct action utilizes advocacy and communication in support of actions.

Counter institutions promote and protect our alternatives. These three categories are each useful in different contexts for convincing more people that we truly have a vision for a free society, and in protecting the alternatives that we build. They each, in their own ways, support and protect our movement. There aren’t any professions described in the above. That’s because these categories transcend career type. A lawyer may find herself communicating through visual art, while lobbying her senator to clean up the toxic waste in the nearby river. A teacher may find himself leading a general strike and running for office.

What Do We Do?

Our analysis, vision, and strategy need to be holistic. This means that we need to understand that the challenges we face, our goals, and the paths we build to get there are intertwined and inextricable. The above strategic categories are not separate pieces of the puzzle. They lay over one another similarly to the spheres that we use to organize our view of the world.

Obviously not every person can or will make change in every way. That’s why we have a holistic movement, not only in our analysis and vision, but in the strategy that we build for working together as well. We need to organize so that we address the alternatives, as well as advocacy, communication, and direct action. Each of us needs to take one, two, three, or four of these paths, and when we do we will find that all of the paths lead to the same place.

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