Saturday, July 24, 2010

Activism in America

Between driving across the country, attending weddings in random cities, preparing to move to Ohio, and working on my book proposal, I haven't had time to blog lately. But I do want to point you all to one piece I found the time to write.

I am very interested in the state of activism in America. I have a general thesis that the biggest problem with progressive activism is the lack of an ideological framework in a post-socialist world that can help us fight the extremist ideology of right-wing capitalism. I have been writing at Global Comment for some time and my next several articles, probably coming out every other weekend, will be focused on this issue. Here's the first, discussing what I call the "architecture of activism" and how it is very difficult to build a broad-based movement in an individualistic and niche based world. Here's a piece:

These and all movements had what I call an “architecture of activism.” In brief, this is a shared set of symbols, heroes, songs, and other cultural reference points that provide an umbrella of common understanding necessary for organizing. For example, statues of Vladimir Lenin in the Soviet Union spoke to devoted communists around the world in specific ways that helped shape their ideology and activism. Each line in his face conveyed meanings to devotees. All movements, regardless of size, have an architecture that binds members together in solidarity. Political movements certainly have this, but so do, for instance, hipsters or underground rock scenes.

Freedom songs such as “We Shall Overcome” provided an architecture for the civil rights movement. These songs brought people together. Old and young, radical and conservative, black and white, civil rights workers united around these songs. They provided sustenance during beatings and while in jail. The songs, the shared history of suffering, the past and present leaders, food, and music: all of this brought people together to provide them inspiration, guidance, and collective identity.

The broad architecture that sustained civil rights activism could not hold up by the late 1960s. As the civil rights movement splintered into ethnic nationalism, feminism of various shades, the antiwar movement, and other social movements, each acquired their own cultural symbols. But these radical movements still shared much even if they didn’t often work together. Che Guevara and the doctrine of world revolution provided an ideological framework for many of these groups. Malcolm X gave them a hero and a path to accomplish their goals. Rock and roll, marijuana, and LSD gave these increasingly youth-dominated movements common cultural touchstones.

At the same time, youth culture began eroding the architecture that allowed for broad-based, multi-generational movements such as the early civil rights movement and the labor movement of the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. The rebellion of the Baby Boomers rejected the ideas and forms of their elders as out of date. Creating a culture defined as oppositional prioritized exclusivity. Organizing communities split by age. Boomers also had massive consumer power. Hippies began their own businesses to sell age and culturally-specific products to each other.

Read the whole thing and such.