Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible
A Team Colors Collective Pocket-Book
OUT OF PRINT
In Wind(s) from below: Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, we address current organizing in the U.S. in context of the class decomposition of recent decades. Following the years of fire we find ourselves circulating through winds and whirlwinds, which are struggling to intensify and connect amongst historically-specific forms of repression, infusion and capitulation. Through an inquiry into and analysis of contemporary social struggles, we argue that the social field is populated with a rich set of organizational possibilities, all of which are potential and becoming. We argue for a renewed emphasis on radical community organizing that challenges the non-profit industrial complex, the self-imposed limitations of activist identity, professionalized organizing, the limitations of the Alinsky model and urban-centrism. In their place we seek to amplify struggles that form through the substance of our own lives and our own reproduction, continuing into creating concrete mechanisms and procedures, and ending with the importance of becoming-other and becoming-revolutionary to build movements. It is through these movements that we build a new world, one in which many worlds fit.
May 2010 | 84 Pages | $6.00 | ISBN: 978-0-9778392-1-6
Wind(s) from below: Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible by Team Colors Collective is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Published by Team Colors in Association with Eberhardt Press.
For bookstores, infoshops, tabling projects and distributors: get a copy of the one-sheet.
The Team Colors Collective would like to acknowledge Malav Kanuga, Sonya Larson, Brian Marks, Stevphen Shukaitis, Chris Vance, and Kristian Williams for their thoughtful comments and assistance with editing this pamphlet. Additionally, many of the arguments and research contained in this document were drawn from prior articles, research and conversations conducted with our fellow collective member Conor Cash and good friend Benjamin Holtzman. However, everyone’s brilliant insights aside, any mistakes in judgment or fact in this pamphlet are entirely our own.
This essay began as the concluding chapter to the volume edited by Team Colors Collective, Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Currents in the United States (Oakland: AK Press, 2010). However, it does not appear in that book and has been substantially revised for this publication.
Additionally, we would like to point out that our analytical emphasis in this essay is often on the eastern and northern parts of the U.S., due largely to our own geographic locations presently or for many years before the completion of this piece. A difficulty with writing an essay like this is that local/micro-level situations often present great exceptions to what seem like larger trends and developments, and taken cumulatively they regularly destabilize a macro-level glance. Nonetheless, we believe macro-level analyses are still very useful. It is our hope that others will fill in or correct what we have left out or been incorrect on from the perspective of their spaces and communities.
This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. […] But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.
– James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963)
The storm will be born, its time has arrived. Now the wind from above rules, but the wind from below is coming.
– Subcommandante Marcos
Our method, though, rather than projecting what people should do and what they should want, is to start where people revolt, to start from people’s political passions, and, from there, develop political projects […] The first rule of political thought is that we must begin not from a version of people as we think they ought to be but from people as they are.
– Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt
“Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?” This question can mean many things. It is an invitation to inquire into the current composition of movements and the working class, to return to community organizing in a grounded and substantive way, to amplify and circulate existing struggles and organizing initiatives. Abstractly, it could refer to the opening of processes within the cycle of struggles currently taking places in the U.S. and across the planet. Metaphorically, whirlwinds seeks to draw one into “the dream work of language,” in the words of Donald Davidson ; conceptually, it attempts to address a set of concrete problems that lead to a rich (yet undetermined) set of political questions.
But for us, it is also a very basic rejoinder to a question so many on the Left are asking in the midst of the current international crisis: “Where is the resistance?” There is a generalized dismay afoot that only deepens in the midst of a seeming lack of protests, demonstrations, and struggle in the face of destructive changes: foreclosures, evictions, precarious work and the stresses of unwaged work, to name but a few. We believe there is much to be added to the narrative of the crisis and resistance to it. While our inquiries did not start with the crisis, it seems by default they have been saturated by it; thus we have a useful opportunity to try and emphasize the importance and difficulties in organizing in the contemporary period, one riddled with crises of capital, the state and the working class.
We center ongoing struggles in our analysis; we begin and end with them, because in our view, they are both the cause of what benefits we have wrenched out of capital and state as well as the way out of their dominion entirely. In the case of the current crises it is our contention that struggles need to be understood in context of the past cycle of struggles, the fires – from the 1950s through the early 1970s – and the myriad of movements, which we refer to as whirlwinds, of the past forty years. We place analysis of resistance within current situations in order to contextualize the new constraints movements face, and try to avoid the Left’s tendency to jump on every new form of mobilization as the revolutionary spark. In our view, struggles have surrounded the crisis – coming before and through it – and it is in understanding the newer constraints at hand that we can at least try to understand forces organizing to fight and transcend the crises, strategizing moves to a better situation.
We do not hope for a new Keynesian deal or a socialist state. A more compassionate capitalism, as important as it may be, is not our end goal and it is not the ultimate potential of movements, unless they themselves decide such an end. Nor are we anarchists of the stripe who pose issues in obsessively moral terms, condescendingly approaching every struggle as not-Anarchist-so-not-good-enough (or not-Anarchist-enough-so-not-good-enough). While we desire the end to capital and state forms, we don’t believe anarchists have a particularly special position in bringing it about; rather, the struggles of all our everyday lives contribute to “the wind from below.”
We use inquiry as our primary tool and project, for radical community organizing and political questions begin in inquiry. But our inquiry begins and ends with the movements and struggles; in this case we emphasize those on U.S. terrain. The opening epigram from James Baldwin offers one example of a rich history of political investigation and writing that mirrors this tradition of radical inquiry. Yet it seems that the days of muckraking, polemical journalism, slave narratives, African-American literary movements, “books of intensified history,” modern feminist memoirists, and queer novelists subsided as the years and movements of ‘fire’ ended. In a similar fashion, the traditions of working class intellectualism and workers’ inquiry only occupy the corners of our contemporary movements. As we attempt to integrate the metaphors and spirits of the former into the concepts of the latter, we seek to renew our movements in a return to inquiry and measure at the onset of a return to radical community organizing. Our present moment requires both of these traditions, intertwined and resonating with the winds circulating the U.S. and planet.
This pamphlet deepens the rich set of writings and inquiries found in the pages of Uses of a Whirlwind, a book of essays, articles, and interviews published in June 2010 by AK Press. It situates the current composition of movements and the working class within the history of the years of fire and years of wind. Here it is important to understand the particular relations of power, production, and social reproduction as capital and the state-apparatus seek to coordinate, capture, and impose particular forms of life. This approach is both political and strategic, developed from the perspective of the working class in its process of political recomposition.
Through the inquiries located here and elsewhere, we have identified radical community organizing as an undercurrent and engine for movement-building at this present time, and of specific importance in regards to the crisis. We understand this kind of organizing to be a series of interlocking characteristics, which seek to build upon and amplify the forms of organization and resistance already taking place in everyday life. We believe it is useful to return to these practices and the questions of how they function within our movements, if we intend to move beyond times so thick with despair and into new worlds and ways of living.
Much of what we discuss in this essay here is not so easily compartmentalized, and the connections and intersections among these histories, concepts, struggles, and currents are abundant. Nevertheless, we approach them through four expansive sections, each exploring a different political question:
• A Genealogy of Fire and Wind (How did capital respond to the movements from four decades ago?)
• Reading the Contemporary Struggles (How do current struggles function?)
• Points of Capture, Moments of Demobilization (How is the activity of contemporary radical movements captured, controlled, managed, and channeled away from revolutionary ends?)
• Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible (How does radical community organizing function?)