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(en) Common Action Statement on the US Social Forum – Detroit 2010

Date Fri, 18 Jun 2010 20:52:14 +0300

A message from the anarchist Common Action to the progressive left on the occasion of the 2010 US Social Forum – Where are we? What can we do? ---- It is with great feelings of love and solidarity that we greet the participants of the 2010 US Social Forum. We are very excited to be able to attend the social forum and learn from so many amazing organizers and individuals. ---- Despite the bright spot that the Social Forum represents, our movements are not where they need to be. With this paper we hope to lay out some reasons why we think people’s movements are so weak now, and what we can do to rectify that. This includes confronting the capitalist system, while not forgetting that all forms of oppression are related and need to be fought simultaneously. We offer our analysis, at the same time we recognize this white paper is only one part of a broader conversation.

We hope to learn from you all and to bring your struggles into our
analysis and organizing.

The State of Affairs

It was forty years ago this year that the United States saw some of the
strongest social movements our country has ever seen. From the
perspective of organizers and activists in 1970, the pace and scale of
social movements was on the increase. The civil rights movement was
still very strong, and had spawned new developments: the student
movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement. Labor was at an
historic high. These movements were creating tremendous victories for
people the country over -- ending Jim Crow segregation, creating the
highest standard of living for working people in our country’s history,
forcing new opportunities and respect for women, fighting against the
Vietnam war, strengthening community control, and expanding the vistas
of American democracy and equality. From the perspective of those on the
ground, it was reasonable to believe that these changes were leading to
unprecedented social transformations, perhaps even revolution, in the
United States.

Forty years later we find ourselves in dramatically different
circumstances. Even with the election of our nation's first black
president, a testament to the power of the civil rights movement,
conservatives and the business groups that support them have made gains
politically, culturally, and ideologically. Here in Detroit -- formerly
the powerhouse of the domestic manufacturing economy, heart of the union
movement, and center for struggles of black liberation -- the population
has declined by half. Thirty-five square miles of the city are
abandoned; the official unemployment rate is over 15%, well higher if
you include those who have given up looking for work altogether.

This picture is similar across the nation. With the economic crisis of
2008, the pain and dislocation Detroit has felt for decades has spread
to nearly every major US city. It is with heavy hearts that we recognize
the painful situation the economic crisis has brought to our
communities. But we also must recognize that this crisis is nothing new,
and that it will be here for sometime to come.

How do we find ourselves here?

The last forty years have been a continuous string of victories for the
business elite. Even with the crisis, corporate productivity and profits
are up -- oil companies are recording record revenues, banks like
Goldman-Sachs are lodging perfect quarters (making money on the market
every day of trading), Wal-Mart and McDonald's have record profits.
Meanwhile working people are in the worst position we've been in since
the great depression. Wages have been stagnant for thirty years, a
record number of people require government assistance to make ends meet,
and many more are forced into homelessness or other forms of precarious
existence. At the same time corporations ride roughshod over what's left
of our political democracy and regulatory state. The Supreme Court has
granted corporations unlimited access into our political process.
Regulatory agencies are run by the corporations they are supposed to
regulate -- best demonstrated by the exemptions granted to BP's
Deepwater Horizon oil platform and the resultant blowout. Perhaps most
disappointingly, Obama's presidency has proven to be just as dominated
by business interests as his predecessor.

With the economic crisis the attack on working people has only
intensified, and the issues of business control of our society show
themselves in greater relief. But activists have failed to use the
crisis to organize. This is especially egregious given the increased
vulnerability to those of us who are already the most marginalized in
society. The increasing incidence of white-supremacist hate crimes, the
targeting of immigrants especially those from Latin America, the
increase in reports of violence against women, all point to the
intersectionality of the economic crisis and all forms of oppression.
These struggles are only going to intensify in the coming period. And we
need to be better organized to empower people to fight against them.

What Can We Do?

There are important lessons to be learned for those of us trying to
build strong people's movements. One of these is that we've neglected to
understand how capitalism operates and to offer a clear critique. More
particularly, we have neglected the power of class struggle -- both as a
method of analysis and as a source of strategic leverage for organizing.
Taking our eye off capitalism and the class struggle meant that only one
side has been fighting. In the words of billionaire Warren Buffet "the
rich class [is] making war, and we're winning." The historic victory of
Barack Obama is part of this problem. Obama always represented the
business class. He received more campaign contributions from the
financial sector than any other candidate in history. And in his
personal political career he is the single largest recipient of BP
money. As a result he represents their interests, not ours. Using class
to analyze the changes going on around us will better enable us to see
clearly what the problems are that we face, and how to fight them.

Engaging in class struggle also provides tools for empowerment. In the
electoral arena the deck is stacked against us. The rich and powerful
have much greater access to politicians and the government; working
people have a hard time simply finding information on what is going on
with our elected officials. Fighting back in the class struggle empowers
us to take things into our own hands. Our greatest strength is that as
working people we have the power to stop, and restart, the economy on
our own. We can run our workplaces and our cities by ourselves. We don't
have to act at the ballot box only, but in our jobs and communities
where we have more power.

Empowerment is key. Whether we are working on combating racism, fighting
homophobia, increasing access for people with disabilities, ending
patriarchy, challenging police brutality or protecting our natural
environment, the focus of our struggles should be the empowerment of
working people to act and organize for themselves. This means adopting
the model of organizing used by Ella Baker, Septima Clark, Bob Moses,
and the civil rights organizers who refused to be made into leaders.
They recognized that the only way to build an effective movement is to
have large grassroots participation; and to do that people need to make
their own movements, be allowed to demonstrate their own leadership, and
to empower themselves and their communities. As organizers we need to
facilitate this process, not lead it. We need to have tough
conversations with those that may not agree with us, to go door to door,
and to mobilize popular discontent and pain into effective self
empowerment. As Baker said "strong people don't need strong leaders;" we
need to organize, organize, organize.

Class struggle and bottom up organizing are important, but we need to
simultaneously challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, and other systems
of oppression, as well as put anti-oppression values into practice in
our organizations. We advocate collective liberation, the idea that our
liberation depends on everyone else's and nobody's struggle can wait --
all our struggles are interconnected. To really end any form of
oppression, we must address them all; we have to defend, protect, and
fight for each other.

As an anarchist organization, we aren't afraid to call it as we see it,
and what we see is a world that is still organized for the benefit of a
few, at the expense of the rest of us. Yet we are willing to believe
that cooperation, listening, empathy, and sharing can actually become
the bedrocks of our communities, workplaces, and decision-making
structures. Anarchists believe that the means are the ends, and that the
best way to win a new society is to start building it right now while we
fight the worst aspects of the old one. We believe in focused community
work, in presence, listening, humility. We believe in winning people
over through communication and shared values, and in toppling the power
structure through massive collective action, rather than through
charismatic leaders or top-down policies.

Detroit and Beyond

The left let the economic crisis go by without using it to highlight
these problems and organize people to defend their own interests.
Despite the horror it's wrought on our communities, the crisis is in
many ways a missed opportunity. Although the financial sector has
stabilized, the streets of Detroit and the rest of the country tell a
different story. Unemployment is destroying families, our education
system is being dismantled, tens of thousands continue to die due to
lack of health insurance, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq rage on
killing innocents and depleting resources. These larger structural
crises mean that we will see a return of the 2008 crash. It also means
that for those of us on the bottom the "crisis" is ongoing.

We can regain the transformative power that social movements
demonstrated in 1970. The Social Forum is a step in the right direction.
But like the Forum's organizers have emphasized, the Social Forum is a
process. We need to take the lessons learned, the connections we've
made, and the energy generated here, back to our own communities. We
need to understand that to organize is to empower others to empower
themselves, and to include those who are unorganized, apathetic, or
otherwise disinclined to fight to defend their interests. We need to
bring hope to regular people and the organizational capacity to turn
hope into empowerment. The Social Forum is a bright spot on a dim
horizon. Let's work to make sure it signifies a coming dawn.

Common Action is an anarchist organization based in the Pacific
Northwest. Please contact us.

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