[mgj-discuss] my experience of the mobilization
windscape at planet-save.com
Wed Oct 2 02:44:37 EDT 2002
Dear everyone ~
As an australian involved in his first mass mobilization in the united states, I would like to share with you my thoughts on what eventuated during my time here, as feedback for the work that mgj does in the future. Please accept my comments as just one of the thousands of grains of salt that we all have to offer in reflection of the past few weeks
and that I tend to write using an over-dramatized style which betrays the gentleness through which I mean to express my points.
To state the obvious, Saturday was an amazing success given the circumstances. No, thats not the best way to put it
it was an amazing success full stop. The diversity of events, people, spaces and energies
weaved together in cohesiveness yet also decentralized autonomy
was quite amazing as one walked through all the things happening at sylvian theatre. You created a great space for people to come to do their own stuff, mindful of each other. And to have pulled off a partial blockade given the massive police presence was a tremendous success.
The Peoples Assembly, DC Social Forums and the numerous feeder events leading up to the weekend created a marvelous carnival of resistance, each in their own way confronting fortress capitalism and corporate globalization. There is literally so much to celebrate.
That all this was achieved under the most trying conditions was remarkable. It took the best organizational skill, courage, determination and heart to have created what you did under these circumstances. To have kept the anti- corporate globalization movement (in the sense of street-level direct action) alive in DC would have been a great achievement in itself, yet I think the weekends actions went a bit further than this, adding its own piece of enrichment and uniqueness.
I am sincere in writing all of this
yet I also see warning signs and dangers that I believe need to be addressed for the future. While I am trying to speak only for myself here, my comments are a mix of reactions that I saw in some others who chose not to participate with mgj as much as they could have, and my own feelings.
I admit to having felt a bit disconnected from mgj throughout the organizational process
and to coming out of some mgj meetings feeling unsettled and confused. My reactions here say a lot about my own issues (I have many to work through!), but I am not the only one to have had them, and so in part they may offer some useful feedback for mgj in the future.
The way that mgj general (Wednesday evening) meetings were run may have discouraged a number of people from participating, in my view. To me, these meetings felt like an entertainment spectacle ~ marketing the mobilization as fun and as an opportunity for people to feel satisfied that they were doing their bit to make history. For me, the energy felt unnatural, contrived and too falsely upbeat, and I know that a number of others - particularly young, local activists - felt this way too.
Dont get me wrong, this feel of the meetings may have been necessary to attract a lot of great folk, and talking it up is helpful when the issues can seem so complex and disempowering. But it is also going to discourage others who, like me, are wary of working to create a manufactured spectacle.
For me, however noble the desired outcome, however important the end goal, if I have to step out of my life in a big way in order to achieve it, I feel uncomfortable being a part of it. There is a growing movement of young (and not so young) people who are trying to live their lives outside of the spectacle, who are sick of the packaged realities of consumer society, and who want to engage freely, spontaneously and honestly with a range of emotions
we (like all of us) want to create beauty and autonomy in the moment, and to escape being spectators to packaged realities put on by others. In the mgj general meetings I felt like I was a member of the audience in a game show
and I wanted to escape - the general meetings felt too much like the paradigm that I am trying to change.
Increasing numbers of people are angry at the World Bank and IMF, in part, because they are the manifestations of a broader system. Whether they refer to capitalism, the industrial growth society, consumer culture, or just the system, we are realizing that we cant change this broader context just by organizing others
that we also have to LIVE this change within our own lives. This is a growing trend among activists, one of delving into deep personal integrity concerning our lifestyles, dreams, behaviors, relatedness etc, and we want to live every moment of our lives in ways that make the broader system obsolete (though we generally do this quite poorly!).
Yes, participating in mass mobilizations can be a fun experience, and very deeply uplifting. We can feel that we are a part of making history. Yet we can also experience post-traumatic stress, smashed teeth and permanent physical disabilities for the rest of our lives
and I wonder whether it is responsible to continuously market participation in mass mobilizations as fun, when part of the reality that some participants face is the shock of being treated as terrorists by the police / military state ~ we shouldnt unnecessary scare people, but nor should we ignore fear and the repressive power of the state
for by acknowledging this, we can develop ways that support people to transform fear into courage and excitement over possible otherworlds.
People dont need a mass mobilization to be fun in order to participate. We are not here to be entertained. Nor are we here so that we can go home feeling good about ourselves, that we have obtained our years worth of life meaning points. We are here because our hearts (like yours) pain at the injustices, and we want to take a stand
and we yearn to dance and experience the joy of life and of each other in the process, not to be entertained by others.
Hours spent phone banking and meeting late into the night isnt fun its tedious but we do it because our hearts vibrate to the suffering of those people and ecosystems we act in solidarity for, and to liberate our own lives from the deathly predictability of consumer culture / the industrial machine / capitalism. I would have felt much more connected to mgj if there were spaces to express these deeper motivations for my participation, and to share them with others.
Yet I also understand that mgj is a great vehicle to attract new folk who want to do something but who have previously felt disempowered. I needed a constructive, light and positive atmosphere when I first became active, when I was first reaching into the depths of my outrage and desires for a different world. And I also recognize that as an Australian there is a cultural difference which cringes at energies that seem overwhelmingly positive and upbeat.
Part of the reason why I felt so uncomfortable is that when I participated in smaller mgj meetings (of various working groups), the vibe was so different. It was down-to-earth and less bubbly. Of course this was in part because the working groups were smaller and generally involved people who knew each other
but it also indicated to me that special attention was given to crafting a particular form of marketable energy in the general meetings, and to be honest this felt a bit fake and manipulative.
For me there were other ways in which mgjs organizational energies felt too much like the paradigm that we are trying to change. It seemed an awful lot like work (like going to a day job), with very little spontaneous, creative play, or opportunities to come together in heart circles, ritual or emotion-centred sharing (though there were examples of this, and I found several mgj people who I worked with as very approachable and willing to spend very valuable time updating me on what was going on). It felt very linear, that we were focused on an end point and there was little room to live in the multitude of moments in the process of getting there. And it felt rather top-down, imbued with a sense of professionalism
where those with the appropriate experience and qualifications made the decisions, and others being left to volunteer on (admittedly vital) specific task-centered roles.
I found it very difficult to slot in. I tried my hardest to contribute but felt at the end that I didnt make an impact. A lot of this is due to my introversion, but I felt under-utilized and I dont think this was entirely due to my personal issues.
I very much wanted to do a lot of menial work
I have tended in the past to do the glory stuff and I was very grateful to have the opportunity to make a heap of phone calls and the like. But I did expect to eventually become a part of the decision-making process, which didnt eventuate. It felt as though that the only options for me to participate were either to do specific tasks as a volunteer or to take responsibility to bottom-line whole fields
with few opportunities in-between in terms of being part of a group making decisions and undergoing tasks concerning a particular field.
This relates to another way in which the mgj organizational process felt too much like the paradigm that Im trying to yank my life away from
the centralization of power. It felt that those who had worked on previous mobilizations in DC and elsewhere in the states who had amazing skills and experience and who clearly knew what to do had the bulk of the decision-making and creative power. It felt like I was volunteering at an NGO, rather than being an equal part of working circles creatively spinning our magic together.
I felt this most strongly when trying to become a part of the training and convergence working group, an area that I had particular skills and experience in. For the first two weeks or so of my stay in DC there wasnt a working group meeting in this domain to plug into, and while there was a definite need for someone to bottom-line the convergence space, I couldnt accept this role as I needed to be free to give trainings. When a meeting was finally called, those with significant prior experience had already worked out what was needed and that in effect a working group wasnt required
it was more like a collection of experienced individuals doing what they had done in previous mobilizations. As a newcomer, I felt very marginalized and alienated (which I know is partly my own stuff).
I think there is great potential for mgj to operate in a more decentralized way, and Im sure you are all calling out for more people to step up to form working circles
as mentioned above, it is partly my fault that I didnt participate more. But in this mobilization mgj had so little time. As major tasks were left until quite late, the quickest way to get things done was for individuals with the experience and skills to repeat what they had done before, drawing in volunteers to bottom-line areas or otherwise help with specific tasks.
With more time, the convergence and training could have been organized a week before the protests with the details posted on the web. A vibrant and attractive training and convergence program (its not everyday that you get to be trained by people of the ilk of Starhawk) may have resulted in more individuals and affinity groups feeling drawn to have come a day or so earlier. Imagine what could have been achieved if even just a thousand or so folk arrived a day earlier.
I think it was amazing what you managed to do with the little time that you had, however. As mentioned above, Saturday was marvelous
you created spaces for affinity groups and individuals to plug in and make their own decisions in terms of the direct actions on the day ~ for me a great combination of providing a supportive framework and room for autonomy.
My comments focus more on how mgj could adapt its organizational energy to encourage more local activists and outsiders to be involved in the weeks and months leading up to the mobilization. Maybe next time there will be a focus on encouraging local mgj activists to spend months developing relationships with local groups working on peace, homelessness, anti-privatisation, anti-racism and other issues, and invite their dreams on what they would need a mass mobilization to be in order for them to participate
so that they could link their local issues with the global trends of corporate greed. The rally on labor issues on the 24th was a wonderful example of what could be achieved next time in a range of other domains feeder events organized in unisen between local (issue-specific) activists and mgjers.
In my state we have an ongoing Globalization Roundtable, formed independently of the direct action movement, which creates a space for advocacy groups in health, education, social services, renewable energy, sustainable transport, small-scale farming etc etc to come together to share experiences of how corporate globalization is affecting their constituencies ~ if there was to be a major mobilization in my city, this ongoing Roundtable (despite considerable diversity in the degree of radicalism) would be a great means for outreach and inreach so that local people affected by corporate greed and broader issues of privatization can have genuine input into at least some of the themes and general threads of the mobilization. Here relationships are built not in order to get sufficient numbers to a mobilization, but to support each other in the in-between struggles. The Roundtable is less an entity that organizes, and more a space-creator that opens channels for groups to find new shared and separate means of struggle
within certain principles that differentiates the process from right-wing, nationalist and patriarchal attacks on globalism.
Maybe such a roundtable can be commenced to prepare for the next mgj mobilization. Without it, mgj runs the risk of appearing like a government entity - on the surface promoting consultation but only in the form of pseudo-relationship. If mgj as an external body makes its own decisions regarding how a mass mobilization should unfold, and then tries to recruit local groups into a pre-determined outcome, is it surprising that some advocacy groups will not passionately feel that the mobilization is relevant to their cause?
My second last comment concerns the working relationship between mgj and acc. I felt that having the range of different actions, convergence spaces and training programs was great
it created multiple nodes/spaces of organization and actions, and a range of choices for people to make in terms of how to participate. Timing clashes were unfortunate but not everyone needs to work together nor feel part of a single unity.
People from both mgj and acc expressed the desire to work more closely together, and I came across a lot of mutual respect on a personal level between the movements. However, there are some resentments and stereotypes that each movement holds of the other (just as I have unfairly stereotyped some of mgjs processes in this email this is only my experience and others probably have very different ones
I am sure that this mobilization and the organizational processes leading up to it have empowered a lot of people in a very positive way). Mgj is very diverse, and within it there are various degrees of understanding of, and support for, what acc is trying to do.
For me, the key is for people in mgj to feel that they can express their concerns, disappointments, frustrations, etc to the acc and be deeply listened to
and for people in mgj to more fully understand the beauty of what the acc is trying to do
and for people in the acc to express their concerns and more fully understand the beauty of mgjs positions and procedures ~ in other words, for each movement to see the others actions in multiple lights and in fresh ways, in addition to expressing their discontents, and to realize that people from neither movement wake up in the morning wondering how to make the world worse.
Diversity of tactics has been wonderful in creating the conditions for different groups to work together. But while there is growing mutual respect and understanding, some of the original differences that created so much tension 2-3 years ago are still (to a reduced extent) under the surface, fuelling stereotypes and fixed judgments.
I feel hopeful that with the growing mutual respect, the time is right to address these differences. I am also hopeful that with well-facilitated open discussions, each group will realize that the differences arent as great as previous thought
that mgj is open to a systems and anti-capitalist stance (though has its reasons for placing caps on this), and is aware of the need to tear down fortresses in order to create spaces for renewal
and that acc is by no means fundamentalist and exclusionary in the way that it works.
Indeed, with a well-facilitated coming together (or more likely coming togethers), we may find that theres no energy for the tired old debates concerning nonviolence, evolution vs revolution, etc
and that the conversation could quickly move to how best to work together in the future, and in clearing up misperceptions, misinformation and myths.
My final comment ~ keeping mass mobilizations on the creative edges of providing vision and true connectivity with local struggles. I dont hold the view that we need to come up with alternatives in order to protest
for me this is part of the dont come to me with a problem unless you have a solution mentality thats embedded within our hyped up, must-be-positive corporatized culture. When were in a crisis and people / ecosystems are dying due to capitalism / the system / the WB-IMF-WTO-WEF-SOA, weve got to stop the destruction and have faith that as the fortress comes down, we will be able to see and evolve alternatives more clearly than when were still caught up in the system.
Yet I think the pagan cluster was very astute when it felt called to create an Otherworld in Fridays actions, to demonstrate with color and emotion and movement what freedom from the system could mean. Their action was concerned with transforming peoples fear of change into wonder of what life could be like outside the fortress (or, in short, transforming fear into wonder), and in creating living threads of a new world for people to engage with, rather than an image-based spectacle for people to stare at. The tactics of creative symbolism is indeed not the same as the creation of vibrant alternatives that people feel a part of
and while symbolic puppetry and installations have a wonderful role in street actions to encourage people to envisage a different future, we can also create actual living pieces of an otherworld on the streets, where people can step out of their capitalist hats to engage with.
As activists against the WB/IMF, we can portray examples of an otherworld(s)
if not spiritually, then at least economically. We can spend as much time making capitalism and the WB/IMF style of economics obsolete in mass mobilizations as we do blockading and rallying. For every gate blockaded, we can have a food distribution or Homes Not Jails action for people erased by capitalism at other parts of the city. For every cry of more world, less bank, we can set up a barter system near a metro or communal space where people can exchange products or services without the need for money
or where people can teach themselves how to make things rather than buy them. For every peoples assembly held by circles of activists, we can set up consultas away from the protest sites in other parts of the city, on local issues affected by corporate globalization. For every call against corporate globalization, we can arrange a street-side forum where local marginalized communities can inspire others on how to self-organize and re-localize to regain local control over the (economic) fundamentals of life.
And we can do all three blockading, symbolic representations / spectacles of possible otherworlds, and real creations of pieces of otherworlds for people to engage with at the same time in different or connected spaces during the same mobilization. We can have information materials and banners that link all these different elements ~ so that people understand that we need to take to the streets to crumble the fortress, in order to create conducive conditions for the pieces of other possible worlds to flower into forms that can provide real alternatives for communities across our society. Tasting a piece of an otherworld, and recognizing what is stopping it from flowering to wider and larger scales, could motivate many more people to come into the streets to take a stand.
I have been very self-indulgent in writing my thoughts and suggestions at such length, but if nothing else it has helped me to feel more connected to the mobilization. I very much acknowledge that my words here are heavily influenced by my issues, experiences, blind spots, stereotypes and politics, and that I only saw a very tiny piece of the whole mgj experience
no doubt I have very crudely reduced and dismissed the incredible work and grace and beauty that you have all created, and for this I deeply apologise ~ I trust that you accept my comments as my own experiences that may or may not have any value to anyone else. Others with different experiences, backgrounds and perspectives are likely to feel differently than me, and you have an incredibly difficult job trying to support such diverse people to feel welcome in the movement ... what works for some won't work for others.
What you achieved during the mobilization was amazing and was worth every cent (and more) that was fundraised to support it, every sleepless night spent worrying about how the 28th would work out, every minor heart attack trying to find people to bottom-line essentials, and every bit of frustration felt when people from afar (like me) judge the beautiful workplay that made up an amazing program of events.
Towards the further opening of our global hearts,
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