Movement Building in the 21st Century

By: Rich Feldman

The opportunities for building a grassroots movement committed to rebuilding communities and creating a new self-governing America are increasing daily. We don’t need a national organization, nor do we need a national party or even a coalition, we need a national network that is truly rooted locally and moving beyond protest to resistance and to visions and institutions for our future. For those of us who were active in the 1960s and 1970s, we are given the opportunity of a lifetime to participate in building a movement for a second time in an era of great social change. A new movement of young people committed to transforming our culture, our economy and our politics has emerged and is sprouting in every city and region of our country.

Our ability to create a new movement based upon a 21st century vision and principles to guide our practice and our theory will emerge from our work and engagement with and in the communities of our cities, suburbs and towns across the country. Since the Zapatista Movement of 1994, the Battle of Seattle and the World Social Forums, we have much to learn internationally and locally.

The strength of the counter-revolutionary forces may not appear to be united at all times in this election period 2008 but they are clearly united in their anti-immigration actions and policies, their commitment to reduce taxes, their commitment to support and defend the global empire and protect the actions of a torture loving and anti-democratic government. The move towards a US style of fascism will challenge us all to deepen our community ties and boldly engage in the creation of new forms of work, new forms of community safety, new cultural expressions and creating sustainable and community based economic and political relationships that leave both the federal government and the devastation from the global economy behind.

The bankruptcy of the two party system, the splits within the democratic party, the gender and race contradiction, the exposing of the contradiction between electoral politics and movement building activities and the intensification of the US economic crisis will encourage some to move beyond the illusions of social democrats and welfare statism. Some will put movement building in the forefront and replace protest activities and short term legislative demands and government solutions.

Leftists, socialists and radicals may be willing to learn from the organizing and activities of young people and from those empowering people to new forms of citizen activism based upon MLK’s challenge to engage in a radical revolution in values. It is time to stop separating human evolution and human transformation from the political struggles to transform our nation.

We cannot repeat the movements of the 60s nor focus on defending the victories of past times. A revolutionary period which includes a rising counter-revolutionary movement requires that we put forward a vision of our new society and day to day practice that helps us “be the change that we need to see”- It is a cultural revolution and a struggle to transform our institutions. It is a struggle to change ourselves, transform our culture and our values while we struggle for a new society. Only a change people will create a movement and a new society.

This is not about sectarianism or exclusionary movement building. Spending time criticizing electoral politics or various forms of activism based upon ideological formulations will prevent us from creating an inclusive movement in the years ahead. Correct line politics and ideology will not build our movement. People will do what they decided to do. If they are running for office, we should not expect them to do our work. If they are union activists in labor organizations, we should not expect them to do our work. Those defined by identity politics will be part of the web searching and creating a new America. We are about community building, human transformation and recognizing that the American Revolution will be the first revolution to be giving up as we move to end our role as the US Empire and King Consumer to join the community of nations. Our movement is about MLK’s challenge that we be both local citizens and global citizens.

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