There are a number of indicators that the political climate is heating up, and quickly. In response to the “global financial crisis,” governments worldwide are implementing austerity budgets which significantly diminish public services, social systems, and, ultimately, the average citizen’s quality of life. At the same time, these budgets incentivize corporate growth and the sequestration of wealth – its removal from the public pot. Internationally, governments have invested trillions of citizen-paid tax dollars to bail out corporations that are mechanically and shamelessly turning around to post record-breaking profits accessible to only a handful, and doling out jaw-dropping executive salaries and bonuses.
As media coverage increasingly describes this grotesque betrayal of the public trust, activists and organizers are able to mobilize ever-larger numbers of protesting citizens. Fixed-term “democratic” governments recognize what is hopefully an imminent translation into votes. Their response is to accelerate the implementation of their wealth sequestration schemes. When they are booted from office, we can expect the cupboards to be bare. It will be left to us to restore the social systems they are wantonly destroying. There is little unique or surprising about these events, and although the cycle is not new, at this point in it, we must ask ourselves, “This time, have we let things go too far?” I believe there is room for things to become much worse if we are not very careful about how we plan our way out of the present state and trajectory of affairs, particularly in activist circles leading the charge against the erosion of our “common good.”
Popular support for “progressive” and more “radical” messages is becoming increasingly possible. While popular awareness of the dangers they foretold lay dormant, a necessary insularism allowed certain groups that fostered these messages to “hold the fort.” Now, however, that insularity may impede their ability to flourish. Indeed, these groups and the individuals that held them together weathered harsh times, and in many cases existential threats still loom large. In their veritable seclusion from popular culture, these groups have developed what seems to me a somewhat exclusive culture of activism, and it threatens their ability to seize the present opportunity to beat back the pandemic of blindness which caused that seclusion in the first place.
There are two phenomena which must be guarded against. First, we must resist the urge to be bitter – we must not close our hearts, minds, and doors to those that did not share the cultural and intellectual hardships suffered in the absence of popular support. The disease we are fighting is blindness. It is our biggest challenge to relieve that blindness, and it cannot be accomplished by shaming those unwittingly blinded. If people become interested in participating, but don’t use the “right” nomenclature or don’t express the outer, more superficial accoutrements of the “activist,” “progressive,” or “radical,” they are not to be dismissed. Their presence and willingness to participate is testament to their will and intent; the rest can be worked on.
Second, we must resist the urge for public redemption that individualizes experience and fractures collective movement. Yes, activists should be recognized for their persistent contributions and fortitude, but our personal experiences are not the message, nor are they an accurate reflection of the problems that we face.
We must focus our energy on putting forth a coherent, common, and well-articulated vision of how the present and future can be brightened by embracing our interdependence, and institutionalizing and expanding the systems that embody it. If we find that our energy is being directed toward individual experience and input to the “movement,” then a disservice is being done to the collective effort and momentum presently taking shape.