As the year 2000 comes to a close, and as attention turns toward the official first year of the new millennium, it seems to me that there is one, overriding objective that all pro-justice activists need to
prioritize: broadly-based outreach to involve more people in our grassroots-based organizations. As important as other tasks also are, this one has to be right up there at the top.
And it’s not just because George W. Bush has stolen the election that I say this. Under Gore, there’d be the same need.
2000 was a good year for the people’s movement. With the direct actions from D.C. to Philadelphia to Los Angeles and elsewhere, the Nader/LaDuke campaign, the growing anti-sweatshop movement, a burgeoning pro-amnesty movement and many other examples, there is no question but that the “good guys” are on the move, tens of thousands of dedicated activists and millions of supporters. But that’s not enough. We need hundreds of thousands actively involved in our emerging, independent, pro-justice movement.
And it’s not just that there’s a need for it. There’s always a necessity to involve more people in our efforts. The fact is that the work we have been doing over the past year has opened up concrete possibilities to dramatically increase our ranks and strengthen our various organizations. This is true whether it be the Greens, other third party groups, student groups, non-violent direct action groups, other community organizations, or grassroots-oriented trade unions.
Why did tens of thousands of people come out to the pro-Nader rallies in the last two months of the Presidential campaign? Because there is a hunger among millions of people for a political force that can take on the economic and political system which is responsible for so much human suffering, oppression and environmental devastation. The Nader campaign, for all its weaknesses, brought to the surface that hunger and the concrete possibilities for movement- and organization-building.
What about all those labor folks and people of color who came out in large numbers for Gore because of their fear of Bush? Are they just going to fade back into the woodwork, accept W. as “their” President, forget about what happened in Florida and with the Supreme Court, go quietly into the night? Not likely, especially if we are out there visibly organizing around issues they care about, including the lack of genuine democracy in this country and the need for fundamental democratic reforms to our electoral system.
The real question is, are we up to it?
It’s hard to generalize; conditions from one locality to another are different, and there is certainly unevenness in organizational development and organizing skills within this still-emerging, still-learning thing we call “a movement,” but from where I sit, from what I’m observing and hearing, I think the answer is yes. Or perhaps more accurately, “yes, if.”
Yes, if we build our organizations in a way which welcomes new people and encourages their verbal and physical participation in decision-making and activity, if we are about building community, personal relationships with one another, as well as doing the practical issue and organizational detail work.
Yes, if we struggle with our weaknesses, deal with them honestly, and not pretend that we’ve got it all together. For example, if there are few people of color involved and we live in an area with a high percentage of people of color, we need to discuss what attitudes and practices may be inhibiting their involvement, at the same time that we reach out to predominantly people of color groups to support them on the issues they have defined as most central.
Yes, if we maintain an openness to new ideas and insights, reject narrowness and sectarianism, while striving for unity and organizational coherence. These are not mutually exclusive; they can be and should be complementary.
Yes, if we are open to learning from the experiences of older organizers if we are young, and if we are open to learning from the fresh insights and perspectives of youth organizers if we are older.
And yes, if our organizations, our meetings, our events, our human interactions are a source of strength, support and positive challenge for those of us in them and those with whom we come into contact. We need to keep building a new culture, “creating a new way of being,” as Victoria Gray-Adams described it at the recent Progressive Dialogue II meeting in Washington, D.C.
Let’s be about taking our movement to the next, needed step: bigger, broader, deeper and more powerful. Let’s choose issues to work on that help us do this. And let’s talk to each other about what is and is not working.
It’s a good time to be an organizer with and for the people.