Beyond Opposition and Protest

By Grace Lee Boggs

Michigan Citizen, Dec. 21-27, 2008

The Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership has begun monthly transformational conversations to explore how movement activists are challenged by the obvious inability of the power structure to resolve the concurrent crises of global warming, two wars in the Middle East, and economic meltdown, to develop strategies that go beyond opposition and protest.

Forty people participated in our first meeting on December 12 to discuss (in small groups) "From Opposition to Alternatives: PostIndustrial Potentials and Transformative Learning" by Brian Mulani.

We began with this article because it provides the kind of evolutionary/dialectical analysis of revolutionary struggle that we need at this time.

The article is included in Expanding The Boundaries Of Transformative Learning: Essays on Theory and Praxis, Palgrave, 2002, a fascinating collection by twenty (mainly Canadian) activists and educators who believe that we are at a turning point in history when saving our planet and all life on earth requires not only that we live more simply but that we also repudiate the single-minded pursuit of economic growth which has led our country, since its founding, to enslave blacks, commit genocide against Native Americans, and treat Nature only as a resource.

Most of us view the identity movements of the 60s and 70s as anti-discrimination struggles by particular groups. Milani suggests that we view them as a series that, one by one, triggered another struggle until a majority of Americans were engaged in struggling against any limitation of human potential on the basis of class, race, gender, sexual orientation or disability, becoming what he calls "New Productive Forces" (NPFs).

Thus, beginning with the Montgomery Bus Boycott,in 1955, southern blacks, urban blacks, anti-war activists, women, gays, lesbians, chicanos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, the disabled, created a new vision of human potential and the importance of community.

Next, in the anti-globalization struggles of the1990s, the Zapatistas and NPFs began a new stage of movement building. Connecting with one another in the "Battle of Seattle," in Quebec, Prague, Genoa etc., they began to forge affinity groups and other new, more participatory methods of struggle.

However, when the Iraq War began, this embryonic movement, not yet including the ecology movement, was aborted by anti-war struggles which reverted to the pre-1960s vanguard type methods of mobilizing faceless masses to protest the war and put pressure on the state to end it,

Now, however, the concurrent crises of global warming, economic meltdown, and wars in the Mideast provide the opportunity for the movement of the 1990s to re-emerge on a higher level.

Milani, who is a carpenter as well as an educator, also explains how the evolution of Work and Culture since Marx and Lenin requires changes in revolutionary strategy.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the average worker was mostly a "Cog laborer," doing monotonous, repetitive and mind-numbing labor. Production was mainly of material goods. So revolutionary struggles were around quantitative issues: hours of work, wages, and the redistribution of profits or material wealth. Cog laborers also depended on liberal and leftist parties to represent them politically because they lacked the time and skills to do their own politics.

However, as Work in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has become more service-oriented, relational, and producing cultural goods like radio and films, it engages the minds and imaginations of workers. So today's struggles are more around quality of life and relationship issues.

Workers who use their minds and imaginations on their jobs are also more able to think and speak for themselves, making a more participatory democracy possible and leftist and liberal parties redundant.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries revolutionary strategy was directed towards gaining control of the means of production and/or the state. Nowadays our struggles are mainly to realize our human potential and to meet our profound need for community, for rootedness in place and for a sense of the sacred.

These human needs are not dependent on achieving state power or control of the means of production. To fulfill them we don't need hierarchical leadership or politicians to represent us. Their realization depends on our embracing the power we have within ourselves to relate to and care for one another in the conduct of our daily lives.

Thus, as Jenny Lee from the Detroit Summer Collective pointed out during the December 12 discussion, Milani concludes his article with proposals for community building remarkably similar to those already under way in Detroit City of Hope.


Mulani's essay can be read on the Boggs Center website

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