[sixties-l] Thinking and Acting, Locally and Globally

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Mar 28 2001 - 23:36:43 EST

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    Future Hope column, March 18, 2001

    Thinking and Acting, Locally and Globally

    by Ted Glick

            A couple of days ago I heard that 11,000 people had contacted the
    organizers of housing for the pro-democracy activities in Quebec City
    next month during the April 20-22, Free Trade Area of the Americas
    (FTAA) summit of government leaders. The FTAA is the latest in the line
    of NAFTA, GATT, the World Trade Organization, the Multilateral Agreement
    on Investments and Fast Track. It's another effort to legalize ever more
    extensive corporate destruction of the environmental protections, labor
    rights, health and safety laws and democratic rights we still have left.

            It's a good sign that so many people are going to Quebec to stand up
    against the corporate bully boys and their hired police. It's a sign
    that the spirit of Seattle is very much alive and well.

            Yet for some progressive organizers, these kinds of actions are seen as
    "activist luxuries." These organizers believe that they are about the
    "real" work of organizing at a local level around the issues affecting
    grassroots people, whether it be in a community or at a workplace.

            Perhaps one of the clearest expressions of this attitude is an article
    I read a couple of years ago written by a prominent, nationally-known
    leader of a populist, grassroots group that works very hard in mainly
    low-income communities around the issues affecting those communities.
    This person--let's call him Bill--described how, in the 1960's, he had
    been active in the anti-Vietnam War movement until he had an experience
    in which grassroots people he had begun working with decided not to
    participate in an anti-war action of some kind Bill felt was important.
    He ended up feeling out on a limb when he individually went ahead with
    participation in this action. In the article he described how he made a
    vow to himself that he would never again take part in a protest action
    unless he did so as part of a group of low-income, grassroots people.
    And he went on to explain how he essentially left the anti-war movement
    to go work full-time as a community organizer.

            I remember thinking at the time, what about the low-income, grassroots
    people in Vietnam and the rest of Indochina whose land was being
    defoliated and destroyed and who were dying in the hundreds every day
    because of the U.S. government's imperialist war? Didn't they count as
    "grassroots people?"

            Don't get me wrong. I believe it is absolutely essential that we
    organize grassroots people of all races and nationalities in this
    country around the issues that they believe are most important. Unless
    we do this work, there is no chance, none, zero, of our country ever
    being transformed in the fundamental ways necessary. I have been doing
    work like this myself for over 25 years. But I have also tried to link
    that work to broader national and international issues, sometimes with
    success, sometimes not.

            There's a famous saying, "Think Globally, Act Locally." Today, we need
    to think and act both globally and locally. In a world in which
    capitalism has been globalized, in which what happens in one part of the
    world has economic and other impacts throughout the world, there is a
    clear need to globalize resistance, globalize communications, globalize
    anti-corporate strategies. Many pro-justice activists understand this
    and are acting on this understanding.

            But what does this mean on a concrete, local level?

            If we really are working with grassroots, working-class people, of
    whatever nationality or income level, there is a natural tendency to
    keep these larger issues out of the picture. It's the same as when you
    are trying to deal with racism, sexism or homophobia or, in some
    situations, trying to bring in the need for independent politics.
    Although there is almost always something which comes up in the course
    of local struggles which has an organic connection to one of these
    larger issues, it is usually easier to stay quiet and low-key these
    connections. In doing so, the expectation is that it will be easier to
    win a short-term victory and/or build a broader base of support and

            In the short-term, this is usually true. But if we are genuinely about
    creating a society truly based on justice and democracy, in all aspects
    of life, if we want a world in which racism, sexism, heterosexism and
    backwards nationalism are being dealt with and increasingly dissipated,
    if we want a world based on environmentally-sustainable cooperation and
    not ruthless competition, and if we censor ourselves from raising those
    issues when appropriate and possible, then we might as well not even be
    in the organizer business. Global capitalism will continue wreaking its
    devastation even if we have temporarily won a small victory. We will be
    political schizophrenics, believing one thing but not being open about
    our beliefs with those we come into contact with.

            This dead-end approach to organizing, what I call "reformism," has deep
    roots in the history of the U.S. Left. Those roots have grown in the
    soil of a dominant culture which encourages separation of people,
    separation of people from their environment, separation of people from
    even their true selves.

            From my experiences and knowledge, many of those in the movement
    against the global capitalist system and its various "free trade"
    agreements are acutely aware of the destructiveness of this
    death-culture. That's a good thing. Many are about living their lives in
    a way that reflects values that are positive and life-affirming. And
    growing numbers are working in their communities and their workplaces
    against injustice and inequality at the same time that they actively
    participate in actions like the ones being planned for Quebec City, or
    in solidarity with the struggles of low-income, grassroots people in
    various parts of the world.

            We need some serious dialogue and stronger working relationships among
    those in this movement and those giving leadership to labor, community
    and other domestic struggles. We can each learn from one another. And
    together we can create a unified, pro-justice movement in this country
    with a real possibility of winning. Our objective can be nothing less.

            Ted Glick is National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive
    Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and author of Future Hope: A Winning
    Strategy for a Just Society. He can be reached at futurehopeTG@aol.com
    or c/o P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003.

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