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
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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