Moving Forward: Notes on Reorganization, 2002 - Organize Resistance

Moving Forward: Notes on Reorganization, 2002 - Organize Resistance

This was a document written by a group of five activists attempting to create a project of revolutionary organization.

Prefatory Remarks, 2008

This was a document written by a group of five activists attempting to create a project of political and theoretical regroupment and revolutionary organization in Kansas City, MO, USA called Organize Resistance. The document was composed in 2002. This group was relatively influenced by C.L.R. James and the Sojourner Truth Organization. At its best it was involved in a variety of independent political projects from student organizing around the Prison Industrial Complex to political education. This organization dissolved itself in the Fall of 2003 due to its own ideological contradictions and personality issues, but nonetheless its statement raises particular questions regarding revolutionary theory and organization and may be of use to revolutionaries attempting to build organization today (even if its basic premises are broken with). Until now it has not been published, but existed exclusively as an internal document signed by the organization.

Thank you to the folks at libcom.org for their consideration in publishing this.

INTRODUCTION AND HISTO.R.Y

Though the core group of people who make up this organization was not fully assembled until the summer of 2001, the idea had existed since the previous winter. Attempts had been made to form a group of activists from Lawrence, Kansas City and Topeka, but those were aborted after internal conflicts and after preparation for the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) rally made further activity impossible.

The experiences of the FTAA rally (including the events surrounding it) made it even clearer that a new road needed to be taken - one that could reinforce all of the strengths of S.U.N. (Solidarity and Unity Now), while at the same time avoiding some of its key weaknesses.

Behind the concept of a new organization and included in the attempts to build it were some fundamental observations of the present movement. The following central questions must be asked in order to be successful:

What are the specific contradictions that exist in the present movement? What is the effect that privilege - in all its forms - plays in this movement? And most important, how will we avoid falling into these traps? How do we build an organization that can encompass the potential that exists in this country for a massive challenge to Capitalism? It is with these questions in mind that this document was written.

PROBLEMS WITH THE MOVEMENT

Many of the rallies, video showings, and other events organized by S.U.N. were a huge success by today's standards, both in terms of the sheer number of people they were able to attract, and in the feelings that were clearly created among many of those who participated, particularly normal (i.e. non-activist) people. Despite all of this, that is all they were - events. The lasting results attained through such forms of struggle, when left to themselves, amounted to little more than memories. What was clearly missing was any kind of avenue for prolonged, continuous involvement, both for the organizers and for the people who participated.

The fact that similar experiences were and still are being replicated across the country indicated to us that what we were dealing with was not the inexperience or individual backwardness of a few isolated activists, but a fundamental flaw in popular organizing methods. We came to the conclusion that a radical break with such tactics was necessary. In addition to these tactics, and intimately connected with them, are a number of generally accepted ideas which are common to most white activists, particularly those involved in the globalization movement. We cannot cover all of them, but a few of the most important deserve to be discussed.

Probably most important, and most encompassing, is the set of ideas and assumptions that stem from the privilege of the movement. The following example illustrates this pretty well: Modern day leftists are rightly concerned with the conditions of peasants, workers, and other oppressed people in countries such as Indonesia, China, or Brazil. This is good, as far as it goes. Above all, revolutionaries have to be internationalist in outlook - indeed, no serious challenge to global capitalism can happen without it being a truly global phenomenon.

Giving support to the struggles of people halfway around the world is an important part of such a vision. But what about workers in the United States? You don't have to travel to Asia to find a society with a murderous state, inhumane labor conditions, and massive poverty. It exists right here, but the privileges - in terms of skin, gender or class - of most activists make them blind to this. For example, many white activists are relatively ignorant of people of color within the United States - both in terms of their oppressed condition, as well as their struggles towards overcoming this oppression. When the U.S. situation is taken into consideration (which is not often), it is generally done so to display the ignorance, wealth, or, most of all, the "consumerism" of the citizens of the United States. Put another way, the people here are treated with disdain. Implied in this outlook is that it is U.S. citizens who are primarily responsible for the state of the world today, and that the best way to effectively challenge this responsibility is to "guilt" them into action.

We take a slightly different approach. Our understanding of the situation is centered on the belief that any social upheaval in the U.S. is going to take place as a result of revolt among the majority of the people. No organization, no collective, least of all the few people composing this document, will, in and of itself, create a revolution. It follows, then, that any organization that calls itself revolutionary should base its political practice off of the actions and exploited conditions of these masses.

To be effective, struggles must be organized around problems and issues that those being organized actually care about, not on the problems that we might think they have, such as consumerism. There are a lot of people out there who care about "the issues" and would get involved, if only they saw a group or movement that was actually serious about making the changes they see are necessary. The experiences (both positive and negative) of S.U.N. alone give plenty of evidence to this.

The problem, as we see it, is not with the great bulk of the people who are not active, it is that the few people who are consciously "involved" are not making the effort to facilitate the huge amount of potential that exists in this country for change.

Another common conception that should be criticized is that of coalition building. There is nothing wrong with coalitions as such - obviously, it would be difficult to accomplish much of anything without working with others. But before entering into coalitions we need to take into consideration some of the founding principles and histories of the organizations or persons whose involvement we are considering.

To give one highly relevant example - Pat Buchanan and his Reform Party oppose NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), just as we oppose NAFTA. But whereas the Buchananites oppose NAFTA because, among other things, it harms the white workforce of the United States, we oppose it because it harms the workers of all countries involved. The Reform Party argues for white nationalism, while we consider ourselves internationalists. Obviously, what is involved is not just a difference of opinion or focus, it is two fundamentally opposed world views. The same can be said for the anti¬war movement and some of the dubious alliances between Islamic Fundamentalists - who oppose almost everything we stand for - and the left. Joining with groups and people who hold opinions violently contradictory with our own might work if we were a single-issue oriented reformist organization, but we are not. For revolutionaries, any struggle for reforms has to be made with the end goal - the complete reconstruction of society - in mind, and approached accordingly.

A principal reason for oversights such as these is that few attempts are being made within the globalization movement to make sense of what is happening in the world today. Many activists are highly educated as to the nuts and bolts of globalization, prison industry, and other issues, but the big picture is often missing when such single issues are observed in isolation. Should the WTO (World Trade Organization) disappear tomorrow, we would undoubtedly have won a huge victory - but the system that created the WTO would remain. Nothing short of a revolution can change this. Capitalism has historically shown itself to be quite capable of containing any struggle for reforms within its boundaries, to the point that it often turns reform victories into new methods of social control for example, public schooling. The point we're trying to make is that what is needed is a theory that is capable of tying all of these seemingly disparate parts together into one inseparable whole, and in turn transforming the various struggles against those parts (work, prisons, the education system, etc.) into struggles against the entire system.

One of the most important things we did during the last year was study. We studied because the movement as a whole is undereducated, even purposefully anti-intellectual, to the extent that it is becoming a serious barrier to practical activity. The consequences of this shortcoming can be detrimental. Also harmful is the unwillingness among activists who are concerned with analyzing society to actually investigate the real content of ideologies with which they might disagree.

To give an example, one of the most insightful ideas we read was in a book written on organization by the name of What is To Be Done?, by V.I. Lenin. We do not make any apologies for this - in fact, we liked it a lot. But whether we liked what we read or not is not important. The point is that we read it, examined what Lenin had to say, and only then did we feel prepared to pass judgment on his opinions. This only seems like common sense, but for all too many within the activist scene, common sense does not prevail. Needless to say, this is a counter productive attitude. Without understanding the strengths and weaknesses that have characterized each of the past social movements, we can never hope to build on those strengths and avoid the weaknesses.

We do not expect everyone to agree with all we say or do. Actually, we would be pretty discouraged if that happened. Well-circulated criticism within the movement is a must if any serious, organized challenge to Capitalism is going to take place, but it has to be criticism based on investigation and open-mindedness, not on inherited dogmas. If, for instance, people think that Lenin was a dictatorial madman and it would be wrong to think otherwise, that's fine - but they should know why. In addition, open criticism should not be confused with gossip, as has often times been the case.

AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH

A new analysis of society is needed. We do not have and will never have all the answers, but we do want to be able to comprehend the world we are trying to change. This is a step in that direction. As we said, we spent much time during the last few months studying, and we hope to continue to do so, both collectively and individually. In addition, the general sentiment within the organization is that education should also play an important part in recruiting new members. This would mean study groups (political education) of some sort will come to play a large part in the general activity of the organization.

Organize Resistance was founded on a couple of basic assumptions: 1) the social system currently in place is inherently flawed. Through it, a countless number of oppressive and exploitive institutions are maintained; included among these are an exploitative economic system, the oppression of women, and the subjugation of people of color. 2) The only way that an effective opposition can be mounted to overturn this social system is through organization. O.R. organizes youth because they play an instrumental part in this process. O.R. does not promote a monolithic unity of thought, but in order for the organization to function properly, the membership should share these beliefs.

We have tried to briefly explain some of the main ideas presently driving this organization. For various reasons, this is an incomplete draft of our collective goals. Most importantly, like the living organization itself, this is a fluid document subject to change and criticism.

We do not really know what the long-term objectives of this organization will be, thus its future direction is uncertain. Furthermore, it would be a mistake to even try to outline any direction until we have some collective, organizational experience, which can serve to move us positively into the future. On top of all this, we have had some pretty big problems - such as sexism in the organization, inefficiency, and discomfort while disagreeing with one another - that still exist. These can only go away through concerted efforts on behalf of everyone, new members included.

So far, we have spent most of our time discussing methods of work, which are in our opinion short sighted or just plain wrong. The rest of this mission statement will be devoted to looking at some possible alternatives to these methods, as well as to shedding some light on topics yet to be considered. We see a need for redefinition of what participation means and how individuals and organizations seeking to make significant social change should operate. We also understand that decision-making needs to occur along democratic guidelines. We will now discuss these two concepts as we see them.

ACTIVE MEMBERSHIP

Moving forward as an organization encompasses many different aspects. An active membership is essential to infuse an alternative approach within an organization. In order to implement an organization's long and short-term goals; to establish a well-developed critique of the organization's actions and policies; and to have multiple members in leadership roles, participation in all forms must be tenaciously allowed.
The organization starts from a basic conception of society, a worldview, which all the members share, even during serious disagreements. The disagreements should be discussed, not only among ourselves, but also in public; we do not promote a monolithic unity of thought within the organization and we should not give such impression to the general public. The organization can only work if the membership is operating on common ground, using a basic set of ideas that will possibly lead us to very different conclusions on specific organizing activities.

Fundamentally, the membership needs to be active- both mentally and physically- within the organization. This requires a significant level of commitment on behalf of the individual, and any person who wishes to become a member should take this into consideration. Each person needs to actively take part in the decision making process. This includes, among other things, developing a concrete understanding of society and how it works.

Organize Resistance does not operate on a consensus model. Decisions are made by majority rule. In order to implement long and short-term organizational goals, a member should be focused and participate in organizational responsibilities.

Critiquing policies and actions is also imperative and an integral part of being a member. In order to critique policies and actions, a clear analysis is needed. The presence of multiple voices will allow diverse critiques. If multiple voices do not exist, it has been our experience that a sense of elitism will occur. For instance, when only a few people take on the necessary organizing responsibilities, such individuals have a tendency to be viewed as elitist, and a sense of "burn out" tends to exist which affects the entire membership.
hi order to change society as a whole, all people seeking to create change must take an active role. Creating a "sustainable movement" can only be established collectively. To deny the importance of collective action is to deny the successes of the civil rights movements, working class struggles, and other collective movements fighting against oppressive social conditions in the past.

Conversely, even if the individual disagrees with what is being done, the organization cannot properly test its decisions in practice if each and every one does not participate in carrying them out. A fundamental distinction has to be made here between critiquing the organization's activities at every step that has to be encouraged, and sabotaging them which cannot be done under any circumstance. Of course decisions can be reversed if the majority decides to do so- O.R. also believes in learning from mistakes.

One of the ways that O.R. hopes to operate is by transforming personal friendships into organization responsibilities. This basically means that the members of O.R. are not just buddies who are hanging out, but rather are people committed to coming together to bring life to the goals of O.R. This is not to say that everyone in the group will agree on everything or that disagreement is not permitted. In fact, the opposite is true.

But if the membership has responsibilities to the organization, it is equally true that O.R. as a group has a commitment to each of its individual members. The organization has to do everything in its power to make participation in the organization as easy as possible for those, particularly parents, who might find it difficult to attend meetings and other activities.

Being an O.R. member should be a mutually rewarding experience. It should be an opportunity for political discussion and change to take place in an environment in which people grow as individuals and as a community. We believe that in order for this to succeed, the above-mentioned aspects of active membership are key. A commitment to this shared community will ensure that O.R. is operating as it should- by helping people to grow and thus radically changing how society operates.

PROCESS FOR DECISION MAKING ALONG DEMOCRATIC LINES

The following is an attempt to define why it is we believe a method for democratically making decisions is needed, how it will propel the organization and a movement forward. Briefly we will outline what has compelled us to write such a process in the first place. That can be summed up in two words; our experiences.

We have come to the conclusion that such a democratic process is needed, mainly from our past experiences as people who have been in the center of organizing, as well as those who have been on the periphery of organizations. We feel both those two roles are contradictory for the creation of a democratic organization. For when a few stand in an inner-circle of decision-making they are exclusive, restricted, and unable to benefit from the participation of a larger group.

This in turns leaves those who are on the periphery apathetic, and unable to participate. We believe this to be damaging, and a retardant to the development of the individual or the organization. It is also our experience that when the avenues for participatory decision-making are not clearly thought out, negative ramifications will be multiple and counterproductive for advancing the movement.

Our goals for creating a true participatory method include formulating strategy that will encompass all of the member's ideas, concerns, and visions needed to move the organization into the future. We believe that this cannot be done in an environment where people feel isolated from or are unsure of how to participate in decisions. Such an atmosphere benefits no one.

The development of the individual occurs when a movement emerges that will meet the needs of all the individuals in the society. It is our desire to create a structure that will bolster and encourage all members' voices, and eliminate the privilege and isolation that has been associated with many of our past experiences.

We understand that formulating tactics and strategies of how to best organize our resistance, and our communities' resistance, is a process that must be based on education, inclusiveness, participation, and democracy.

Following is the method thus far devised, for ideas to be proposed and implemented in an intelligent, well thought out, and participatory fashion. There might be extreme circumstances that mandate that the organization make a quick decisive decision. It is very important to think of this method as a process that is not set in stone, rigid, uniform, or top down. Rather it is an open-ended method for democratically developing and implementing decisions through debate, and the articulate presentation of ideas.

It is best to think of this as a technique - a means of decision making- that will change over time. This technique has no timeline, and is a process that must be reviewed, along with the ideas that follow. All the ideas and proposals that are made through this process must be critically examined, discussed, and critiqued; it is only upon continuous criticism, examination, and the ability to change our tactics that we will be able to propel our organization and a mass movement forward. We live in a changing society so our strategies must encourage change.

The first part of the decision making process is the presentation of ideas. The best strategies for organizing are those strategies that have taken considerable thought. We are attempting to create an atmosphere that will encourage all members to participate, be well educated, and critical of all things around them, their organization included.

It is upon these conclusions that we have devised a structure in which members can present their ideas to other members in a way that creates an atmosphere for debate and democracy. It has been said that you cannot truly know something unless you can write about it. We would agree. We would also agree that no one else can truly know what you mean unless we can all read about it. Therefore, it is through the presentation of ideas in position papers written by members and delivered at meetings of the entire organization that seems the most practical for advancing ideas.

This can be accomplished through the following method. Members will be present and thus able to participate in a question and answer period as well as to voice any concerns they may have with the idea/proposal put forth. The presenter(s) should bring enough copies of the proposal so that each member will have a copy. Following a question and answer period the idea/proposal will be put on a future agenda for a vote of all members.

At this time anyone who has concerns with the idea/proposal that has been set forth can propose a future meeting in which they would like to rebut the idea/proposal.

Learning to disagree is vital for the future success of the organization. We must begin to learn to separate our ideas from ourselves. When two people have contradictory ideas about an idea/proposal, those people are not in contradiction with one another. We, as people who want to change society, must not be so vain as to think we are always right all of the time. Because someone may be attacking and criticizing an idea, does not mean they are attacking or criticizing the person who proposed the idea.

We must cultivate an ability to separate the two - the person from the proposal. For if we do not analyze and critically think out all aspects of the direction we are heading, we will not arrive at productive nor intelligent, and certainly not collective decisions. This includes scrutinizing the path we are on, as well as the one we propose to take.

At the second meeting where contending ideas will be heard, there must be time for a question and answer period. In the days following, each member should then thoughtfully consider all points of view. A third meeting of all members will then be called at which time a vote will be cast and a decision made by a majority of the votes.

This concept of a majority vote may come as a surprise to those schooled in the consensus method of activism. It has been our experience that consensus is generally a tool of hegemony and the opposite of autonomy and participatory democracy. It is our understanding that debate and disagreement is a positive and healthy thing. As stated, if everyone agrees on everything, that would more than likely be a sign that one or a few people in the organization are making all the decisions and that is exactly what we intend will not happen. We believe that an organization should be a democratic vehicle that tests its theories in practice, and that in order for these ideas to be put into practice all members must participate in the process of developing theories as well as implementing them in society.

It is essential that an atmosphere be created that promotes disagreement, debate, and criticism, without being divisive or factional. We hope to create an environment that will empower all to disagree audibly. If that does not occur, we as an organization will be recreating past mistakes. It is essential that members must be active and assertive in order to influence and promote growth.

We also foresee certain dire circumstances that will demand that the organization make a prompt, quick decision on a matter of great importance. An example of such a critical situation would be the hypothetical arrest and imprisonment of members. Such a circumstance would compel the organization to a rapid course of action to free the jailed member(s) and work on their behalf. The circumstances of any given situation will ultimately dictate how rapidly the organization will have to respond.

It is imperative to view this document as ever-changing to meet the needs of an ever-changing organization and society. This kind of participatory decision-making is needed to develop individuals, their ideas, and the organization of which they are a part. This method is one that has no end or beginning; it is a living technique for democratic decision-making not currently employed by the status quo. The process we have illustrated here is reflective of our collective experiences and nothing more. We view this process as a vantage point from where to begin, develop, and create the framework for a larger organization.

PROCESS FOR DECISION MAKING ALONG DEMOCRATIC LINES

Note: Not all organizational decisions will be made through the presentation of position papers; however, the basic decision making format should remain, e.g. the changing of meeting schedule obviously does not demand a position paper.

I. Presentation of Ideas & Proposals
a. Ideas/proposals should be presented through position papers that detail and highlight the idea/proposal being put forth by the member.

II. Where to Present Ideas & Proposals
a. Ideas/proposals should be presented to the membership through
organizational meetings. DI.

III. How to Present Ideas & Proposals
a. To enable all members the opportunity to think carefully about the idea(s) being put forth at meetings, we believe it to be beneficial for the presenter(s) to have copies prepared of her/his position paper for all members in attendance.
i. Ready made copies will afford us all the ability to read over the proposal at the initial meeting, as well as enable members to review it after the meeting.

IV. Question and Answer Period & Debate
a. Following the presentation of the idea/proposal, there will be a time set aside for questions and answers. There is no timetable for the Q&A session; it can go on as long as needed.
b. Also at this time, if any members are not in favor of the proposal being put forth, they should voice their opposing views by asking questions of the presenter regarding problems she/he may have with the idea. In addition to the question and answer period, there is another route for voicing criticism, which is the writing of a position paper that illustrates the contending ideas.
i. The organization should be notified if a member would like to present a rebuttal paper, so that it can be put as a future agenda item.

V. Voting on Ideas & Proposals
a. Voting will occur two times in this process, either:
i. At the initial meeting where the idea/proposal was made (that is if
there are no contenting ideas.)
ii. Or, at a future meeting, after all rebuttals and criticisms have been
made.
iii. *It is important to note that this process has no timeline or limit. A vote may occur after the first meeting, the third, fourth, or tenth, depending on the debate surrounding the idea/proposal.
b. A majority of the votes passes an idea/proposal.

AUTONOMOUS PROJECTS

The effectiveness of O.R. as an organization hinges in large part on the dedication and heightened level of activity of its membership. This we have established. But our success will rely just as much on the involvement of the largest number of people possible in struggles around the K.C. area - people who don't necessarily have the time, experience, or desire to join an organization such as ours. Organizing projects have to be developed that include space for the involvement and political development of such people. What follows is a rough outline of how this might work in concrete terms.

Autonomous projects, simply conceived, are campaigns, programs, and even organizations that O.R. members participate in and materially support, but don't control. Ideally, they will be able to attract broad numbers of people to organize around issues that they can identify with. Organize Resistance won't necessarily initiate them, though this will probably happen. A hypothetical example would probably help clarify what is meant:

Quote:
Police brutality is a recognized problem in Kansas City and America in general. Many who otherwise wouldn't be familiar with O.R. or any of its members' past activities would enthusiastically participate in an organization that was effectively lighting police brutality. The experiences of Copwatch programs around the country have shown this to be the case. But those same people might be sexist, or support the war on Iraq, or love the Democrats. Or they might agree with everything we say, but not have enough time to be a full fledged O.R. member. It would be sectarian to deny the participation of such people. An autonomous Copwatch program - one that O.R. members participate in, but is not made up entirely or even mostly of O.R. members - would be the only way to ensure the participation of a large number of people, while at the same time maintaining our identity as a revolutionary organization.

OUR INVOLVEMENT IN AUTONOMOUS PROJECTS

As has been said, by their very definitions, autonomous projects have to be completely self-motivated and free from the control of any outside organization if they are to be successful. Our involvement within them has to be supportive, not controlling. So what will O.R. members bring to the table? Most obviously, there is the material support that we can provide. Any organizing drive requires fliers to be made, reports to be given, rallies to be organized, and so on. This type of activity will obviously be essential, but O.R. will hopefully also have a unique set of ideas to introduce to participants in such projects. Programs like Copwatch lead to much deeper questions about the social control role that police play in America and the legitimacy of official society itself. The task of revolutionaries working within Copwatch would be to raise and answer those questions. O.R. views capitalism, not this or that police department, as the real problem. Making the connections between the two - and even more importantly, making the connections in a way that people can relate to - will be a key task of this organization.

CONCLUSION

We realize that this document leaves many questions to be answered. To a large extent, that's because the organizing method laid out above is, more than any position put forth in Moving Forward, based on speculation rather than experience. Whether or not it will work in practice has yet to be determined. But the only way we can know for sure is to engage in the struggle using the method and critically appraise our experiences. The document should be looked at as a working model that we hope to improve on or possibly discard if it doesn't work out.