a better world
is probable
  1. Quick feelings on building occupations

    April 11, 2009

    Lots to get out after today, funny thing is I didn’t even take advantage of my day off as much as I probably should have. Work was slow today, so they told me I didn’t have to come in. This is a problem, but I tried to make the most of it and not stress.

    I heard early this morning about the occupation at New School University. I have some mixed feelings. Of course, I think that the level of aggression the police used was brutal and going far and beyond the limits any “law and order” type officer would or should use. That being said, I think that this last occupation at NSU and the one most recently at NYU present real opportunities for radical/progressive students to evaluate our approach to strategy and tactics, and take a critical approach to an organizing logic I’ve seen brought up several times now.

    Many in the radical student movement at NSU and NYU talk about building occupations as “ends to themselves,” that it’s a mistake to treat this tactic as a “means to an ends.” I think the consequences of the most recent occupations at NSU and NYU should push many of us to take a more critical stance to that arguement, and to think much more objectively about the standards we use to evaluate our successes and failures.

    Here’s a pattern I’ve been noticing: 10 – 15 students occupy a building. Shout some slogans like, “Student Power!” “Occupy!” or some other such thing. They wave some flags, drop some banners, and write any variety of communiques, manifestos or blog posts. They make some passionate and dramatic YouTube videos documenting the whole scenario, until, inevitably some cops come and ruin all the fun. They make arrests and then a ton of students cry “shame” (literally). Few if any students wind up joining the movement, or becoming active participants in long-haul struggles for change, coalitions are rarely built, things remain pretty much the same (except, perhaps, for those who directly participated).

    Furthermore, few students actually take this as a real chance to self-examine the state of the movement, the strategies we use and the tactics we employ. Instead, we lambaste the cops for doing what we know they’ll do every time. I mean, at a certain point is exhausting to get angry for something rather predictable. Rather than do what everybody expects us to do–yell at the cops, protest even more, with little success–let’s reflect.

    If our standard for success in these cases is “did we occupy a building?” Than the occupiers won (by their analysis). However, I think most of us are working for much much more than that (and I suspect wouldn’t find the sacrifices made to meet such standards terribly efficient). If you’re concerned, like I am, with more broad, fundamental change, than I think we need different standards for success.

    Our power to win change comes from people, and getting lots and lots of people to pressure decision-makers in a number of dynamic, creative and ever more militant ways (two of my favorite essays describing this in more detail can be found here and here.)

    If that’s accurate, than it follows our tactics should 1) expand our base of support, 2) move supporters more into the leadership of our movement; increase their confidence and level of commitment, and 3) broadly raise constituents consciousness,  and advance a radical narrative around key issues. I shouldn’t treat each of those standards as a priori but this isn’t an academic approach–it’s an effing blog post. The point I’m making here is that we need to use tactics that bring more cohesion to our movement in the form of recruiting “neutral” folks, and at the same time strengthen the leadership, unity and commitment of people on our side.

    So, if it’s the case that what some critics are claiming (and I happen to agree) is true, and that these most recent occupations at NYU and NSU alienate more people than they recruit, that the costs are higher than the gains, than we should take those criticisms seriously and not just blow them off as “liberal”or whatever. In the words of Stokely Charmichael, (who popularized  the term “Black Power” and founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) if we are revolutionaries than we have “a responsibility to succeed in making revolution.” Part of that is being open minded and self-critical, and not clinging dogmatically to any one strategy or tactic. We all have a responsibility to growing our movement together, and learning from our victories and our failures.

    All that being said, I should clarify. I’m not saying all that to suggest anything that questions the commitment of anybody involved in those specific events. I’m merely suggesting that we use the heat of the moment to evaluate our strategy and tactics.

  2. Detroit and Labor’s Green Jobs Future

    March 31, 2009

    “We’re living somebody else’s vision for our city.” Donele Wilkins, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

    Detroit has a 22% unemployment rate. It is the poorest major city in the country and has the highest rate of segration out of every other city in the nation. The city counted over 45000 ecologically contaminated sites before they just simply stopped counting. The mayor, Dennis Archer, in the early 90s tried declaring the entire city a brownfield site. Detroit needs a green jobs future that will clean up Detroit’s environment and bring jobs back to the city that can lift poor residents out of poverty.

    I was inspired today at a forum on bringing green jobs to Detroit at the IBEW Local 58. The event was held by the Sierra Club, AFL-CIO and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, but there were tons of different groups and organizations represented there from the labor, environmental and social justice movements. The three speakers covered the issues that link the environmental and labor movements together and how we can work to build a stronger “blue-green alliance.”


    IBEW workers installing solar panels.

    One of the first things I noticed when taking my seat in the union hall was the banner for the electrical workers union hanging on the wall (I didn’t have my camera, sorry there aren’t pictures from the event). The banner looked different than the other, older banners. This banner had a more modern look to it, with solar panels on one side, and turbines on the other, with a green outline of Michigan in the center.

    The first speaker was Jesús León Santos of CEDICAM (the Centro de Desarollo Integral Campesino de la Mixteca) from Oaxaca, Mexico and has been at the frontlines in battling against NAFTA policies killing indiginous rights and the climate. After Jesús the President of the Michigan AFL-CIO brought together how people working for climate protection and green jobs in the US can work with labor in battling against free-trade policies that take away peoples jobs as well as give corporations the freedom to circumvent climate protection laws by moving dirty operations from vulnerable communities in the States, to other vulnerable countries overseas. She reminded us that we shouldn’t let the message of green jobs from it’s original meaning. Green jobs aren’t just any job that somebody gets manufacturing wind turbines, but they’re good, secure jobs too. They’re jobs people can earn a good living on. In a green job, people won’t worry about how they’ll take care of their family, or if they’ll have a job next month. In a green job, people won’t have to worry about getting fired if they decide they want protection with a union.


    Green, union jobs, now!

    Next a representative from Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice spoke about the work being done to train Detroit residents in  the growing green energy sector through community run training programs. She talked about how the desperate situation in Detroit leads many people to take jobs in dirty industry even though they’re aware of the destruction those industries cause (often because they live in the midst of it). She quoted one worker saying, “If we were commissioned to construct our own gallows we would.” We need to start building a vision of environmental justice for our city, that will clean up the brownfields across the city–legacies of the industry that was the mainstay of Old Motown–and bring jobs and financial security to people of the city in jobs that can protect the environment.

    I took the podium when it was time for questions. I wanted to know more about areas that greens and labor can work specifically on to strengthen our alliance and also ensure that the green jobs of the future will be good jobs that ensure a good livelihood for the people that work in them. A speaker for the Sierra Club responded by talking about the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), an act that restores workers rights to safely organize unions in their workplace without fear being fired or punished by their bosses. Unionized workers will have better, more secure livelihoods and are at the frontlines against dangerous pollution, since they work with it everyday and will have the power to force their or workplace to reform production. You can go here to sign an online petition for the EFCA.

    I was so inspired by the conversations that took place at tonight’s event. I hope that this is a conversation that happens more frequently both in Detroit and across our entire movement. I think that it’s not enough to just talk about green jobs, and that we need to start talking about what those jobs look like. As the auto industry continues it’s downward spiral Detroit’s fate becomes more uncertain. During his campaign President Obama promised to get 1,000,000 plug-in hybrids on the streets by 2015. But autoworkers were also just dealt a blow as ex-President Bush, as a last stand against organized labor on his way out, forced workers to take serious concessions in wages, benefits and job security (as a condition of the bailout package). So will the green cars Obama is promising us be made by workers with poor wages and security, or will they be made by workers who have everything they need and deserve?