volume 1, issue 2
DE-COLONIZING THE REVOLUTIONARY IMAGINATION
One of the biggest pitfalls activists face to effectively articulating the values crisis is the fact that the category of protester has been constructed to be highly marginal by the establishment. Within the pathological logic of corporate capitalism dissent is de-legitimized to be unpatriotic, impractical, naïve or even insane. Unfortunately radicals are all too often complicit in our own marginalization by accepting this elite depiction of ourselves as the fringe.
The reality is that the neoliberal policy writers and corporate executives who think the world can continue on with unlimited economic growth in a finite biological system are the wackos, not us. We are not the fringe. We can frame the debate. In fact as Paul Rey’s research has shown us a sizable percentage of the population already shares our commitment to cultural transformation, all we need to do is reach them.
The significance of the recent mass actions against corporate globalization has not been our tactics. Movements aren’t about tactics – take this street corner, blockade that corporate office – movements are about ideas. Movements are about changing the world. When we say a better world is possible – we mean it. We want a world that reflects basic life centered values. We’ve got the vision and the big ideas and the other side doesn’t. We’ve got biocentrism, organic food production, direct democracy, renewable energy, tree free alternatives, people’s globalization, justice and what have they got? Styrofoam? Neo-liberalism? Eating disorders? Designer jeans and manic depression?
In a context where the elites hold so much power, almost all our actions are symbolic. Accepting this can be one of our greatest strengths and help us realize that the most important aspects of our actions are the messages they create. We must exploit the power of the narrative structure and weave our ideas and actions into compelling stories. Inevitably our broadest audience will start their interaction with new ideas as spectators. Thus our campaigns and actions must tell inclusive inciting stories that create more and more space for people to see themselves in the story. We must tell the story of values crisis. Stories which make people take sides – are you part of the sickness or are you part of the healing? Are you part of the life affirming future or are your part of the doomsday economy?
The first step is to separate dissent from the self-righteous tone which many people associate with protest. This tone can be particularly strong in activists from privileged background who are invested in visible "defection" as a way to validate their resistance. These politics of defection by their very nature create obstacles to communicating with the mainstream and frequently rely on symbols of dissent and rebellion that are already marginalized.
We need new symbols of inclusive resistance and transformation. We need new memes – the basic units of information – to convey the values crisis. Memes are viral by nature, they move easily through our modern world of information networks and media saturation. We need to be training ourselves to become “meme warriors” and to tell the story of values crisis in different ways for different audiences. We must get a better sense of who our audiences are, and target our messages to fit into their existing experiences.
We need to be media savy and use the corporate propaganda machine. Not naively as the exclusive means of validating our movements, but as a tool of information self defense to oppose the information warfare being waged against us. The corporate media is another tool to name the system and undermine the grip of the dominant mythology. While we spin we simultaneously need to promote media democracy and capitalize on the alternative and informal media and communication networks as a means to get our message out. Our movements must become the nervous systems of an emerging transformative culture.
It’s essential that we frame our ideas in such a way that as
people wake up to the crisis they have the conceptual tools to understand
the systemic roots of the problem. Over the next decade as the global
crisis becomes more visible we won’t have to do much to convince
people about the problem. Rather our job will be to discredit the
elite’s band-aid solutions and build popular understanding of
the need for systemic solutions.
This is the strategy of leap frogging, a way of dealing with the
political road-blocks we find crippling almost any basic progress
on confronting the glaring problems of our times. Leap-frogging is
one way of confronting colonized imaginations and entrenched power
holders by defining issues in such a way that public consciousness
leap-frogs over limiting definitions and elite solutions. This means
having the skill and courage to articulate design flaws and avoiding
concessions that dead end in inadequate reforms.
There are any number of macro-issues that when framed correctly can help us name the system. Global warming, commodification of basic human needs from health care to water, the rate of technological change, increasing racism, the spread of genetic pollution, ongoing violence against women - are just a few examples which can tell the story of values crisis. The challenge is not what issue we work on but how we avoid being pulled into the regulatory and concessionary arenas that dictate single issue politics.
Knowing that the rules of the political game are already stacked against us, the anti-corporate rule mobilizations of the past few years have chosen to expand our political framework by taking our actions into the streets. The politics of protest and confrontation have created new political space but how can we insure that this builds towards a truly transformative arena of struggle?