August 2003
volume 1, issue 2



If you expect to see the final results of your work, you simply have not asked a big enough question.

- I.F. Stone


i. introduction: post-issue activism

Our planet is heading into an unprecedented global crisis. The blatancy of the corporate power grab and the accelerating ecological meltdown is evidence that we do not live in an era where we can afford the luxury of fighting the symptoms. As is often noted, crisis provides both danger and opportunity. The extent that these two opposing qualities define our era will be largely based on the appeal and breadth of the social movements which arise to address the crisis.

This essay is part of my own struggle to explore a politics that is commensurate with the scale of the global crisis. In part it was inspired by a profound strategy insight I received while watching a circling bird of prey. The raptor seemed to spend hours calmly drifting on the breezes, waiting and watching, then suddenly made a lightning quick dive to seize its prey. Had I only witnessed the raptor’s final plunge, I might not have realizing that it took hours of patient surveillance for the raptor to be in the right place to make a seemingly effortless kill. I was struck by what a clear metaphor the raptor’s circling time is for what our movements need to do in order to be successful. Social change is not just the bird of prey’s sudden plunge—the flurry of direct confrontation - but rather the whole process of circling, watching, and preparing.

Analysis is the most import tool in the social change toolbox. It is this process of analysis— the work to find the points of intervention and leverage in the system we are working to transform— that suggests why, where and how to use the other tools. Many of us are impatient in our desire for change and particularly, those of us from privileged backgrounds, are often times unschooled in the realities of long-term struggle.

I often recall the Buddhist saying “The task before us is very urgent so we must slow down.” This essay is my effort as an organizer who has been deeply involved in a number of recent global justice mass actions, to “slow down” a bit and explore some new analytical tools.

My hope is that this essay will incite deeper conversations about strategies for building movements with the inclusiveness, creativity and depth of vision necessary to move towards a more just and sane world. To do so, let’s begin by asking why aren’t more global north movements coming forward with systemic critiques? Why despite the increasingly obvious nature of the crisis, isn’t there more visible resistance to the corporate take over of the global political system, economy and culture?

The answer to this question lies in our exploration of how pathological values have shaped not only the global system but also our ability to imagine true change. The system we are fighting is not merely structural it’s also inside us, through the internalization of oppressive cultural norms which define our worldview. Our minds have been colonized to normalize deeply pathological assumptions. Thus often times our own sense of self-defeatism becomes complicit with the anesthetic qualities of a cynical mass media to make fundamental social change unimaginable.

As a consequence activists frequently ghettoize themselves by self-identifying through protest and failing to conceive of themselves as building movements that can actually change power relations. All too often we project our own sense of powerlessness by mistaking militancy for radicalism and mobilization for movement building. It seems highly unlikely to me that capitalism will be smashed one widow at a time. Likewise getting tens of thousands of people to take joint action is not an end in itself, rather only the first step in catalyzing deeper shifts in Western culture. Our revolution(s) will really start rolling when the logic of our actions and the appeal of our disobedience is so clear that it can easily replicate and spread far beyond the limiting definition of “protester” or “activist”.

To do so, our movements for justice, ecology and democracy must deepen their message by more effectively articulating the values crisis underlying the corporate system. We must lay claim to life-affirming, common sense values and expose one of the most blatant revolutionary truths of the modern era: the corporate rule system rooted in sacrificing human dignity and planetary health for elite profit is out of alignment with an increasing number of people’s basic values.

This is the domain of post-issue activism— the recognition that the roots of the emerging crisis lie in the fundamental flaws of the modern order and that our movements for change need to talk about re-designing the whole global system— now. Post-issue activism is a dramatic divergence from the slow progression of single-issue politics, narrow constituencies and band-aid solutions. Traditional single-issue politics, despite noble and pragmatic goals, is not just a strategic and gradualist path to the same goal of global transformation. Rather the framework of issue-based struggle needs to affirm the existing system in order to win concessions and thus inhibits the evolution of more systemic movements. Too often we spend our time campaigning against the smoke rather than clearly alerting people to the fact that their house is on fire.

Post-issue activism is the struggle to address the holistic nature of the crisis and it demands new frameworks, new alliances and new strategies. We must find ways to articulate the connections between all the “issues” by revealing the pathological nature of the corporate take over. To do so we must rise to the challenge of going beyond (rather than abandoning) single-issue politics. We have to learn to talk about values, deepen our analysis without sacrificing accessibility and direct more social change resources into creating political space for a truly transformative arena of social change.

To explore de-colonizing the revolutionary imagination, we must reference the history of colonization. The word colonialism comes from “colonia” a Latin word for rural farmstead. When the armies of the Roman empire conquered the peoples of Europe they seized the land and created colonias to control the territory. A thousand years later Europe came to be controlled by leaders who went on to mimic this cruelty, and force Western civilization ("a disease historically spread by sharp swords" ) upon the rest of the world.

Colonialism is not just a process of establishing physical control over territory, it is the process of establishing the ideologies and the identities - colonies in the mind - that perpetuate control. Central to this process has been the manufacture of attitudes of racism, nationalism, patriarchal manhood, and the division of society into economic classes. If we are to take seriously de-colonizing the revolutionary imagination then we must examine how these attitudes, shape the way we conceive of social change. Likewise we must remember that analysis is shaped by experience and that those who suffer directly as targets of these manufactured attitudes of oppression often live the experiences which create clear analysis. Effective revolutions listen.

In facing the global crisis, the most powerful weapon that we have is our imaginations. But first we must liberate ourselves from the conceptual limitations we place on social change. As we expand the realm of the possible we shape the direction of the probable. This means directly confronting the myths and assumptions that make a better world seem unattainable. To that end this essay endeavors to explore some tools to help us unshackle our imaginations and deepen the momentum of the global justice movements into a political space to fundamentally re-design the global system.

On a final note of introduction I wish to clarify that most of the ideas presented in this essay are neither new nor truly my own. Ideas by their nature quickly cross-pollinate and grow beyond any individual's role in their articulation. All activists owe a great debt to shared experience. I personally owe a great debt to many seasoned activists and theorists from across numerous movements who have shared their thoughts and helped me deepen my analysis. Likewise all of these ideas are a work in progress. They are intended to be tools to spark discussion, encourage debate and it is my sincerest hope that they will generate more questions than they answer. Questions are always more radical than answers.

ii. the doomsday economy

We live in a dangerous time, an urgent time, a time of profound crisis. Ecologically speaking it is an apocalyptic time defined by the sixth mass extinction , the destruction of the planet’s last wilderness areas and the forced assimilation of the planet’s few remaining earth centered cultures. Every ecosystem, every traditional culture and every subsistence economy is on the chopping block as the global corporatizers force their consumer monoculture "development" model (read anti-development) upon the entire world. Corporate capitalism’s inherent drive towards global domination has literally pushed the life support systems of the planet to the point of collapse.

Increasingly more and more people are recognizing that we are at a global turning point. The corporate take over— the latest offensive in the 500 plus year conquest of the planet by Western Culture — is being met with massive resistance around the planet. However, the elite planners and architects of the global economy seem incapable of hearing their multitude of critics and are continuing to push towards total commodification, assimilation, and a global corporate state.

Over the last few years as corporate power has begun to undermine the economic self-determination and political sovereignty of even the global north over-consumption class, resistance has grown more visible in the heart of it all— the United States. Unprecedented coalitions have formed, and different movements have been united in creative mass protest to slow the pace of corporate globalization. But slowing things down is one thing, replacing the doomsday economy with a democratic, just and ecological sane world is another. The global system is mutating. Although its roots remain sunk deeply in its history of colonial genocide, corporate power grabs, and ecological devastation the structure has changed dramatically over the past generation. The biggest element of this is the rise of the speculative economy. As the world financial sector has been deregulated and many countries have been forced to drop limits on investment there has been a widely noted transition in global economic priorities from the production of real goods to a global casino economy based on high risk short term speculation.

In 1986 the world’s foreign exchange markets were handling nearly $200 billion a day. By 1998 this figure had grown 8 fold to $1.5 trillion dollars EVERY DAY! Since the entirety of world trade is estimated to be worth about US $6.5 trillion a year that means that 5 days of currency transactions surpasses the value of an entire year of world trade. But the most important aspect of this so-called "financial revolution" is that the massive numbers represent growth in the speculative sector of the economy. Financial speculation has accelerated to the point that by the year 2000, for every one dollar of international investment facilitating trade in real goods, nine dollars were being spent on short term speculation.

Understanding the rise of the speculative economy is central to debunking the neoliberal myth of growing prosperity. The reality is that all the money circulating in the speculative economy doesn’t feed anyone, clothe anyone, or provide anyone with meaningful jobs. Rather the speculative economy is largely just rich people, through their corporate institutional proxies, using the money they already have to make more. This massive speculative economy is a powerful de-stabilizing force which threatens local economies and ecosystems. Speculation is the opposite of sustainability and encourages a deeper disconnect between ecological realities (limits, natural cycles of production etc.) and the arbitrary mechanics of financial manipulation.

Since 1980 the total value of the planet’s financial assets (money in stocks, bonds, bank deposits, and cash) has increased seven fold from $12 trillion to $80 trillion in 2000. These statistics are the "rising tide that lifts all the boats" and the "miracle of economic growth" that is the basis for the politician's promise of prosperity. But anyone (especially those unbrainwashed by the arcane logic of their economics) can see that surely seven more Earths haven't been created over the last 2 decades --- so where did all this new “wealth” come from?

Once we cut through the numerology and semantics we recognize that what economists call economic growth is really the liquidation of the natural wealth of the planet. Almost literally, they are destroying the natural economy of living forests to make an economy of disposable paper on which they print money to tell themselves how rich they are. It is a true doomsday economy which is incapable of seeing the natural systems which sustain life as anything other than resources to be extracted. The flawed accounting of the speculative economy hides the horrible truth that what the corporate globalizers call “progress” is really the Earth’s going out of business sale.

Our strategies must be informed by the fact that we’re not fighting that colloquialism once called in activist parlance “The Man”— these days we’re fighting the Machine. This machine is the culmination of the pathological world view that has hard-wired patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalist domination and ecological ignorance into the global operating system. The rich white (self-congratulatory) men who have always benefited from global domination continue to do so but ultimately they have created a runaway machine that is beyond even their own control.

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