my resoc interview
By Chris Dixon at Nov 02, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?
I don't have easy answers to this question, and certainly no formulas. In general, I believe that the institutions that we need for a just, equitable, and sustainable society are mostly ones that we can barely yet imagine. We will have to continue to develop them collectively and experimentally as we struggle against social relations of domination, exploitation, and oppression.
At the same time, I think we can see the broad outlines of liberatory institutions in many historical and current struggles from below. To me, what such struggles suggest is profound: the possibility of developing popular institutions through which people can manage their lives individually and collectively through a combination of direct democracy, delegation, and likely other forms of highly participatory decision-making. These are the kinds of institutions that I want.
In various areas of social life, I expect such institutions will take different forms. For one, I imagine organizations for self-governance that are not based on the state-form, but that instead make use of various kinds of interlinking horizontal structures. As well, I imagine institutions for production and reproduction - the kinds of "doing" that we currently associate with factories, households, stores, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and others - that operate based on principles of self-management, mutual aid, and sustainability, rather than profit and power-over. And to give just one other example, I imagine institutions for conflict resolution and justice that don't involve violence and punishment, but rather responsibility, reparations, and healing, all grounded in formal processes of community accountability.
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming year, or for your next ten years?
Honestly, I often struggle with this question. It's not always easy for me to see how my day-to-day efforts are tangibly connected to my long-term goals, and I'm rarely sure about what my work is accomplishing.
At the most general level, my goal is to contribute to fundamentally transforming the world. To do this, it seems to me, we need movements that are deeply rooted in the lives and communities of ordinary people, that have high levels of self-consciousness and intentionality, and that are visionary and audacious. I do what I do as an organizer, writer, and educator in the hopes of helping to build these kinds of movements. As I see it, this means inspiring and engaging people, developing our individual and collective capacities for critical analysis and strategic action, and encouraging and facilitating commitment and imagination in our struggles. This is what I aim to accomplish with my work. In some small ways, I think I succeed.
My goal in the coming decade is to continue to offer what I can to collective struggles for justice and dignity while also helping to build the foundations for the fighting movements that we so desperately need. For me, this particularly means contributing to the development and growth of new organizers - especially those coming from oppressed and marginalized sectors of society. In ten years, I hope to be working alongside tens of thousands of other radical people in North America who are seriously organizing in all sorts of communities and constructing alternative institutions that are actually capable of meeting popular needs.
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new organization is trying to form, internationally, federating national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say, yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved? If so, what are those conditions? Or - do you think instead that regardless of the content of the agenda and make up of the participants, the idea can't be worthy, now, or perhaps ever. If so, why?
I can certainly imagine plausible conditions under which I would say yes to joining such an effort. A few immediately come to mind. One would be that the organization-in-formation be explicitly and intentionally grounded in grassroots organizing work. Among other things, this would mean that it be oriented to the priorities and questions of those of us who are trying to build broad-based movements through organizing in communities, workplaces, schools, prisons, and so on. For me, another crucial condition would be that the effort have - or have clear plans for developing - a social composition that actually reflects the diversity of global left movements. And an additional condition important to me would be that the organizational initiative have a basic political agreement acknowledging and committing to struggle against multiple forms of oppression and exploitation.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future in the present? If not, why? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
Yes, I believe that we should be intentionally prefigurative in how we organize. But at the same time, I also think it's important that we understand the limitations on how much we can manifest our liberatory visions within our existing society. For this reason, I see embodying the seeds of the future in the present as always necessary and yet always imperfect and contradictory.
This has several implications for an organization I would favor. I believe that, to the greatest extent possible, such an organization should have:
- robustly democratic structures for deliberation and decision-making.
- mechanisms for prioritizing analysis, vision, and leadership from those who tend to be marginalized, even in left organizations; these include people of color, queer folks, women, working-class people, and disabled people.
- processes and structures for fully developing people's skills and capacities.
- mechanisms for identifying and sharing various forms of labor, including things that are usually considered important work (facilitating meetings, speaking publicly, writing documents, etc.) and things that are often not (childcare, taking care of logistics, checking in with people emotionally).
- procedures and structures for working through problems of power and privilege as they manifest and also for mediating other kinds of conflict.
- internal cultures that promote respect, appreciation, and comradeship.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
I answered this interview because I think it's absolutely critical to foster discussion about vision, strategy, and organization on the left, even when we have many disagreements and lots of uncertainties.
If others didn't answer these questions, I imagine this is because they have other tasks that have felt more pressing. I know that I've struggled with how to prioritize this seemingly abstract work when I have lots of other things to do.