[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]
Anthropology taught me ethnographers are expected to give their biases as a way to admit subjectivity, so I shall do that here. My name is Misty Autumn Novitch and I’m a 22 year old white LGBT girl who grew up in the
The following is a rough outline of what I believe our points of unity are within our movement for a Participatory Society. Particiety is the word I will use because I think it’s less Orwellian sounding than what I’ve been using until now – Parsoc. I also discuss where we can take our organization to the next level of organizing with like-minded groups already doing the work. I also suggest how we can reach out to new people who do not identify as revolutionary but who nonetheless have needs, hopes and dreams, and amazing ideas, and who, because we want a Participatory Society, have inherent worth to us simply because they are people. I try to use specific examples of how we can move forward since I feel we’re lacking much of the concrete practice aspect of the theory-practice connection.
I. The Three Loves
I believe "all we need is love" - we need to love ourselves, one another, and life itself, unconditionally, as a starting point to changing the world. Call me a hippy but I’m often asked, generally when I’m on stage dancing at my strip club or when I meet people in every setting possible, why my energy is so approachable. These three loves are the reason(s) for my energy. Approaching the world this way I believe gives me joy and cleanses my spirit, the way Martin Luther King Jr. said. I’m certainly flawed but I feel my spirit is free because I freely love everything and everyone.
"The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be."
-Dalai Lama XVI
A. Love for Yourself
I think we should all be of the mindset that we are perfect exactly as we are, though not better than anyone else. We have to have unconditional love for ourselves as individuals regardless of our successes, failures, and flaws. We each represent a unique individual manifestation of consciousness: you are a thinking, breathing, feeling human being with conscience, needs and wants, hopes and dreams, potential and flaws. You are beautiful.
If you regularly self-deprecate because you’re not being or doing everything you want the way you want, you may not be healthy emotionally, mentally, psychologically and this energy may transfer to others and affect your organizing. I find that if I’m disappointed with my lack of action or planning, I tend to unconsciously rag on my fellow activists for not doing enough because I’m mad at me. This is not to say that we cannot strive to hold ourselves and others accountable or not try to improve and evolve but that we must be patient, give ourselves a break, breathe, remember that we’re human, and try to figure out how we can do things differently next time. I believe this mindset helps us in all aspects of our lives and helps us become the whole, confident people that will draw others in a healthy way. I believe it helps give us the inner strength to be in it for the long haul, if you will.
"The activist is more important than the action."
-Steve Valk, RESULTS activist
In the documentary on quantum physics, "What the Bleep Do We Know?" the main character is anxious and angry because she has not made peace with herself – she does not love herself unconditionally. There seems to be scientific evidence to support this phenomenon of your mindset transferring into the physical world at large and how you deal with others – meaning your organizing and activism. You, as a person, are inherently priceless just for being you and you deserve understanding, patience, compassion, and support from yourself and others. I believe you should love you for you, but you should at least love you for the movement – we need you. Believe in yourself – in your own power, potential, and inherent beauty. The struggles outside and within ourselves are not truly separate..
B. Love for Life
When I went to a Native American sweat lodge ritual in
Loving yourself allows you to look around you and take in the beauties right before you constantly – you felt it as a child, didn’t you? Didn’t you used to be silly without thought to what others might think just because it was fun? Loving yourself allows you to love life, and I believe this allows you to love all others unconditionally as well. Believe that the world is changing; believe in our collective ability to survive and live fully; believe in a better world.
C. Love for others
Do you believe everyone is your brother, your sister, yourself? This kind of empathy and solidarity is the final check against any oppression, injustice, or system that perpetuates what we reject as "degrading to the human personality" (Martin Luther King Jr). If you "love the person doing the evil deed even while hating the deed" (ibid), you see them as part of an oppressive system and there is room for improvement. It is not that there isn’t individual responsibility or that individuals shouldn’t be held accountable, but if you come to someone to discuss an oppressive word or action or mindset you feel they have from a place of love and understanding, you’re less likely to give off negative, judgmental energy, body language, and verbal tone that may make them immediately defensive and therefore burn a bridge that may not yet exist but could. We can be true to ourselves and speak up about things that we disagree with or that outrage our conscience, but if we love ourselves and others, all others, we see ourselves in him or her and him or her in ourselves – the most important, powerful mindset conducive to a culture of solidarity possible, I believe.
"Look around and you will find
No one's really color blind…
If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
Even though we all know
That it's wrong,
Maybe it would help us
- "Avenue Q" the play
If you can understand why someone is against welfare (such as their parents started out poor and worked their way up under capitalism), why someone is pro-gun (such as they’ve been jumped and had no weapon to protect themselves), why someone is against affirmative action or more compassionate immigration policies, why a man thinks a woman is less capable of being in a position of power, why gay people make someone uncomfortable, why someone believes in capitalism or Marxism, etc, then you can relate to them, address their concerns, and start from a place of unity or at least love and understanding. If you love them regardless of their mindset or words or actions, or even show your commonality with these things and admit your own flaws, they will likely be more open to you, to others, to themselves. Additionally, this will help us to remain positively connected and continue to work with different kinds of activists and people who are similarly passionate, such as socialists, anarchists, Students for a Democratic Society, reformists, outraged citizens and affected persons. Believe in me, in her, in him, in everyone and all of us – believe in everyone’s power inherently and deeply – believe in their beautiful flawed perfection, individually and collectively – appreciate them even while you critique what you think is wrong, for we are they and they are us..
"The fact that each individual sees apathy in his fellows perpetuates the common reluctance to organize for change."
-SDS Port Huron Statement, 1962
Once we believe in ourselves, each other, and a better world, nothing can stop us. We must humble and wisen so we judge less and inspire each other more.
These three loves – for oneself, for life, and for others – are the key to setting us free – the key to a joyous life and a truly good society. That’s the ultimate bottom line. Though these don’t have to be achieved completely before organizing, I feel they must be constantly returned to. Feel happiness and joy with where we are, what we are, what we have, what we do, what we can do, and what we have already done.
"You are special
You’re the only one
You’re the only one like you
The world is better just because you’re here
You should know that we love you
Oh, you are special, special
Everyone is special
Everyone, in his or her own way…"
-Barney the purple dinosaur
II. The Three Assumptions
I’m writing this essay assuming a certain readership. I think it would help our movement to recognize the audience that we speak to. In writing this essay, I make three major assumptions about the reader(s).
1. Readers have read Michael Albert’s essay "Revolutionary Organizing" and Brian Dominick’s "Grassroots Dual Power." I draw heavily from the ideas in these essays and quote them extensively.
2. Readers have read or is quite familiar with the ideas and reasoning employed in "Liberating Theory" such as Complementary Holism (CoHo) and the visions proposed for a Participatory Society (Particiety) by Stephen Shalom (politics), Justin Podur (community), Cynthia Peters (kinship), and Michael Albert and Robin Hanel (economics).
Not only do I assume you’re familiar with most of the details of the visions, many of which can be found in "Real Utopia," but I also assume you are an advocate of at least many of the key aspects of these visions and the analysis tool of CoHo, as well as the values Particiety is based on (freedom or self-management, equality or equity, diversity, and solidarity). This would include not prioritizing any system of oppression as more important than any other but instead seeing oppressions as overlapping, interrelated, equal, and systemic, as well as advocating nested councils and a participatory polity, polyculturalism and standards of representation in the media, feminism and degendered caregiving, and participatory economics – no ownership of the means of production, balanced job complexes, payment for effort and sacrifice, and participatory planning.
3. Readers advocate at least some kind of structured organization to advocate for and help create a Particiety – perhaps the proposed International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS) described in Albert’s "Revolutionary Organizing." I also assume that the reader advocates and/or already employs a dual power strategy described by Dominick in "Grassroots Dual Power" of contestation using counter institutions – reforming, transforming, and/or destroying old outdated oppressive systems and institutions – as well as building and creating alternative spaces and institutions that embody the seeds of the new world today. I also assume the reader advocates, at least eventually, reaching out to other groups and people in society as part of the work or creating a Particiety.
Dominick compares two quotes that I believe represent quite well the biggest reason we must be careful when using the word socialist to describe ourselves:
"The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force, an organization of violence ... to lead the enormous mass of the population ... in the work of organizing a socialist society."
--V.I. Lenin, Bolshevik Party
"We wish not to seize power, but to exercise it."
--Subcommandante Marcos, Zapatista Army of National Liberation
III. The Three (Horizontal) Levels - Us, Other Activists, and All People
"Without some audacity, what ever gets done? Without risking failure, what success is ever achieved? …Why not us? And why not try to take first steps, however modest they must be, now?"
-Michael Albert, "Revolutionary Organizing"
As many Particiety activists have pointed out, in order to make the kind of revolutionary change we value, from the very beginning of revolution (now), we need a group or organization for the purpose of advocating Particiety and CoHo generally before we can effectively reach out to others. We need to have some points of unity, some of which I have assumed above.
On a rough first conference call I helped organize, Particiety activists brought up having a an organization for advocating Particiety. How could we learn from the mistakes of openness that plagued the new SDS? What would be the purpose of this organization?
One suggestion included ensuring we’re not completely open to all people of all different persuasions, at least not at first, so that we actually can focus on Particiety/CoHo and get things done. We can’t constantly explain or debate with others who don’t share our vision if we don’t have a strong core and organization.
However, we must also be careful to guard against too much exclusivity so that we can avoid vanguardism.
"The cure for vanguardism is strengthened individuality."
-Brian Dominick, Grassroots Dual Power
We’d do well to love and support ourselves and one another in this effort as the final check against vanguardism – to check each other and ourselves to stay humble enough to remember that we’re fighting for institutions and mindsets that respect everyone as an equal. We must think of practical ways we can fight vanguardism amongst ourselves and others consistently.
One concrete way to perhaps guard against vanguardism or at least "replication of those oppressive relations within the organization" (Albert) is to have "minority cultural communities, women, gays, and perhaps other constituencies within IOPS at many levels [who] would want to have a means by which they can engage with one another within their constituency" (ibid).
Another suggestion was deciding that we would base this organization (IOPS?) on our points of unity – believing in the analysis tool CoHo, some of the key aspects of the concrete visions of a Particiety, and the dual power strategy – destroying the old while building the new, as well as outreach. One suggestion that I think has particular value is connecting theory and practice in our own work and in the work of others – ensuring we’ve got a broad, strategic framework in terms of deciding what is to be done and that our practice matches our theory and therefore becomes more than simply a group of middle class academics discussing the future in terms of theory without acting to address problems that are affecting people now.
So I’m assuming we wish to have a somewhat exclusive organization built on our points of unity – belief in and advocacy for CoHo, Particiety, and dual power that would attempt to unite theory and practice in our own movement and in others. Let’s call it IOPS – the International Organization for a Participatory Society – just for now, at least.
So what would this organization look like and do? We can deliberate the details but I think "Revolutionary Organizing" is a great place to start. Here’s what he suggests as a way to structure our core:
"In a very real sense this future established IOPS…might develop its internal organization and carry out its external policies roughly as if it was a participatory society….
…Power over program and policy would arise from the base, which is to say from the local chapters, with large-scale policy representing a sum of local initiatives or arising from national or larger initiatives that are collectively and cooperatively agreed to by the whole organization.
Chapters would presumably often work together… like councils would work together in a new society's participatory polity, nested and federated into layers that address steadily larger domains and populations.
Each chapter…would presumably have responsibility for its own goings on, but with its agendas always decided in context of the IOPS overall umbrella of principles and priorities that all chapters contribute to determining and therefore readily accept. This autonomy with solidarity would…facilitate self-management in a setting of mutual entwinement. "
I feel we need to start intentionally organizing for a Participatory Society now for there is much work to be done and I believe a breaking point is nearing. Here are some steps I think we could take to intentionally begin this process:
1. We must personally commit to building this organization.
2. We must arrange (a) time(s) and place(s) and ways to meet up where we can verbalize and make our commitments official – in person offering probably the best atmosphere for decision making, community, and commitment building, but perhaps we could have a series of conference calls at first so we’re relating to each other more personally, or chat room discussions with our pictures and bios. There are plenty of people that are Z sustainers and/or that have been students at Z school. I’m sure the Z folks wouldn’t mind setting this up since they have access to everyone’s information – we should use Z as much as possible! Some of us in 3-4 cities have already had a rough conference call. Although it should certainly be addressed, we shouldn’t worry as much that there are fewer of us than there could be – we’ve got to start with who and what we have though we must also reach beyond ourselves.
3. We must agree amongst ourselves on some forms of creative outreach we can use to help build our movement, organize others, and individually and collectively create these tools.
"It has to start somewhere
It has to start some time
What better place than here?
What better time than now?
All hell can’t stop us now…"
-Zach de la Rocha, Rage Against the Machine
We will learn as we go.
We will never know enough about every situation and detail and worry. We’re not even done developing. We have to make sure us is not just us – that the development includes everyone because that’s what we’re going for. This is what all of us make it and we need others’ critiques, input, and passion.
It’s not just in the ideas and information – we have great ideas and information. It’s also in the delivery of our representations, understandings, and dreams of the ideas and information that we may capture someone’s interest or not. That’s why we must start to represent Particiety more deliberately. Literature and ideas written down in essays and books are important – these are how I learned about CoHo and Particiety. But we need more entertaining and engaging ways to talk about these ideas and to gather new ones.
This essay puts much emphasis on outreaching to others for several reasons:
1. We certainly cannot create a Particiety alone.
2. Without the input of all affected, regardless of quality or intention, we will become the vanguard – an elitist group that cannot see our own flaws.
3. There is currently an existing infrastructure fighting oppression in other organizations - fighting corporate power, racism, etc - that could be better organized and more overlapping if we bring CoHo to these activists
4. Most people are not activists but could be if Particiety were presented to them as a question: "What are your concerns? What would you like to change about the world? What would you like instead? Does this sound like a good idea?" Asking all people directly what they think and feel is a great way to engage people and if their responses are documented, such as using a video camera, it would also make a great outreach tool.
Hopefully you agree that we need massive outreach, perhaps even while we are starting to build our revolutionary organization, and certainly to start activating its projects. There are three things we must do to start massively reaching out to others for our kind of movement.
1. Show what we want – our alternatives – which is why we need our organization to see where we ourselves agree and disagree. It is crucial to have some universal literature, movies, stickers, toys, coloring books, zines, social sites, forums, etc. we can all use. We must use our creativity in our delivery of this information to be able to explain CoHo and Particiety in exciting way. Art matters.
2. Physically support what we agree with – what others are already doing to build new systems and tear down the old – by attending meetings, donating money, coming to events, passing out fliers, and generally doing the on-the-ground work.
3. Embody the seeds of the future by inspiring people to begin to believe that there are alternatives – to engage people directly and ask them what they think about how we could change the world.
I think we could bring the big picture and organized liberation and revolution that could unite various movements for justice, but we must start now, intentionally.
1. Other Activists
Perhaps a good place to start to speak about our ideas for a Particiety is amongst other activists who are likely more open to these ideas, and who even share and work on them.
In Atlanta, a party/fundraiser was held recently for all different revolutionaries around the area to discuss the Revolutionary Work In Our Times conference. At the follow up meeting after this conference, we in the Atlanta IOPS Chapter plan to encourage a more concrete discussion on the way to making perhaps a coalition of revolutionary organizations and individuals according to our points of unity while also putting our differences out on the table for all to know and see. Perhaps this is an idea for getting our name out there and working with other groups that have similar orientations.. Perhaps in the future, this coalition could have community forums to discuss the similarities and differences of our ideas and how we could move forward practically or work on projects together. Perhaps they could be recorded, edited, made into short movies, and put online on our youtube account, on facebook, in forums we will create or which already exist, and sent to the corporate and independent media.
I also think we must work with other activists who may not identify as revolutionary. Perhaps we could start a Better World Council or some other similarly descriptive name. We could invite organizations to sit at the table, perhaps having a forum at the next US Social Forum, where we agree on points of unity and discuss where our issues intersect – in short, how we can support each other. We can suggest that we set up this group according to Particiety principles (even though we don’t have to call them that) and encourage member organizations to ensure that their organizations are structured similarly as well. Activists will be crucial in deciding the way in which the new world will be structured so it makes sense to focus on them today. This way, we could have an equal seat at the table with revolutionary, reformist, and likely religious organizations, not to dictate what we think is right but at least advocate it equally in an appropriate forum with like-minded folks.
Groups that we could invite may include the Mad Housers, NAACP, the Huey P. Foundation, Eracism, Feminst Outlaws, NOW, United for Peace and Justice, the American Friends Service Committee, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Solidarity, Flobots, Interdisciplinary Studies departments at universities, unions, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, ONE Campaign, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) etc. We could go to their events and have combination events to forward all of our agendas and combine our ideas for how to engage communities and society generally. This way we show practical solidarity and take action while having an opportunity to help influence whether the analysis we support is employed in the organizations and coalitions doing the work on the ground today.
From our own organization and/or coalitions we’re involved in, we could creatively use Albert’s suggestion to Ralph Nader and perhaps put out an illustrated "What we’d do different" report that demonstrated how we would change things – the "shadow society’s" (Particiety?) monthly, weekly, daily commentary on what we offer as an alternative to certain oppressions, institutions, practices, programs, mindsets. Perhaps, like I suggest our outreach, language, and organizing ought to be, we can have an online forum as well as a zine or video collection of what individuals coming from roughly three different places suggest we can do – Participatory Society activists, other activists, and non-activists. These wouldn’t be stacked horizontally but would demonstrate that we come from different places.
2. Others Generally
Most people do not call themselves activists but think things should change though they may not know how change can occur outside of voting, if that, or simply don’t believe in themselves, one another, or a better world. So let’s get them thinking about it by engaging them! That’s the best way to show them what we believe, I think: besides beautiful descriptive art to deliver our vision, involve anyone and everyone in this process of building and learning. Additionally, we can’t really build alternative institutions without getting others involved. Activists would be a great start, but they tend to be overwhelmed and overworked as it is, and we don’t want people of one orientation, mindset, or culture (activists being predominantly white middle class) being the only ones involved.
My first suggestion, once we have some literature (perhaps an illustrated, colorful, simplified pamphlet on Particiety and our "What we’d do instead" report), is that we go into areas we don’t often go and engage people we don’t often engage.
I recently bought a video camera specifically for this purpose – I wish to engage strangers wherever I find them but also to seek out groups I normally don’t associate with, such as poor Black, Latino, Asian, and White communities in Georgia, outside of Atlanta. I will ask them open-ended and specific questions directly and record these interviews and make a short film about what people think (to see a rough example, see "We Are All Concerned Humans" by searching for nowisourtime on youtube) about the world, where we’re at, worries and hopes, what our problems and solutions are, and their vision for the future. I think people will appreciate being asked what they think and feel and will like to see themselves in a movie. I think making movies in this way is a great way to engage folks directly, have an excuse to talk to people you normally don’t, record not only their response but body language and verbal language, reach younger people who need to be immediately satisfied and entertained in today’s culture (something we have to face and participate in even if we don’t like it), show people who were interviewed and who see the video that they’re a part of something bigger, spark people’s interest in our movement, and give us an excuse to follow up with people. Additionally, these movies we make can be made into one big movie and/or used for outreach, though they must be edited and made fun, with music, text, and quickness. After the interview or even as part of it, we could tell the interviewee about Particiety, hand them artistic literature, and/or tell them about events we have coming up locally.
In Atlanta, we’ve noticed a couple problems with outreach that we believe we may have found a good way to address. In order to focus on a specific part of the Particiety vision with others so new people aren’t overwhelmed, and so that we do not start out meetings on less equal footing – with a new member knowing very little about Particiety and with the three hardcore members knowing it far more thoroughly, we have decided to begin to have article readings where everyone would read an article beforehand and we would then discuss it when we meet. This way, we’d all have the same amount of limited information and could focus deeply.
In summary, I think we need to start with agape love and constantly return to it, for people sense this energy and we need this love to be healthy. I think we need to have our own organization, at least at first, to help us non-hierarchically develop strategy, talking points, literature like "Particiety’s alternatives," and other outreach tools like movies.
I think we should form coalitions with other revolutionary and general activist groups to help us unite against all oppression in a much more strategic, permanent way (let’s utilize conferences like the US Social Forum) and who could help us host events where we could engage, inspire, teach, and learn from people we don’t often speak to. Let’s do this locally and have a mechanism to stay in touch with Particiety activists across the country and for new people to find and learn about and teach us, such as a forum on Z that allows a more social, artistic, easy-to-use blogging tool with video, decoration, quickness, pictures, colors (combining the best of myspace, facebook, and Z). My point is mainly that we must engage people wherever they’re at, activist or not, revolutionary or not, Particiety advocate or not, and we must inspire them with our own love and enthusiasm and fun outreach tools. Let’s make love, make a group, make coalitions, make pamphlets, make movies, make new friends, MAKE IT HAPPEN.