Sharing Our Experiences
By Justin George at May 05, 2008
I wrote the other day about the inspiring life of Dave Dellinger in his autobiography ‘From Yale to Jail’. While I’ve been reading, I’ve also been contemplating ‘stickiness’. This may sound like I’ve been staring at the runoff on a maple syrup bottle but no it was hopefully more insightful than that!
While I was reading Dave Dellinger’s book, it (re)raised many questions or thoughts I’ve had that I thought I would put down in a blog. I will also put these questions on the ZNet Forums and I hope that others will respond and contribute their perspectives and experiences either with articles/blogs or in the forums.
The experiences Dellinger confronted throughout his life, which he documents in his book, are in many ways similar if not the same, to what many people and activists confront today. These include police violence, debates over violent vs. nonviolent strategy and tactics, corruption and unjust systems of authority, arrest and jail time.
The reality of these things, and being able to meet them face on, to be able to endure them can galvanize commitment or reinforce fear and uncertainty amongst people new to radical movements, or who are interested but have yet to participate.
I know these issues and others are still problematic for me in many ways. It’s not the broad or ideological implications of such issues, though important, it’s the practical details and knowledge that perhaps contribute to wider reluctance to join progressive efforts. By practical knowledge I mean, practical questions, information and support on things radicals often face like the realities and details of prison life, what support mechanisms do movements have? How do full-time or committed activists support themselves? How do people make a living while conducting these activities?
It is these types of questions that need examining in greater detail as part of addressing the wider ‘stickiness’ problem. Addressing such questions does not need a step by step guide, but general information and personal experiences that clarify the mysteries, counter-productive information or confusion that exists about such topics.
By providing information, people can then make thoughtful and informed decisions on the way they can participate radically, rather than being expected to take leaps of faith, to dive in to the proverbial deep-end. Practical information can illuminate consequences of actions. I think often these ‘negative’ aspects of radical efforts are minimized or avoided for fear of scaring people off. Perhaps they are viewed as not of importance? I feel it’s the opposite. That if its generally agreed that a large portion of the population know that those in power are corrupt, that millions oppose war etc, then a majority of people may be willing to act, wanting to act. Not having useful or insightful information on the consequences of such actions, of how power and capitalism respond and its impact on a person’s life, I think keeps people from more involved action, from a lifelong radical effort.
In Dave Dellinger’s book, he discusses his time in prison during the 1940’s for draft resistance during World War 2. While Dellinger’s insights on prison life are touching, illuminating and engrossing, they only touch at the realities. They are also dated and deal with a sentence longer than many activists may have to face. We need people to describe their experiences- from arrest at a protest for civil disobedience, to holding, to formal charges, of the steps that occur to get bail, to appear in court, of sentencing, of modern prison life.
Dellinger relates his experiences where he used his personality, his communication skills to win respect and protect himself and others as much as possible while in prison. While not everyone has the communication ability of a Dave Dellinger, how people manage in prison may also prove instructional and de-mystifying.
This is not to say that all radical action involves breaking the law, or being imprisoned, but it’s an example of something that many on the Left, or who may join radical efforts, face in their work.
A less dramatic but perhaps more pressing example is employment. I feel that for many outside progressive movements who are interested in such efforts, how to be involved and make a living is a large issue. The job expectations on the average working person often reduces or severely limits the time someone has to commit to radical or progressive efforts past occasional involvement. Coming from such a perspective it often seems that those who are involved in radical politics and progressive movements have been able to find alternative means of support for such efforts, or have created institutions or self-employment that isn’t necessarily an option for many people for a variety of reasons. While this may be the case for many, I’m sure it’s not the case for many more. We as movements need to relate and share how we’ve been able to participate in progressive struggles in committed and involved ways. How do we make ends meet? What are our jobs, how we find time, what negotiating do we have to do with our bosses, or partners and family to make the time needed to be more involved then occasionally? Do we find a balance, what are some things to be aware of, advice to give? For me at the moment, my partner has to work 8 to 12 hours a day to support both of us, our rent, our bills, our food while I try to study and become more involved in radical movements. Her support provides me with that opportunity. In return I seek to maintain our home, cleaning, cooking, washing, emotional support. That’s how I am able to spend more time writing, researching, participating in a new PPS effort here in
I think that to help encourage more participation in our efforts, to relate to working people, we need to reveal ourselves, our lives, our experiences much more. We must still present vision and critique, but we have to show not through dictation or providing step by step guides as such, but by revealing our personal experiences and feelings to show that people aren’t alone in their situations or feelings. That they can feel that others have had similar experiences whether starting work as part of a progressive movement, whether it’s a detailed description of what someone might go through if arrested, or how people try and live and participate, it helps understandings that progressive movements are living and breathing and made of real people, not just entity that’s difficult to penetrate or even imposing from the outside.
I hope that here on Z Net we can share our experiences more, to not only provide an educational resource for people, but to also allow people new or curious about radical efforts to connect and feel more comfortable and familiar with our efforts and valuable experiences.
(The questions presented here can also be found on the Z Net Forums)