Thursday, August 7, 2014
There's Something Happening Here
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear…
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look--what's going down?
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
A gettin' so much resistance from behind…
Everybody look--what's going down?
We better stop, now, what's that sound?
Everybody look--what's going down
(From “For What It’s Worth,” Stephen Sills, Buffalo Springfield, 1967)
The Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico sponsored the conference “Moving Beyond Capitalism” (with a variety of partnering activist and scholarly organizations) which was held from July 29 to August 4. About 200 participants came from Mexico, the United States, Central America, China, and Israel. Some were progressive academics, others community activists, environmentalists, film makers, artists, and trade union representatives. The support staff included activist retirees, mostly United States citizens, who live in San Miguel.
The conference reflected on visions of grassroots transformations of economic, political, and physical environments everywhere on the planet. There were debates about workers’ democracy, cooperatives, a green socialist agenda, and the salience of the spread of protest all across the globe driven by exploitation, authoritarian institutions, environmental devastation, hunger, and violence.
Cuban philosophers and economists spoke about the reforms being carried out in their country to stimulate further economic sustainability and human development. A centerpiece of the Cuban reform strategy, they argued, was building workers’ cooperatives in both the rural and urban sectors. Others spoke of their research on forms of workplace democracy and cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and Argentina.
Several participants emphasized the environmental imperatives that must be incorporated into any efforts to move beyond capitalism. Data was presented that showed conclusively how threatened planet earth is by carbon emissions and that immediate steps must be taken to begin to reverse climate change.
At virtually the same time the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York office assembled about 100 progressives, mostly from left organizations and the media from Europe and North America to discuss “Mapping Socialist Strategies.” Panelists and workshops addressed the impacts of and responses to neoliberal economic policies, protests against austerity programs, recent political mobilizations including the teachers strike in Chicago, and efforts to expand cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. Most critically, this conference addressed rebuilding the Left in the Global North addressing key questions about the labor movement, community organizing, electoral politics, political education, and alternative media.
Most recently, Sarah Lazare of Common Dreams reported on the opening of a conference in Richmond, California, on August 6, titled “Power Without Pollution: Communities United for a Just Transition.” This conference, attended by hundreds of activists from organizations that represent indigenous people, people of color, and working class whites, addressed the need for social equality and environmental sustainability. Diverse grassroots groups were represented including the Climate Justice Alliance, the Black Mesa Water Coalition of Arizona, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Cooperation Jackson of Jackson, Mississippi, Southwest Workers Union of San Antonio, and the East Michigan Environmental Action Council.
One participant, Mascarenhas-Swan, said: “We are here to connect our struggles for food sovereignty, zero waste, clean community power, and finding ways for people to stay rooted in neighborhood. It takes roots to weather a storm, and the storm is here.”
What does this flurry of meetings and discussion mean?
First, the deepening crises of global capitalism, manifested in growing economic and political inequality, hunger and disease, violence, racism and sexism, and life-threatening environmental destruction are bringing activists together. They come from many political backgrounds, demographics, and regions of the globe. They see the need to dialogue, plan agitation, and build new 21st century organizations to respond to the life-threatening crises.
Second, participants are drawn together because of the deepening pain and suffering of economic austerity, the policies most people around the world refer to as “neoliberal.” Data indicates conclusively that the gaps between rich and poor in and between countries has widened, the number of people living in poverty on a global basis has grown, and jobs providing livable wages are shrinking. The future, particularly for the young of planet earth, is looking bleak. Protests all across the globe are driven by these stark economic realities.
Third, participants at these and other assemblies assume that there is an inextricable connection between human beings and nature. Global capitalism, everyone realizes, not only destroys lives because of hunger, inadequate health care, and poverty but the land, the air we breathe, and the climate. Years ago ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote eloquently of the loss of the “land ethic,” a sense that humans and nature are one, not adversaries. And, it is capitalism that destroys this unity.
Fourth, the meetings suggest, now more than ever, that building a more humane future requires connections between workers of all races, genders, nationalities, professions, and political ideologies on the Left. As suggested by the new Moral Mondays campaigns in parts of the United States, 21st century progressive politics must be based upon “fusion,” that is uniting around the many issues that motivate people to act.
Fifth, these meetings represent metaphorically the struggles to survive that are going on everywhere: in the streets of Athens, in Soweto, in Cairo, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Wherever people are suffering economically or are breathing coal dust, or are threatened by the loss of water, or are being evicted from their homes, activists are rising up.
Sixth, while not the subject of these conferences, it is clear that hegemonic states and ruling classes are increasingly using violence to undermine the mobilization that characterizes our age. From bombs, to subversion, to the transfers of billions of dollars of military equipment, to the use of police forces to beat, arrest, and kill the rebellious, the struggles between repression and resistance escalate.
And as the song says:
There's somethin' happenin' here
What it is ain't exactly clear…