Moving to Action

by A. Daniel Roth

Holism and Dual Power
A holistic view of the world demands that we be agile in our organizing toward societal transformation. Holism demands that we understand the problems of our world as interconnected. This interweaving of spheres informs our vision for something better as well. The strategy that we use to get from where we are to where we want to be must also be shaped by our holistic position, and further emphasis on our movement’s strategy is a necessity.

When we view the world through a holistic lens, the world can become confusing. Issues blur into one another. For example, economy becomes intertwined with community, while politics and interpersonal relationships become indivisible. All of the models that we use to organize our perspective(s) begin to climb on top of one another and create an interesting and confounding mess in our minds. Holism may seem intricate and elaborate. Because the world is complex, our movement must have a complex understanding of the challenges we face. There is, however, a fairly simple way of framing all of this.A holistic analysis of the world as it is today creates a web of issues, touching on economy, politics, community identities, human relationships, and environmental sustainability. These spheres are useful to imagine as an aid for envisioning solutions to the problems that we, as a society, face. We often speak of dual power as a model for getting from the present to the future. Dual power emphasizes the importance of creating both alternative institutions and counter institutions in order to move towards our vision. Briefly, alternative institutions are those which embody the spirit of our vision for a better world. Counter institutions play three roles: They protect the alternatives that we build, challenge the oppressions that surround us, and attempt to convince ever widening circles of people that our holistic vision is on the mark.

Dreams and Experiments
Our task is to engage in building a movement towards a society that is participatory, democratic, equitable, and just. This can be done by building toward our visions today (alternatives), and by cultivating partnerships and changing minds, struggling against inequity and injustice, and protecting our visionary structures (counters). We need to be able to describe these institutions with a bit more specificity than the above broad strokes offer. Alternative institutions can fit into one expansive category for now. These alternatives are the structures, organizations, unions, and communities of the future, but now. Alternative institutions can be egalitarian worker collectives in factories, classrooms, and office buildings. They can be food co-operatives, which provide healthy sustenance in our many food deserts. They can be experimental, democratic schools. They can also be participatory community councils. These don’t cover all the possible alternatives that we can begin to build right now, but they are a few examples of institutions that can start to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal.We need to be building towards our visions and experimenting with our dreams right now. Alternatives, if it is not already clear, are supposed to exemplify the world that we want to live in. The alternatives that work will eventually cease to be alternatives. Instead, they will become mainstream institutions as we succeed in our work. Believe it or not there are thousands of beautiful examples of alternative institutions all over the continent and around the world. Some of them are becoming the norm in their societies. We need to continue to build radical media outlets, participatory councils in our communities, collective workplaces, and democratic day cares and schools.

Making change happen takes more than experimenting with building our visions for the future in the present. A sustainable movement needs to address the very real need to support and protect the alternatives that we build. Counter institutions are meant to defend the alternatives and draw people toward our movement. A public alternative school program that is under attack from the political Right needs people who are willing to protest cuts to education budgets and occupy the school board building. Ensuring that access to reproductive health care is safe and legal requires political advocacy and education for communities. Changing the way we interact with our environment demands us to gather together millions of people in order to educate ourselves, change our policies, and stop those who would put profit before life.

Three Paths to Action
Counter institutions safe guard our alternatives and engage people in our movement in three ways:

  1. Advocacy

  2. Communication

  3. Direct Action

Advocacy encompasses activities such as political action in elections, encouraging people to vote, lobbying, and even meeting potential funders for our movement (yes, the non-profit model perpetuates capitalist oppression as much as the next model, but as we move forward we will find ourselves moving away from it). Advocacy is an important example of working for non-reformist reforms. To put it simply, we work for achievable change while keeping our eyes on the prize. Non-reformist reforms are about working for the small wins, while being explicit about our larger goals and vision.

Advocacy, to some extent, can be defined as working within current power structures. It is an important part of our movement because, without people working for reforms within mainstream institutions, we can never hope to pull the mainstream toward liberation. While we work for reform through advocacy in the short term, we recognize that it is certainly not enough. Advocacy ensures that we enjoy wins as we walk the path toward revolution.

Communication is another way of saying education. Communication involves writing, art, teaching, journalism, and any other way that you can think of to get our message out into the world for people to see, read, hear, and think about.

Communication describes the act of engaging in dialogue with individuals, organizations, communities, mass movements, and society at large. The art we make, the writing we do, the media we post online, and the groups we educate are all opportunities for us to allow people to engage with our ideas and join our movement.

Without communication we can’t expect anyone to agree with us or join us. More importantly, communication allows the world to know that we exist, we are committed, and we are building something better.

Direct action can include occupying a space of strategic or symbolic importance, workplace strikes, street demonstrations and even self-defense. Direct action is exactly what it sounds like. When a movement can engage in meaningful direct action it means that there are a significant number of people who are ready to protect an idea, one another, or an alternative institution, or to stand up against an injustice in their midst.

These kinds of actions can inspire more people to join the movement, because good direct action utilizes advocacy and communication in support of itself. An editorial in a newspaper, video posted on a social network, having access to a legal team through fundraised resources, or having a slightly more thoughtful politician in office are all potential ingredients in the success of an action; the more people who know about and support a movement, the more potential there is for an occupation, demonstration, or strike to have an impact.

An organized movement might arrange a strike for unfairly treated workers, a bank occupation to ensure that homes are not foreclosed on, or a demonstration in front of a police department headquarters when the police are used to violently attack people who are seeking to change the status quo.

What do we do?
Counter institutions promote and protect our movement. Advocacy challenges the flow of money and power. Communication challenges the way we think and interact. Direct Action challenges our notion of what is possible here and now, and shakes the hierarchy of our society from the ground on up. The above three categories are each useful in different (though often overlapping) contexts for convincing more and more people that we truly have a vision for a free society. They are also essential in protecting the alternatives that we build. They each support and protect our movement.

You may have noticed that there aren’t any professions described in the above. That’s because these categories transcend career type. A lawyer may find herself communicating political ideas through visual art, while lobbying her senator to clean up the toxic waste in the nearby river. A teacher may find himself leading a general strike and running for office. A factory worker may find herself writing a blog, lecturing at universities, and occupying a bank.

Arranging counter institutions into these three groupings can help us understand what needs doing. It can also help us to understand what each of us wants to do. Many of us don’t have access to communities and partners with the space, time, and means to create alternatives right now. This means that the broadest movement that we can build will include huge numbers of people who don’t necessarily build alternatives right now, but who do engage in one or more of the above streams of pushing the mainstream toward those alternatives.

Our analysis, vision, and strategy need to be holistic. This means that we need to understand that the challenges we face, our goals, and the paths we build to get there are intertwined and inextricable. The above strategic categories are not separate pieces of the puzzle. They lay over one another similarly to the spheres that we use to organize our view of the world.

Not every person has the will, ability, or desire to make change in every way, so we work together in multiple, and very often fluid, roles. Our organizing needs to address the alternatives that we want to build, as well as advocacy, communication, and direct action as types of counter institutions. The strategy that we build needs emulate our analysis and vision by being layered, interconnected, and holistic in scope. Each of us needs to engage in multiple paths toward action, and when we do we will find that all of the paths lead to the same place.

A. Daniel Roth is a writer and photographer working to develop a critical relationship with, and honestly document, our world. Daniel has been an educator, facilitator and activist for nearly 2 decades. He is an organizer with movements for justice, equality, and peace including the All That’s Left: Anti-occupation Collective, which he co-founded. Daniel is the co-founder of Achvat Amim – Solidarity of Nations and the Without Walls Educators’ Collective, as well as This is Not an Ulpan. Daniel holds an MA in Education, Community, and Social Change and lives in Tel Aviv where he is the lead Economy Magazine correspondent on i24news.

What We Know: This is the Beginning of a New Movement

by A. Daniel Roth

We have had more than our fair share of messianic figures over the past 18 days at Occupy Toronto. St. James Park has become a spiritual occupation zone for some who give sermons at the gazebo, meditations, and impromptu livestream speeches. We have also seen collective leadership emerge through dialogue and participatory democracy. We’ve seen organizing in new ways. We are taking part in the beginnings of a new way of building a movement. We haven’t seen this before.

At Occupy Toronto we’ve seen yelling matches and worse. We’ve also seen hugs between strangers and a multitude of late night conversations; the kind that change your life. We are ready for something better, the messiahs, organizers, witnesses, and enjoyers of Occupy Toronto all know it.

Throughout all of this we have been collectively waking up. Many of us would say that we have been awake from a long time, but it is now that we are collectively, around the world, waking up. We are seeing the seasons through the lens of revolutionary change: Spring, summer, fall, and winter have taken on new meanings in 2011 as we rise up for change at the roots, which is shaking the branches at the top.

I have spent time at Occupy Wall Street, and lived at Occupy Toronto. I have been digitally involved through social networks, writing, and watching this rising global movement. Days from now I will be going to join in the movement that is burgeoning in Israel. I will be joining the vital struggle for self-determination for all peoples who share that space. I feel as though I am in several places, and I am. My heart is here right now, at St. James Park, but I haven’t forgotten my mission over there. It is part of this worldwide movement. It is part of the profound shift that we have sparked together. I’m not going anywhere. We are everywhere.

Incredible things are happening here in our tent city. We have occupied a space and given ourselves time. This space has allowed us to organize a near constant barrage of actions, which challenge the ills of our communities, cities, and world. We have begun the hard process of re-analysis toward understanding the roots of the oppressions that we face, and we have begun to take truly radical action to dismantle them. We have done this by engaging in relief work with our partners who are hungry, freezing, addicted, and facing a world in which our ability to take care of ourselves and one another is diminishing. We have also done this by establishing the basis for a revolutionary movement. We are facing down the daily assault on human rights, and building an essential new way of living.

As we collect our analyses and build a collective perspective, we are pioneering a new vision for a better world. It’s a vision that is being developed in the media tent, the logistics centre, the medical yurt, the hillside, and at our general assemblies. It is a vision that we find as we sit-in at banks and speak our minds at city hall.

We know a great deal right now. We know that capitalism instills a culture where profits come before democracy, sustainability, and even human rights. We know that racism, classism, sexism, and able-ism are perpetuated through our systems of education, communication, and law. We have the foresight to know that our relationship with our planet must be sustainable. We know that we want to participate in the decisions that impact our lives.

Representative democracy has ceased to represent anyone but those with the cash to pay for representation. We know that we have the will and ability to outlaw poverty and hunger and to create a new charter for our society that includes health and education as human rights. We know that all peoples deserve the right to self-determination, and that our society should facilitate each of us reaching our full human potential.

We know that the oppressions that we are facing down are interconnected. For example, we know that racism is reinforced by capitalism. In many low income communities of colour consistent divestment in infrastructure and education, and police brutality perpetuate high unemployment, hopelessness, and a lack of access to material wealth. Resources are hoarded by the few, never to be shared with the rest. That the status quo is fine is a lesson taught in our schools and reinforced by our media. We know better. We know that there is a deeper wealth in our communities. The wealth of knowledge and solidarity, and the wealth of vision and strategy to build something better is what we have. This is why we have seen fit to come together, occupy space, and take the time to rebuild our sense of a better world. We are beginning to understand that a total systemic shift is not only necessary, but within our reach. To be clear, we are on a long path. Genuine change comes through multiple means. We make reforms on the road to revolution, never taking our eyes off the prize, and never losing focus on the important changes that we make here and now.

Already, we have made enormous strides. Occupy Toronto has come together to establish very real agreements on the implementation of safer space for the movement. Through participatory democracy, collective work, and serious reflection we have found a collective desire to have a space that is free of abuse, whether it is verbal, sexual, or the abuse of substances, we have agreed to work against discrimination and marginalization, and we have agreed that our occupation is a non-violent space. We began as strangers, and together we have built collective understandings on which to base our movement. The participatory nature of this agreement allows us to take responsibility for it together, equally accountable in this forward motion.

We have not only looked at the structures that we need for the internal functioning of our movement. We have also found common ground on which to begin the process of imagining a better world, which challenges oppression in radical ways. We have reaffirmed that sustainable relationships with our planet, our environment, our resources, and one another are the root of justice, peace, and life. We have found participatory democracy to be the best form of sharing power and making decisions about the things that affect our lives. It allows us to take responsibility for one another. We have found a deep desire to create egalitarian structures for human connection, and self-determination for all peoples. We recognize the rights of indigenous peoples who have gone without justice for so long. We also believe in the power of the individual as a unique member in a larger collective.

As we experience this process, we are experimenting with a new kind of strategy. Our non-violent direct action is informed by, and balanced with, the building of an alternative kind of social interaction and exchange. We are participating in our democracy and our economics; we are learning to organize our society on a horizontal plain. Ideas are shared and inspired. Building towards equity is truly a beautiful experience.

We must take all of this seriously. As we practice direct actions that inspire those around us, and reach out to those who may not know what to make of this movement, we should remember that if we are willing and able, we are going to accomplish our goals, push forward, and win. We are in a process of building equity through the assemblies and systems of interaction that we have created at Occupy Toronto. We are turning up the heat on our ability to shake the oppressive systems of the past and present. We are writing our future. It’s a new story. We haven’t seen it before, and we are only on the first pages.

This is only the beginning. What we are witnessing right now is the birth of a global movement. It is taking shape right now. We are taking part in the early stages of profound societal transformations. The conversation has already shifted. We have begun to change the way we engage with the world and interact with one another. The exchange of ideas has already yielded wins. Just look at those in the US who, in recent days, have started to vote for the rights of workers in Ohio and women in Mississippi. We are beginning to choose equity instead of greed. Around the world, we are taking our votes to the streets and choosing justice. The system may use violence to attack us, but we aren’t going anywhere.

This wave of change is growing, and will continue to gain momentum if we work for it. We are standing at the edge of a sea of unrest. We are ready to dive in and begin the long journey across. If we adjust our lives to focus on this movement building process and the task at hand, we will succeed. We are building something that hasn’t been seen before. We are ready to re-imagine our systems, our species, and our planet.

A. Daniel Roth is a writer and photographer working to develop a critical relationship with, and honestly document, our world. Daniel has been an educator, facilitator and activist for nearly 2 decades. He is an organizer with movements for justice, equality, and peace including the All That’s Left: Anti-occupation Collective, which he co-founded. Daniel is the co-founder of Achvat Amim – Solidarity of Nations and the Without Walls Educators’ Collective, as well as This is Not an Ulpan. Daniel holds an MA in Education, Community, and Social Change and lives in Tel Aviv where he is the lead Economy Magazine correspondent on i24news.