It’s Time To Claim Our Highest Vision: Let’s Embrace The Great Turning

| Strategize!

Above Photo: In the face of the new administration’s systematic dehumanization, the strength and clarity of purpose needed in order to break free of our defensive posture is going to require us to very thoughtfully and intentionally knit our movements together. (Photo: Joe Piette / Flickr)

Across the nation, activists, organizers and newly enlivened social change onlookers are hungry for a shared, coherent sense of direction. George Lakey’s recent 10-point strategy for nonviolent resistance to the new Trump administration offers an excellent beginning to an absolutely critical conversation about comprehensive movement strategy.

But our many social change movements, which together have begun to comprise the macro “movement of movements” Lakey describes, may have a short window of time to get our strategic ducks in a row. The new administration has demonstrated a determined will to consolidate power, and to do so quickly. Fascistic executive orders; the systematic delegitimization of existing institutions, checks and balances; unfettered propaganda (aka “fake news”); and the normalization of bombastic and hateful rhetoric are stark early-warning signs of totalitarian takeover. In this setting, as Lakey argues, the new administration is relying on social changemakers to stay in their customary mode of “playing defense.” We’re called to be culture-shifting movement builders, but by setting enough fires in enough places, Trump, Bannon and Co. seek to render us firefighters.

In the face of the new administration’s systematic dehumanization, the strength and clarity of purpose needed in order to break free of our defensive posture is going to require us to very thoughtfully and intentionally knit our movements together. This doesn’t mean that our emerging movement of movements needs to become a centralized, top-heavy institution. On the contrary, decentralized models of organizing are wholly appropriate right now, and fully in step with the times. But, to move in decentralized concert — the paradoxical holy grail for movement-makers today — we need to set our sights on a shared and deeply inspiring beacon.

Visionaries Joanna Macy and David Korten have popularized the phrase “the Great Turning” as a way to name our collective and diverse efforts to transition from our exploitative and destructive industrial growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society, a shift that they and a growing number of changemakers believe represents a new and pivotal epoch in our human evolution. The Great Turning is all-encompassing, giving answer to the great array of our current social and ecological concerns — from racial justice to indigenous sovereignty, from economic imperialism to murderous drones, from factory farming to fracking, and far beyond. And, by definition, the Great Turning is inclusive of three mutually supportive modes of action: bold nonviolent resistance to the systems and forces of empire, the constructive building up of the alternative society in which we long to live, and a depth of self-transformation, individual by individual, that will enable a critical mass of us to break free of our personal collaboration and collusion with the status quo of the Domination System (a system of which we are a part, if only unwittingly).

The Great Turning does a magnificent job of meeting our movement of movement’s current need for an overarching visional statement, and I encourage us to claim and celebrate it as the spacious, yet exacting umbrella under which our vast constellation of social struggles can now locate themselves.

Some will argue that language such as this, and the high ideal to which it points, is unrealistic, and that the emerging movement of movement’s should set its sights on lower hanging fruit. This, I argue, would be a potentially fatal mistake. In the face of our existential climate crisis, what has passed as political pragmatism up until now has most definitely become impractical. A great many of our most powerful thought leaders have been going to great lengths to explain this to us in recent years — perhaps none more persuasively than Michelle Alexander and Naomi Klein.

Movement builders of many stripes have begun to discern the sturdy movement footpath that Alexander and Klein have constructed for us. Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, released in 2010, did far more than expose the treacheries of the US system of mass incarceration. The book presented a crushing critique of gradualism and of social change advocates’ loyalty to it. The gist of Alexander’s argument is that piecemeal policy reform is simply not going to cut it in our age of cultural collapse. What’s needed, she says, is a shift in public consciousness that will give rise to a massive social movement with the courage and power to fully transform our economic and political systems.

Four years later, in This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein followed and expanded on this thesis in a most powerful and instructive way. While harmonizing with Alexander’s insights about the paralyzing limits of superficial reform, Klein couldn’t help but notice, point to and name the elephant standing in the middle of the room: capitalism. Through her monumental and terrifying exploration of the climate crisis, Klein could not escape the conclusion that our society’s allegiance and addiction to winner/loser capitalism — a system that requires by default the two-fold plunder of the earth and poor people — must be renounced and abandoned, personally and collectively, if we want to see our way to a livable future.

The Great Turning — the epochal shift from our extraction-based, plunder-ridden industrial-growth society to a truly just and life-sustaining society — is the natural, inevitable and majestic movement goal to which such prophetic thought leaders are pointing. It’s time to rally to this call and to let it serve as the foundation for our emerging strategy for national transformation.


  • PaulK2

    Most vital, and never being done by almost anyone on eaarth for some unimaginable reason: 100 slight improvements in renewables engineering will completely shut off all worldwide markets for fossil fuels, game over for them, end, finis. No market for heating buildings, no market for nighttime electricity generation, no market for transit and competition with biofuels for making #5 plastics. Even one slight engineering improvement is a permanent win. What are you heating your house or office with right now?

    What are you praying for about renewables engineering but not doing? And why? Because there’s no career in it for you, maybe? So how are you going to work this organizational problem that apparently has a solution, in the face of mass extinction and possible world hunger?

    Huge problem #2: Is your form of elections inherently corruption-resistant? Is the Cambridge, MA City Council’s form of election inherently corruption-resistant? If it is (I’m telling you that it’s pretty good), why can’t you use their election system, or better if you can find something else?

    Why aren’t your party’s internal elections and primaries run in an inherently corruption-resistant way? Are you absolutely sure that your new party won’t become another Republican Party? Once upon a time the Republican Party was a bunch of idealistic reformers, but they sold out fast.

    If your party is known to be inherently corruption-resistant, you’ll gain the confidence, the trust of voters. If not, meh!

    Problem #3: who in particular is doing effective outreach to the millions of moderate White Christians, no, not the KKK, the Lutherans and Baptists? Don’t run a tiny small tent of a party or else you’ll be the minority party forever and ever. If you can invite 80% of all voters into your big tent, you’ll be the majority party forever and ever. Doesn’t that sound more effective? So, give anyone of good will a seat at the table and a reasonable pile of political chips to trade. If half of a distant group doesn’t want to play in your sandbox, then take polls and find good representatives among the other half of the group. The distant group will come around by and by. You can still give your loyal, hard workers a few more chips. This will encourage all stakeholders to become a bit more loyal and hard working for your big tent party.

    How’s that for a set of working axioms?

  • eight.of.wands

    Nick Brana, one of Bernie Sanders’ top campaign people (and one helluva smart dude) has very recently launched “DRAFT BERNIE for a new PEOPLE’S PARTY!”…..check YTube for the brilliant Lee Camp interview on ‘Redacted Tonight’ which broke this story…..Jimmy Dore is also totally on top of this…
    As all of you know, or SHOULD know, both the DNC and the GOP are dead, worthless, bribery-ridden, hopelessly polluted, violent, toxic, dishonest and unsaveable political bodies that will NEVER AGAIN respond to the needs of normal Americans….did you hear me??…..NEVER AGAIN!!!…..the corrosive poison of corporate $$$$$$$$ has permanently murdered whatever imaginary principles you still believe your beloved Democratic or Republican candidates are whispering into gullible ears…..i was a proud lifelong D going all the way back to McGovern, but after the HRC and DWS bullshit thuggery that cheated Sanders (and handed us Trump) i thoroughly despise our political “leadership” across the aisles…
    THIRD PARTY, baby, let’s take this thing to the wall!!!
    Bernie has the vision, but he’s tragically (and infuriatingly) hoping to reform the Democratic Party that continues to backstab him at every turn and twist of the knife….BERNIE!!….STOP IT!!!!…..we got your back, Senator!!….we got more $27 lobs than you can ever imagine possible…
    A visionary leader, galvanizing the gestation of a brand new and truly populist People’s Party, will be the catalyst to energize our fellow beaten down citizens into unified political action…..a new American Revolution against the hostile corporate takeover of EVERY LAST ONE of our city, state, and federal governing bodies belonging to “We the People”…
    We can do this…..i ain’t no fckn kid anymore, but i can still kick some serious ass when the times demand it…..and right now, they do…

  • DHFabian

    Yep, all the familiar old rhetoric here, and in George Lakey’s article. All that has been missing for years is a unifying message. Many knew that the years of the Obama administration probably marked our last chance to bring the “masses” together, for the common good. We’re more deeply divided by class and race than we were eight years ago.

  • DHFabian

    That’s just it — we can’t define what a populist agenda would be today. Who would a People’s Party represent? For years, liberals have utterly turned their backs on the masses who were left behind as the US shut down/shipped out a huge number of jobs. This is the issue that split apart those who aren’t on the right wing.

  • DHFabian

    How many Americans are willing to give up their “right” to drive as much as they want to drive? Our dependency of privately-owned motor vehicles keeps us engaged in oil wars while spewing massive amounts of carcinogens into the air every day.

  • mwildfire

    I see various problems with this, but it seems to me that two elements are correct and critical: that we need to be all-inclusive, insisting as a bedrock principle that all humans are human, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion…and that we need a wide-reaching and revolutionary paradigm, an attractive vision to endlessly show people, rather than focus on fighting ten thousand little battles (and losing nine thousand nine hundred of them). We don’t need a new political party–that’s a minor reform (and we already have the Green Party). We need a vision which is not based on denial of the gigantic crises that we’re now caught in because we refused over the last generation to face and deal with them: resource depletion, overpopulation, climate change, other environmental crises. These are all intertwined and almost certainly are a reason it would not be possible to bring about the old-fashioned vision Bernie championed, not for long anyway–we CAN’T have economic growth without further reducing the carrying capacity of this Earth, and seven billion humans is already more than it can take, at least at the level of consumption, waste and assault that about a billion of us consider normal and most of the rest aspire to. Yet virtually nobody addresses how we can get our numbers down–I think there is a quiet assumption on the part of many that the Four Horsemen will take of this. On the Left, there is an assumption that if we can knock the 1% off their perch, that will take care of overconsumption–it would certainly help given their disproportionate impact, but the global 1% includes many of us, and those who think they ought to have middle-class lifestyles need to recognize what is and is not possible in 20 years if nobody is in the “unimportant” category who can be left to stave and freeze and exploit. I believe it is at least technically possible to transition to a better world without premature deaths–but not without belt-tightening and sharing on the part of the half of humanity who are living unsustainably. Everybody in, nobody out needs to include people in Mali and Bangladesh. And–it needs to include the other 99.99% of species, half of them now threatened with extinction. COULD we get from here to a world where 7.5 billion humans live harmoniously with each other and the other species? I doubt it. But it surely is not possible if we refuse to even discuss the underlying problems, if we pretend that bad policies recently enacted are the problem. We started putting bad policies in place around ten thousand years ago, when we started up the notion that there are classes of people who should have more power and goods than others, and eventually, that other species are things that we can own, that only humans have consciousness (and only male humans at that). Probably our best hope is to accomplish a transition in SOME places through the time of collapse, that eventually leaves our great-grandchildren living in a better world.

  • eight.of.wands

    So true, my friend, but definitely surmountable (as the Sanders campaign “Join the Revolution” proved by blowing away stereotypes instilled to alienate working Americans from each other)…’re technically and accurately referring to NEOliberals, those corporate hogtied bastards like Bill and Hill AND Barack who relentlessly sell progressives down the drain while tickling our genitals much more genially than Republicans do…
    I finally woke the fuck up when i realized neolib Obama was a total phony and stooge, doing EXACTLY to liberalism what neocons did decades ago to genuine conservatism when they kidnapped Eisenhower’s Republican Party….BOTH PARTIES today are worthless ratholes now and forever in this troubled nation, completely incapable of representing their constituents precisely becuz THEY’RE ALL BEING BRIBED to actively jack the American people over!….yes, my friends, your darling elected officials (whoever they may be) are very likely your own very worst enemies in sheep’s clothing… sorry to blab, but it’s the truth…..feel free to kill the messenger, but you might accomplish much much more by pointing pitchforks 180 degrees in the opposite direction…..just sayin…
    So, to the point…..a new People’s Party will and MUST be a yooooooge Party of the P-E-O-P-L-E, all walks, all colors, all stripes, all everything committed to fighting this massive and deadly corporate takeover of OUR country… more cutesy neoliberal self-identity bullshit politics, WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, brothers and sisters….that mensch Bernie threw it down, goddammit….this is the fight of our lives….we either come together as Americans, all of us, or we all hang separately, to quote Benjamin Franklin…
    Let’s get to work!!

  • Jo Hayward-haines

    Bravo. there are already ways in place to engage more productively and less judgmentally with each other, since we’re all complicit even if only a bit. Dialogues as a container for our rapidly evolving consciousness is one. Check out Bee Times by Mark Winston,