Last week, we defined where today’s social-political movement is within the eight stages of successful movements. This week, we delve deeper into the tasks of the movement in this stage and apply those tasks to current issues faced today.
Our goal is to build a mass movement, which has the support of super-majorities of Americans and has mobilized up to 3.5% of the population. Therefore, the target of our protests is not the government or a corporation, the target is the people, to educate and mobilize them. We protest the power holders to expose their actions but do not expect them to be capable of addressing our concerns adequately in this stage.
Build unity around the values of the movement
The foundation of the current phase is massive public education and building support in all segments of the population for the values of the movement. This is done through grassroots organizing in the local community. People will gain a greater understanding of how the problems of the present system affect them; how the present system violates their values and principles; and how it is in their own self-interest to do something about it.
This is happening in the low-wage worker movements. While workers and their allies participate in resistance actions like one-day walkouts or mass protests on key shopping days like the Black Friday’s protests at 1,500 Walmarts, members of the community are joining in solidarity. We are learning that when a corporation provides poverty-level pay to a worker, we all subsidize that policy through food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies. And, paying workers an inadequate wage for their labor violates our values.
While these corporations continue to refuse to change their policies, even though they could afford to and would benefit from doing so, the power holders are responding as expected at this stage with inadequate solutions. The movement has forced 13 states to increase the minimum wage in 2014 which will affect 2.5 million people. This is not a complete victory because no state is putting in place a real living wage. And, in the one place that voted for the movement’s demand, a $15 per hour wage, it is being challenged in court. The struggle must continue. Workers will still be poverty workers, though some will have less poverty.
Whenever we push to solve current problems, the movement should also put forward a vision of a paradigm shift. When it comes to workers, one shift is to make workers into owners and decision makers in worker-owned businesses, like cooperatives. More existing businesses are being converted to worker-owned businesses and there is a growing worker-cooperative movement. And it is important to link the problems of underpaid workers to the broader economic problem of the wealth divide and build support for the many solutions to that problem.
Exposing the myth and explaining the reality
An important task of the movement is to expose the difference between ‘official policies’ and ‘actual policies.’ That is, what the power holders say they are doing and what the policies actually do, which are often the complete opposite. Every government policy put forward by either of the two corporate-funded parties is designed to help their funders, not the people.
We are going to be seeing myth in hyper-gear in January around the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The government has worked hard, with the cooperation of the mass media, to keep the TPP secret from the public. But, now most people in the activist community are aware of the TPP thanks to high profile protests and leaks of portions of the TPP that reveal the US is pushing an extreme corporate power grab. And more people are aware that the President is trying to circumvent a democratic process of review in Congress.
In early January some of the most pro-corporate members of Congress will put forward a bill calling for Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority. We expect to hear President Obama and corrupt senators like Max Baucus (D-MT) and members of Congress like David Camp (R-MI) telling us that these rigged trade agreements are necessary for the economy. We just passed the 20 year anniversary of NAFTA, on which the current trade negotiations are based, and the opposite has happened. We need to explode the myth. These trade agreements are not to create jobs or raise wages or even grow the US economy, they are to make transnational corporations wealthier and increase the profits of the investor class. They are only good for the wealthiest and are terrible for the rest of us, as a recent report found:
“A new Public Citizen report shows that not only did promises made by proponents [of NAFTA] not materialize, but many results are exactly the opposite. Such outcomes include a staggering $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA, a doubling of immigration from Mexico, larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada, and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.”
Stopping the TPP will be job one for the movement in 2014. January will be the key month to engage in this issue because a vote on Fast Track is expected by the end of the month. The TPP is an issue that unites the movement because it affects not just workers but the environment, regulation of finance, Internet freedom, food safety, healthcare and gives corporations control of virtually every aspect of our lives. There are many ways to organize in local communities to unite people and stop the TPP. We can stop the TPP and when we do, it will be a major victory of the people over the transnational corporations and their government allies.
Our task is to change the political environment, not succumb to it.
One of the key points in this phase of the movement is to avoid compromise. We need to refuse to accept the limits of the current political table. It is corruption that determines what is “on the table” so we need to respond that we are not limited to the corruption-defined political table. We are seeking real solutions that require a paradigm shift.
An example of some advocates making the mistake of accepting compromises is the health law. Advocates know that the empirical evidence shows that the only approach that will provide quality healthcare to all and control costs is a single payer, Medicare for all, system.
Many single payer advocates bought into the ACA, which is really a big insurance scam, because they were Democratic Party-leaning organizations. These groups were given tens of millions of dollars to advocate for the ACA. This is the classic strategy described in leaked documents from Stratfor, the private intelligence firm that works with big business and government, of how the power holders deal with political movements.
The problems with the roll out of the ACA website exposed the deeper problems, that the law is a complicated, insurance-based and for-profit approach that will consistently lead to greater costs and obstacles for patients and will weaken our public insurances. The ACA entrenches a system that treats healthcare as a commodity rather than a public good and that will make some investors very rich.This has renewed calls for single payer as people see how such a system would be superior in many ways.
Keep the moral high ground and remain a movement based in principled dissent
One of the risks in this phase of the movement is becoming a member of the professional non-profit community. Moyer called these groups ‘professional opposition organizations’ or POOs. Instead we must remain what he called a principled dissent group. We must advocate for transformational change and not for inadequate reforms that do not solve the problem but merely make it look like the system is responding to our concerns.
During this time period the power structure will try to pull the movement into the system. Foundations may start to offer financial support. Care must be taken here because money is needed to build the necessary grassroots infrastructure, but funding cannot have strings attached that compromise the goals of the movement. The kind of infrastructure that is needed is grassroots organizations that understand the goals and strategy and how the various sub-issues being worked on relate to the overall goals of the movement.
In addition to remaining true to our principles, we need to be open to expanding our demands. During this phase, as we understand the issues we are working on, we will find that the problems run deeper than we realized. This has shown itself in debates in the environmental movement, e.g. rather than calling for no Keystone pipeline, we need to be calling for no tar sands mining. Similarly, rather than regulating fracking for methane gas, we need to be calling for a ban on fracking. Indeed, when the overall energy situation is looked at the movement needs to be making a broad call for the end of the extraction economy and putting in place a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy.
Of course, this will be ‘off the political table’ but it is the only approach that makes sense in light of the ecological destruction of extraction, the militarism caused by resource conflicts and the steps needed to combat climate change. This has led to aggressive actions by front-line environmentalists and indigenous peoples with blockades, tree-sits, mass protests and other acts of civil resistance. If the traditional groups are to remain relevant they will be pulled toward these new groups as we are beginning to see, reversing divide and rule into unite and win.
Emphasize our role as ‘change agents’
During this phase of building national consensus we need to change our roles. While we are still rebels against the current system, our primary job in this phase is to be change agents who operate not by being in the public spotlight, as we were during the Take Off phase when our rebel role dominated, but to organize, enable and nurture others to get involved as participants.
One pitfall to avoid at this point is becoming a ‘negative rebel.’ Those who do not understand the progression and tasks of a successful social movement may become discouraged by their perceived lack of progress. They may resort to violent tactics believing that previous tactics failed. This path will actually undermine the movement by giving openings for power holders to infiltrate it and be violent in response and by scaring the public.
The role of the change agent is to encourage conversations that are open and listening. We are not dictating that we have all the solutions, but engaging with others, providing an informed opinion and finding solutions together. And we must do more than just educate on one issue, but must show how that issue is related to other issues and the need for systemic change. This requires showing that the underlying world view of the current power structure is wrong and that a paradigm shift is needed.
The global private intelligence firm, Stratfor, has been monitoring the resistance movement and working with corporations and governments to stop it. A 2012 report said: “Governments rule by controlling key pillars of society, through which they exercise authority over the population. These pillars include security forces (police and military), the judicial system, civil services and unions.” Stratfor knows that when change agents pull people from the pillars of power to the movement, the government has a problem.
Change agents and the movement need to not only focus on our core constituencies, but also on people who are in the power structure. When we pull people from the power structure, the movement not only grows stronger, but the power holders get weaker.
There are signs that the power holders are worried about the growing people power of the social movement. Recently leaked documents show that Bank of America has a team of 20 people who troll the Internet looking for protests against the bank. The documents also show that BoA works with the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the law enforcement Fusion Center of Homeland Security as well as local police in what they call a ‘public-private partnership.’
Another end of the year report by the Information Technology firm Gartner predicts a “much larger scale” occupy-like movement at the end of 2014 that will result in political discussions on the issues the movement is raising. Further, they warn that businesses need to avoid being seen as the culprits in the downward decline in wages and jobs or risk a “backlash in the form of buyer strikes, labor unrest and increased scrutiny of owner and executive compensation.”
Persist. This is a marathon with hurdles, not a sprint
The current stage of movement evolution is one that could last for years, even more than a decade. Or, it could be one that moves more quickly. When we organized the occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza in 2011 we looked at where the people of the United States stood and discovered they were more radical than the corporate media was letting us know. We published an article We Stand With the Majority, then in the month before OWS began we updated it with The American People Could Rule Better than the Elites. Essentially, two-thirds of the American people were already questioning current policies and looking for alternatives. Perhaps this is why President Obama ran on “hope and change” because his polling and focus groups showed that is where the people were.
So, we may be further along than we realize. This week someone sent us this meme – 2014 the Year Everything Changes and #RiseTogether #NoLongerIgnored. We have no doubt 2014 is going to be an amazing year for the social-political movement that is growing daily. We are likely to see some victories, perhaps some very important ones. There will be many victories on the road to our ultimate success. There will also be failures. We should celebrate the victories and learn from the failures.
These are exciting times to be involved with this movement. We’ve already come a long way, but the best is yet to come.
Read the full article in Alternet on Saturday, January 4.