"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Activism and Organization
Aha! Activism = self-expression; organizing = movement-building."
Aha - exactly. Raj Jayadev in his article "A New Decade of Youth Activism" contrasts the new left ideologues with the spontaneous practicality of the new movements: "This generation didn't get in squabbles over who was more revolutionary, didn't pull all-night, Marx-Engel study sessions, didn't try to bring back the beret, and as it turned out, could care less about being called 'activists.'" The message is that they could care less about ideological squabbles or trying to understand the roots of the crisis in a systematic way. Their action springs directly from the situation, "The great irony of this generation was that they had been called self-involved and apathetic, a generation that lived in isolated iPod worlds. Yet when their loved ones were being threatened, they erupted. No national coalition, no 10-point plan, just a raw flexing of organizing power." And, unfortunately, no strategy to address the roots the problem either.
In no way do I wish to belittle the real accomplishments which Jayadev describes. The Youtube posting of Oscar Grant's murder is a case in point. Jayadev locates his generation's activism in its ability to communicate electronically. What he ignores is the moral culture that must underlie responses to that video. Without an understanding of the culture that makes Oscar Grant's murder possible, the murders will go on. If posting on Youtube becomes too inconvenient to the authorities, they will simply shut it down.
Each "movement" he describes was an immediate response to an existing situation of injustice and each had a positive effect. But spontaneous movements tend to die as soon as their immediate demands are met because their activists do not see beyond the immediate injustice.
Impatience with "ideology" often hides a mental laziness that prefers the satisfactions of immediate action to the hard work of understanding the fundamental nature of the system we confront. One could argue that it was precisely this impatience with systematic thought that made most of the revolutionary fervor of the sixties so effervescent. The examples cited by Jayadev are classic examples of attacking the symptoms while letting the disease rage unchecked and undiagnosed.