Event: Political Organization in the U.S. Today

by Ben Campbell on July 25, 2012

Readers based in New York who have been following The North Star’s discussions on left organizing/”party-building” will likely be interested in Thursday (7/26) evening’s event at the Brecht Forum. It is the opening evening in a three-day Marxist intensive, whose schedule can be seen here:

Between the 501c-3 & Zuccotti:
The Question of Political Organization in the U.S. Today

Kali Akuno, Raquel Lavina, Meaghan Linick, Shaun Lin, Eric Odell, Chloe Tribich, Max Uhlenbeck & Helena Wong (With Special Performance by Desis Rising Up and Moving Youth)

The final sentence of Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach famously reads “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” So how to go about changing the world? Beyond individual study, recycling, or shopping for organic foods at your local farmers market, the question of activism, and more specifically what form of organization that activism should take, has always been a central one for those on the left.

Several decades ago the social movements of the 60s and early 70s attracted tens of thousands of young people to join the ranks of militant organizations like the Black Panther Party, The Young Lords, Students for a Democratic Society and the American Indian Movement. At the time many thought that revolution was around the corner, but instead neoliberal economics and its attack on the labor movement, the governments Cointelpro program and the rise of the prison industrial complex pushed those movements back on their heels.

Over the years, new forms of organization have emerged, in part responding to the changing political landscape in the United States. One of the more notable trends was the decentralized network politics that helped shut down the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle, giving birth to a new wave of anti-capitalist protest movements domestically. Since the mid-90s, we have also witnessed the growth of the 501c3 non-profit as arguably the most prominent form of political organizing inside the US, a phenomenon that has been written about and critiqued more heavily in the past few years.

The Occupy movement of 2011 pushed a lot of boundaries and questioned many traditional beliefs around organization and strategy in the current political moment. At times organic, at other times uneasy, the general assembly at Zuccotti Park brought many of these different organizational styles together in public dialogue. As the three major crises of our day (economic, environmental, state-legitimacy) continue to deepen, the questions of what new (or old) models of organization will be needed in the current period will be more important than ever. Building a left pole within the non-profit sector? Building a new political party which heeds the history and lessons learned from parties past? Organizing as smaller collectives coordinated through emergency response networks? Building a progressive base within the Democratic Party?

Join us for the opening of our 39th annual Marxist intensive as we continue the conversation with all of you!

Speaker Bio’s:

Kali Akuno is a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and author of the blog Navigating the Storm.

Raquel Lavina is the Program Director at Social Justice Leadership (SJL). During the last decade, she has focused on using her experience to help organizations develop efficient and healthy systems and relationships guided by transformative values, in the hopes that their internal relationships strengthen their external impact. She served as the National Program Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, supervising multiple staff in 3 cities; the Interim Director of the Youth Empowerment Center, which housed 5 youth groups in Oakland, CA including SOUL, the School of Unity and Liberation; and as the Interim Executive Director of FIERCE!, a nationally recognized LGBT youth organization.

Meaghan Linick is a member and one of the founders of the Organization for a Free Society (OFS). She was active in the Occupy movement and has a background in student, anti-war, and food justice organizing.

Shaun Lin is an organizer, neighbor, gardener, writer, brother, and member of Growing Roots, a collective of students and activists who care deeply about the healing and transformation of our communities and are exploring “visionary organizing” as a praxis of social change. Shaun has organized at CAAAV and Sistas and Brothas United, and will be the civil rights organizer at Picture the Homeless starting in August.

Eric Odell is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO/OSCL). He is formerly a long-time activist in the CUNY student movement and before that was a founding member of and national staff member for the Student Environmental Action Coalition.

Chloe Tribich is a member of the New York branch of Solidarity. In Solidarity’s national organization, Chloe has helped coordinate collaborations with various other left groups over the past 4 years, called Revolutionary Work In Our Times. Here in New York she has worked as a tenant organizer for non-profit organizations and in various other types of activism.

Helena Wong is the Executive Director at CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities. Helena became a CAAAV member as a high school youth in 1995 and joined staff in 2003 with fellowship from the Open Society Institute. Under her leadership CAAAV’s Chinatown Tenants Union was founded and has continued to grow to its current size and capacity. Helena became Executive Director in July 2010.

Moderator, Max Uhlenbeck: Max is a Co-Director at the Brecht Forum where he focuses on Grassroots Fundraising & Development for the largest Marxist community center in the United States. From 2004-2011 he was part of the editorial collective that produced Left Turn magazine, focusing on questions surrounding the non-profit industrial complex, political organization and social movements in the US.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger July 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm

This is unfortunate. Not one of these people, who are going to teach about Marxism and organization, has any union experience, rank-and-file or otherwise. Translation: None of them seems to have any experience with the working class as the working class.

David Berger

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Ben July 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Well if that is true for the Thursday session, on Saturday there is a labor session led by Tim Schermerhorn, who “is a 29-year transit worker and a rank-and-file-oriented organizer throughout that time. He was vice president of Local 100 and vice chairman (chief steward) for train operators. Tim is a founding member of the Black Workers Rank and File Network (at the 2008 Labor Notes Conference) and a Labor Notes Policy Committee Member.”

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David Berger July 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

It’s fucking bizarre. The event should be called 501c3 and zuccotti. For a group that calls itself Marxist to not have people on a panel on political organization who have experience inside the working class is a crock of shit.

David

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Ben July 26, 2012 at 11:10 pm

I’m not sure that much came out of this…

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Arthur July 28, 2012 at 1:44 am

“Several decades ago the social movements of the 60s and early 70s attracted tens of thousands of young people to join the ranks of militant organizations like the Black Panther Party, The Young Lords, Students for a Democratic Society and the American Indian Movement. At the time many thought that revolution was around the corner, but instead neoliberal economics and its attack on the labor movement, the governments Cointelpro program and the rise of the prison industrial complex pushed those movements back on their heels.”

That analysis doesn’t make much sense. The repression failed and the system was forced to retreat – both internationally in accepting defeat in Vietnam and domestically especially in drastically reduced overt racism and significant rises in living standards worldwide. Pretending that the movement was defeated by repression rather than by accommodation means a lack of basic contact with reality that cannot result in sound ideas for organizing.

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