Another Politics Southwestern Ontario and U.S. Midwest Tour

Drawing on interviews with dozens of experienced organizers, Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements engages the convergence of anti-authoritarian radicalism and broader-based movements in the U.S. and Canada. From this convergence, a growing set of activists – from anti-poverty organizers in Toronto to prison abolitionists in Oakland, from occupy activists in New York to migrant justice organizers in Vancouver – are developing shared politics and practices. These efforts combine anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-oppression politics with grassroots organizing among ordinary, non-activist people. Another Politics explores these efforts and distills lessons for building effective, visionary movements.

Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in numerous book collections as well as periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Clamor, Left Turn, and Social Movement Studies. He serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. Dixon lives in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin Territory, where he is a member of the Punch Up Collective.

Goals of the Another Politics Tour:

  • Lift up valuable and inspiring organizing currently happening
  • Catalyze spaces for discussion and reflection in our movements
  • Share some recent history and open up difficult questions
  • Spread a sense of possibility, intentionality, and experimentation
  • Distribute the 2016 Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar

All money raised on this tour beyond covering travel costs will go to support radical grassroots initiatives.

Tour Schedule

Hamilton: November 3

7:00-9:00pm – The Tower, 281 Cannon Street East: Another Politics public lecture

Guelph: November 4

6:00-9:00pm – University of Guelph, MacKinnon 233: For the Long Haul workshop

Detroit: November 7

1:30-3:30pm – Cass Corridor Commons, 4605 Cass Avenue: For the Long Haul presentation

Toledo: November 9

6:30-8:30pm – West Toledo Public Library, 1320 Sylvania Avenue: For the Long Haul presentation

Chicago: November 11

6:00-8:00pm – Bucktown/Wicker Park Public Library, 1701 N. Milwaukee Avenue: Taking Ourselves Seriously presentation

Madison: November 14

3:00-5:00pm – Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, 426 West Gilman Street: Another Politics book launch

Milwaukee: November 16

12:00-2:00pm – Marquette University, Alumni Memorial Union, Ballroom A: Another Politics public lecture

6:00-8:00pm – People’s Books Cooperative, 804 East Center Street: For the Long Haul presentation

Minneapolis: November 18

6:00-8:00pm – Boneshaker Books, 2002 23rd Avenue South: Another Politics book launch

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Another Politics banner graphic designed by Krishna Lalbiharie
Another Politics poster designed by Shannon Willmott
Workshop posters and banner graphics designed by Angus Maguire

Beyond a Radical Minority

Carwil Bjork-James recently interviewed me for Agency‘s new “Anarchist Profiles” series. I’m re-posting it here. Definitely check out Agency!

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your own background and how that led to writing this book.

I am originally from Anchorage, Alaska, on traditional Dena’ina territory and I currently live in Canada, in the national capital Ottawa, which is on unceded Algonquin territory. Between those two parts of my life, I lived on the West Coast of the United States in every single state, and I moved into the Canadian context about eight years ago. And in all of those different places, really since I was in my early teens, I’ve been involved in radical activism related to antiracism, environmentalism, labor solidarity, feminist politics, and environmental defense.

What led me into graduate school was my hope to try to use the resources of where I went, the University of California at Santa Cruz, to try to further the struggles that I care about. I went in basically to try and do research and ultimately write a dissertation that would provide some space for reflecting on a whole set of transformative politics and radical activist efforts across North America. Ultimately, what that involved was me traveling around the US and Canada interviewing dozens and dozens of long-time anti-authoritarian activists and organizers involved in a whole bunch of different kinds of movements. And I was asking a series of questions that basically came down to: What are we learning as we do this? What kinds of challenges are we consistently coming up against? And what kinds of unanswered questions are we still struggling with in the midst of all of this? That’s the research that became this book.

Your book centers on something you call the anti-authoritarian current. Can you give us your definition of who or what that is?

The thumbnail way I define this current has two parts. First, this is a political tendency that defines itself by being opposed to all forms of domination, oppression, and exploitation and really draws on the vital legacy of women of color feminism and this idea that systems of oppression and exploitation—whether we’re talking about patriarchy, heterosexism, white supremacy, ableism, capitalism, so on—actually work with and through one another and cannot be disentangled from one another. And in fact require, if we’re going to try and ultimately do away with them and create a different way of relating, a whole different social structure. That’s going to require us to have a kind of multilayered revolutionary politics that takes on all of these things at once. It’s about taking up a very rigorous sort of anti-oppression—what some people might call “intersectional”—politics.

The other part—and I think this as equally important in defining the anti-authoritarian current as far as I see it—is a commitment to organizing. So, a commitment to trying to build movements beyond self-selected circles of already identified activists. Organizing is about trying bring people together in the places where they are, based in struggles that are somewhat connected to their daily conditions of life, and building power there to try to transform the system.

One thing I think is really important to clarify is when I say anti-authoritarian current, I don’t just mean anarchists. In fact, there are many anarchists who probably wouldn’t see themselves as part of this current, whose politics or practical day-to-day activities aren’t really a part of this current.

How much was this book is intended as a way to encourage people in a very multi-segmented current to see one another across differences within the movement, or different origins in terms of which activist tradition they’re a part of?

A lot of what’s happening right now with broad social and ecological justice activism is that it is very segmented. I was hoping to at least lift up some common themes, questions, and experiences, that I was hoping could create a situation where people might have some mutual recognition. And so far my experience while going on tour with this book—which is what I’ve been doing over the last several months, I’ve been in more than thirty cities—my experience is that people are very hungry for ways to think about the connections between what they’re doing in their particular place, and what people are doing in another place. There are some common questions and values at play, and there are lessons that people can often learn across these really intense segments.

Right now, it’s absolutely clear that many people are getting activated through Black Lives Matter. And Black Lives Matter is connected to a long Black freedom struggle in the United States and globally as well, and it’s also connected to the movement against the prison industrial complex, which has really been developing very significantly over the last twenty years. Going back a few years, many people also came in through the Occupy movement. And as they came in, anarchist politics really loomed large—anarchist politics with both its problems and its possibilities. I think that was a really key entry point for a whole other cohort.

Even as people come in through particular trajectories, I do see a lot of cross-pollination happening right now. Many people I spoke to talked in terms of an idea of a synthetic politics, trying to learn from a variety of traditions and experiences and draw out the best of those traditions and experiences, while also being critical about the failings, the limits of many of those movement histories and also current day politics. So, I do feel like we’re in a moment where lots of people are trying to draw on various things and I think that’s valuable, important and useful.

Can you talk about what you’ve observed particularly for people for whom anarchism is their home base? Where are they coming into this conversation? What particular ideas and critiques do they bring to the larger movements in which they participate?

A lot of people that I’ve been encountering more recently who are coming into anarchist politics bring what I see as some of the real strengths of anarchist politics. These include a strong commitment to deeply democratic or highly participatory forms of self-organization, and really prioritizing that in all the movement spaces that we come into. And also a real strong commitment to direct action, to using confrontational forms of protest to try and create disruption and push at this system in ways that can make a difference. Another thing that I see a lot of anarchists bringing in this moment that is really useful, is a commitment to what is often called prefigurative politics: this idea that to the greatest extent possible, we should try and bring in our visions and values for the better society to what we’re trying to do right now and how we’re trying to organize and using those to build institutions right now that try to serve people’s immediate needs. Those are all really helpful values and practices.

I do think there are both positive and challenging aspects to what I call “actually existing anarchism” in North America. Some of the more difficult things that are commonplace right now are, one, a real reticence about strategy, about trying to develop plans to move us toward a longer term vision of what we want to achieve beyond our immediate activities. Second is a kind of subcultural stuckness, a sense of “Let’s create a radical activist identity with very specific kinds of fashions and vocabularies connected to it, and let’s be in fact skeptical of people who try to connect to us who don’t share our ways of dressing or our ways of talking.” I think that often leads to an insularity that gets in the way of us trying to organize with other people. And there’s also a lot of reticence towards building organizations and institutions that are going to help us keep struggling for the long haul. I understand where some of that skepticism comes from; people don’t want to build parties and I’m totally with that. But at the same time, I do think we need some resilient structures that can facilitate ongoing work and hold people as they age, move through their lives, and continue to stay involved in movements.

Part of the tension here is that within anarchist politics specifically I don’t think we have great ways of talking about reform fights. And talking about some of these campaigns, whether we’re talking about defending reproductive rights, or we’re talking about fights for a higher minimum wage, a so-called living wage, fights to defend particular kinds of long-time labor organizing rights, and so on. Within anarchist politics, we often focus either on the immediate confrontational actions we’re involved in or we talk about our “liberatory” visions for the future, but we do have a very difficult time getting into some of the details of what we’re going to do to actually get ourselves to our “liberatory” visions. And here I think we do need to talk critically about reforms without being dismissive of all reform fights. Because I do think there are ways to evaluate these campaigns and to think critically and constructively about how to engage them.

But it is a messy, difficult process, and that is something that came up again and again as I went around and interviewed people. Because most of the people I interviewed are engaged in precisely these kinds of campaigns. Whether they’re involved in defense campaigns for people facing deportations, whether they’re trying to build labor organizations or feminist institutions and so on, they’re stepping into this messiness, where there are never clear-cut answers about how to navigate all of this, about how to carry our critical commitments while engaging with these real world kinds of campaigns. And the best I can say is that we’ve just got to step in and try and do it and not get too caught up in absolutism or perfectionism.

Given your background and political perspective, why was the book about “anti-authoritarian” rather than “anarchist” politics? Asked differently, or perhaps a separate question: Does the term anti-authoritarian reflect an unwillingness (yours or theirs) to use the word “anarchist”? What motivates that?

I made that decision early on as I was contacting activists and organizers to interview. Keep in mind that I was especially focusing on talking to people of color, queer people, working-class people, and women and gender non-conforming people. What I had been experiencing – and what become very clear as I began conducting interviews – is that there are lots of people in struggle who share broadly similar values, practices, and visions. But only some – a minority, really – of these people call themselves anarchists. And I do think this is connected to some of what I was saying earlier about the challenges of “actually existing anarchism,” which in North America has been too often rooted in predominately white middle-class subcultural scenes and frequently allergic to strategy and organizing.

As I interviewed people, I asked explicitly how they got politicized. These were always incredible conversations. And what I discovered is that there are many trajectories – many ways – into politics that we might call anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, and anti-oppression. People come through radical women of color feminism, prison industrial complex abolitionism, Indigenous sovereignty struggles, radical queer activism, Latin American autonomous movements, and other crucial routes. Often they come through more than one of these. And for some people, anarchism has been a big influence, and for others it has been irrelevant – or worse.

It’s possible that this might be changing. As I’ve been touring, I’ve seen some indications of this. Also, I know there are regional specificities to what anarchism looks like and is associated with across this continent.

In any case, as I was interviewing people, I started using the intentionally broader term “anti-authoritarian” to describe the political current I was encountering and participating in. Of course, this also isn’t a term that everyone uses, and I try to be up front about that in the book. But more people were comfortable with this term. And in trying to make sense of this, I was influenced by Maia Ramnath’s argument in her book Decolonizing Anarchism that perhaps we should see anarchist politics as one manifestation of a much bigger tree or family of anti-authoritarianism.

So, I’m an anarchist, for sure. But I think it’s essential to be critical about anarchism – to recognize that it doesn’t give us all the answers for making revolution in the 21st century and that, in its current form, it has some significant limitations. And in working with other people to build movements, I’ve actually come to be much more concerned with what I think of as the “three P’s”: principles, processes, and practices. I’m more interested in how, why, and toward what end people do things than I am with the specific political labels they use. What I’ve found is that people who call themselves abolitionists, women of color feminists, Indigenous, and/or anti-authoritarian are propelling many of the most dynamic struggles and movements right now. This is the perspective I tried to bring into the book.

What do you think has been the most exciting lesson of the faster moving, broadly expanding movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter?

Well, there are actually many great lessons there, but I think one of the biggest and most exciting and important lessons is that each of these mobilizations reveals new layers of people who have become completely fed up with aspects of this system and maybe haven’t been involved in explicit movement work but are suddenly moving into action.

There’s this kind of weird double way of thinking that sometimes happens on the radical left, when we talk about the masses. The one idea is that the vast majority of people in our society are just brainwashed and dupes and there’s no hope in them. They’re not going to move and so therefore we, as a kind of radical minority, should just try and push as much as we can. And the other view that we sometimes flip into is really romanticizing ordinary people and saying, actually, people are just being held back but they’re ready for insurrection right around the corner.

I think what these mass mobilizations suggest is that neither of those perspectives are quite right, but there are a lot of people who, in various ways, understand that we are living the midst of an interconnected social, ecological, political, and economic crisis. They’re fed up with these circumstances and are hungry for other ways of understanding what’s going on and are ready to move into trying to change things. I think these mobilizations have revealed a wonderful kind of possibility for action that’s far beyond what we often limit ourselves to within activist circles.

Something that I wondered about your intervention in writing this book was how much it was intended as a way for people in what sounds like a very multi-segmented current—encouraging those people to maybe see one another across some differences within the movement or different origins in terms of which activist tradition they’re a part of, to see more commonality. Was that one of your goals? And do you see that as something that’s in process, and something that you’re furthering with the book?

Absolutely. A lot of times, people within social justice activism more generally in the US in particular talk about a kind of silo effect, of many kinds of activist and organizing work happening but in many different silos. And there’s a way that the non-profit structure in organizing contributes to a silo effect, where people are pursuing grants in competition from one another and trying to distinguish themselves as doing important, leading, cutting-edge kinds of work. And that can have all kinds of negative effects.

More generally, broad social and ecological justice activism in North America is very segmented, and that’s not just within the non-profit sector. This happens even among people who are very critical of the non-profit sector, who are involved in radical activism that in some way rejects the non-profit approach. There’s a lot of this kind of competition and dismissal of one another. And often just not really paying attention to what’s happening in other movements or other contexts. This is certainly true in terms of race, in the kind of racial segregation of activism and organizing. It’s certainly true in terms of class, intersecting with race. And it’s certainly true in relation to gender. All of these things play out. Now it’s also true in terms of geography; a lot of people are very much focused on where they are in a particular city or a particular region.

So with this book, I was hoping to at least lift up some common themes, questions, and experiences, that I was hoping could create a situation where people might have some mutual recognition. And so far my experience while going on tour with this book—which is what I’ve been doing over the last several months, I’ve been in more than thirty cities—my experience is that people are very hungry for ways to think about the connections between what they’re doing in their particular locale, and what people are doing in another place. Maybe it’s people who are involved in fighting a pipeline construction project where they live, and in another place, maybe it’s people who are involved in gender-based violence. There are some common questions and values at play, and there are lessons that people can often learn across these pretty intense segments. This is what I was hoping to do and to whatever extent it’s helping to bridge those barriers I’m really happy.

Revised Book Touring Tips

I’m delighted to make available a new version of my “Tips for Going on Book Tour” with more details and recommendations.

I wrote the original version of these tips after the 2011 West Coast tour for Andy Cornell’s book Oppose and Propose!: Lessons from Movement for a New Society, collaboratively published by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies. Harjit Singh Gill and I, both board members of the IAS, went along with Andy to help out with book-selling, driving, and introducing events. The tour, which included seven events between Santa Cruz and Seattle, was a wonderful experience, full of new comrades and great, organizing-oriented discussions.

Besides being excited about Andy’s book, part of what motivated me to co-organize and go on the Oppose and Propose! tour was to develop my book tour organizing skills more generally. I initially wrote the tip sheet as a way to consolidate and share what I’d learned. I’m grateful to Aid and Abet for hosting it alongside other very useful resources on their website.

While touring with Another Politics in 2014-2015, I consistently returned to these tips and used them to build timelines and checklists. Altogether, I organized three tour legs – on the West Coast, across Canada, and along the U.S. East Coast – involving more than 60 events in 35 cities. Throughout this experience, I learned new things about tour organizing and reconsidered some of what I thought I knew. I’ve tried to distill these lessons into the revised and expanded tip sheet.

Most of the available models for book touring are based on entrepreneurship, self-promotion, and money-making. And sadly, these tend to be the default models even within left academic and activist circles. However, there are radical authors – individuals and groups – creating and practicing alternative touring approaches primarily aimed at fostering collective reflection and movement-building. I offer this tip sheet in the hopes of encouraging and supporting these kinds of approaches.

Organizing to Win the World

The March/April 2015 issue of Briarpatch features this excerpt from Another Politics. I’m re-posting it here. Briarpatch is a wonderful longstanding activist magazine in the Canadian context.

“What’s the connection between concrete activities and vision?” This is a provocative question longtime New York housing and HIV/AIDS organizer Michelle O’Brien posed in my interview with her. She was expressing a concern that increasingly preoccupies many radical organizers: How can our activities tangibly build toward achieving social transformation on a large scale? This, fundamentally, is a question of strategy.

What exactly is strategy? Rahula Janowski, a longtime activist in San Francisco, summed it up well: “What’s your goal? What can you do to get there? What are your plans to get there? That’s your strategy.” In this sense, strategy is something we can develop on many different timelines (from days to decades) and scales (from small groups to global movements). In all cases, however, a strategy is a plan or series of plans for moving us from where we are to where we’d like to be.

A major problem in left movements in North America is that we tend to do this sort of planning so infrequently. James Tracy, a housing organizer and writer also in San Francisco, argued that this lack of strategy often results in activists achieving very little. Using a metaphor from a friend, he explained, “Organizing without a strategy is like watching peewee soccer where you throw a ball out and a bunch of little four-year-olds come. They kick the ball, they put everything into it, sometimes they just go crazy with it, with all their energy … and occasionally somebody gets the goal, but you can’t figure out how it happened and you can’t replicate it and you can’t do it better in a more efficient manner.”

This, unfortunately, is what a lot of left political activity looks like. As we struggle, Tracy emphasized, there are no guarantees, but we can improve our possibilities of getting what we want if we’re intentional about what we’re doing. It comes down to a question, he said: “Do you want to have a chance at winning something?”

Barriers to strategy

Many of us involved in movements yearn for strategic discussion. As Toronto-based activist Pauline Hwang put it, “To have some level of dialogue at which these questions are being raised – the questions of long-term direction, the questions of how does our work fit into building the society we want to have after the so-called revolution – having that kind of dialogue is important to me.” This yearning is something I’ve encountered in conversations and workshops with activists across the continent. So why do we have such tremendous difficulty sustaining this kind of dialogue and developing strategy? In my view, there are three major barriers that regularly trip us up.

The first is a tendency toward focusing on principles over plans. This focus is based on a legitimate concern with radicals sacrificing our core values and beliefs in order to win. But focusing exclusively on principles slips into a kind of magical thinking: if we have the right ideas and values, so this goes, everything else will more or less follow. Brooke Lehman, an experienced activist and educator who was involved with Occupy Wall Street in New York, characterized this tendency as an attitude like, “Well, I’m gonna do what I believe in and what feels right to me and just be a piece of this larger whole.”

The trouble is, as Lehman said, “If I can’t articulate what that larger whole is and where that larger whole is going or where it could potentially go, then I’m participating on blind hope, and I think there are a lot of us doing that. And I don’t think you can operate on principles alone. We have to have a strategy, and it has to be a viable one – not just based on an idea of how it could possibly work but we don’t know how to get from here to there.”

One result of this fixation on principles over plans is that activists often spend a lot of time and energy debating whether particular individuals, activities, or organizations are sufficiently “radical” without asking basic questions about how they seek to move us toward actually winning. A focus on political ideas and rhetoric, in this way, eclipses strategic thinking. It also creates a context in which some activists are quick to dismiss any effort – often sloppily using the terms “liberal” and “reformist” – that doesn’t lead directly to the complete destruction of the existing social order. San Francisco direct action organizer David Solnit didn’t mince words about this: “A lot of radicals talk shit about anything short of smashing the state, but they don’t have any idea of how to take necessary steps in that direction.”

If we genuinely want to fundamentally reorganize power in our society, then we have to think long-term about what we’re doing and give up on all-or-nothing answers. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be firm in our politics, but we have to combine this with planning based on what we want to achieve.

A fetish for tactics

The second barrier to developing strategy is a tendency toward fetishizing particular tactics. By tactics, I mean specific forms of collective action such as lobbying politicians, occupying public spaces, going on strike, holding educational events, marching in protests, and street-fighting with cops. Many of us prioritize direct action tactics. These are tactics aimed at directly preventing something from happening (such as stopping an eviction by physically blockading attempts to move people out of a house) or directly making something happen regardless of legality (such as opening up a vacant building so that houseless people can live in it). We value direct action tactics because they involve people collectively recognizing and using their own power rather than appealing to those in power.

The problem is when a particular tactic or bundle of tactics becomes something activists think should be used in any and all situations regardless of the circumstances. As Solnit argued, “It’s like we’re trying to rebuild an engine and we’re ignoring the repair manuals, we’re ignoring the folks down the block who have actually rebuilt 20 or 30 engines. We’re using the same wrenches and ignoring the tool box – the many tactics and tools of movement-building and campaigns. We get stuck: we see a form, like a mass march, a black bloc, or a civil disobedience, and grab onto it – usually on an emotional basis, whatever form feels more powerful to us – without any clue of how are we going to get from here to there or analysis of how power works.” This is fetishism – fixation on particular forms without regard for context.

One of the most troubling outcomes of this is that, as activists and organizers, we end up focusing most of our attention on questions around tactics rather than on how those tactics fit in overall plans to achieve something. This is understandable: it’s much easier to argue about whether particular tactics are valid or effective than it is to create plans to motivate our tactical choices. But the truth is, we can’t evaluate tactics without having a more developed sense of where they are located in a bigger picture. This is the role of strategy.

The crisis treadmill

The third barrier to developing strategy is a tendency toward crisis mode organizing. In Montreal, several people I interviewed self-critically described this as the “Montreal organizing cycle.” Tatiana Gomez, who worked with Solidarity Across Borders, explained, “A lot of our organizing happens in response to emergencies. And so people will do a sprint of organizing over a few months, culminating in a giant action, and then, after the action, there’s little energy left because everyone is burnt.” While this organizing cycle has a specific character in Montreal, it’s actually a widespread dynamic. Indeed, people I spoke to in other cities – from Vancouver to New Orleans – described it again and again in their own circumstances.

We legitimately feel a continual sense of crisis. The ways in which power is organized and administered in our society require that many people experience pervasive insecurity so that a small set of very rich people will experience nearly constant security. The last few decades have seen an all-out assault on movement gains from the last century. Since the onset of the worldwide economic crisis in 2008, this assault has only accelerated, now often under the banner of “austerity.” The crises we experience, then, are generally quite real. And as Gomez pointed out, “Planning follow-up in the context of a crisis or reflecting on how the organizing fits into a longer-term strategy is not always possible in times of emergencies.” This is true.

The problem comes in when we become so absorbed in crisis mode organizing that we constantly postpone any long-term or proactive planning. If we don’t make space for strategic planning – putting our day-to-day fights into broader, conscious frameworks – we end up “running on a treadmill,” in the words of Montreal antiwar and migrant justice organizer Mary Foster. Persistent crisis mode organizing is a good recipe for lots of frenzied activity linked, at times, to broader struggles. However, it’s a poor recipe for achieving long-term transformative goals. While acknowledging the crises around us, then, we have to allow ourselves to pause, reflect, and become more thoughtful and visionary.

Becoming intentional

Thankfully, these barriers aren’t insurmountable. I’m convinced that intentionality is essential for getting around them. Among other things, this involves, as San Francisco organizer Clare Bayard stressed, “having clear goals, having clear plans, being honest and clear about who’s our constituency, who’s not at the table but should be, not getting defensive about it, and then evaluating instead of running on to the next thing, and prioritizing.”

Rahula Janowski, another San Francisco activist, emphasized the piece of this that is perhaps most crucial for organizations: creating a strategic plan. As she argued, “I think it’s worth doing – really articulating it that way – because then we can relate back to it and be like, ‘our goal is this, this is our strategy, does this piece of work fit into it and, if so, how?’” The core insight I take from these suggestions is that we should articulate our aims and how we intend to accomplish them.

Becoming more intentional is also about fostering a movement culture that enables collective and constructive strategic reflection. Crisis mode organizing – compounded by a toxic mix of devastating attacks by ruling elites and absolutist habits on the left – has produced chaotic and sometimes caustic movement cultures. In the blur of embattled activity, it’s difficult to prioritize time for longer-term collective planning and it’s easy to fall into either self-congratulatory or hypercritical patterns of talking about our efforts.

Our movements can and must do better than this. “In order for us to discuss strategy,” as longtime organizer Chris Crass suggests, “we need to believe in the worth of our ideas, develop a culture of supporting one another to explore our ideas, reflect on our experiments of practice, and generate an empowering culture that encourages people to share and engage in positive discussion that pushes beyond the limitations of our current thinking.” As part of this, we should especially invite deep, generous, and ongoing conversations about our theories of social change – how we see transformation happening and how we see ourselves playing a role.

Generating a healthy movement culture involves incorporating more of this type of discussion into all political work. A key part of this is developing regular, collective practices for assessing how what we’re doing measures against our intentions. This is how I understand Bayard’s recommendation about “evaluating instead of running on to the next thing.” While organizing in crisis mode, it’s quite compelling to jump from one activity to the next without much assessment of our efforts. And even when we do evaluate, it’s tempting to gauge the effectiveness of our activities with metrics that are easy to see but actually not very useful: social recognition (how many other activists have noticed what we’re doing), frenzy and exhaustion (how busy and tired we are because of what we’re doing), or, sometimes, state repression (how much effort the police are putting into stopping what we’re doing).

Moving out of the margins challenges us to use measures of effectiveness based on explicit goals. So, in general terms, we might ask: How are our activities winning tangible gains that demonstrate the power of collective action by ordinary people? In what ways is our work bringing more people together and creating new kinds of connections? How is what we’re doing building new confidence and capacities in people, particularly those who are structurally excluded and oppressed in our society? In what ways are our efforts communicating a transformative vision, not just rhetorically but also through how they are organized and what they create? And how are our activities laying the basis for future successful struggles? These, and other questions like them, can serve as starting points for crafting more finely tuned evaluation routines appropriate to our specific circumstances of struggle.

Ultimately, the point of striving for greater intentionality is to become more effective and pliable. It’s not to come up with infallible formulas. This is important to emphasize. Based on a kind of perfectionism, those of us committed to social transformation have a tendency to hold out for certainty and purity in our efforts. We sometimes act as if we have to figure everything out perfectly before engaging in any action. This is a recipe for paralysis and insularity. Atlanta-based organizer and educator Stephanie Guilloud was insistent about this: “If we paused – and people do – at every contradiction, we’d be still. We’d be straight up, just completely stagnant. And that’s just not interesting or what’s needed.”

Developing plans that can somehow guide us past all contradictions, uncertainties, and errors is simply impossible. It’s also not desirable. Successful fights for fundamental social change develop from long-term engagements with the lives and struggles of ordinary people. Such engagements, like anything worth doing in this beautiful and unpredictable world, are complicated and messy. People in struggle are never saints, we frequently have to make demands on institutions we despise, and very rarely do we win everything we want. At the same time, people fighting for justice and dignity have incredible capacities for courage and creativity, dominant systems are seldom as stable as they seem, and history sometimes takes wonderfully unexpected turns. In these circumstances, purity and certainty are for those who are content to sit on the sidelines. The rest of us have to get our hands dirty, grappling with contradictions and complexities – some of which we can resolve and some of which we can’t.

This embrace of messiness is crucial. We’re trying to generate forms of political action that come from popular self-activity and imagination, not the pristine ideas of a select few activists or revolutionaries. This, in part, means humbly acknowledging that our ways of thinking and acting are presently inadequate; they have to change and grow as we build movements involving more and more people with their own experiences, ideas, and priorities. Grappling with complexity and mistakes is key to this process of growth.

With intentionality – collective discussion, planning, and evaluation – we can turn challenges and missteps into opportun­ities to learn lessons, strengthen our efforts, and stay nimble. Messiness and all, this is the only way to build movements, rooted in the lives of millions of people, genuinely capable of taking on ruling relations and institutions. In other words, this is how to have a chance at winning something.

Another Politics East Coast Book Tour

Drawing on interviews with dozens of experienced organizers, Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements engages the convergence of anti-authoritarian radicalism and broader-based movements in the U.S. and Canada. From this convergence, a growing set of activists – from anti-poverty organizers in Toronto to prison abolitionists in Oakland, from occupy activists in New York to migrant justice organizers in Vancouver – are developing shared politics and practices. These efforts combine anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-oppression politics with grassroots organizing among ordinary, non-activist people. Another Politics explores these efforts and distills lessons for building effective, visionary movements.

Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in numerous book collections as well as periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Clamor, Left Turn, and Social Movement Studies. He serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. Dixon lives in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin Territory, where he is a member of the Punch Up collective.

Goals of the Another Politics Tour:

  • Lift up valuable and inspiring organizing currently happening
  • Catalyze spaces for discussion and reflection in our movements
  • Share some recent history and open up difficult questions
  • Spread a sense of possibility, intentionality, and experimentation

All money raised on this tour beyond covering travel costs will go to support radical grassroots initiatives.

Tour Schedule

Haverford: March 27

March 27, 3:15-5pm – Stokes 102, Haverford College: panel discussion with Harsha Walia on “Putting Principles into Practice,” final session of Anarchism, Decolonization, and Radical Democracy Symposium

Philadelphia: March 29-30

March 29, 7-9pm – Wooden Shoe Books, 704 South Street: Another Politics book launch

March 30, 7-10pm – A-Space Anarchist Community Center, 4722 Baltimore Avenue: For the Long Haul: Care, Intention, and Steadiness in Radical Organizing

Baltimore: March 31-April 1

March 31, 7:30pm – Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Avenue: Another Politics book launch

April 1, 7pm – LA 1201, Towson University: Another Politics public lecture

Washington, D.C.: April 2

April 2, 7pm – The Potter’s House, 1658 Columbia Road NW: Another Politics book launch

Chapel Hill/Carrboro: April 6

April 6, 4-6pm – FPG Student Union room 3201, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Taking Ourselves Seriously: Developing Strategy for Social Transformation presentation

April 6, 7pm – Internationalist Books and Community Center, 101 Lloyd Street, Carrboro: Another Politics book launch

New York: April 9-10

April 9, 6-8pm – The New School, 80 5th Avenue, room 529: Another Politics public lecture

April 10, 7:30pm – The Commons, 388 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn: For the Long Haul: Care, Intention, and Steadiness in Radical Organizing presentation

Providence: April 13

April 13, 3-4:30pm – Bert – 85 Waterman St, room 015 (basement), Brown University: Another Politics public lecture

April 13, 6-8pm – DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), 340 Lockwood Street: Movements and Radical Political Change (with Ashanti Alston)

Boston: April 15

April 15, 7pm – Encuentro 5, 9A Hamilton Place: Another Politics public lecture


Another Politics poster designed by Shannon Willmott
Workshop posters designed by Angus Maguire

Another Politics Cross-Canada Book Tour

Drawing on interviews with dozens of experienced organizers, Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements engages the convergence of anti-authoritarian radicalism and broader-based movements in the U.S. and Canada. From this convergence, a growing set of activists – from anti-poverty organizers in Toronto to prison abolitionists in Oakland, from occupy activists in New York to migrant justice organizers in Vancouver – are developing shared politics and practices. These efforts combine anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-oppression politics with grassroots organizing among ordinary, non-activist people. Another Politics explores these efforts and distills lessons for building effective, visionary movements.

Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in numerous book collections as well as periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Clamor, Left Turn, and Social Movement Studies. He serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. Dixon lives in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin Territory, where he is involved in anti-poverty organizing.

Goals of the Another Politics Tour:

  • Lift up valuable and inspiring organizing currently happening
  • Catalyze spaces for discussion and reflection in our movements
  • Share some recent history and open up difficult questions
  • Spread a sense of possibility, intentionality, and experimentation

All money raised on this tour beyond covering travel costs will go to support radical grassroots initiatives.

Tour Schedule

Ottawa: Jan. 20

Jan. 20, 7-9pm – Octopus Books Centretown – Another Politics book launch

Winnipeg: Jan. 22-23

Jan. 22, 2-5pm – Grad Student Lounge, University Centre 217, University of Manitoba – Strategy and Campaign-Planning workshop

Jan. 22, 7-9pm – The Hive, First Floor, Ellice St. Entrance, University of Winnipeg – Another Politics public lecture

Saskatoon: Jan. 26

Jan. 26, 7-10pm – Citizen Cafe and Bakery, 18 – 23rd Street East – Another Politics book launch and strategy workshop

Regina: Jan. 28

Jan. 28, 4-6pm – Classroom Building 313, University of Regina – Another Politics public lecture

Edmonton: Jan. 29-30

Jan. 29, 5:30-7:30pm – Senate Chamber, Old Arts Building, University of Alberta – Another Politics public lecture

Jan. 30, 2-5pm – Central Academic Building 373, University of Alberta – “Relevant, Responsible, and Radical: A Workshop on Conducting Social Movement Research”

Jan. 30, 7pm – Audreys Books (10702 Jasper Avenue) – Another Politics book launch

Calgary: Feb. 2-3

Feb. 2, 6:30-9:30pm – CommunityWise Resource Centre (223 12th Ave SW) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously: Developing Strategy for Social Transformation” workshop

Feb. 3, 7-9pm – Moot Court (building EA, room 1031), Mount Royal University – Another Politics public lecture

Montreal: Feb. 11-12

Feb. 11, 5-7pm – QPIRG Concordia (1500 de Maisonneuve West, #204) – Another Politics book launch (with Helen Hudson)

Feb. 12, 1:30-3:30pm – Centre for Gender Advocacy (1500 de Maisonneuve W. #404) – Discussion on dismantling privilege in activist movements

Kingston: Feb. 23-24

Feb. 23, 2-4pm – JDUC 240 in the Sutherland Room, Queen’s University – “Relevant, Responsible, and Radical: A Workshop on Conducting Social Movement Research”

Feb. 24, 7-9pm – AKA Autonomous Social Centre (red and black house on Queen St. at Wellington) – Another Politics book launch

Toronto: Feb. 25-26

Feb. 25, 6-9:30pm – OISE 8201 (252 Bloor Street West) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously: Developing Strategy for Social Transformation” workshop

Feb. 26, 7pm – Another Story Book Shop (315 Roncesvalles Ave.) – Another Politics book launch

Kitchener-Waterloo: Feb. 27

Feb. 27, 6pm – Downtown Community Centre (35B Weber Street W.) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously: Developing Strategy for Social Transformation” workshop

Sudbury: March 1-2

March 1, 12-3pm – Greater Sudbury Public Library (74 Mackenzie Street) – Strategy and Campaign-Planning workshop

March 2, 10am-12pm – West Rest 132 at Laurentian University – Another Politics public lecture

Another Politics posters designed by Shannon Willmott and Krishna Lalbiharie
Workshop posters designed by Angus Maguire and Krishna Lalbiharie

Another Politics West Coast Book Tour

Drawing on interviews with dozens of experienced organizers, Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements engages the convergence of anti-authoritarian radicalism and broader-based movements in the U.S. and Canada. From this convergence, a growing set of activists – from anti-poverty organizers in Toronto to prison abolitionists in Oakland, from occupy activists in New York to migrant justice organizers in Vancouver – are developing shared politics and practices. These efforts combine anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-oppression politics with grassroots organizing among ordinary, non-activist people. Another Politics explores these efforts and distills lessons for building effective, visionary movements.

Chris Dixon, originally from Alaska, is a longtime anarchist organizer, writer, and educator with a PhD from the University of California at Santa Cruz. His writing has appeared in numerous book collections as well as periodicals such as Anarchist Studies, Clamor, Left Turn, and Social Movement Studies. He serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies and the advisory board for the activist journal Upping the Anti. Dixon lives in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded Algonquin Territory, where he is involved in anti-poverty organizing.

Goals of the Another Politics Tour:

  • Lift up valuable and inspiring organizing currently happening
  • Catalyze spaces for discussion and reflection in our movements
  • Share some recent history and open up difficult questions
  • Spread a sense of possibility, intentionality, and experimentation
  • Distribute the 2015 Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar

All money raised on this tour beyond covering travel costs will go to support radical grassroots initiatives.

Tour Schedule

October 23-24: Victoria, B.C.

Oct. 23, 4-6pm – Clearihue C112, University of Victoria – Another Politics public lecture

Oct. 24, 6-9pm – Camas Infoshop (2620 Quadra Street) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously” workshop

October 27-28: Vancouver, B.C.

Oct. 27, 7-9pm – Room 1600, Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre (515 W. Hastings St.) – Another Politics public lecture (with comments from Harjap Grewal of No One Is Illegal-Vancouver Coast Salish Territories, Gary Kinsman of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty, and Lisa Freeman of SFU Geography)

Oct. 28, 7-9pm – Purple Thistle Centre (#260-975 Vernon Dr.) – “For the Long Haul” workshop

October 29: Bellingham, WA

Oct. 29, 12-1:20pm – Fairhaven Auditorium, Western Washington University – Another Politics public lecture

October 30-November 1: Seattle, WA

Oct. 30, 4-6pm – Room 211, Smith Hall, University of Washington – Another Politics public lecture

Nov. 1, 1:30-4:30pm – Beacon Hill Library (2821 Beacon Ave S) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously” workshop

November 4: Olympia, WA

Nov. 4, 10-11:30am – Library 4300, The Evergreen State College – Another Politics public lecture

Nov. 4, 7pm – Orca Books (509 E. 4th Ave.) – Another Politics book launch

November 5-6: Portland, OR

Nov. 5, 6-8pm – Jobs With Justice (1500 NE Irving St. #585) – “Taking Ourselves Seriously” workshop

Nov. 6, 6pm – Room 101, Smith Memorial Student Union, Portland State University – Another Politics public lecture

November 7-8: Corvallis, OR

Nov. 7, 12pm – Milam Hall 319A, Oregon State University – Another Politics public lecture

Nov. 8, 7pm – Westminster House (101 NW 23rd Street) – Another Politics activist event

November 10-11: Eugene, OR

Nov. 10, 1-2:30pm – Longhouse (Building 31), Lane Community College – Another Politics public lecture

Nov. 10, 7-9pm – 132 Lillis Hall, University of Oregon – Another Politics public lecture

November 13-15: San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Nov. 13, 1pm – 554 Barrows Hall, University of California, Berkeley – Another Politics public lecture (with Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance)

Nov. 13, 6-8pm – 102 Wurster Hall, University of California, Berkeley – Visionary Politics, A Community Conversation (with Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance and Danny Murillo of UnderGround Scholars))

Nov. 15, 2:45-3:45pm – Howard Zinn Bookfair at Mission High School (3750 18th Street, San Francisco) – Discussion of another politics (with Clare Bayard of Catalyst Project)

November 18: Santa Cruz, CA

Nov. 18, 12-1:45pm – Baskin Lecture Hall, University of California, Santa Cruz – guest lecture on the global justice movement

November 21-23: Los Angeles, CA

Nov. 22, 7-9pm – 977 Chung King Rd. – Another Politics public presentation

Nov. 23, 6-10pm – The Last Bookstore (453 S. Spring Street) – Another Politics book launch

November 25: San Diego, CA

Nov. 25, 4-7pm – Che Cafe, University of California, San Diego – “Taking Ourselves Seriously” workshop

Another Politics poster designed by Shannon Willmott
Workshop posters designed by Angus Maguire

Anarres Project Interview

The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures recently interviewed me as part of their online series. I’m re-posting it here. The project is definitely worth checking out! (And you can also find this interview on Truthout.)

What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?

That’s a long story, as I imagine it is for most people you interview.

I came into radical politics in my early teens, thanks largely to the public alternative school I attended in Anchorage, Alaska. As a teenager, I was mostly an activist, focused on expressing dissent and demonstrating opposition. Influenced by punk rock, my friends and I developed a shared identity around our rejection of prevailing values and ruling institutions. We had a lot of heart and creativity, and we were also at times obnoxiously self-righteous!

I developed more of an organizing perspective, focused on bringing people together to build collective power and take collective action, through my experiences in social movements. The global justice movement was especially pivotal for me. In 1997, when I was in college in Olympia, Washington, I traveled with friends to participate in in the protests against the Vancouver summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. In Vancouver, I was very inspired by the ways in which many activists grounded their efforts in solidarity with Indigenous resistance and movements in the global South. Two years later, I collaborated with others along the West Coast in launching the Direct Action Network (DAN), which became the organizing hub for the surprisingly successful mass direct action against the Seattle Ministerial of the World Trade Organization in late November 1999.

In the wake of the Seattle victory, many of us involved became increasingly aware of the limitations of our efforts. As my comrade Steph Guilloud, a leading DAN organizer, would later write, “We were not building a long-term resistance movement: we were mobilizing for a protest.” In the process, we clearly overlooked some fundamental issues. Longtime activist and writer Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez, in a widely circulated article, posed one question with which many of us were grappling: “Where was the color in Seattle?” Her intervention and others inspired widespread discussions about not only racism, but also other social hierarchies at play in the global justice movement. They also raised important questions about organizing and strategy.

A more recent experience that influenced my organizing perspective was the five years I spent living in Sudbury, Ontario, a small mining city located about 250 miles north of Toronto. Although it has a distinguished history of militant labor organizing, Sudbury isn’t an easy place to build movements anymore. The few working-class organizations that have survived the last three decades of neoliberal assault are barely holding on, most people struggle to make ends meet, and there is a pervasive sense of resignation.

Living in Sudbury from 2007-2012 was eye-opening for me. I worked as part of a very small crew of activists involved in anti-war and Indigenous solidarity organizing. I also participated in solidarity actions with striking miners and a support campaign for John Moore, a local Indigenous man fighting a racist conviction that had sent him to prison for a decade for a crime he didn’t commit. And toward the end of my time there, I was involved in Occupy Sudbury and then a re-launch of the Sudbury Coalition Against Poverty.

Were there any special lessons about organizing that you think we ought to learn from the global justice movement of the 1990s and early 2000s?

Based on these experiences, the lesson I take from the global justice movement is twofold. On the one hand, it showed me the magnificent possibilities that can erupt through collective action. Sometimes well-laid plans, large numbers of emboldened people, and circumstances beyond our control can come together in ways that feel magical. On the other hand, the global justice movement demonstrated to me that even the most magical moments are fleeting and limited when we don’t lay the foundations for a resilient movement grounded in diverse communities. This requires long-term (and often not-so-flashy) alliance-building and organizing.

You’ve written on your blog about the need to learn how to organize in spaces outside of big urban areas.  Why is it important for social justice organizers to learn how to work in rural areas or small cities?

Among other things, my time in Sudbury helped me see the importance of organizing outside large metropolitan areas. After all, huge numbers of people in North America live in small cities and rural areas. And although the Left often ignores these people, significant sections of the Right don’t make that same mistake. Also, learning to organize outside big cities helps us to avoid city-centric activist tendencies (such as assuming that everyone has access to the internet or transportation, or that everyone is comfortable with a fast pace of activity) that frequently limit our efforts wherever we live and struggle.

These experiences in the Pacific Northwest, Sudbury, and other places have deeply shaped how I think about organizing. I’ve come to believe three core things: (1) any hopes for positive social transformation hinge on our ability to build movements across lines of advantage and oppression with those with direct experience of oppression and exploitation in the lead; (2) the kind of social changes that we’d like to achieve require fierce struggles involving large numbers of ordinary people, most of whom don’t – and perhaps won’t – think of themselves as “activists”; and (3) the only way we are going to get what we want is by building enough collective power – power capable of both disrupting ruling institutions and constructing viable counterinstitutions – that we can force powerholders to accede to our demands.

Who would you consider your social justice heroes and why?

I draw inspiration from a lot of people. Some are organizers of the past, such as Ella Baker and Judi Bari. Baker was a skilled and dedicated organizer among African American communities in the U.S. South in the middle decades of the twentieth century. One of the main advisors to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, she championed and manifested a commitment to long-term organizing, grassroots democracy, and what she called “group-centered leadership.” Her influence looms large in the Black freedom struggle. Bari organized with Earth First! in the early 1990s to protect old growth forests in Northern California. A working-class mother, she played a key role in bridging direct action environmentalism with labor struggles and other social justice issues. Her broad political vision and commitment to alliance-building contributed to a crucial transformation in Earth First! Bari’s success also made her a target of the FBI.

I also think there are many unsung social justice heroes around us today. Two I know personally who I would include in this category are Harsha Walia and Gary Kinsman. Walia is an organizer with No One Is Illegal – Vancouver Coast Salish Territories and many other initiatives. As an activist, writer, and public speaker, she has played an especially important role in foregrounding Indigenous solidarity work and anti-racist feminism in social justice movements. Kinsman is a longtime queer liberation, anti-poverty, and anti-capitalist activist who lived for many years in Sudbury. He played a foundational role in much radical queer activism in the Canadian context, and he is also a leading scholar of state regulation of sexuality. Both Walia and Kinsman demonstrate what it means to sustain a long haul commitment to social justice, building vision and ties across struggles.

What gives you hope for the future?

Social movements give me so much hope! I’m particularly inspired by grassroots movements with broad democratic participation that don’t shy away from articulating bold visions and engaging in disruptive forms of collective action. In recent years, I’ve been energized by Idle No More, anti-prison organizing, the radical wing of the climate justice movement, direct action migrant justice organizing, bottom-up labor militancy, and the 2012 Quebec student strike. In these examples, I see a lot of messy experimentation, action, and discussion, which is exactly what I think we need.

I also get a lot of hope from people’s everyday activities to survive and thrive in the face of exploitation, oppression, and violence. Whether migrants making their ways across borders without state permission, low-paid workers stealing from their employers, or (mostly) women sharing care-giving responsibilities for children in their neighborhoods, people are constantly working out innovative ways to get around the systems that rule our lives. I’m convinced that any successful large-scale revolutionary efforts will have to tap into these everyday activities.

What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social justice in the future?

I want to be clear about this: the most significant obstacle to social justice is the set of interlinked systems of domination – colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and ableism – that are generating misery and destruction in lives and ecosystems across the planet. Together, these systems serve to enrich a small layer of incredibly wealthy people while keeping the vast majority of us divided and demobilized.

In addition to this main obstacle, there are also obstacles with which we have to contend in our movements. I’ll mention three here briefly. One is the tendency for movement spaces, usually unconsciously, to replicate oppressive values, structures, and practices from the society in which we live. A second obstacle is the widespread habit of crisis-mode organizing – continually mobilizing in response to emergencies in such a way that creating longer-term vision and strategy becomes very difficult. And third obstacle is the story we often tell ourselves about being “the righteous few” – forever embattled and marginal, courageously and necessarily apart from broader layers of people.

In highlighting these three obstacles, I don’t think I’m saying anything particularly new. But I do strongly believe that we have to grapple with these and other ways that we undermine our own efforts.

What books would you recommend people look at for social change and why?

I feel like we’re living in a time of so much good writing related to social change! There are two types of books that I especially recommend. One is social movement histories. These are books that help us understand past efforts and offer us grounded lessons for current work. For some great examples, check out Reluctant Reformers by Robert Allen and Pamela Allen; Oppose and Propose! by Andrew Cornell; Freedom Dreams by Robin Kelley; Gender and Sexuality by Scott Neigh; Poor People’s Movements by Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward; Freedom is an Endless Meeting by Francesca Polletta; Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy; and A Promise and a Way of Life by Becky Thompson.

I also recommend reading books, especially manuals, about social and ecological justice organizing. These kinds of books help us to reflect on how we do what we do and how we can do it better. Some real gems include Organize! Building from the Local for Global Justice edited by Aziz Choudry, Jill Hanley, and Eric Shragge; Resource Manual for a Living Revolution by Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser, and Christopher Moore; Organizing Cools the Planet by Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell; Instead of Prisons by the Prison Research Education Project; The Troublemaker’s Handbook 2 edited by Jane Slaughter; The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk; and Uses of a Whirlwind edited by Team Colors Collective.

Would you tell us about your work with the Institute for Anarchist Studies?

Sure! I’m a member of the collective that runs the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS). The IAS is an eighteen-year-old organization that annually gives out grants to support radical writers and translators. To date, we’ve funded more than one hundred projects by people all over the world. In addition, we have two main publishing initiatives. In collaboration with AK Press and Justseeds Artists’ Cooperative, we publish the Anarchist Interventions book series. There are six books so far, the most recent of which is Harsha Walia’s Undoing Border Imperialism. We also publish the journal Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, usually once per year. Each issue is organized around a theme such ascare” or “movement.” As well, we periodically organize educational events, includingtracks at conferences, panels, and onetime talks.

With all of this work, our goal is to help build extra-academic intellectual infrastructure for the anti-authoritarian left. We aim to direct our support primarily toward those who don’t have access to university resources and whose intellectual work is grounded in movements. To do this, we rely on regular contributions from a lot of people. If you’d like to help, please go to the support page on our website.

Another Politics is out!

Some good news: Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements, the book that I have been working on for the past several years, is out from the University of California Press! You can look for Another Politics at your local independent bookstore or order it through the UC Press website. I invite you to get a copy, read it, share it, and, if you appreciate it, “like” it on Facebook and/or write a customer review on Amazon.com.

Over the coming year, I’ll be touring with this book on the U.S./Canadian West Coast (in October/November), across the Canadian context (in the winter), on the U.S. East Coast (in the spring), and in other regions as well. My aim is to use book events to lift up inspiring and effective organizing work that is happening all over North America, and to help catalyze discussions to strengthen our movements. I hope to see you during my travels! And in the meantime, I welcome your feedback on the book!

Media for Movement Self-Reflection

In fall 2012, I was asked to speak at a Media Democracy conference in Ottawa. At first, I wasn’t sure what I could contribute. While I’ve had a long-time appreciation for activist media, I’d never actually considered myself a media maker. This is interesting, considering my work with Left Turn magazine (RIP), Upping the Anti, and publishing projects of the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

On reflection, I realized I’ve been involved with very specific kind of media-making, what I think of it as media for movement self-reflection. By this, I mean media that help us, as activists, to discuss collectively what we’re doing, what we want to achieve, what challenges we’re facing, and how we can strengthen our efforts.

My investment in creating and sustaining media for movement self-reflection is pretty simple. Based on my understanding of social movement histories, I’m convinced that successful movements require lively, serious, and widely-used media to facilitate self-reflection – to discuss strategy and vision, and to catalyze new forms of action.

The big question for me is: What forms of media for movement self-reflection can we develop that are adequate to this moment and to our movements? I honestly don’t know the answer. But growing out of my experiences, I have some ideas about what features media for movement self-reflection should have. I’ll mention three here.

1. Build radical intellectual culture

Have you ever looked at an academic journal or book? Across disciplines, they tend to be fairly consistent in form: specialized vocabulary, agonistic argumentative style, ample citations, and prominently displayed author credentials. This form communicates that only a select, “in the know” few can participate.

In the absence of a vibrant and broad-based left today, these sorts of academic conventions have unfortunately come to stand in for genuine radical intellectual culture, even in a lot of activist media. They make it seem like the only way to discuss ideas is to speak and write like an academic.

But our movements need a much wider and more deeply engaged intellectual culture – a culture that invites and welcomes people rather than telling them that they’re stupid and not part of the club. One important task, then, for movement media is to generate positive collective spaces for people to develop ideas and discuss them. As part of this, it’s particularly crucial to facilitate contributions from those who are conventionally excluded from officially-recognized intellectual culture through systems of ableism, hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism.

To be clear, I’m not calling for banning big words and abstract discussions, or being less rigorous. But I do believe that building sophisticated radical intellectual culture requires intentional and sustained movement educational work, such as writing workshops, critical literacy programs, and study groups.

One small example of this is the simple and straightforward writing suggestions featured in every issue of The Abolitionist. Also, check out the detailed study groups guide recently developed by Mamos of the Black Orchid Collective in Seattle.

2. Bridge conversations and movement sectors

Have you participated in a comment thread on Facebook in which you’ve offered your opinion about an activist effort? That’s a kind of movement self-reflection that many of us do regularly. The tragedy is that Facebook keeps us separated into friend silos that limit our discussions and reflective capacities. So, while there is a tremendous amount of reflective work happening on Facebook, most of it isn’t connected very widely or playing the catalyzing role that it could. In various ways, this manifests in other forms of web-based media and in print publications too.

To build broad and smart movements, we need media that help us climb out of our silos and engage with other sectors. In part, this involves bringing together contributions coming from different political perspectives and movement experiences. The point is to facilitate conversations that can enable new kinds of alliances and strategies.

Left Turn magazine, over its more than ten-year life, offered one good example of this kind of cross-movement media effort. Online, Organizing Upgrade has pointed in this direction as well.

3. Grapple with difficult questions in ways that open up possibilities

There are two common forms of how we, as activists, tend to write or talk about movement efforts. One is cheerleading, highlighting how totally amazing an initiative is, and the other is tearing down, emphasizing how completely messed up something is. What’s more rare – but what I think we desperately need – is a third form: grappling with situations in which things aren’t 100% awesome or horrible. This means embracing complexity and acknowledging that we can constantly learn from what we’re doing.

For this, we need movement media that aren’t about cheerleading or tearing down, but instead push us to discuss difficult questions: What mistakes have we made? What limitations do our efforts currently have? What have we actually achieved? What should we do differently next time? The point in grappling with these kinds of questions is to learn lessons and improve our efforts, understanding that everything we do is an experiment worthy of evaluation.

Organized well, roundtables featuring several activists reflecting on their work can dig into difficult questions and distill lessons. Many of the roundtables featured in Upping the Anti have succeeded at this. The “Waves of Resistance” roundtable in Harsha Walia’s book Undoing Border Imperialism offers another great example, as does the roundtable on working-class power in last November’s issue of Briarpatch magazine.

How do you think about media for movement self-reflection? What features do you think are important? What examples do you learn from?