| For Flacks'
essay, "Reflections on Strategy in a Dark Time," click here.
Building a BaseColin Greer Thanks to Richard Flacks for once again pushing us to address the problems and prospects for the left in our time. In that spirit I'd like to propose a distinction between community-based democracy and community-level base-building. Flacks' call to a community-based dem-ocracy is vague though attractive, and leaves difficult and disturbing pictures of otherness (race, religion, class, gender, elitism) unaddressed. They will be no less menacing for this inattention.
But community-level base-building for a democratic movement is quite another matter. We absolutely need to focus on and support work in this area. That means building organizational capacity, political analysis, strategic direction, and democratic practice to create the world we want in the organizations we build to achieve it.
All over the country community-based groups have, for at least 20 years, been building and growing organizations that are rooted in membership and not in legislative advocacy agendas -- which for 20 years have been increasingly cut off from any movement base. We need to take great care if and when we aim to create a national entity through national organizations that have had their eyes on Washington: this is not a plausible route to community-level base-building.
New organizations are forming which represent current maturity and continuing development along these lines. These organizations are developing with a clear eye to short-term effectiveness but with a strong focus on the long-term democratic development, too. The National Organizers' Alliance is attracting organizers across training and leadership traditions and attracting young people into a new national progressive network. Statewide organizations in many states have grown from community-built institutions and are now aiming to form a collaborative network that could involve as many as 18 states. The environmental justice organizations that were fledgling just eight or nine years ago are now beginning to form national networks based on the grassroots initiatives that spawned them, and to provide serious alternatives to the established national advocacy organizations. These are promising developments.
Also, a word about statism. Despite the collapse of national control of economies, Flacks' progressive agenda requires a continuing struggle for state power. Though globalization has created an unprecedentedly powerful force, which seems to cast national governments aside at will, global corporate strength does actively seek to manipulate national governments because national policies are relevant and significant. It is not that leftist state focus is out of date and that we've been left behind by history, but rather that we've lost the fight for the state and others have won it.
While the health of this electoral democracy is paper-thin, it remains the
case, at least for now, that there is a popular expectation and belief in it.
This may not continue much beyond the current generation. It may be replaced
by a repressive system seemingly more compatible with corporate global greed.
Meanwhile, engaging in the battle for this national government, as Flacks implies
in his proposals, is crucial. We need to be clear about that, not clouded by
some sense that history has passed us by. Our actions now, especially in the
form of a community-based, national popular progressive resistance to what's
happening, can help make history. Building democracy in our own organizations
is absolutely key to maintaining a
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