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Protest Organizing vs. Visionary Organizing

Soviet cogitations: 1020
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Jul 2011, 15:17
Party Member
Post 18 Jun 2012, 21:42
Left Turn magazine recently published an article by Matthew Birkhold, a Brooklyn-based writer and activist, entitled “Living by the Clock of the World: Grace Lee Boggs’ Call for Visionary Organizing.”[1] The article is an attempt to “clarify” a quote from a recent interview with Grace Lee Boggs in which the 96 year-old movement veteran argues that young activists today should “Turn [their] back on protest organizing” because it leads them into “defensive operations.”[2] Instead, Boggs argues, activists should practice “visionary” organizing which “gives you the opportunity to encourage the creative capacity in people.” The interview caused a small stir. At a time when movements from Egypt to the United States are putting mass struggle back on the agenda, why would anyone argue against it? “Fans of Grace,” comments Birkhold, treated her argument as “common sense,” while others felt like her position “bordered on conservatism.”

In Boggs’s vocabulary, what most activists engage in—protests, marches, demonstrations and the like—is “rebellion.” Rebellions are moments of protest that attack the legitimacy of society’s dominant institutions. Rebellions, however, “cannot lead to the reorganization of society” because people still “see themselves as victims…and the other side as villains.” “Revolutions,” on the other hand, project a new “notion of a more human human being” and “create societies more conducive to human development.”[3]

So-called “visionary” (or sometimes “transformative”) organizing is therefore a “revolutionary” strategy (in Boggs’s vocabulary) which seeks to break people from “the bourgeois method of thought on which U.S. capitalism is based” by developing alternative institutions and communities—such as community gardens, small businesses and free schools—that facilitate doing “the work of re-imagining ourselves” and helping us “think beyond capitalist categories.”[4]

What both Boggs and Birkhold don’t see, however, is that collective action cannot be separated from the process of creating a new society or transforming people’s consciousness—they are part of the same process of revolutionizing society. It is not ideas that change the world; it is changing the world that transforms our ideas. People do not simply “re-imagine” themselves. The transformation of consciousness is rooted in mass struggle—demonstrations, strikes, etc.—that has the potential to raise people’s expectations, sense of solidarity, and their confidence as agents of historical change. To lead activists away from collective action (or to mechanically separate it from the actual process of reorganizing society) is to lead people away from the manner by which the working class and the oppressed, therefore, develop a revolutionary consciousness, and eventually, learn to democratically rule society themselves.
Soviet cogitations: 19
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 25 Aug 2012, 03:30
New Comrade (Say hi & be nice to me!)
Post 26 Aug 2012, 02:43
That's a good article.

I'm not sure about the specific forms mentioned: community gardens, small businesses, free schools, etc. However, cultural societies, recreational clubs, and food banks are, if organized all at the same time, components of this "visionary organizing." I call it a different term, though, one used by historian Vernon Lidtke: the Alternative Culture.

This was a crucial component of German Social Democracy's revolutionary strategy. It was employed to some extent by the Blank Panthers. Grassroots discussion in the Greek SYRIZA itself is leading toward this.
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