December 14, 2016

A candidate for the Unifying Theme of Activism

fingers into a fist

When will disaffected American whites realize that the clown they put in the White House will do nary a thing to improve their lives? The answer is, probably sooner than anyone realizes. I think it behooves those of us involved in justice work to have our act together when the disappointment comes. And make no mistake: Trump will disappoint.

So what do we do when the feces hit the windmill? I think we need to seriously search for the Unifying Theme of Activism. Let me elaborate with a quote from a couple of friends of mine:

"There is more than sufficient demand for reform. And there are more than sufficient reforms under consideration. But to our view . . . there is an insufficiency of focus. There needs to be a unifying theme that will galvanize the movement and enhance its power. From this enhanced power – and only from such enhanced power — can foundational democratic reforms emerge. This is the last great challenge in shaping the current moment for reform into a necessary transformational politics." (John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America, pg. 278, original emphasis)

I think that those of us involved in positive political activism of whatever stripe ought to prioritize this search for the Unifying Theme. To help spur the discussion along, let me offer one candidate for the Unifying Theme: Pex, a rebranded version of parecon, or participatory economics. I've talked about this before; I had even made it one of the focal points of activism I had worked on over the past decade and I'm now seriously thinking of making this the sole primary focus of activism for myself going forward.

Why should Pex be a candidate for the Unifying Theme? Because so many points are tied up to our economy — environmental impacts, workers' rights, corporate lobbying and corporate involvement in elections, economic justice, media freedom, even racism that have been tied in to our current predicament. Worse, there has been precious little development or even consideration of serious economic alternatives. Even exploring the space of possible alternative economics systems is all but forbidden in our wider culture, and could spur a new breed of redbaiting.

Why rebrand it? Simply put, I think "Parecon" as a name won't work. Even the short form of the name has "econ" in it, and that smacks of nerdspeak that will repell most non-nerds (the majority of the population). Abbreviate it further (participatory economics), and stylize it to make it look and rhyme with "sex". Ah, much better.

What should we do? I don't think we should put all our eggs in one basket. We should experiment with pex (pexperiment?) in as many different ways as we can. To offer some proposed ideas:

  1. A computerized model / game / network to illustrate that it can work. One serious problem has been a lack of imagination, to illustrate how our proposals would work in the here and now. I seriously wonder if this might be something we can solve with computers — first as a computerized simulacrum, along the lines of a glorified version of cellular automata, maybe eventually as a full-fledged video game. It might be hard to simulate this in the real world, but there's theoretically no reason we can't simulate this in one or more virtual worlds.

  2. Work on the Patton Proposal: Work and fight to implement this in current institutions. Eric Patton wrote a proposal on ZNet that I think ranks as one of the most inspiring things ever written — to fight to make a current well-known organization go participatory. In my opinion, this might be the most difficult task one can take, but as the proposal makes clear one with potentially huge rewards. I regret not working on this sooner but am gung-ho to do as much to make this happen starting now.

  3. Tie it in to other activism efforts. For example, climate science tells us that we need to keep most of our carbon budget unspent, lest we unleash a warming trend that will transform Earth into another fiery Venusian hell. One big motivation against that is that our economy, and a great many corporations, use carbon fuels as their lifeblood. In order to change that, we would need to change the economy to disincentivize the burning of coal. It's a potentially profound connection to make, and one worth elaborating on in a subsequent post.

I offer some additional ideas in my ebook on the topic, which is online here, and which I am making freely available to the public.

It's no problem to fill people in the streets in protest, but protest can't be sustained on its own. It has to be part of some larger, more cohesive whole, and I hope that some Unifying Theme, whether it be Pex or something else, serve as that critical lynchpin.