Read Kacey S.W.’s piece “Fighting Collective Amnesia” on It’s Going Down or TheAnarchistLibrary.org.
Read “From Antiglobe To Antifa: A Recent History Of Anarchist Struggle In NYC” by some anarchists in It’s Going Down. Includes printable PDF edition.
Read “After the Crest, The Life Cycle of Movements” by CrimethInc. This includes some helpful questions for groups to discuss during waning phases of a movement. Check out all 4 parts of the series.
Read “Anarchist Federation (Greece): To the anarchist movement and everybody in the USA that participates in the struggle” on what Greek anarchists have learned from their own struggles.
Check out Dean Spade’s pieces “Having a Cause” versus Living in a Life Centered in Radical Transformation” and “Organizational Culture Chart” for some ideas on long term organizing, as an individual or as a group.
Learn about Cooperation Jackson.
Learn about the Symbiosis Confederation.
Listen to “Black Socialists Of America On Building Dual Power In An Age Of Crisis” on It’s Going Down to learn about building alternative institutions and counter power.
Check out ROAR magazine’s Dual Power issue.
Welcome to the conclusion of Season 2 of Rebel Steps! I’m your host Liz.
When we started this season, I was not prepared to release it during a pandemic and an uprising. When we started putting together this season a year and a half ago and releasing in January, we had no idea how radically the world was going to change. The protests in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the havoc of COVID-19, exacerbated by the mismanagement of politicians, have all permanently changed the political and cultural landscapes. It’s challenged some of my assumptions about how the world works, what’s possible, and what can change, and how quickly.
And in addition to our season 2 episode, we’ve been releasing rent strike episodes with tenant organizers and an abolition episode with Mariame Kaba. But despite all the changes and upheavals, and twists and turns, I do want to offer some concluding thoughts on season 2 of Rebel Steps and look forward to what’s next.
First, for a little house keeping on the podcast. We’ve put out some extra episodes lately. This is in part because I’ve been furloughed from my job and have a lot of time available for reading, editing, interviewing and writing. I’ve realized that I could probably spend all my time working on the podcast. At the very least, I would like to be able to work on it maybe one to two days a week. In order to afford that, we will need some more patreon subscribers. I know it’s a challenging time for everyone, but if you enjoy this podcast, and you find it helpful, please consider supporting us. We put out short producers’ notes for our patrons that are sort of a behind the scenes look at the episode. And as a patron, you can download those directly to your podcasting apps! Which I think is really cool. To do the old numbers game, if half our listeners donated at the $2 level, I’d definitely be able to do this part time and maybe even full time. If 1 out of 5 listeners donated at the $5 level, same thing.
We have some great episodes planned for you, including another tenant organizing episode and an episode on defense committees. I really want to continue putting out lots and lots of timely content. But it will really depend on me being able to work on this more than just on weekends. I know there’s a lot of need right now, and I totally understand if you can’t support. But, if you can, it will make a huge difference to the future of the podcast. And if there’s something that would really entice you participate, whether that’s a discord or a live stream, please let me know! I’m interested in getting more people involved in the community around the podcast.
Okay, with that out of the way, on with some conclusions!
The first season of this podcast was focused on what each of us could do to step up and join social movements. This season had two focuses. Primarily, it explored working together. Working together means making decisions with our comrades, sharing our stories with each other and with those ready to join our movements, defending each other from violence of all kinds, working through inevitable arguments, supporting each other through difficult times, and much more. Secondarily, it emphasized that this is a long term struggle. The work of striving toward a better world doesn’t end with a presidential term or a newscycle. It’s something we’ll all need to work on together for decades. That second point is what I want to focus on in this conclusion.
One thing that came up again and again in our interviews was the importance of onboarding new participants. Similar to the period after 2016 election, COVID-19, the rent strikes and the uprisings this year have mobilized a huge new group of people. Right now, our movements are swelling and shifting in new and interesting ways. Anyone who’s already involved can help build a long term movement by welcoming these new people to the movement, and passing on the message that this is for the long haul.
This whole podcast is my attempt to onboard people. And while a podcast might help speed up the process, in the end, a lot of onboarding will have to be done in groups, in conversations, in community with other people. So please, wherever you are, give everyone stepping up right now a warm welcome to the movement. Introduce them to new books and podcasts and ideas. Invite them to wrestle with the challenging questions. It’s crucial work right now. We can come out the otherside of these upheavals stronger if we welcome these news folks to our movements.
The next thing I want to highlight is political education. When I started season 1, I was very clear that Rebel Steps was going to be about taking action more than anything else. There’s a lot of people in my life who know a lot about how and why the world is messed up, but don’t really do much about it beyond voting. This podcast was meant to be an antidote to that attitude. But, right now, I want to highlight that there are different types of information we can seek out, and some might be more helpful than others. There is a place for learning more about how unjust and ugly “the system” is. But there’s also the study of social movements, how they’ve worked and what tactics they used to be effective.
This goes hand in hand with onboarding. Newcomers may be excited to engage with social movements, but may not know what’s already been tried and what tactics are out there. One example of political education happening now is around the terms “mutual aid” and “defund the police.” While liberals have rushed to depoliticize these terms, anarchists, activists, and abolitionists have worked tirelessly to educate new participants of the lineage of these traditions. As Mariame Kaba mentioned in the episode on abolition, understanding this lineage helps ground our movements.
And also, political education isn’t just for new participants. Often, when I’ve found myself in a rut with organizing and politics, the way out is study of other movements and exposure to new ideas. Don’t be afraid to question how you or those around you are doing things. Search out new tactics, strategies, and ideas. History and theory offers us many lessons. Just balance your study with participation and experimentation and you’ll find what works.
Alongside political education, building up collective memory is another important part of movement building and onboarding. In order to actually invite new participants to fully engage, we will need to pass along the history of our movements. I don’t just mean icons from a century ago or the history of the Spanish Civil War. I mean the past few years in our city, the past 6 months in our groups, or the past decade of other groups in an area.
In an essay entitled “Fighting Collective Amnesia,” activist Kacey S.W. writes “We are suffering from a collective amnesia around state repression and recent history …Collective amnesia is when we forget the stories, victories, mistakes, and debates of the recent past.” They continue, writing, quote “We can’t keep starting over and reinventing the wheel every time people leave or enter the movement. Things like consensus, free speech, left unity, and nonviolence have been debated ad nauseam for years. While it’s important to reassess things as situations change, at a certain point we need to move forward, and people with different ideas can do different work or work in different ways.” end quote.
Kacey S.W. outlines some basic history of their city as well as describing some common forms of repression. Without this kind of background information, we can’t expect new participants to be able to navigate our movements. And we will end fighting the same fights, going in circles. As Kacey S.W. points out, quote “We all need to remember what worked and what went wrong.”
A good example of this idea in practice is “From Antiglobe To Antifa: A Recent History Of Anarchist Struggle In NYC,” a project directly inspired by “Fighting Collective Amnesia” that’s available via It’s Going Down. It documents some of the movements and notable actions that happened in New York from 2008-2018.
“After the Crest”
Another element of a long-term struggle is preparing for the ebbs in the movement. With rent strikes in full swing and the recent uprisings still fresh in our minds, some of us may be hoping for major victories. And that may happen. But it’s unlikely that this will lead to a fully revolutionary moment, which means that as this moment subsides, some of us may feel discouraged as some types of normalcy return.
In their piece “After the Crest,” The Crimethinc collective encourages us to use these moments between high points to reflect. Quote “If a single upheaval won’t bring down capitalism, we have to ask what’s important about these high points: what we hope to get out of them, how they figure in our long-term vision, and how to make the most of the period that follows them.” They continue, writing, “At the high point, it seems like it will go on forever. You feel invincible, unstoppable. Then the crash comes: court cases, disintegration, depression. Once you go through this several times, the rhythm becomes familiar. It becomes possible to recognize these upheavals as the heartbeat of something greater than any single movement.” end quote.
I recommend checking out all four parts of that series as well as our mental health episode. We know these ebbs will happen, so we need to prepare for them like any other hurdle.
So, all of this long term organizing, commitment to the movement, onboarding, archiving, where does it go? I generally steer clear of anything too sectarian or really laying out any broad strategy. But I want to end with a quick note on Dual Power.
Dual Power is a term originally used by Lenin to describe what happened after the February Revolution in Russia. For a period, there were two powers competing to be the legitimate government, the Provisional Government and The Soviets. The term was really only used after the fact, looking back on what occurred. But today, the term has taken on a new meaning. Some groups have embraced the concept of Dual Power as a strategy, as something we could aspire to create.
I’m going to read now from the document put together by The Democractic Socialists’ of America Liberation Socialists Caucus on Dual Power:
Quote: “Dual power is a strategy that builds liberated spaces and creates institutions grounded in direct democracy. Together these spaces and institutions expand into the ever widening formation of a new world “in the shell of the old.” As the movement grows more powerful, it can engage in ever larger confrontations with the ruling class—and ultimately a contest for legitimacy against the institutions of capitalist society. In our view, dual power is comprised of two component parts: (1.) building counter-institutions that serve as alternatives to the institutions currently governing production, investment, and social life under capitalism, and (2.) organizing through and confederating these institutions to build up a base of grassroots counter-power which can eventually challenge the existing power of capitalists and the State head-on.” end quote.
So, what is all this organizing building to? Hopefully it will lead to alternative institutions that carry us through to a new world. An example might be tenants unions. If we build tenant power during this pandemic, the organizations we begin now may become much stronger: taking over housing altogether, democratizing buildings, housing everyone in the empty units. This isn’t about the next election cycle or one big moment. It’s about connecting with people around us to strengthen and build communities. For more on Dual Power, check out Black Socialists of America, Cooperation Jackson, the Symbiosis Confederation, and ROAR magazine’s issue on Dual Power.
This goal is not a small task. When looking toward the future, it’s good remember that this is a very long-term struggle. The Zapatisistas planned their revolution for 10 years. The struggle in Rojava took 10 years to plan as well.
In the podcast It Could Happen Here, Robert Evans said, “A network of human beings working together to protect one another are stronger than any bunker. They’re stronger than any state. Those bonds are not just what will save us if the state collapses. They’re the only things that can carry us through to a better future.” end quote And, at its core, that’s what we’re doing. Building networks of humans that will continue the struggle into future and create a new world.
Each day I’m involved with political organizing leaves me with many new questions and ideas. But I’ve learned to live with the fact there’s no point of arrival for me. I just have to keep learning and keep trying, and, as always, keep on taking the next step.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. I’m your host Liz, believe in yourself, trust one another and get organized.