Lessons for Small “d” Democrats
Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements (2014)
“Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements,” is the best book about political activism that I have read in many years.
Author Chris Dixon conducted over two hundred interviews with experienced grassroots activists across the United States and Canada in order to distill common problems, promising solutions, and questions that demand consideration in order to achieve any success in the future.
As someone rooted in the anarchist tradition, Dixon is more interested in direct action than electoral activism, but he surveyed a wide range of people beyond the borders of anarchist activists. He identifies a common outlook in what he calls the “anti-authoritarian current,” one that works against oppression and injustice and is suspicious of state power.
What Dixon is really doing is telling a narrative of the anti-authoritarian current for the benefit of those within in. This narrative situates the movement in a past, demonstrates its widespread forms in the present, and points the way toward its future. Many people, especially those on the left side of the political spectrum, will find themselves addressed by his book. I know I did.
Over my lifetime I have been involved in a number of the causes he includes in the genealogy of this current: anti-war demonstrations in the 1970s; opposition to cutbacks in social programs, the nuclear arms buildup, and U.S. intervention in Central America in the ’80s; union activism in graduate school in the early ’90s; and activism against growing economic inequality in the mid-to-late ’90s. He also includes movements I have been sympathetic to but not as directly involved in: minority rights; women’s and gay liberation; environmentalism; prison abolition; and the anti-globalization and Occupy movements.
Dixon wants the activists of the present and future to know this history and learn from it. He also wants them to learn from each other. Some of the key recurring problems he raises are:
• Acting effectively but in line with professed principles (e.g., in an egalitarian, caring and non-manipulative manner)
• Rooting activism in the real world of the present while building institutional models for the future
• Avoiding making a fetish of particular tactics when not suited to the specific circumstances
• Being realistic about the role of leadership
• The pros and cons of activism through political parties, non-profit organizations, affinity groups, and other vehicles
• Making connections across issues and outlooks while being strategic about priorities and use of limited resources
• Avoiding the insularity of activist circles to connect with ordinary people and the realities of their lives
Dixon argues that lessons from the current’s history and contemporary struggles have been lost in the press of “crisis mode” organizing, and calls for the creation of spaces to share information, reflect on lessons and problems, and consolidate any gains that have been made. Without a deliberate effort to do this, those in positions of social power will ignore and suppress the current’s past and fragment the potential for solidarity in the present and future.
His book is meant as a contribution to this effort, and he draws valuable lessons from the successes of the activists that he interviews.
Published by the University of California Press, the book shows the expected high standards of research and clarity of thought and writing. Provocative, illuminating and informative, “Another Politics” should be read by anyone seeking practical advice for fulfilling a radical vision of a more just world.
–Alan F. Zundel