Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You Say It Likes It's a Bad Thing: Anarchy in the USA

Last night I had a conversation with two young women who are interns with the Obama for President campaign here in Oregon. Obama won big here and they were ecstatic about the possiblity of him going on to win in the general election. They spoke about how much good they thought he was going to be able to do, bringing change to government.

Today I read this interview with Howard Zinn "Anarchism Shouldn't be a Dirty Word" and saw him say this:

"If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the "Left" are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over -- first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions."

It is wonderful to see young people excited about politics. But Zinn makes us wonder whether this energy and talent couldn't be put to better use in the service of social change for justice.

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At 12:13 PM , Anonymous Parisa said...

Zinn's argument is appealing from a "fight the power" perspective, but how does one know one has arrived at a better system if one does not study the benefits and flaws of the existing one? Small collectives that are made up of marginalized people work in a different way than whole governments do, by necessity. Revolutions of groups with high ideals, when they have been successful, have often replicated the same corruptions as previous regimes and just replaced surface ideology. It's a matter of extreme hubris to imagine that one's understanding of one's own oppression under a particular system automatically translates to an ability not to fall into the same human predicaments once you are in the seat of power.

It's important, I think, to be fluent in both the challenges of the government one opposes *and* begin to envision and work toward a new way. The young folks I know who are working for Obama are inspiring because they are up close and personal with the ugly aspects of a run for power *and* they are idealistic enough to still be involved in our (somewhat) democratic system. I don't think this will preclude them from being part of communities locally that are building a different ideal -- most I know are doing both, and more power to them. They will be around and able to make change long after Obama is gone. I'm just glad he has engaged them.


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