By Joseph Orosco (July 2, 2019)
This year marked the 8th anniversary of the Solidarity Fair in Corvallis, Oregon. Started as a project by members of the Corvallis Industrial Workers of the World and Occupy Corvallis, the Solidarity Fair is a once a year event that brings together groups and individuals from the Willamette Valley that are interested in grassroots social transformation through social, economic, and environmental justice struggles.
One of the hallmarks of the Fair have been what is called ‘movement conversations’: facilitated discussions dealing with issues such as community organizing, labor struggles, envisioning more just futures, etc. This year, the Fair sponsored two discussions for Fair-goers: Stop Making Capitalism and Make a Better World.
Stop Making Capitalism was a particularly well-attended conversation focused around some of the following questions:
- How do we resist power-over dynamics by building power-with each other?
- In our workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, schools: What are examples of resistance right now? (i.e. walkouts, strikes)
- What leverage do we already have and what leverage can we create?
- How can we encourage the conversation to go beyond the local to broader connections?
As co-directors of the Anarres Project, Tony Vogt and I were tasked as being the facilitators for the second discussion about imagining a better world. We met beforehand and drew up a few questions to help structure the dialogue. Our conversations was built around these ideas:
- Are there examples of people coming together to form a better world in your community, region, union, movement, neighborhood? (Examples of not just resistance but alternative building)
- In building a better world, what sort of continuity with the current world would you want to keep and build on, improve, reform? Does a better world have to be built by rejecting the status quo or can it be built within the shell of the old?
- Who are the allies in building the better world you imagine and why are they allies?
Our conversation was a bit smaller than Stop Making Capitalism: there were about 10 individuals, ranging from Boomers to Generation Z (many of them members of Democratic Socialists of America).
Examples of Alternative Building
Someone started by bringing up the example here of the movement in Oregon to legislate universal health care. The idea behind this struggle, it was explained, was to create social programs that would take care of residents, freeing up money from other programs devoted to incarceration, for instance. A result of this would be to renew trust in the state as an institution that works for the people.
Other individuals immediately questioned whether building trust in the state was something to spend time and energy on. They offered examples of creating worker and housing cooperatives, instead.
When we asked the group to think of any projects in existence that inspired them in alternative building the Rojava Revolution immediately came to the mind of several. It seems clear that this example is to younger folk what the Zapatistas were to previous generations. Several mentioned they were inspired by the idea of municipal democracy and working at local city levels (Bookchin libertarian muncipalism ideals filtered through the news of Rojava)
Continuity with the Old
When asked whether building a better world had to be premised on the idea of something like a slate cleaning revolution that would wipe away all vestiges of the old world, or on reform that would improve on the deficiencies of the old world, the discussion participants turned right away to the question of the market. How would a new and better world distribute goods and services?
Most seemed to agree that an economy driven by profit had to be eliminated, but were not sure that a market economy had to be profit motivated. Was it possible to have a social welfare capitalism as a goal for a better world?
Participants quickly realized that any projects for envisioning a better world had to deal with the limit of ecological crisis. No economy was going to work that did not factor in resource depletion and climate change. The conversation quickly changed to the realization that there were going to be many lifestyle sacrifices—there was long discussion about what it was going to be like to not be able to get certain produce and food items any longer.
Privatization of creativity
I noted that it seemed like the question of lifestyle sacrifice always seemed to haunt leftist discussions about building alternatives. I suggested that this was a turn we should think about avoiding because it seems demobilizing and creates a politics of fear or desperation. Instead, I said we should think about what we might gain by building alternative worlds.
Participants agreed that thinking about what luxuries we might lose in leaving behind the status quo was a deception. Someone pointed out that the idea of a luxury in today’s world is usually something valuable or pleasurable that we want because of the hollowness that capitalism produces in our lives. People started to imagine that in a world without capitalism we might have more free time to spend with family and friends. Tony reminded everyone that a central feature of the US labor movement had been taking control over leisure time—the eight hour work day and the weekend. We pondered what kind of abilities and capacities might be unleashed if people did not have to work so much just in order to survive. One young person pointed out that there is a widespread view that someone capitalism is the economic system that drives innovation and progress, “What it really does is privatize creativity into the minds of a few”.
We wrapped up our 45 minute conversation on that point and left everyone to ponder what sorts of allies were out there for the kind of struggle we imagined.