What poses the greatest threat to The Powers That Be? The rest of us realizing we are … The Rest Of Us. (More)

Today Morning Feature concludes a three-day series on the 2011 NOW conference. The series began Saturday by discussing whether and how feminism is “radical,” and continued yesterday with a look at the 2012 Political Landscape. This week’s Meta Monday is in today’s Campus Chatter. Our usual Morning Feature schedule resumes tomorrow.

Daring to Dream NOW, Part III – Solidarity

The last workshop I attended at this year’s NOW conference was titled Building a Movement for a Feminist Future and was presented by Amy Shollenberger of Action Circles, Kate Paine of Kate Paine Associates, and Markey Read of Career Networks.

The workshop crystallized what was for me the most hopeful element of the entire conference: a growing recognition across the progressive movement that our “different” interest groups aren’t really different after all. For example, the AFL-CIO have committed to being “a model for hiring of women and people of color,” and now partner with six constituency groups: the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Asian Pacific-American Labor Alliance, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Coalition of Labor Union Women, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride At Work who represent LGBT workers.

Such coalitions are vital, because The Powers That Be have flourished over the past 40 years by pitting The Rest Of Us against each other. The strategy began in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, with the infamous “Southern Strategy” that cast working-class white men against both women and minorities. As Salon‘s Joan Walsh wrote last year:

The great political failure of the 1960s was the New Left’s inability to bring the labor movement into its great liberationist tent. There were lots of reasons for that, one of them being that most big union leaders didn’t want to be in that stinky tent with a lot of hippies, feminists, dashiki-wearing black militants and “fags.” (That last comes from AFL-CIO leader George Meany’s description of the New York delegation to the disastrous 1972 Democratic convention: “They’ve got six open fags and only three AFL-CIO representatives!”) Also, not a small matter: The New Left opposed the Vietnam War; again, most labor leaders supported it.

Still, the inability to forge a political movement that was as much about class as race and gender rights haunts the United States today.

So I was delighted to attend a workshop on labor rights at this year’s NOW conference, and to see several other coalition-building workshops on the conference agenda. Indeed the agenda was so packed with workshops on that theme that no one could possibly have attended all of them.

Principles of Action Circle Organizing

Amy Shollenberger advocates ten principles for progressive organizing:

  • Respect (not tolerance)
  • Truth (not facts)
  • Transparency (not hierarchy)
  • Support (not education)
  • Accountability (not blame)
  • Democratic Decision-Making (not exclusion)
  • Movement Building (not short-term mobilizing)
  • Sharing Power (not empowering)
  • Solidarity (not control)
  • Acting from Hope (not fear)

The object of each principle is to build organizations that respect, represent, and support all of their members. Shollenberger discussed the need for “broad and deep leadership,” both more people able to carry leadership roles and each learning to carry those roles more effectively.

She focused primarily on the difference between “empowering” and “sharing power.” The former implies giving power to those who presently have none. The latter recognizes that individual power comes in many dimensions, that each of us has more than we’re taught to believe, and that we assert it most effectively when we act collectively in solidarity.

“That’s what they fear most.”

“The greatest threat to those in power,” Shollenberger said, “is that the rest of us may see we’re all on the outside and stand together in solidarity. That’s what they fear most.”

The truth of Schollenberger’s assertion becomes clear in the conservative myth of individualism, a value they apply to everyone else. For example, the Cato Institute supports business cartels, while opposing what they call the “labor cartels” of unions. As conservatism sees it, organization is for business owners. Workers should be individuals. They call that a “free market.”

As we discussed earlier this month in Morning Feature, organizations win elections and policy battles. For the progressive movement to flourish we must organize. Thursday through Saturday we’ll explore Shollenberger’s model in more depth, and focus on the issue that should and must unite the progressive movement: challenging privilege.

If we progressives don’t learn to stand together, we’ll continue to fall separately.


Happy Monday!