Student for a Democratic Society?

The Faint Glow of Separation

The Faint Glow of Separation

I have two things to grapple with when it comes to alienation from real live politics. As a student of social movements and as a ‘self-described’ anti-authoritarian advocate of participatory democracy, I can detect the faint glow of a separation from the politics of organizing, at least with PPEHRC and from the Grand Narrative of the presidential election.

With PPEHRC, I find myself problamatizing every aspect of the organization and its relationship to an actual movement. More and more it comes back to one of the questions I said I wanted to address on my application for this internship, What is a social movement, how do you know one when you see one? A social movement, in my analysis is akin to large conversation happening between different groups. People and organizations come to the table with their share of knowledge or propaganda and in the actions and postitions they take provide fodder for the next participants to move on.

Though an organization can be, inadvertanly or intentionally, movement minded, there is a fundemental difference between an organization and a social movement.  An organization is an association of people who come together around common strategies and tactics, likely with some official division of labor, a movement can be thought of as more connected to that discussion of ideas, with widely varying strategies and tactics connected by loose common (and changing) goals.

In the past year I have come across several differnt organization that self consciously use the term “movement” to describe there work. In PPEHRC, the organization is consistantly referred to as the movement to end poverty in the US. While it is a confederation of many different groups across the country, many of whom retain their local autonomy, the term “movement” is misleading. Consciously building an organization is not the same thing as participating in a larger conversation, particularly when an organiziation is founded on uniformity of strategy and tactics (part of presenting a united front). The organization seeks to further itself, to present itself as the only viable leadership of any liberatory movement. This is not to say that the organzation is not (unselfconsciously) part of a larger movement for liberatory change or particpating in a larger conversation.

In my task of doing press work for the campaign, I am charged with partially providing a catalyst for a larger conversation. Sometimes, this press work has been done effectively. For instance, when we ended up in Hibbing, MN on our Statewide Tour, there had been an article in the paper the morning we walked in. Consequently, people had seen us in the paper and had the oppurtunity to ask more specifc questions and to tell more detailed stories. People were ready for us and could respond with some care, creating more dynamic conversations about who and what the campaign is.

As a student of social movements, I have dedicated myself to examining things critically, and as a student I have been brought in to the organization partially for my resources, acedemic education and skills, and partly for my body, to be an extra person with an expiration date Sept. 3rd. These things have combined to give me some distance, whether healthy or not, on the whole experience of organizing with PPEHRC. Knowing that come Sept 3rd, I will have to make a somewhat conscous decision concerning my further involvement with campaign activities. I also have the luxury of being an outsider, an upper middle class student with an (expected) college degree. It is a bizarre place to be in.

As a student of social movements and a ‘self-described’ anti-authoritarian dedicated to particpatory democracy, keeping an eye on national politics (whatever that means) is pretty disorienting at times. Watching the election cycle, apart from being remarkably boring, is like reading a fucking book about living in a totalitarian society. Two parties dance for power, both not too much different from the other. I’m pretty sure Obama supporters are being sold an iPod.

I have this analogy that acknowledging police surveillance is like going through the looking glass, stuck in a wierd parallel universe where you can’t trust people because they might be cops or whatever, paranoid in a very real way. Watching national politics is like looking back through the looking glass after you have grown somewhat accustomed to (but not comfortable in) the parallel universe.

Sorta makes you feel a little crazy when you realize that all of it is happening at the same time, that its what you tune in on that makes the difference.

starbuck

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