Without a credible sense of political struggle, there can be no shouldering of a courageous engagement — only cautious adjustment is undertaken.
from The Crisis of Black Leadership in Race Matters
The main question implicit in this excerpt is “How do we create a credible sense of political struggle?”. To try and answer this question, I am going to reflect on my own radicalization, moving beyond the structural nature of that ongoing project, and into the ethereal world of rhetoric.
I don’t typically address rhetoric in either this blog or my offline life, mostly because I do not feel equipped or trained to do so. When I do it is usually to address buried hypocrisies and contradictions. Stick with me.
“Creating a sense of political struggle”. This is not only about the mechanics of a movement, what I define (working definition) as associations of organizations and most importantly unaffiliated individuals tending toward some sort of similar political end. It is also not meant to speak to the actual act of political struggle which can occur without self-awareness.
In these words we must focus on “creating a sense”. Creating a sense means creating self awareness, intimately linked to the infrastructure of a political project, but more far reaching than strategy or even dreams. Creating a sense is about naming ourselves, stating our allegiances and most importantly about creating solidarity with those engaged in political struggle.
Early in my journey into radicalism, I heard professors and peers talking about “The Movement”. Contributing to, furthering. It is in “the movement” that we find allegiances beyond attachment to any organization, school of thought, or ideology. The phrase “movement of movements”, used to describe the forces behind the World Social Forum, takes this another step further.
Here I want to return to Dr. West’s words:
“Without a credible sense of political struggle, there can be no shouldering of a courageous engagement — only cautious adjustment is undertaken.”
We see here the “credible” qualifies “sense of political struggle”. What does credibility mean?
We have just come out of a historic presidential campaign. Political ‘struggle’ abounding. The spectacle of the campaign season relies heavily on the “credible sense of political struggle”. In many ways the Obama campaign can be seen as using this narrative squared. The historic nature of the competition allowed Obama to play up his own “credible sense of political struggle” attaching his candidacy to the ongoing historic-political struggle of black people in America.
“Credible” seems in this case to mean being able to tell a story well, and “sense” seems to leave the configuration open to cynical manipulation by politicians, even and especially those who use “credible sense of political struggle” to play off and purport to provide a remedy to a deeper cynicism in the public towards the good doings of politics. The Obama campaign tellingly used the rhetoric of previous movements for social justice in his ads and took off running with the community organizer mantle.
What do these two examples have to offer us in a way forward? Can they somehow be blended? At a glance they seem to have remarkable overlap. They both use the same logic of pulling an individual into a larger struggle while at the same time promoting self-consciousness. The crucial difference being the level of democracy involved in the projects. Now let’s get to work pulling those Obama supporters into “the Movement”.