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Culture Change

Daily cultural revolution or annual marches?
Movements with too careful leadership = stagnation

by Jan Lundberg  

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the March for Women's Lives in Washington, DC on April 25.  Despite the success of a march and rally of this kind, it will be mostly out-of-mind for the nation in short order.  The reasons include "distractions" such as the Iraq debacle, but go deeper, and are discussed in this column.  

It was uplifting that plenty of people care about their rights and the rights of women in general, but the energy needs to be better channeled for real change.  
For example, if there had been a deviation from the parade route then the marchers would have gotten a sense of their own power.  Instead they were herded.  The march needed to go through parts of DC with some people there in their communities, instead of just limiting the location to quiet, unpopulated and empty spaces.  By contrast, the A.N.S.W.E.R. antiwar protest of April 10 in DC went all through some Northwest DC neighborhoods and this was the best part of that event, even though the route was scheduled.

Secondly, organizers of occasional large events such as the March for Women's Lives need to give the "annual weekend demonstrators" some radical direction for post-march follow up besides writing to Congresspeople and newspapers, voting against George Bush, etc.  Perhaps the most effective suggestion on April 25 could have been to form affinity groups.  Affinity groups take many direct actions and encourage others to do the same.  (Maybe this was promoted by one or more of the speakers, but far less than half the crowd could hear much of the formal program.)

Affinity groups are small circles of friends or collaborators who know and trust each other.  Some actions are fairly tame, such as putting out a newsletter together.  Other actions can be more spectacular such as hanging banners over freeway bridges for motorists to read.  Stronger forms of civil disobedience and non-cooperation with the industrial state are undertaken by affinity groups, but so seldom that the corporate mainstream press can generally ignore resistance.  This does not mean the actions are unworthwhile.

If the crowds on April 25 in DC from all over the U.S. had been so advised, a thousand new affinity groups could have been formed.  But there's a reason the big-time organizers of marches and rallies don't promote affinity groups or deviating from the parade route: the organizers must always be "in charge."  It is their event and even their movement, in the  minds of some leaders.  Outsiders' thinking is often feared and not allowed, because (1) it would mean giving up some power, and (2) the event might get out of control and next time the authorities wouldn't deal with the compromising organizers when they want to hold another (ineffectual?) protest. 

The need for unexpected free assembly in the streets and for seemingly random direct actions by affinity groups is absolutely vital in a nation of isolated consumers.
  In a culture whereby acquiring material things is the priority, there is a cultural barrier to really coming together.  After the march and rally April 25, people returned more or less separately to their homes, so that they could start the next Monday morning as compliant workers.  

Daily hum-drum competes

It is the daily work and public schooling that has to be challenged and addressed:  these activities are not at all about revolutionizing our lives so that our greatest fears and dreams can be dealt with.  Unless more people go to nature directly and revere it, defend it, learn from it and restore it, we will destroy it and ourselves utterly.

But the speakers and leaders of movements in the U.S. are not out to change the culture at its foundations.  So, the movements' leaders are doomed to waste our valuable time while society's masters continue to plot behind the scenes and distract the somnolent masses with materialism and fear tactics.  Movement leaders, in the interest of appealing to the masses and appearing respectable, do not advocate strong positions that go to the root of the problem.   

For example, you rarely hear "Stop driving!" from anti-war protest organizers, because this puts off the Joe Schmoes who drive, buy oil, and might protest war as well.  And the driver has money for donations to the cause, while the car-less activist hardly ever has extra money. However, war today is clearly about oil.  An interesting distinction is made by some organizers: "We" the people are not "responsible" for the war in Iraq, although "we" have some "responsibility." Therefore, it is ill-advised, the leaders say, to sound off that driving an SUV is terroristic because it says "we" are directly responsible and instead we must blame Bush, Israel, the arms industry and the oil industry who are "really responsible."  And it is not the U.S. soldiers whom we should blame but their commanders (just from the level of General?) and the Commander in Chief.  But the Iraqis having their insurrection don't see it that way; the Coalition of the Killing's troops are their enemy in that they chose to come and kill civilians.

"Wal-Mart's annual gross sales, 259 billion dollars (209.59 billion Euros), exceed Sweden's Gross Domestic Product." - Le Monde.  We can view that statistic as evidence of people's culpability when they could be buying less stuff, and buying even more cheaply used stuff at thrift stores.  Or we can just call Wal-Mart shopping as another part of the petroleum phenomenon, whereby world trade brings us crap we don't need from all over the world, and we drive in our oil-fueled/lubricated cars to pick up our false goods.  Wal-Mart plans another 1,000 stores in the U.S.  Hello, movements?  Intelligent citizens?

The public is addicted to oil and materialism, so other areas of interest are never going to attract enough attention to "change the world" -- that is, while there still is plenty of petroleum and cash to maintain our daily routines.  But as soon as something dreadfully serious attacks Americans that can be seen as a direct threat (al Qaeda were never seen by Americans), there will be swift reaction that could be chaotic or even revolutionary.  This could be precipitated by a nuclear blast or meltdown, or an onslaught of global-warming related weather disasters.  Most likely, the first wake-up call will be the massive shortage of petroleum products that is right up ahead that will become permanent for was is now the huge global economy.  At that point, pandemonium will reign -- not the message-laden, well-directed actions by activists. 

Nevertheless, until then, the micro-revolution of informed, energetic people interested in sustainable living will continue to develop, if not grow, in large numbers.  Movements may not break out of stagnation until the world turns upside down, and then some movements will be swept aside overnight.

We are biding our time, planning for the worst, and hoping for the best.  Things will change completely, but we don't know the date.  Instead of waiting until the date is known -- as it hits us in the face that day -- some of us think in terms of a Global Warming Revolution towards using much less energy. 

photo of Washington Mall by Chris Strohm

 written April 26, 2004

Participate in this exchange of ideas: Send feedback to
See coverage of the anti-globalization protest in DC on April 24, 2004.
Protest the U.S. occupation of Iraq and read background on war for oil, see the link to the recent depleted uranium report. 

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Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing:


Articles of interest:
Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results.  WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



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