Back in the 1960s, I remember having tremendous respect for veteran communists and socialists of earlier eras. I also thought they were a bunch of old geezers who spoke a funny language of class warfare. What was the relevance of "workers of the world unite" when we were dealing with African American, women's and gay rights?
I suspect that today's Occupy movement looks at the 1960s Old Geezers with a similar combination of awe and contempt. They might want to read Playbook for Progressives.
In this new book, veteran 60s organizer Eric Mann lays out his critique of modern capitalism and a vision of how to change it. He calls his method "transformative organizing," which he describes as changing both society and the organizer. Mann combines specific organizing techniques with anecdotes from his long history as a civil rights, union and community organizer.
Through no fault of their own, many young activists who occupied Zuccotti Park in New York or Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland are cut off from the history of earlier social movements. As it turns out, however, many of the debates communicated with "mic checks" in the parks today echo those of the 1960s:
There are no leaders. Mann shows that people are disgusted with opportunistic and self serving leaders. But real leaders always emerge from grass roots movements; they should be supported.
Participatory democracy. Today's movements reject elections that are rigged in favor of the ultra-rich. Democratic decision making from below is a viable alternative. But endless meetings and seeking unanimous consensus isn't democracy either. Electoral politics, when led by genuine progressives, can have a positive impact.
Building a multinational movement. Mann has a great deal of experience dealing with racism, which impacts all of American society, including progressives. He has helped build a multi-national and multi-racial movement in Los Angeles that can provide valuable insight for the Occupy movement.
I hope young activists have a chance to read Playbook. Maybe the publisher could donate a few boxes to the free libraries at the Occupy sites. It's good reading for the Old Geezer crowd as well.
Reese Erlich Journalist and author
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