The Maintream: Reach out to them or reject them?

One of the things that I like about the book We Are Everywhere is that it is willing to present different, even contradictory, perspectives.

This is especially clear when thinking about the relationship between activists and “the mainstream.”

In “The Sweatshop and the Ivory Tower,” Kristian Williams writes,

If I had been in charge – also, I suspect, if the GSC [Georgetown Solidarity Committee] had been comprised of more radical types – things would have one a great deal differently. We would not have bothered with leaflets at the basketball games. We would not have sung the fight song at our rallies, or put Jack the Georgetown Bulldog on our posters and picket signs. We would not have organized prayer meetings. And we would not have won.  [emphasis added]

Kristian respects the mainstream of Georgetown enough to realize that they had to take the steps to reach that mainstream. They were essential to victory. She goes on to write:

I spent a year at Georgetown, and this is the biggest thing I learned: you win by organizing, and you organize by approaching people on terms they can accept. You do not win because of your radical rhetoric. You do not win by writing off potential allies, or insisting on ideological purity. You do not win by denigrating popular culture or ignoring the decent impulses of your peers. You do not win because you have the ‘right line’ or are able to quote Gramsci. You do not win through heroics or martyrdom. You win by organizing, and you organize by approaching people on terms they can accept. [emphasis added]

In “Fighting to Win,” Jeff Shantz takes a very different approach:

Recognizing that we have no interests or values in common with the economic and political elite, we don’t try to reach them on any level. Instead we attack them directly where it hurts: in their bank accounts.

This isn’t going to get far in reaching the middle-class Americans and Canadians who, by global standards, are part of the economic elite.

Moreover, for me as a Quaker who recognized “that of God in everyone,” I find Jeff’s dismissal of the humanity and reachability of “the elites” to be quite troublesome. For me, in that worldview lie the seeds of dehumanization, violence, and repression.

While I disagree Jeff Shantz about how to approach “the opposition,” I do respect Jeff’s focus on what it takes to win:

We don’t do protests anymore. OCAP [Ontario Coalition Against Poverty] learned a long time ago that marches and rallies to protest, register our dissent, or to shame governments that have no shame are almost completely useless. . . . Our members just don’t have the time and means to come out for purely symbolic actions.

I see this tension. Sometimes rallies are meaningful, such as the Georgetown prayer meeting, but sometimes they are just taken because the organizers don’t take the time or the imagination to think about how to truly move toward their goal.

So let’s take the time to work, to organize, and to reach people where they are to bring them into the struggle for justice and peace.

p.s.  Another thig I appreciate about We Are Everywhere is that the entire book is available online!

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