Fighting Fire with Fire

Pragmatists for social change


| April 6, 2006


Progressive social movements, at their core, are funded by ideals -- nonviolence, equality, and respect. When activists take to the streets, juxtaposing those ideals against a culture of war, inequality, and exploitation, the targets tend to be government and corporations. The movements demonize not only the entities undermining peace but also the structural apparatuses those entities employ -- centralized command, strategic coordination, and corporate governance. But these structures, Scott Ritter and Imani Mance argue, are not corrupt in and of themselves, and it's time to take a look at how social movements can use them to their advantage.

Mance, in a piece in Emerging Minds Magazine -- a publication dedicated to bringing business culture to the black community -- calls on African-Americans to take control of their own future by getting over their 'taboos' against words like 'corporate.' Mance deems it self-defeating to automatically dismiss such terms, calling for a sort of reality check in the community: '[M]oney can buy one thing and the only thing that we need to positively impact the lives of blacks across the Diaspora. That thing is power.' It is critical to be true to ideals if a social movement is to be coherent and powerful, but, as Mance's mother would say: '[C]onsciousness doesn't pay the bills.'

Neither does consciousness, Scott Ritter suggests in an article for AlterNet, stop wars. Ritter -- an outspoken former UN weapons inspector in Iraq -- laments that the anti-war movement is 'on the verge of complete collapse.' More an anarchic hodgepodge of do-gooders than an organized force for change, the anti-war movement 'lacks any notion of strategic thinking, operational planning, or sense of sound tactics.' Though the notion of a centralized structure seems antithetical to the anti-war movement's overall project, Ritter argues that it is the only way to avoid failure. It's a tough pill to swallow, since command-and-control organization immediately evokes militarism. But Ritter thinks that peace activists must either overcome their gag reflex or resign themselves to obsolete noisemaking that has little, if any, ability to actively promote an anti-war agenda.

Ritter and Mance both recognize the importance of strongly held beliefs, but adherence to those beliefs cannot stand in the way of strategies that could inculcate them in the larger culture. As they see it, like it or not, their movements are involved in a battle, and a battle cannot be won unless it is fought. And the necessary weapons may need to be borrowed.

Go there >>The Art of War for the Anti-War Movement

Go there too >> Why Are All the Revolutionaries Broke