We Are Thinking — In New Ways

David Solnit is editor of the new book Globalize
Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World
(City Lights), an anthology of theories and perspectives drawn
from many sectors of the global justice, community organizing, and
antiwar movements. Senior editor Jon Spayde asked Solnit, a key
strategist in the Seattle anti-World Trade Organization protests
and a participant in the demonstrations at the Republican National
Convention, to respond to the ‘Activistism’ essay and talk about
the role of ideas in today’s activism.

Do you agree with Featherstone, Henwood, and Parenti
that the ‘movement’ has been weak on analysis?

In the past five years there has been an exciting upsurge of
grassroots thinking and ideas within the diverse movements that
Featherstone, Henwood, and Parenti lump together and accuse of
shallowness and anti-intellectualism. While the U.S. bombs
civilians, they say ‘Stop the Bombing’ signs and
anti-corporate-capitalism speeches are thoughtless, but never say
why — or what their smarter alternative is. Globalize
Liberation
is one effort to encourage more thinking and
discussion by amplifying the voices of thinkers from these new
radical movements.

I am a carpenter, an activist, and a puppeteer who thinks. The
contributions in the book come from other grassroots intellectuals
— immigrant farmworkers in South Florida, Critical Mass agitators
in San Francisco, immigrant rights activists in Toronto,
neighborhood assembly participants in Buenos Aires, European
anticapitalist performance artists. These thinkers have replaced
the professional intellectuals of past eras. Their grassroots
intellectualism takes place in many spaces: listserves, discussion
groups, independent media sites, and zines. They think on many
levels: cultural, spiritual, and interpersonal as well as economic
and political.

What is the chief value of having a
theory?

We need to understand the systemic roots of our problems,
envision a better world, and create strategies to get us there. To
do that we have to get our hands dirty, apply ideas, then rethink
them and keep applying them. (And the ‘we’ needs to be lots and
lots of us.) Without the doing, and without the willingness to
admit mistakes, theories become weak and of little use to
anyone.

It is this thinking-doing-rethinking that builds movements. It’s
responsible for the innovations that have moved us forward, won
victories, and inspired even more thinking and doing, from the
Zapatista uprising to the Seattle WTO shutdown to the huge marches
during the Republican convention. Many movements use the term
laboratory of resistance to describe this process of
innovation, experimentation, and evaluation. Our actions and
organizing are an experiment, and if we evaluate that experiment
and learn from it, it’s a success.

The era of monolithic ideologies is over. The collapse of the
dominant kinds of Marxism — Marxism-Leninism and state socialism
— with their legacy of brutal dictatorships, movement-wrecking
sectarian groups, and leadership by rigid ideologues, has opened up
great breathing space for new radical thinking and movements. New
movements can’t be lumped into a single ideology or theory. The
world and the ideas our movements draw on are far more complex —
which is bad for debating grand theories, but good for a better
future. The world is a web of different communities, people,
identities, and experiences, confronted with a bunch of ugly
interlocking oppressive institutions. We need more than one
analysis to understand the world and change it. We need to learn
from feminism, anarchism, ecology, indigenous thinking, inner-city
community organizers, mass movements of the global south, direct
action campaigns, and more. It is at times messy, contradictory,
and confusing, but also exciting, hopeful, and absolutely
necessary.

LEARN MORE: For ‘How to Form a Study Group’ and ‘Five Things
Activists/Intellectuals Can Do to Be More Reflective and
Effective,’ go to:
http://globalizeliberation.org.

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