Institute for strategic activism

The people yes

The people will live on.

— From Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes (1936)

 

“If opposition movements are to do more than burn bright and then burn out, they will need a comprehensive vision for what should emerge in the place of our failing system, as well as serious political strategies for how to achieve those goals.”

— Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate (Simon and Shuster, 2014)

 

We need an open forum – a global assembly, as it were – to consider where capital is, where it might be going and what should be done about it.

— David Harvey,

 

In its struggle for a better world, progressive civil society takes, or should take, a leading role. Organized into thousands of NGOs, social movements and community-based initiatives, and often parts of trade unions and political parties, it lacks a key resource: infrastructure. Despite periodic gatherings of activists, no framework exists for regular networking, collective analysis, professional training, strategizing, planning joint actions, follow-up or evaluation. Civil society also lacks venues in which grassroots groups can collectively brainstorm around Big Issues – the need to construct a more just and sustainable alternative to the capitalist world order, for example. Grassroots activists lack access to intellectuals and academics whose empowering analyses are often confined to universities and think tanks. Finally, progressive civil society lacks the means of effective outreach to the wider public.

As a kind of grassroots think-tank, the Institute would provide an infrastructure through which activists and analysis share analyses, strategize and collectively formulate global-level campaigns that link their many local and regional issues.

The Institute for Strategic Activism is a project initiated by The People, Yes! Network (TPYN), a growing circle of both veteran and young grassroots activists from around the world who have come together to foster a global movement of genuine counter-hegemony. Fostering a critical infrastructure and providing strategic resources such as the Institute necessary for effective campaigning on a global scale, TPYN is registered as an international NGO (AISBL) in Belgium.

The Concept of the Institute

Creating an infrastructure. A key objective of TPYN is to create an infrastructure that would both support collective grassroots movement building and provide the venues needed for sharing analyses and developing global campaigns. The concept “infrastructure” is strategic. Rather than trying to impose a structure or an agenda on the thousands of disparate groups the world over, an infrastructural approach allows voluntary association in a network that is participatory, non-hierarchical and transparent. Organizations will join if they feel that by doing so they will be furthering their own struggles as well as wider global ones, and if they

can determine their own level of engagement. Thus the network can be used merely as a source of identifying and linking with like-minded organizations or, if they choose, groups can actively share their issues, analyses, initiatives, planned programs and materials with others.

The very existence of such a network that crosses issue lines and those of geography will facilitate collaboration “horizontally” with others. Through the medium of the Institute, which will help coordinate conferences, initiatives and communication while providing a framework in which activist and academic voices can intervene in a focus way, TPYN will serve as a kind of clearinghouse offering focused discussion, strategizing, planning and resources required if the global grassroots wants to parley its disparate campaigns and issues into a coherent, collective movement for fundamental counter-hegemonic change. The place of the Institute within the TPYN system is illustrated as follows:

Institute Structure and Programs

Creating a Forum for Counter-Hegemony. Through its Institute for Strategic Activism, TPYN seeks to help generate a movement of progressive counter-hegemony. The Institute would certainly represent an important resource for grassroots groups pursuing their different issues, offering a forum through which analyses, ideas, initiatives and even materials could be shared. Its ultimate goal, however, is nothing less than transcending the structurally unequal, violent and unsustainable world system with which we are now saddled with one that is human-centric and sustainable. What does this mean, conceptually and politically, and how could we achieve it?

The Forum for Counter-Hegemony within the Institute is intended to create a medium which keeps the Big Picture in focus even as civil society addresses its many local and regional issues. The Forum would actively solicit views from public intellectuals, academics, analysts and grassroots activists alike over what a more just and human world system would entail and how to get there. In addition to providing a framework that facilitates grassroots strategizing and planning, the Forum would host an annual conference on an issue central to the topic of counter-hegemony utilizing on-line conference technologies, together with regional forums initiated by its member organizations.

Publications. Vast resources, both printed and digital, are available to activists seeking information, analysis and guidance. Most activists, however, lack the time to keep fully abreast, especially in regards to analyses for which many lack of the necessary academic background. This mass of material requires both distilling and “translation” into language, concepts and forms that render it accessible, though not simplified or “dumbed down.”

Acting as a kind of clearinghouse, the Institute, through its regional branches and activist-members, would collect this material, select the most useful pieces, and distill them into a regular web-based format. (Regional branches of the Institute would translate the most useful materials into regional languages.) Here is where a “layered” system like TPYN is particularly useful. The collection and initial distillation of locally-generated material would fall to each of the Institute’s regional centers, from where it would be uploaded and made available. Each center, in turn, would further distil and convey material of relevance to the wider global community where it would be translated and uploaded by the Institute’s central office. A mix of volunteer translators (students, volunteers) and paid translators (professionals who put the material into final form) could perform this essential task. In this way TPYN, through its Institute of Strategic Activism, becomes an effective channel of inter-regional, inter-cultural and inter-issue communication, affording seldom-heard voices of the Global South their proper space in the global discussion.

On-Line Communication. Grassroots groups on the Left are notoriously bad at communicating with the wider public – and that includes a lack of knowledge o how to best exploit the possibilities of the internet. The Institute could initiate a program of training grassroots groups on better use of the internet for communication and networking, as well as more effective “packaging” of their materials and messages.

Critical Activist Education and Training. Through TPYN’s Institute of Strategic Activism, organizations already offering training to activists would have a framework in which they could promote their programs widely to grassroots groups in most need of them – again, a clearinghouse function of the Institute. The Institute would complement these programs by developing trainings that focus on global and critical perspectives: placing specific issues and campaigns within a wider global perspective, ultimately leading to collective campaigns of global counter-hegemony. Related to this would be programs to develop skills of critical thinking and analysis, and introducing the views of key thinkers, especially around issues of how transnational capitalism impacts on our communities and our planet. The Institute could also work with local and regional groups in developing critical counter-narratives to the dominant discourse on key issues, just strengthening the ability of activists to convey alternative progressive views to the general public. It would also provide a “map” of activist campaigns the world over so that participants in the training could take advantage of “best practices.”

“Venues.” Initially, TPYN will establish seven regional centers – in Latin America, North America, the Mediterranean/Middle East, South-East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern and Western Europe – each doubling as a regional Institute center. In addition to running or participating in the programs outlined above, the Regional Centers would develop a “venue” as a prime means of effective outreach to the general public. Useful as they are, social media and the web cannot replace face-to-face encounters and events as means of conveying complex issues to people beyond the activist circles.

This project envisions, then, popular venues attached to each regional center where people can gather to learn, interact, strategize, express their cultures and artistic creations, and communicate on many levels. A venue would include an open space – a kind of commons or People’s Park, whether in- or outdoors – that offers diverse places for learning, presentation, performance, workshops and discussion. As sites of conferences, festivals or other events, such venues may also generate income for chronically under-funded grassroots groups.