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A Plea for Systemic Strategies

by We, The People Saturday, Aug. 23, 2003 at 6:43 AM

If we are to defeat the systems of oppression, we must in fact combat the very systems themselves.

If we are to defeat the systems of oppression, we must in fact combat the very systems themselves. We must cripple their mechanisms even as we create a "safety net" by which to catch more and more individuals as from a sinking ship, providing them with organic alternatives to their present poisonous occupations and pursuits.

How often do we find ourselves embroiled in a heated confrontation with individuals, fighting against individual office holders, individual laws, individual companies or their working conditions, individual policies, individual wars, individual religions, social institutions, or nation-states? And yet, how often to we criticize the "majority of people," the masses for their ignorance, their failure to see the systemic nature of the problems we face in society today? And yet, we ourselves pour our energies, our time and our dollars and our greatest efforts into pitted battles against what we ourselves have labeled the mere symptoms of the disease.

I have often been appalled by the transformation of a grassroots organization that becomes the pawn of the political process when, instead of creating a viable grassroots solution rooted in the people themselves, it turns to a campaign to reform the current governmental system. An example is a local coalition devoted to combating the violence of the police force, primarily against people of color in the local community. This coalition soon turned to organizing for the establishment of a civilian review board as a viable focus of its energies. Unfortunately, after nearly three years of playing the system, the review board is as ephemeral as ever, and the police as brutal. In effect, the political process has hamstrung the group, which continues to exhaust itself within the confines of the system rather than spending its time, energy, and resources organizing the people directly effected by police misconduct. In some ways, by rallying these people to work the system, this coalition has strengthened the oppressive machinery of government at the expense of an already brutalized community, without adding any real, independent vitality to that community.

Perhaps we feel that the systems of oppression and control: capitalism, organized religion, government and the nation-state, are too big for us--that though we recognize them as the root evils, we believe we are truly powerless to defeat them. Perhaps, as the world now stands, we believe that since we cannot escape these systems' pervasive reach, that we must inevitably add to them a patchwork of short-term fixes in lieu of attempting a slow tunnel to escape. And so we condemn ourselves to the long hard battles, battering ourselves in mind and spirit to win, inch by inch, endless reforms to systems rotten at their core. Even those of us who are willing to break the mold, who take the battle beyond the course of reform, even they, as often as not, pit themselves against individuals--the forest service, a company bent on animal testing, a meeting of corporate executives. Do we not yet realize that until we utterly destroy the beast itself, it will continue to strike out at us with one of its many limbs? No matter how many corporations we defeat, no matter how many politicians we bend to the will of the people, no matter how many unjust laws and policies we mend with justice, no matter even how many tyrants we assassinate, others will always rise to replace them. How could they not? The systems that raised them up, nurtured them, and put them into power still remain, churning out new individuals to take the places of the old. We live in a society delivered to us mass produced, complete with interchangeable institutions and the people to fill them. And worst of all, we have become prisoners of the very system we despise, programmed to address cosmetics rather than causes.

How invulnerable is the enemy really? Take capitalism, for example. Two fundamental principles upon which the entire exploitative system rests are the value of the dollar, and an unerring faith in the benefits of the market. I have read in numorous radical and revolutionary books, 'zines, and pamphlets, right- and left-wing alike, countless repudiations of these two premises. However, when it has come to tactics, how often are these notions truly sidestepped or even attacked? Let us assume for a moment that the dollar is in fact a cruel instrument of oppression, a piece of paper whose value is determined by wealthy men in control of vast institutions, men who play an elaborate game with its value in order to breath life into their pocket-books at the expense of the majority of individuals. Let us go on to assume that the dollar is in fact a dangerous weapon of the rich against the poor, and that it is therefore the duty of the conscientious individuals to root out this evil and destroy it. How vulnerable is the capitalist system against such an attack?

As far as I can judge, all of the security surrounding banks and businesses alike operate under the assumption that money and property are indeed valuable if not sacred, and that the worst threats are those by which an individual or group might try to seize their coveted assets. However, they are relatively vulnerable when it comes to attacks meant to destroy rather than to steal. What I am talking about is the destruction of money and the means by which it is transferred to the common people--burning it to ash, firebombing the banks, vandalizing the ATMs, and disabling the credit card machines. Up until now, those intent on forgery have done so for their own profit, not as an attack on the money system itself. What if we were to produce not thousands of convincing forged dollars for individual benefit, but billions of forged dollars of all qualities to be dropped in major cities around the nation and the world, flooding the market with dubious currency? Surely this would cast doubt on the value of the dollar. Surely this in turn would begin to cast doubt on the inherent good of the market. If we truly believe capitalism to be an enemy of humanity, we must strike out against the lifeblood of capitalism. If the poor man cannot trust the dollar, the rich man cannot profit from his ignorant consumerism. And in place of the dollar, we must put healthy alternatives into the hands of the people. We must create barter circles, free stores, time-dollars, local currencies, and we must be open to innovations put forth by the people as they arise. And throughout we must guard against the tyranny of the single method, the notion of the "best way" to the exclusion of all others.

This way of thinking about our common plight must be added to the arsenal at our disposal. Already some brave individuals have begun to free themselves of the basic lie of the nation-state, that false identity of citizenship. Looking beyond its oppressive yolk to the greater good of humanity, scores of International Observers have traveled to Palestine to lay their lives on the line, often in open defiance of their supposed representative governments. They have taken their own counsel on the matter and have chosen to respond to human needs as brothers and sisters irregardless of the social contrivances of law, policy, patriotism, and war.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon the tactics activists are currently employing. We must continue to explore and promote healthy alternatives, alternatives based on free enterprise, on work fueled by passion and responsibility rather than greed, on utilitarian and inspiring living arrangements that are gentle on the earth and the human spirit, on voluntary productive and distributive associations forever free to restructure themselves as their members see fit, the methods of which must grow out of the economic and social needs of their members and the individuals they choose to serve. We must patiently educate and re-educate, supporting the free distribution of knowledge, and encourage all those who would struggle after truth. Indeed, no singe path will lead us to freedom. We need everyone already committed to the cause to continue in their brave pursuits. We need those committed to protest and to direct action. We need those committed to informing our friends and potential allies through newspapers, magazines, the internet, culture jamming, radio, graffiti, and the arts. We need organizers to redirect the unfocussed angst of the unemployed, the prisoners and those on parole, the rebellious youth, the oppressed minorities, the poor, the wage slaves, the homeless and disenfranchised, the beaten and abused. We need the intentional communities, the communes, the grassroots organizations and associations, the co-ops, the community gardens, and the organic farms. We need the lawyers and the paralegals and yes, the bail-bond funds. We need infiltrators into the police forces, the corporations, the prisons, the media, the schools, and the other institutions of control. We need the counterfeiters and the computer hackers. We need the saboteurs and the monkey-wrenchers. And we need the networks by which to tie these people together: the communications to share our visions, our strategies, and our successes, and the transportation technology to rally to each others' causes and aid.

In addition, we must be forever wary of the virus of oppression in our midst, and even in our own minds, uprooting it wherever we can rather than contenting ourselves with pruning its many limbs. If only Castro had stayed in the mountains rather than ascending to power; if only he had truly carried on the revolution--combating anyone who would assume to take power, trusting in the people themselves to grab the reins of their own destinies and steer their own course, to make their own mistakes and live the consequences of their own actions rather than those of yet another master. From his example, we must be ever vigilant and mindful of the single fact that, to be a truly liberating force in the world today, we must liberate our own minds from the oppressive ideologies of our enemies. As Emma Goldman once wrote, "Yet, it is nevertheless true that if society is ever to become free, it will be so through liberated individuals, whose free efforts make society." Yes, we must live the revolution today, and on into all possible tomorrows.

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