Dozens of U.S. cities erupted in direct action protests following the decision to grant impunity to police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. A new generation of organizers is arising, willing to take risks and break the rules to make social change. They are mounting effective action at street level and building broad coalitions, challenging existing institutions and creating new ones. (Garza, p. 66)*
The organizing often has a pragmatic character. It seeks specific policy changes and demands prosecutions of police perpetrators and citizen review of police misconduct—but it doesn’t rule out any tactic in pursuit of democratic, accountable and popular power.
Blocking freeways and streets, boycotting businesses, occupying public space, symbolic and mass civil disobedience, and disrupting business as usual have become an integral part of the toolkit of contemporary movements.
The Flood Wall Street actions held in New York on the third anniversary of the launch of Occupy, the day after the Climate March, used these tactics, as well as the horizontal organizing practices that characterized Occupy. (Rein and M. Clarke, p .58) Popular assemblies, consensus, referenda, group autonomy, and mutual aid are being widely adopted as necessary ingredients to create new political spaces.
To hold those spaces once won, we also need to challenge power on the vertical axis with tried-and-true organizing that gives neighborhoods a voice in what sorts of development will be built in their communities (Ruiz and Smooke, p. 82, Wilson, p. 101, Ferrer, p.106); with allies in local, state and national government that can articulate support for movement demands (Levitt, p. 87; Clark p. 89); and with clear policy solutions that can meet our communities’ material needs and win resources to build accountable institutions. (J. Clarke, p. 18; Vanderwarker p. 27; Arnold, p. 31)
Rights organizing is another important dimension of how current political work is redefining the terrain on which battles for power are fought. The struggle of domestic workers to win the same sorts of legal protections that other workers gained in the 20th century has resulted in legislation in New York, California and other regions. (Rubiano Yedidia, p.72; Shekar, p. 77) A new campaign to secure rights for homeless people, “Right to Rest,” has been launched on the West Coast. (Messman and Boden p. 94)
All of these efforts are aimed at shifting the balance of power toward the interests of working people, women and people of color and out of the hands of the narrow corporate elite that threaten the planetary ecosystem and our very survival as a species. Living systems have rights as well, and we as communities have the right and responsibility to uphold and defend those rights (Movement Generation, p.9; Dayaneni-Shiva p.14)
Can we build a “movement of movements” that respects differences in political outlook and relative power in the racial, gender and class hierarchies of our stratified society? Can we accept and celebrate difference, not only culturally, but also in the pragmatic choices that we individually and collectively need to make for our day-to-day survival?
The Reimagine! project seeks to provide a platform for dialogue that does just that. Working from a grounded race, class and gender analysis to understand how the system operates, we can develop strategies that go beyond reacting to crises.
For example, police shootings and harassment are an integral part of how our economic and political elites stay in power. Violence against African Americans and other people of color in this country is not the accidental product of rogue officers, a bad district attorney or a backward county government. It is the systematic expression of the original colonial project that sought to kill, enslave or displace the indigenous population and used imported slave labor to build a nation.
To organize effectively against this power, and the structural inequality and racism of our economic system, we need to look deeper than the question of the innocence or guilt of the officers involved, and see beyond the false framing that poses the issue as merely a problem of community-police relations.
Environmental racism and gentrification choke and rip apart families as surely as police assault. Politics, policy and planning trap communities of color in segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools and racialized mass incarceration.
Transforming these broad structural conditions is what RP&E and the movements of which it has been a part has been about from the beginning.
Race, Poverty & the Environment was launched a year before the first national environmental justice summit in 1991 and from its humble origin as a photocopied newsletter became the journal of record for a movement. When Urban Habitat management eliminated funding for the journal in 2013, a group of employees, contractors, writers and editors began to organize and scheme for its revival. We are pleased to find a new home at the Movement Strategy Center (in our old building!)
In addition to fulfilling RP&E’s role documenting EJ and related movements, we identified a broader need for editorial collaboration and cross-fertilization among the many different constituencies and issue areas that the journal has connected over the years. We call this “Movements Making Media.”
In broad strokes, we envision reviving the founding model of RP&E as a co-published movement journal with multiple organizational co-sponsors. We aim to lift up a broad spectrum of movement voices to analyze conditions, reflect on experience, and shed light on our paths forward.
We are also re-launching Radio RP&E as Reimagine Radio, a monthly podcast available in iTunes. Edited transcripts from our podcast are included in this edition. This first “proof of concept” edition has been created using mostly volunteer labor and a distributed editorial model of contributing editors writing stories and soliciting related work from correspondents embedded in movement campaigns. A core production team has edited and designed the results into the new format you are reading (in print, online or in your ebook reader). We’re proud of this first harvest under collective management. Please subscribe, donate or join us using the form at the end of this issue.
Arise ye aspiring writers, editors, radio producers, photographers and web developers and join us in doing this work! •
Jess Clarke is the project director of Reimagine! and was the editor of Race Poverty & the Environment from 2005-2013
* References are to authors’ last names and page number in the print edition.