HOW MOVEMENTS BUILD: FIVE LESSONS FROM GRACE LEE BOGGS

from the archives because it speaks to this moment. Posted on Facebook.
-Scott

HOW MOVEMENTS BUILD: FIVE LESSONS FROM GRACE LEE BOGGS

marygrove_SC_0340From my experience as a Movement activist, I have learned some important lessons:

1) A Movement begins when large numbers of people, having reached the point where they feel they can’t take the way things are any more, see some hope of improving their daily lives and begin to move on their own to bring about change.

2) If you want to know what the Movement is about, you need to keep your ear close to the grassroots to hear the “Why” questions which people are asking. For example, during and after World War II, when black folks had acquired a new Self-Confidence from working in the defense plants and fighting overseas, they began asking, “Why do white folks treat us this way?” with a new urgency. In the 1960s when white flight to the suburbs made blacks the majority in Detroit, people began asking “Why are all the political leaders in the city still white?” Today the main questions I hear people in the black community asking are “What is happening to our young people?” and “How are we going to make our livings when jobs are being eliminated by hi-tech and export overseas?” These basic survival questions are very different from those which were being asked in the 1950s and 1960s.

3) A Movement begins to assume momentum when people begin exploring visionary answers to the questions being asked at the grassroots and engage in practical activities which can be replicated without huge bureaucracies. In the early stages of a Movement, the visionary answers being explored usually strike most people as too radical or too impractical. If they don’t, they are probably not profound enough to build a Movement.

4) To create a Movement, people of widely differing views and backgrounds need to come together, surmounting their ideological differences. But you must also be prepared for these differences to surface and create splits after the Movement succeeds or declines.

5) The struggle does not end with victory or defeat because new contradictions emerge, requiring new ideas and new paradigms which are usually resisted by those who were deeply involved in the past struggle or who have benefited from its success. They tend to be locked in the past, not recognizing that even if the goals of the previous struggles were not completely achieved, new more challenging contradictions have emerged out of the struggle and from the continuing development of the society. In other words, they are not thinking dialectically.

(Excerpt from Grace Lee Boggs, “Towards A New Vision and a New Movement,” presented at the University of Michigan Law School Symposium, October 13-14, 1995.)

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