What have 15 years taught us?
Last night, I gave a talk at the University of York on historical events and movements of the last 15 years that have focused on actions of individuals. It was over 8 pages of writing, so I’ll spare you the boredom, but here’s something of the conclusion I gave, focusing on the timing of the emergence of this flood of movements, and on what they might have taught us.
What why did the emergence of a bunch of dissatisfied, rebellious indigenous peoples from the forests of the most distant province of Mexico connect with, and in many cases, trigger, such a wave of activity around the world?
First because the old enemy, Soviet Russia, is no longer present, and a new counter force was needed to put Western Triumphalism into check. 5 years later, one emerged from Mexico, and spread across the world. But also because the ideology of the old enemy had now faded just enough to push forwards a new way of challenging the injustices of the world, with clear answers to the problems Soviet revolution posed to freedom, determination and dignity.
But society itself had shifted, and the way the world worked was undergoing an even deeper shift. Electronic communications, and particularly the Internet, were now available to use, making centralised control an unnecessary aspect of struggle. Police reports after Seattle put the entire success of the protesters down to the use of email discussion lists, with their immediacy and cheap reproduction and distribution of information. A networked world needs a networked solution. We no longer live in a world organised by locality and structured groups, but instead, flatter, more interconnected arrays of structures.
And finally, because bipolarity seriously sucks, destroying creativity and allowing “Power” a singular enemy to attack. In a Uni polar world, the best you can do is find the pillars of the uni-polar power and make small attacks on them. And together with others working in other ways on other pillars, a new approach can be built together.
And so the Conclusions I want to draw are these:
That We who struggle are connected to other struggles. Within a small set of parameters, any struggling we do, no matter how abstract, no matter how small and focused, is part of this movement, this flow and this reality.
That this is a collection of movements with a collection of ideas for a more complex age, one in which the marginalised are not simply the workers, but are a multiplicity of different groups, a Multitude, or simply the marginalised, who suffer collectively at a theoretical level, but in very different ways on a practical level.
That sovereignty, dignity and determination have been demonstrated to be as important as money and living standards to the world’s poor and marginalised.
That these struggles are necessarily separate, that they are at their strongest when they actually open many fronts, when we keep the issues separate for the purposes of building around them, but listen to one another in our different struggles.
That by picking local issues and local targets, but balancing them with a globally-connected perspective, we can win real concessions and still move the wider debate, energising and empowering people, building up community strength, and recreating our collective ability as the myriad communities, made of 6 billion people, to radically change the world.
Lets just hope we have another 15 years of struggle, that we can continue walking together and talking, developing as we move forwards.
“The world, with the many worlds that the world needs, continues. Humanity, recognising itself to be plural, different, inclusive, tolerant of itself, full of hope, continues. The human and rebel voice, consulted on the five continents in order to become a network of voices and resistance, continues…”
(Marcos, closing remarks to the first Encuentro, taken from Our Word is Our Weapon, Serpents Tail, 2001).