Social justice leaders N’Tanya Lee and Steve Williams wondered, “Where is the outrage?” about recession austerity measures led by “neoliberalism’s elites,” high unemployment, ecological disasters, and racism. They got their answer in the global uprisings of 2011. To update activism in the US after the 2011 Occupy mobilizations and look into the future, Lee and Williams started the Ear to the Ground project. They interviewed 158 social justice leaders and were surprised to find a high degree of consensus. Most (65%) said they were anti-capitalist, but many lacked a descriptive political label and a systematic strategy for a better world. The authors bemoan the absence of a strong Left and advocate building “a new kind of Left for our times, rooted in feminist social relations and “on-the-ground social movements.”
Two-thirds of the interviewees were people of color and slightly more men than women, with one-third of the interviewees from the San Francisco Bay Area. Despite their efforts, they didn’t include young people under age 20. The interviewers found fragmentation and a lack of a unified front, recognizing the need for what Naomi Klein called a “movement of the movements.” They believe the time is now with multiple crises generating a “tipping point” for change. The authors propose a one-source movement media center and a new Left political party, “united for socialism.” They suggest reexamining the culture of the social justice movement to eliminate competition for funding, judmentalness, ego, crankiness, obsession with process and ideological purity, racism and sexism, overwork, lack of leadership training for youth, and expressing more anger than hope. Not one activist said the movement’s overall culture sustained them. They were united in believing the uprisings of 2011—the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall St., were the most exciting political events they’d ever experienced. They believed that Occupy shifted Tea Party power to the left and helped elect President Obama. They also pointed to protests against the governor of Wisconsin’s attack on public sector unions, Florida demonstrations against the vigilante against murder of black teen Trayvon Martin, and student immigrant “Dreamer” protests as signs of continuing grassroots action.
N’Tanya Lee and Steve Williams, “More Than We Imagined,” Ear to the Ground, May 2013. http://eartothegroundproject.org/report