A holistic view of the world demands that we be agile in our organizing toward societal transformation. Holism demands that we understand the problems of our world as interconnected. This interweaving of spheres informs our vision for something better as well. The strategy that we use to get from where we are to where we want to be must also be shaped by our holistic position, and further emphasis on our movement’s strategy is a necessity.
When we view the world through a holistic lens, things can become confusing. Issues blur into one another. For example, economy becomes intertwined with community, while politics and interpersonal relationships become indivisible. All of the models that we use to organize our perspective(s) begin to climb on top of one another and create an interesting and confounding mess in our minds. Holism may seem intricate and elaborate. Because the world is complex, our movement must have a complex understanding of the challenges we face. There is, however, a fairly simple way of framing all of this.
A holistic analysis of the world as it is today creates a web of issues, touching on economy, politics, community identities, human relationships, and environmental sustainability. These spheres are useful for us in envisioning solutions to the problems that we, as a society, face.
We often speak of dual power as a model for getting from the present to the future. Dual power emphasizes the importance of creating both alternative institutions and counter institutions in order to move towards our vision. Briefly, alternative institutions are those which embody the spirit of our vision for a better world. Counter institutions play three roles: They protect the alternatives that we build, challenge the oppressions that surround us, and attempt to convince ever widening circles of people that our holistic vision is on the mark.
Our task is to engage in building a movement towards a society that is participatory, democratic, equitable, and just. This can be done by building toward our visions today (alternatives), and by cultivating partnerships and changing minds, struggling against inequity and injustice, and protecting our visionary structures (counters). This movement exists in the daily relief of oppression and the overarching motion toward revolution as well.
We need to be able to describe these institutions with a bit more specificity than the above broad strokes offer. Alternative institutions can fit into one expansive category for now. These alternatives are the structures, organizations, unions, and communities of the future, but now. Alternative institutions can be egalitarian worker collectives in factories, classrooms, and office buildings. They can be food co-operatives, which provide healthy sustenance in our many food deserts. They can be experimental, democratic schools. They can also be participatory community councils. These don’t cover all the possible alternatives that we can begin to build right now, but they are a few examples of institutions that can start to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal.
We need to be building towards our visions and experimenting with our dreams right now. Alternatives, if it is not already clear, are supposed to exemplify the world that we want to live in. The alternatives that work will eventually cease to be alternatives. Instead, they will become mainstream institutions as we succeed in our work. Believe it or not there are thousands of beautiful examples of alternative institutions all over the continent and around the world. Some of them are becoming the norm in their societies. We need to continue to build radical media outlets, participatory councils in our communities, collective workplaces, and democratic day cares and schools.
Making change happen takes more than experimenting with building our visions for the future in the present. A sustainable movement needs to address the very real need to support and protect the alternatives that we build. Counter institutions are meant to defend the alternatives and draw people toward our movement. A public alternative school program that is under attack from the political Right needs people who are willing to protest cuts to education budgets and occupy the school board building. Ensuring that access to reproductive health care is safe and legal requires political advocacy and education for communities. Changing the way we interact with our environment demands us to gather together millions of people in order to educate ourselves, change our policies, and stop those who would put profit before life.
Counter institutions safe guard our alternatives and engage people in our movement in three ways:
Advocacy encompasses activities such as political action in elections, encouraging people to vote, lobbying, and even meeting potential funders for our movement (yes, the non-profit model perpetuates capitalist oppression as much as the next model, but as we move forward we will find ourselves moving away from it). Advocacy is an important example of working for non-reformist reforms. To put it simply, we work for achievable change while keeping our eyes on the prize. Non-reformist reforms are about working for the small wins, while being explicit about our larger goals and vision.
Advocacy, to some extent, can be defined as working within current power structures. It is an important part of our movement because, without people working for reforms within mainstream institutions, we can never hope to pull the mainstream toward liberation. While we work for reform through advocacy in the short term, we recognize that it is certainly not enough. Advocacy ensures that we enjoy wins as we walk the path toward revolution.
Communication is another way of saying education. Communication involves writing, art, teaching, journalism, and any other way that you can think of to get our message out into the world for people to see, read, hear, and think about.
Communication describes the act of engaging in dialogue with individuals, organizations, communities, mass movements, and society at large. The art we make, the writing we do, the media we post online, and the groups we educate are all opportunities for us to allow people to engage with our ideas and join our movement.
Without communication we can’t expect anyone to agree with us or join us. More importantly, communication allows the world to know that we exist, we are committed, and we are building something better.
Direct action can include occupying a space of strategic or symbolic importance, workplace strikes, street demonstrations and even self-defense. Direct action is exactly what it sounds like. When a movement can engage in meaningful direct action it means that there are a significant number of people who are ready to protect an idea, one another, or an alternative institution, or to stand up against an injustice in their midst.
These kinds of actions can inspire more people to join the movement, because good direct action utilizes advocacy and communication in support of itself. An editorial in a newspaper, video posted on a social network, having access to a legal team through fundraised resources, or having a slightly more thoughtful politician in office are all potential ingredients in the success of an action; the more people who know about and support a movement, the more potential there is for an occupation, demonstration, or strike to have an impact.
An organized movement might arrange a strike for unfairly treated workers, a bank occupation to ensure that homes are not foreclosed on, or a demonstration in front of a police department headquarters when the police are used to violently attack people who are seeking to change the status quo.
Counter institutions promote and protect our movement. Advocacy challenges the flow of money and power. Communication challenges the way we think and interact. Direct Action challenges our notion of what is possible here and now, and shakes the hierarchy of our society from the ground on up. The above three categories are each useful in different (though often overlapping) contexts for convincing more and more people that we truly have a vision for a free society. They are also essential in protecting the alternatives that we build. They each support and protect our movement.
You may have noticed that there aren’t any professions described in the above. That’s because these categories transcend career type. A lawyer may find herself communicating political ideas through visual art, while lobbying her senator to clean up the toxic waste in the nearby river. A teacher may find himself leading a general strike and running for office. A factory worker may find herself writing a blog, lecturing at universities, and occupying a bank.
Arranging counter institutions into these three groupings can help us understand what needs doing. It can also help us to understand what each of us wants to do. Many of us don’t have access to communities and partners with the space, time, and means to create alternatives right now. This means that the broadest movement that we can build will include huge numbers of people who don’t necessarily build alternatives right now, but who do engage in one or more of the above streams of pushing the mainstream toward those alternatives.
Our analysis, vision, and strategy need to be holistic. This means that we need to understand that the challenges we face, our goals, and the paths we build to get there are intertwined and inextricable. The above strategic categories are not separate pieces of the puzzle. They lay over one another similarly to the spheres that we use to organize our view of the world.
Not every person has the will, ability, or desire to make change in every way, so we work together in multiple, and very often fluid, roles. Our organizing needs to address the alternatives that we want to build, as well as advocacy, communication, and direct action as types of counter institutions. The strategy that we build needs emulate our analysis and vision by being layered, interconnected, and holistic in scope. Each of us needs to engage in multiple paths toward action, and when we do we will find that all of the paths lead to the same place.