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RC and Social Change

I've been thinking recently about social change and our tactics for accelerating progress toward social justice and environmental respect. I wonder whether the principle of organizing around progressive policies and reaching people on a one-to-one basis has not somehow colluded with our passivity patterns or our despair about political action.

In my educational change work, I see people at all levels of education who are insulated from the consequences of the decisions they make. They are isolated from human contact with people who are suffering from oppression. They continue to hire people with the same values and styles of operation that they have. The culture of the institutions stays the same. Racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are not discussed in meaningful and productive ways. People rarely discharge.

Being insulated from the consequences of the decisions they make seems to happen at all levels in the upper reaches of the U.S. government, and there seems to be little protest from those who are affected.

Two examples:

  1. The University of California recently abolished affirmative action. Law school enrollment next year for black people and Latinos will decrease by eighty percent. There will be no black students at the University of California Berkeley Law School next year. Although there have been protests, they have not been massive and have mostly gone unreported. In the 1960's the entire university would have been shut down.
  2. There is a budget compromise being worked out in the U.S. It will give sixty-five percent of the tax reductions to the wealthiest one percent of the people. It will increase the gap between rich and poor. It is being promoted by a Democratic President and agreed to by most of his party. There is little protest.

I believe a more aggressive stance is necessary. The greatest progress we made in democratizing the campus that I work on was in the late 1960's. It started when a group of black students occupied the computer center and virtually shut down the university. This was followed by thousands of students demonstrating against the Vietnam war and for more student say in what was happening at the university. The great gains in civil rights in the U.S. came after (as a result of?) devastating rebellions in some of our major cities.

I know that we should not be organizing on the basis of anger and people's fears. I do not think that violence is a productive way to get results. And I am not saying that RC has caused the passivity. There are many factors at work. I know that building strong RC Communities and 'naturalized' RC communities is a crucial part of any wide-world liberation strategy. (I have seen the effectiveness of that in my wide-world educational change work.) I also know that regular sessions and leading in RC are essential in order for me to lead effectively in the wide world. I think, however, that we need to be more active in showing our displeasure with harmful policies while still holding out our principles and our vision for a better world.

What I want us to consider is why there has been, in the U.S. at least, a decline in the level of protest against inhuman policies. I realize there is no single emotional issue to unify us, such as Bill Connor using cattle prods and firehoses on civil rights demonstrators or TV scenes of children being napalmed by U.S. bombers. It seems hard to mobilize people to protest policies that slowly destroy the natural world or increase the disparity between the rich and the poor.

I think we need to examine this issue and would like to see some discussion of it. I am asking myself, in and out of session, 'Has RC contributed to my lack of activism by giving me access to discharge and feeling better? Has our understanding that oppressors have been hurt in order to be oppressors contributed to people not challenging harmful policies in the streets?' I am reminded of Frederick Douglass (escaped slave, abolition fighter) saying in a speech, 'The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle . . . If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation . . . want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; but it must be a struggle. Power never concedes anything without a demand. It never did and it never will.'

Bill Horne raised some interesting questions in his recent e-mail post: 'I'm curious to know, if you were going to write 'a planetary Magna Carta,' what would you put in it? How might you go about this task? How could a rational, human code be enforced on a global scale? What would be your comprehensive working-class strategy based on action and solidarity, as well as ideas and principles?'

To answer the first question, the policies I would include are:

  1. People are not to be hurt by other people or by institutions.
  2. Human beings and our environment are to be valued above greed.
  3. Every worker is to have time for a support-group-like activity once per week.
  4. All people are to be engaged in listening to the stories of people different (as different as possible) from themselves.
  5. Everyone's labor is to be valued equally-an hour managing a corporation equals an hour cleaning the latrine.
  6. All investment income over a certain amount is to be contributed to the community. Start with all investment income over $100,000 (U.S.) per year and assess what happens after ten years. This would make it more palatable to some and allow for a transition time to deal with patterns that link work to financial reward.

I find the other questions extremely difficult and I feel frustrated at not having answers. How do we mobilize people to demand that the destructive policies change in the face of the control of the media by the corporations and in the face of people who don't see the need to change policies? I think it will take more than discharge and goodwill. I have begun by speaking out more directly about what I see as harmful policies. I have taken a more aggressive approach with a school district that has been resisting reforms for years and years-to the detriment of students of color. The response from the administration so far has been positive, but I told them that I would go to the people of color in the community if progress is not made, and I will. I have been encouraging my constituency to be more active. I tell them to organize around progressive policies but to also organize to make demands that oppressive policies and practices cease. Some people, who in the past have been passive, are taking action. I am encouraged.

Let us continue the dialogue and the discharge. I have spent my last three sessions working on my anger about the slowness of change, and it is making a difference.

Julian Weissglass
Santa Barbara, California,

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00