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Now Is the Time to Shake Up Society at the Roots

Millions can be inspired to oppose the status quo in this crumbling economy. It's time to make big demands based on big ideas.

When I facilitate trainings for grassroots leaders, allies, and staff on why we do strategic communications work in relation to our community organizing I inevitably talk about hegemony. Hegemony is the common sense we have to challenge when we are trying to make change. The limits of collective imagination and understanding create the limits of the change we can make.  Once, in a training, someone offered this metaphor: hegemony is the water the fish swims in, it shapes the fish’s experience and determines understanding, it is everywhere.  But hegemony isn’t just the water the fish swims in; there are limits to the fish’s world, hard edges beyond which the fish can’t move -- the fishbowl.

In the past few months the hegemonic fishbowl our country’s been living in has cracked.

Crack #1 -- The Economic Crisis

Capitalism, as it has been talked about for the past 30 years, is in serious trouble and everyone knows it. The long time defenders of capitalism’s rules are now breaking them. The free market is only free when profit is made and all (the rich) are happy. With the U.S. economy in shambles from unregulated exchange (free markets) the government is stepping in to nationalize the banks, a big no-no for capitalists. We have Congress dancing around an Auto Industry bailout to the point that even President George Bush took action to rescue the big three while at the same time saying that government should not interfere with the market (at least that’s how I heard it).

These cracks in the faith of capitalism are huge. Now more people can align themselves with alternative economics, as their reality and experience of capitalism shifts.  It is up to us to put forward viable visions for economies based on principles of justice, self-determination, and people over profit.

Crack #2 -- The Presidential Race

Millions of people were drawn to Barack Obama’s campaign because of his message of change. His campaign did not rely on the Democratic machine (solely) but built its own movement, creating a broad umbrella of Hope and Change that many could fit under. The campaign drew in young African-Americans and Latinos (who won the race for Obama in Florida, no thanks to young whites). It exposed many to activism, not at an issue level, but on a broad, almost movement level. This, plus the fact that Obama’s campaign held him up as a community organizer, has placed new value -- even new legitimacy -- in the hands of progressive organizers.

Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House also cracked our fishbowl. The possibility of a woman president or a Black president illustrated a shift in what is possible, what is the norm in the U.S.  As much as Obama represented advances for racial justice, Clinton represented advances for women, turning narrow notions of who can lead on their head. Although neither of these advances directly changes systemic racism and patriarchy, they do demonstrate possibilities and stimulate imaginations of another world.

Crack #3 -- Mass Action

Several weeks ago employees at the Chicago factory of Republic Windows and Doors occupied their workplace. The six day occupation was sparked by Bank of America refusing to extend a line of credit to the bosses to pay severance to employees as the factory closed. During this time President Elect Barack Obama said he supported the demands of the factory workers. The workers, members of the independent (not a part of the AFL-CIO) democratic United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), took the militant action and demanded their severance essentially from a bank that had just received a government bail out.  Obama’s support of the workers is a signal not only to organized labor, but also to unorganized workers, it is a shift away from pro-business union busting neo-liberalism.

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