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GRIID Class on US Social Movements – Part VIII: Building a Framework for Social Movements and Radical Imagination

March 18, 2021

In the 8th, and last, week of the class on US social movements, we discussed an article by Steve Darcy, which you can find here. 

Darcy’s article has to do with the importance of creating autonomous and independent social organizations/structures that do not rely in the existing Capitalist structures in business, government and the non-profit sector, entities that he identifies as Social Movement Organizations, Class Conflict Organizations and Grassroots-Democratic Organizations. 

In addition, Darcy explores what he describes as a two-pronged strategic framework – the resistance phase and the transition phase. The resistance phase is where we actively work to dismantled systems of power and oppression, using a whole array of tactics in that work. The transition phase is where we work to build alternative structures and a capacity to building the kind of community and society we want to see.

Participants were very engaged with the content from Darcy’s article and we began to discuss what this might look like in a variety of movement-based work.

The second part of week 8 was spent responding to four questions that were meant to engage people around some of the overarching themes raised in the first 7 weeks.

What have you learned about systems of power and oppression in US History, and how they have they have responded – pushed back, against social movements. Here, people discussed the Abolitionist Movement, the larger Black Freedom Struggle and the Labor Movement. Participants addressed how systems of power are always attempting to co-opt movements, present mild reforms – with the hope that it will weaken movements, direct suppression of movements and how systems of power always want to dictate the narrative around this history.

What have you learned about Social Movements, specifically about tactics and strategies that you may not have known before, and how have those tactics and strategies threaten systems of power? One participant made it clear, using the example of labor conflicts that it seems that unless there is significant confrontation, movements will not be effective. Another participant spoke to how the Abolitionist movement used direct action tactics like uprising, killing plantation owners and creating the Underground Railroad, all of which were tactics that used force and were determined by society to be illegal. 

Whatever gains that have been made in the US, how have they come about? Here we discussed Zinn’s analysis that whatever gains we have made, they have come about because of our collective ability to organize and struggle to make the changes we want. Whatever gains we have made was the direct result of movements, never gifts from those in power and never as a result of elections. One of the participants pointed out that the 8 hour work day, worker benefits, etc, were the result of the Labor Movement, not because bosses or owners gifted those things to us.

How does our collective investigation into the history of social movements influence our understanding/participation in current movements? We ran out of time before getting to the fourth question, but there was some discussion about existing movements in the area and ways to get involved. 

As always, facilitating these kinds of conversations is always engaging, always instructive and it is always affirming to watch and listen to people who are grappling with this history and how it impacts their understanding of what is happening in the present. Thank you all for your commitment to this class, your sharing and your insights!

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