During the Occupy Movement, I speculated that the movement would likely move in one of three directions. I based my premise on my observation of social movements in the context of history as well as the synergistic relationship between social conditions, social movements, and political consciousness. I have decided to revisit these reflections in light of recent occurrences.
Succinctly stated, movements for social change can move in three directions. First, they can dissipate due to insufficient momentum and political consciousness on the part of the movements’ actors and the masses. Poor social conditions coupled with certain forms of political consciousness are the fertilizer for movements. Where the movements’ goals fail to gain traction in the consciousness of the masses or where the requisite levels of critical consciousness are lacking, movements may decline with various degrees of rapidity.
Further, in contexts where reforms are sufficient to pacify a masses’ yearning for a better society, movements may cease to seem relevant. It should be noted that the perception of reform may be as effective as the actuality itself, at least in the short term. That is if the masses accept the viability of reform as a signifier of social progression, then the movement itself–given its oppositional nature–may fade into irrelevance. Hence reforms, as a process of signification, may effectively blunt the further progression of a movement. Of course, when such reforms prove illusory, there is always the possibility of new movements of opposition forming–which may be further animated by the conscious awareness of the failed reforms of the past.
Further, insufficient social consciousness, that is limitations in the political education of the masses and a movements’ core actors can also lead to its eventual dissipation.
Second, movements can be co-opted by the establishment. This typically takes the form of them merging with, being absorbed by, or having their core platform adopted by the dominant political parties or other structures of the mainstream political apparatus. This differs from dissipation in that the aims of the movement continue, albeit within the dominant system. Such co-option may be represented by a range of structures such as the appointment of movement leaders to key positions in the government or private foundations, the provisioning of funds to movement actors by the state or civil society, the creation of policy platforms based on movement objectives, as well as the creation of institutes focused on the development of movement aims in some form or another. Often the latter may entail connections to major universities, and with this the provisioning of monetary resources, social status, and–necessarily–a degree of legitimization by the existing system.
Of course, co-option may result in movement fragmentation, as certain movement actors opt to continue on a more independent basis, perhaps due to differing forms of political consciousness or a striving towards different end goals beyond those symbolized in the supposed gains afforded by co-option. In any event, this suggests that the progression of movements themselves may also be characterized by bifurcations.
Third, movements can also become more radical wherein they look beyond reform as the solution to the existing system.
Returning to the above formulation–social conditions and political consciousness, in addition to a rejection of the legitimacy and viability of the existing system is the conceptual basis for revolutionary movements. In fact, the difference between reformist and revolutionary movements is largely based on the latter factor, as those who have rejected the dominant order may be less inclined to hold out hope in its redemption. One additional critical element which serves to concretize revolutionary movements is a vision of a new future possibility–that is the movement is ultimately animated by its pursuance of a new society, one whose birth requires the dissolution of the present one.
The latter stage necessarily entails three sub-stages: proto-revolutionary, revolutionary, and post-revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. However, these will be discussed in another essay.
Of course, these three possibilities are predicated on the movements’ self-conscious evolution. They do not focus on a fourth possibility, destruction by the state–a common fate of many movements, though perhaps less common than the first or second. Also, given that all movements do not form for the sake of achieving revolution, it must be stated that many do form for short-term, limited objectives–thus making dissipation inevitable. Further, others may come into being with the express goal of moving the establishment in one direction or another. Though such reformist movements may engage in various forms of “militant” performance including, among other things, vociferous rhetoric, such movements must never be confused with revolutionary movements–which posit the necessity of fundamental social change, not reform.
When I am at our family’s farm, I sometimes see things that I interpret as notable lessons. Today, I spent about 15 minutes removing weeds from among our carrots. It is interesting how that which is undesirable embeds itself alongside that which we intentionally cultivate. Hence our gains are often beset by inevitable struggles. Fortunately, the Yorùbá wisdom reminds us that struggle is a constant of life. The Odù Ifá states: “We are constantly struggling. All of us.”
Also today I saw a smaller bird that was pursuing and harassing a hawk. I don’t know what their conflict was about. Perhaps the hawk threatened its nest, I am unsure. It brought to mind a similar incident from a week ago where a smaller bird was pursuing and harassing a goose. In both instances, the smaller birds’ determination was commendable. It reminds me that a mightier adversary can still be confronted, cowed or even defeated. Those facing seemingly powerful foes should remember that their resolve and strategic approach may be sufficient to carry the day. Such is the basis of the Africans’ victory in Haiti. It was a lesson which was the terror of enslavers throughout the hemisphere.
Finally, yesterday I noticed that a spider had spun its web between two poles that I put out about a week ago. I was struck by the fact that the spider used whatever materials that were available to it to achieve its goal—survival. It reminded me that we often regard our cultural traditions as being static, frozen, but this cannot be true as these traditions have been adapted as our people have moved throughout time and space. Even today, many of us are situated in these traditions, but often do not recognize them as such due to our estrangement from our ancestral homeland and cultural traditions that we recognize as explicitly “African”, yet they nonetheless are—having retained many aspects of their African essence. Thus the spider taught me that we can adapt, as needed, to ensure our survival without the fundamental loss of our asili—our essence. However such an outcome is a matter of determination.
“Follow your heart as long as you live,
Do no more than is required,
Do not shorten the time of ‘follow-the-heart,’
Trimming its moment offends the ka.
Do not waste time on daily cares
Beyond providing for your household;
When wealth has come, follow your heart,
Wealth does no good if one is glum!”
Explanation: Though our lives present many necessary tasks, some of vital importance, Ptah Hotep reminds us that we should also seek fulfillment, to “follow your heart”. He emphasizes that one should give due attention to such matters and links such activity to the ka, which Obenga translates as “soul, spirit, the essence of a being, personality, fortune”. This is an important reminder, as we live in a society that not only emphasizes the pursuit of material gain over all other considerations–a striving that would have been considered vulgar in ancient Kemet, in addition to incessant toil. In fact, many today have reported an erasure of any clear separation between their personal and professional lives. For Ptah Hotep, to be consumed with work, disallows balance, which is vital to one’s development. Balance is key to our well-being. As Fu-Kiau has stated, “To be healthy is to be mu kinenga, ‘in balance’–with ourselves, our environment, and the universe.” Thus, while one should not waste time, one should, remember to satisfy one’s ka by following the heart.
I do not believe in prophecy or the inevitability of the triumph of justice over injustice. I do believe that the current administration has and will continue to hasten the unraveling of the US.
I do not believe that such an inevitable occurrence will create a better society. A better society will be the product of clear vision and determined action. I find the former to be increasingly rare in a society whose collective consciousness is addled by conspiracy theories, fear, distrust, hyperindividualism, and anxiety. I think that this past decade’s propagation of the pretense of digital “activism”, the abandonment of critiques of political economy in favor of those centered on an ever-increasing infinity of personal identities and other forms of atomization, and impotent protest has arrested many people’s ability to conceive of “action” in any meaningful manner.
Thus, when the “empire” falls, what will most likely follow are desperate and depraved efforts to sustain it based on more debased forms of neoliberalism, white nationalism, violent religious fanaticism, anti-intellectualism, and pogroms targeting the “rejected and despised”.