Making counter-power out of madness

Laura Flanders

On 4 April 1967, Dr Martin Luther King Jr took to the pulpit at New York’s Riverside Church, and warned that ‘a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death’.

To turn things around, he said, ‘We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values’.

‘We must rapidly begin to shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘people-oriented’ society. When machines and computers profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.’

‘Somehow, this madness must cease’, he said.

Fifty years on, the US is arguably closer to a ‘revolution in values’ today than at any time since King’s assassination. At the very least, the scale of the problem is widely grasped. What we face is not a glitch in the system of US politics and economics, but a systemic problem – a madness.

And not just because of who’s in the White House.

The US sickness

To be clear. It isn’t the war part of King’s ‘evil triplets’ speech that especially resonates in this moment. In 2017, US troops were on the ground and US drones and bombs were killing people not in one nation, but in several: Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen. US special forces were in a total of 76 countries at a cost of some $5.6 trillioni and the terrifying US-led ‘war on terror’ involved 39% of the countries on the planet.

And yet, while Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives managed to draw some attention to the militarization of the nation’s police and private security firms, the cost and impact of the US war economy receives very little attention from US politicians or even from social movements. (The 2017 Women’s Convention in Chicago, for example, added a session on militarism only as an afterthought.) The first Pentagon budget of the Trump era, which passed with bipartisan unanimity in Congress, pushed an already staggering military budget up to $700 billion.

No, it’s not the militarism, it’s the madness that resonates today. Since 1968, the number of US citizens living in poverty has increased by 60%. On average, men in the highest income bracket live 15 years longer than men in the lowest. Donald Trump’s signature achievement, the 2017 Republican tax law, will make inequality exponentially worse, but when as OXFAM reports eight people are worth more than 3.8 billion people on the planet, no tweak of the US tax code – or even a new president – will help much.

To add to King’s picture of impending spiritual death, environmentalists warn of literal demise. The Ecological Footprint Network reports that human beings collectively consume at a rate 1.7 times what the Earth’s regenerative capacity can sustain. Along with armed conflict (and accelerated by it), drought, floods, fires and rising tides are already displacing waves of desperate refugees. And US citizens felt the impact where they live in 2017, when storms and fires ravaged communities across the continent, and threw Puerto Rico into extended darkness.

When indigenous people drew the line at the prospect of a leak-prone energy pipeline passing through precious native lands, they sounded very much like King. What they were concerned about, they said, was not one nation, or one region, or group, but rather the survival of the world.

The unprecedented level of unity across indigenous nations, when they came together at Standing Rock, was rooted in ‘our moral right and responsibility to protect Mother Earth on behalf of humanity’, said indigenous organizer Judith LeBlanc.

Donald Trump’s election didn’t reveal US democracy was malfunctioning. It [showed rather that] the nation’s systems function to diminish public decision-making and perpetuate too-big-to-control corporate influence.

It seems to have come as a shock to the well-paid TV pundits, but the election of a madman in 2016 didn’t reveal that US democracy was malfunctioning. It is widely understood that Donald Trump’s election was the logical consequence of the way the nation’s systems function to diminish public decision-making and perpetuate too-big-to-control corporate influence.

The systemic nature of the problem (if you’re a poor person, not a bank) is not limited to one ethnicity or region. The disappearance of living-wage work, the sudden spike in incarceration even as crime rates dropped, precarious pay, soaring debt, increasing bankruptcies, high rent, homelessness, hunger and ill health; –the Civil Rights Act notwithstanding, these issues were dominating the lives of many African Americans in the 1990s, as the effects of Reaganite neoliberalism kicked in. The same crisis hit middle-class, white Americans, in 2008.

Awareness of systemic crisis

Strike Debt burning debt at Occupy Wall Street S17 Anniversary Concert in Foley Square – 16-12-2012. Credit: Steve Rhodes

For those contemplating counter-power, the ten-year anniversary of the global financial crisis, or Great Recession, is perhaps even more immediately significant than the uprisings of ’68.

In the US, the decade since 2008 has not seen the emergence of the sort of counter-power represented by Syriza or Podemos. Resistance movements haven’t morphed into political parties and won national power, not yet. But we did see millions of US citizens vote for self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, and from his campaign has emerged a campaigning organization that talks about socialism, called Our Revolution.

All this is at least in part because we have seen a decade of mass consciousness-raising about capitalism, courtesy of the 2008 crisis and sustained by phenomena like Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt (and before that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests, which centred on a critique of global capitalism). Not just economic problems, but economic systems, long a taboo in the US, are up for debate. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, in a country that only 50 years ago was raised on red-baiting.

In 2016, 51% of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 told Harvard University researchers that they opposed capitalism. Only 42% expressed support. In October 2017, pollsters found that 44% of US millennials would pick a socialist rather than a capitalist country in which to live.

In November 2017, tickets to ‘Capitalism: A Debate’ sold out in a day and speakers from socialist Jacobin and libertarian Reason magazines had to move to a larger venue. The event sold out once again, this time in eight hours.

The mainly young, overwhelmingly white, young people who packed Cooper Union’s 960-capacity Great Hall for that debate were not yet out of high school when the 2008 crash happened. They saw what it did to their families and friends, as loyal workers lost pensions, savings and mortgages; and while banks were bailed out, the state refused to relieve students of voluminous college debts.

The seductions of the status quo don’t work as well for this generation because they came of age seeing it crash. They’re not wedded to the promise of the capitalist ‘American Dream’ that was proffered to their parents, because it shows no signs of being wedded to them, or even having a place for them in it.

The people whom 30-year-old Nelini Stamp knows place little faith in the traditional economy or in government, turning instead to decentralized, self-organized networks to get things done – everything from making a living to getting help to people after Hurricane Sandy. ‘I thought Occupy Wall Street was big but bottom-up organizing’s really taken off since’, says Stamp, now an organizer with the Working Families Party.

Building collective counter-power

Women’s March on Washington – 1/21/17. Credit: Molly Adams

Turning new consciousness into political power is not an easy challenge. Labour organizer and author, Jane McAlevey, argues that one of the impacts of attacks on trade unions is that it led them to shift ‘away from deep organizing, toward shallow mobilizing’, which has built very little on-the-ground operating capacity.

‘In place of collective progress, we’ve come up with individual rights, and worked to enforce those’, she says. ‘We win a race and go home without a deeper understanding of governance because we’ve done so little of it.’

From that perspective, even talking about counter-power, as more people on the left are doing, inspired by movement gains in Europe or informed by immigrant experience in Latin America and Asia – is an advance. As McAlevey puts it,

‘It’s too long since we actually talked about power. How it works, how to build it, what power we’re up against and what we already have collectively.’

Over the past 50 years, US liberalism has tended to be fairly narrowly defined. Driven by the need to produce data and ‘wins’ for philanthropic funders, progressive non-profit organizations have poured oceans of sweat and money into meeting ever-increasing unmet social needs, seeking discrete policy changes or defending one-time achievements.

All these years on, it’s clear that while communications work, advocacy and legal defence are important, no amount of any of those will stop systemic madness. US citizens know this, because they have proof, and not just in the White House but in their lives.

Among the many new social movements gaining traction today is COSECHA, which fights for the humane and permanent protection of immigrants. The year kicked off with more citizens following women of colour and queer and trans women into more streets than the country had ever seen, to protest the inauguration of the man many call the ‘predator in chief’.

The massive women’s marches (which also took place in dozens of other countries) were followed almost immediately by citizens standing by non-citizens to resist deportations and an anti-Muslim and racist travel ban. People with disabilities literally threw their bodies in the way of legislators who were considering the repeal of President Obama’s (not-very) Affordable Health Care Act, the so-called ObamaCare.

In off-season elections, progressive Democrats and Socialists defeated bigots and blowhards, including long-time incumbents of local, state and national office.

The revelation, just days before a ‘white power’ riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, that Trump’s FBI was monitoring not white, but ‘Black identity extremists’ came as a chilling reminder of way the state has sought to criminalize and disrupt civil rights activists from the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter. But that hasn’t stopped either the Movement for Black Lives or groups like COSECHA, which fights for the humane and permanent protection of immigrants.

In 2017, Repairers of the Breach, founded by Reverend William J. Barber and Dr Liz Theoharis, launched a new poor people’s campaign modelled directly on King’s, which will conduct 40 days of direct action including civil disobedience across 25 states in 2018. Expectations are great, although it is not clear if their ecumenical but Southern church-based vision will resonate in the world of Northern-dominated liberalism, or if enough progressive infrastructure exists around the country to support it.

Decentralized networks turn people out to mass rallies against Trump, but it has proved harder to agree on a platform. ‘I lust for a manifesto’, says Working Families organizer, Stamp.

After the Sanders campaign, the electoral group gaining the most new visibility seems to be the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) (which shares many activists who are also members of Our Revolution.) The DSA was founded in 1982. Between November 2016 and February 2017 membership of this dues-paying organization rose by 10,000, to 32,000, and the median age dropped from 68 (in 2013) to 33. According to one recent account, its membership is still 90% white and 75% male. As for just what’s meant by socialism, it describes itself as ‘multi-tendency’.

DSA members did well in November’s elections, boosting the number of their elected office-holders to 35 from 20. The most striking win was in Virginia where DSA member Lee Carter received a resounding 54% of the vote, routing one of the state’s most powerful Republicans, the GOP (Grand Old Party) whip of the Virginia House of delegates.

Carter, a red-haired, 30-year-old former Marine, didn’t know much about socialism when he entered the race. (He says he started reading up on it a year ago, inspired by Bernie Sanders.) But he learned a lot about the Democratic Party during the process. He says that confidential information on his campaign was leaked, the party cut him off when he refused corporate money, and state political reporter Patrick Wilson tweeted the day after the election that ‘[p]eople within the Democratic Party would have preferred I not write about him. The party, like Republicans in Virginia, is closely tied to the big energy monopoly and Carter stood against that’.

Candidates like Carter, who stood out by standing up with authenticity, were helped by an unusually riled-up election season fuelled less by ideology than identity. The progressive ‘identities’ mostly won: three months after Charlottesville, Virginians elected an African American lieutenant governor. A transgender woman who focused on local highway routes won over a reactionary who focused on regulating public toilets, and similar phenomena played out across the nation.

In Alabama, populist Randall Woodfin defeated the incumbent Birmingham mayor, and at the age of 36 is the city’s youngest mayor since 1893. African American Woodfin was helped by hundreds of canvassers and tens of thousands of get-out-the-vote messages from Our Revolution volunteers and the Working Families Party. It’s unclear how big a part ideology played in these contests, as opposed to outrage and determination to stop terrifying Trumpism. Upon taking office, Woodfin said he had no specific wants in the current year budget, but just doesn’t want any ‘waste’.

It’s important, though, with the excitement over Trump, and the new moment, or the new groups on the scene, or new technology, not to lose sight of the long view. Democrats and progressives of all stripes celebrated the defeat of Republican Roy Moore and the election of a Democrat, Doug Jones, as governor of Alabama for the first time in 35 years in November 2017. But securing Black voting rights in Alabama has been the work of generations.

Roy Moore was defeated in part thanks to 15 years of work by Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, director of The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), to pass legislation re-enfranchising felons and people convicted of misdemeanours. Moore, an alleged paedophile who said positive things about slavery, lost by just 22,000 votes. Of the 10,000 ex-convicts whom TOPS tracked when they voted, Doug Jones needed every last one of them.

Community-led solutions: de facto counter-power

35 kw Solar Installation at Homestead School, Glen Spey NY. Credit: Solarize Sullivan

At another less well-reported level, a different sort of counter-power has been gaining momentum. Less ideological and sometimes explicitly non-political, communities are responding to the ‘madness’ of their defunct city centres and derelict democracy by experimenting with a broad range of new institutions.

Among the many forms are new cooperative, small businesses, neighbourhood-owned and operated gardens and corporations, land trusts, municipalized energy and broadband systems, and hybrid forms of self-governance.

What these communities are creating, without mostly ever using the word, is a sort of de facto counter-power, which is directly unpicking the fraying straitjacket of the top-down, profits-first economy. Moreover, in the act of experimenting, rather than waiting for legislators to listen or lead, people are experiencing what is to work, live and lead themselves, together, differently.

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The Laura Flanders Show visited Whitakers, North Carolina and the annual gathering of the Southern Movement Assemblies – a living experiment in popular democracy and local self governance.

Dozens of cities and towns, including New York, Madison, Oakland and Rochester, now invest public money in incubating worker-owned cooperatives. Co-ops are hard to pull off but they have a good record of reducing poverty and staying local. With a low barrier to entry, worker-owners can pool risks and rewards and make decisions on a one-member, one-vote basis.

Co-ops also pledge to help one another. In 2017, the US Federation of Worker Owned Co-ops launched a group dental insurance plan for its members. Co-op hubs in Baltimore, Los Angeles and other cities are creating a nationwide network of worker-cooperative loan funds to help finance enterprises to which the big banks are reluctant extend credit.

From place to place the styles and aspirations of these experiments differ (as do their rates of success). What they have in common with each other (and with the socialists running for office) is a determination not to tackle single issues but the systems that concentrate power, hollow out democracy, and erode the quality of life for most Americans.

At times, these experiments bridge unusual political divides. In New York’s Sullivan County, where Trump received a majority, home to a bitter debate over whether to accept fracked gas, residents came together over solar energy. For exactly one year, Heather Brown has been the Sustainability Coordinator in the county’s newly-created Office of Sustainability. By mid-2018, Sullivan County will be buying its power from a local, clean solar array and be on track to becoming its own power generator.

‘It stems back to 2008’, says Brown. ‘Energy bills that people hadn’t thought much about were suddenly out of control and people began to look at their options.’ It wasn’t a left-wing or right-wing thing she says. People saw a chance to save some money, stop paying big bills to big polluters, and do something for their environment, which they see as the key to the region’s future development.

The county’s sustainability plan, which includes a total switch to solar and radically reduced emissions, received unanimous support from the county’s nine-member board under both Democratic and Republican majorities. Dick Riseling, the leading activist on the issue, chuckles. ‘To generate our own power is as revolutionary as the lightbulb!’

At almost every level, technological innovation is moving in the opposite direction from monopoly. Riseling couldn’t put a coal mine in his back garden, but he did erect a windmill. Brown couldn’t put gas pumps in the county’s parking garage, but she can install electric vehicle charging stations and she is.

The democratizing potential of new technology appears to be on a collision course with immensely entrenched power. Consider the Internet. Three quarters of traffic on the world wide web, which once held the promise of delivering free, diverse, decentralized communication, now travels through just two portals – Google search and Facebook.

In the last decade, the number of US airlines dropped by half. Four airlines, five health insurance giants, three pharmacy chains and four beef companies control the market. One company, Comcast, serves over half the internet and cable subscribers in the country.

Counter-power’s not a word Stacy Mitchell uses every day, but as director of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, she’s seeing struggles shaping up everywhere. ‘When people ask me where is today’s anti-trust movement, I say there is one, at the local level’, she says. Ever more people want their own power, energy-wise and in terms of decision-making. ‘They can build alternatives at small scale’, says Mitchell, ‘but sooner or later they hit a wall; barriers that have to do with policies’.

Lilian Salerno is one of a handful of Democrats who will be running on an explicitly anti-monopoly platform in 2019. She spent years developing a syringe needle that didn’t risk accidentally injuring nurses, but when she tried to sell it to hospitals she found they were contractually bound to a massive national monopoly. She recently announced her candidacy for Texas’s 32nd Congressional District, which Republican Pete Sessions has represented for 11 terms.

In suburban Dallas, it’s one of the many long-shot districts in which Clinton beat Trump, but that the Democrats didn’t contest at the Congressional level. You can’t win if you don’t run, argue candidates like Salerno.

Taking local initiatives national will be an uphill struggle. There’s little evidence that the Democratic Party establishment has much appetite for promoting counter-power initiatives at the next level. Taking on monopolies and busting up vertically integrated markets received more attention from the party in 2016 (thanks mostly to Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren) than in 2017.

At least 16 Democratic senators, including most of the party’s potential 2020 presidential candidates, endorsed a single-payer health care bill proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders in September 2017. On the other hand, a month later, the new Clinton-backed chair of the Democratic National Committee removed key Sanders delegates from the party’s important executive and new rules committees, sparking worries about a purge.

All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born’, said King in ‘Beyond Vietnam’, his Riverside church speech.

Linking local solutions to anti-systemic counter-power

Cooperation Jackson. Credit:

The most hopeful examples of counter-power in the US today are trying to do several things at once: anchor political power in independent, progressive infrastructure and use elected office to educate people about their options while simultaneously democratizing the economy.

Across the Bay from San Francisco, Richmond sits in the shadow of an enormous Chevron plant, politically and atmospherically. For years, the city council was in the hands of Chevron lackeys. In 2003, Gayle McLaughlin was part of founding the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a convening of local progressive service providers and advocacy groups all interested in running corporate-free candidates. A long-time activist but never a politician, McLaughlin says she was asked to run and won a seat on the city council the following year.

In 2006 she was elected mayor, and re-elected. By the time she ended her term, the city had reduced homicide rates by 75%, increased minimum wages twice, and forced Chevron to pay higher local taxes and huge fines for a massive plant fire that spewed poisonous emissions over neighbourhoods in the city.

The mortgage crisis brought McLaughlin national attention when she publicly threatened to use the city’s eminent domain power to buy (at pennies on the dollar) the inflated mortgages big banks held on foreclosed properties in her area. It was the sort of audacious threat that only a mayor with a secure base could dare to make. McLaughlin had that base, in the Alliance.

Our Power Campaign, Communities United for a Just Transition – Richmond
Photo credit: Peg Hunter, Flickr

Indicating how seriously they took the threat, in 2014, Chevron squandered $3 million on candidates running against the RPA – and lost. While the nation’s first personal corporation – Trump – was elected president, Richmond came out of November 2016 with five corporate-free members on the seven-member city council. A supermajority. ‘In 15 years, we’ve completely changed the nature of the council’, says McLaughlin.

The key to their success she says, lies in open community meetings to set the agenda, volunteers, (unpaid) campaign workers, face-to-face organizing, accountability and policies that make a difference. ‘We talk about democracy in our elections, but we also need democracy in the workplace’, McLaughlin says.

In 2018, she’s running for Lieutenant Governor of California, in which position she imagines she will be able to continue to advocate for public banking, worker co-ops, land trusts and single-payer health care as she always has.

What gets her more excited, though, is the opportunity to campaign, and tell people across the state about Richmond’s model of inside–outside counter-power. California’s non-partisan election system means she can be endorsed by people of all political tendencies – Democrats, Greens, Our Revolution, the DSA. McLaughlin aims to visit every one of them.

‘Having that national voice [of the Bernie Sanders campaign] helped open up space’, she says, ‘but having the national without the local, or the local without the movement is not democracy’.

Kali Akuno in front of the Chokwe Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development, where Cooperation Jackson is headquartered. Photo credit: Cooperation Jackson
Kali Akuno in front of the Chokwe Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development, where Cooperation Jackson is headquartered. Photo credit: Cooperation Jackson

Across the country, in Jackson, Mississippi, Kali Akuno also talks about elected office as a platform for organizing. Rooted in the movement for Black self-determination, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Akuno was the chief of staff of the radical lawyer, Chokwe Lumumba, when he was elected mayor of Jackson in 2013. Today he serves Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who was elected soon after his father died after a challenging few months in office.

‘We looked very closely at what happened in Greece, how a radical social movement was contained by the Troika. I think Jackson closely parallels, with the neo-confederates punishing us for electing Chokwe’, Akuno says.

Lumumba, father and son, owe their elections to the People’s Assembly, a public education and decision-making forum, that draws on African American organizing traditions, infused with contemporary urgency. Local and regional Assemblies took off in response to the government’s failure to respond to Hurricane Katrina.

This spring, the Assemblies are educating Jacksonians about ‘human rights budgets’ in preparation for participatory budgeting. The first Mayor Lumumba already pushed the city to commit to contracting within city limits, which is to say, with Black-owned businesses. To support more of those, the Jackson Plan calls for investment in cooperative incubators and solidarity economics.

Akuno recognizes that Mayor Lumumba lacks the entrenched political power or economic power that is vested in the inheritors of centuries of plantation capitalism, but he does have movement power in a densely African American population. The extreme poverty, dispossession and lack of attention paid to Jackson’s Black residents (not to mention the violence that’s been visited upon them), leaves them un-invested in the status quo and open to radical innovation.

Akuno knows that Lumumba cannot rewrite the Constitution, as the ANC did after apartheid. ‘We have to make all the critical decisions mass decisions, with public forums in the Council Chamber, public assemblies, public media.’

There is nothing, except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood’, said King in his ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech at Riverside church.

Moving from counter-power to transforming power

These are early days in a brave new moment and progressives could get very distracted. King’s ‘bruised hands’ are likely to come in for a lot more bruising.

At just the time that more US citizens are falling into the precarious working class, labour unions are losing numbers and density, and the ability they once had to engage members in political education. As ever more people express an interest in socialism, or municipalized energy, or peer-to-peer decision-making, monopoly power is massive and tightly held and its beneficiaries are exorbitantly well-armed – politically as well as literally.

Still, the very fact that so much is up for grabs, from the economy to security to our democracy, makes a re-ordering inevitable.

Visionary leaders, like Akuno and McLaughlin, don’t fetishize the local. Akuno doesn’t want to ‘counter’ power, he wants to transform it. For now, Mayor Lumumba is set on making Jackson the ‘most radical city in the nation’. An in-the-belly-of-the-beast experiment, to the degree that Jackson can succeed in raising incomes or lifting spirits, its municipal example can serve as a radical ‘city on a hill’. Ronald Reagan used the old Biblical metaphor to great effect to usher in neoliberalism. US revolutionaries have every right to take their turn with it.

Ten years after the 2008 Great Recession, the question of vision remains. Many manifestos are out there. So are many contradictions.

As Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Bernie Sanders’ administration put in place many of the innovative structures now associated with the ‘new economy’. Buying locally, preserving ‘common’ land, investing in land trusts, worker and minority and women-owned local businesses, Sanders did all those things and yet he barely mentioned them on the national campaign trail. Instead, he focused on federal government regulation to rein in corporate interests.

In the socialist vision of the future, are too-big-to-fail banks and businesses broken up and power dispersed, as Stacy Mitchell would prefer, or nationally regulated or nationalized, as Our Revolution or DSA’s members might favour?

How does US counter-power relate to US military power? And what does today’s resistance movement, such as it is, being deeply focused on the local, have in mind for the US role in a future world and how it might achieve that?

At the very start of 2018, well-known women actors invited community activists to join them at the highly publicized Golden Globes ceremony. In so doing the Hollywood-based Times Up campaign signalled its intent to work with women across different socio-economic classes to tackle sexism and sexual violence in the workplace. A real, high-profile multi-racial, cross-class counter-patriarchy movement could build power to shift the culture.

But as one of the participating activists, Rosa Clemente, Puerto Rican former vice-presidential candidate for the US Green Party, pointed out, most Puerto Ricans were unable to watch the show because, months after Hurricane Maria, most Puerto Ricans on the US territory still lack electricity.

In 1967, King described his speech at Riverside as a call simply for people to love one another: ‘…for world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation’.

King had no clearly defined manual for how to end the madness, hence his use of the wiggle word ‘somehow’. After 1968, the US Right made alliance with the neo-confederate, neoliberal, evangelical white patriarchy, and wed them to a picture of the nation in which the interests of corporations and the rich were the interests of all. Democrats offered only a tweaked alternative.

Ten years after the Great Recession and one year into the Trump administration, it’s clear that King was right. It’s just not possible to serve the wealthy and the secure so well without making life hell for the poor. Especially not while waging costly wars on ideas and other nations. The seductive benefits of white identity in post-Jim Crow America are still real, but given the demographic shifts taking place, their time is limited.

The defining elements of a new vision of power are already emerging at the level of systems-focussed social movements and shared decision-making, solidarity economics and community-based approaches to prosperity and security.

The field lies open for US progressives and the left to lay out their values as a vision for the nation, and to get beyond ‘counter-power’ to re-embodying power – which they are doing. The defining elements of that new vision of power are already emerging at the level of systems-focussed social movements and shared decision-making, solidarity economics and community-based approaches to prosperity and security.

New cities on new hills are trying to grow. With every bit of organizing around such things as shared energy ‘commons’ and cooperation, secular leftists move closer than they have in decades not only to grappling with governing but towards King’s language of – yikes – love and ‘brotherhood’. One contribution of the intervening years would be to put people of all genders in tomorrow’s picture of worldwide fellowship.


Laura Flanders Best-selling author and broadcaster, Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on ‘The Laura Flanders Show’, where, as she puts it, ‘The people who say it can’t be done take a back seat to the people who are doing it’. Flanders has published six books including BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species (Verso, 2004) and Blue GRIT: Making Improbable, Impossible, Inspirational Change In America (Penguin Press HC, 2007). Follow @GRITlaura or visit

Laura Flanders


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