When I was in Lisbon in April 1999 celebrating 25 years of Portuguese democracy, I was so impressed by their enthusiasm and courtesy that I wrote several articles and letters about the experience. As I traveled around the country for six weeks, I came to better understand how it was that the Portuguese defeated tyranny and built a new society. Watching the Portuguese marching in the streets of Lisbon on The Real News this morning, I am heartened to see they are not taking the assault on their democracy by Wall Street laying down.
With the month long celebration of their 1974 victory over fascism by peaceful means, the Portuguese people demonstrated a resilience based in their deep cultural heritage, visibly expressed in the regional costumes, music and art that converged on Lisbon thirteen years ago. Visiting various regions of the country, I came to realize that their political achievement was made possible by the strong communities united by their cooperative culture, as well as socially oriented working arrangements. Every town had some form of clubhouse where laborers gathered for food and fun, in addition to discussions and activities designed to exercise their political influence. It was not unusual to see gatherings in the plaza where workers listened to orators, handed out flyers, sang songs, and then adjourned to the neighborhood cafe for snacks.
In The Way to Peace, we learn that peace is a process that includes an oppositional movement. While conventional movement tactics may include civil disobedience and, occasionally, direct action, oppositional coalitions are seldom directed at fundamental social changes. Using American anti-war coalitions as an example, the article notes that,
Large coalitions are often good at creating spectacles — such as rallies, demonstrations, and other transient forms of protest — but they tend to be poor at recruiting, since they have no organizational base.
Lacking a theory of society or social change, the author says, the mission statements of coalitions are righteous in endorsing a vaguely articulated demand for social justice, but typically their demands are not only beyond their own power, but are often beyond the intellectual grasp or imagination of those in power.
According to Howard J. Ehrlich of the Prejudice Institute, the overarching problem of the peace movement — if not American politics — is the failure to move beyond what is to what could be–most of all a failure of imagination. But it is also, he asserts, indicative of an underlying fear of change that has led to a closed-mindedness and level of political ignorance which makes organizing extraordinarily difficult.
As noted, the productivity of a demonstration is in the day after. And any demonstration that hasn’t planned for follow-up activity risks being nothing more than a spectacle. As Ehrlich stresses,
Building a movement means having an organization or network of groups that can accommodate, educate, nurture, and socialize new recruits.
In his analysis, the majority of Americans can not answer basic questions about the political economic system of the US. Moreover, they have been socialized not to ask political questions and, when they do, to ask the wrong questions. Extraordinary numbers believe in the existence of supernatural beings from gods to ghosts, and in the power of the stars to determine their lives. They have little awareness of world geography or of the oppressive consequences of the major transnational capitalist institutions such as the World Bank. The identity of the IMF, NAFTA, or the G-7 are an alphabetic jumble.
As Ehrlich states, at a personal level, most fail to recognize the cumulative privileges accorded those who are white, male, and Christian. It is on a solid base of ignorance and false information, he says, that the political elites can broadcast disinformation.
To counter this disinformation, he argues a peace movement has to have a program of internal education for learning such things as the history of nonviolence, theories of revolution, or the pitfalls of workers’ control. But, he notes, it has another significant function; it can counter any elitist tendencies that might develop as a consequence of the difference in knowledge and experience that might prevail in the group.
Secondly, he argues that educational outreach has to encompass all forms and media. Movement educators, he observes, have to be aware that the social context of teaching and learning is critical, that not everyone knows how to be a student, and that there are class and cultural differences in learning styles.
Building a movement requires, particularly, that there be attainable goals. The peace movement (as others) needs to have a sketch of a peaceable society. Without it, he argues, it is just an oppositional movement with no necessary life beyond its points of opposition.
In conclusion, Ehrlich notes that without a conscious effort at building a movement — exposing the toxicity of authoritarianism, capitalism, and violence, and generating the patterns of a good society — we will simply recapitulate the past, having learned nothing from history.
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