The economic collapse and seemingly endless wars are lending new energy and credibility to the revolutionary movements
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As the country's economic, environmental, and political systems teeter on the brink of collapse, several Bay Area groups are reviving calls for radical solutions. And some are drawing parallels to the spirited political activity of 40 years ago.
"In my opinion, 1968 was the beginning of a process, an awakening of the questioning of social movements," Andrej Grubacic, a globalization lecturer at ZMedia Institute and the University of San Francisco, told the Guardian.
The Great Rehearsal was a week of events from Sept. 17-25 that centered on the many protests, actions, and events of the 1960s and '70s that are paralleled today. The event alluded to an ongoing struggle for alternatives to the failing institutions that are hurting the average American.
"Neoliberalism is this sort of clinching of the system. It is the last gasp of a dying system," Katherine Wallerstein, executive director of the nonprofit Global Commons, told us. Wallerstein believes that deregulation is to blame for many of our economic woes, such as the housing crisis, job loss, and a volatile market.
Other recent events such as the Radical Women conference in San Francisco have highlighted the systemic causes of our economic turmoil, saying we should bail out people not banks, cancel student debt, and end home foreclosures. They went on to suggest that the bailout was just a form of jubilee for the rich.
Radical Women member Linda Averill announced at the conference that "if unions don't take the offense now, we're going to lose it all." She went on to advocate mobilizing the labor movement, stating that we must band together against those sustaining the system. Other revolutionaries went even further, calling to abolish the capitalist system. RW member Toni Mendicino said the system of profit is inherently greedy and that reguutf8g it isn't enough — we must get rid of it.
The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) is a radical student-run organization focused on solving global climate change. Many of the initiatives taken by SEAC deal with less mainstream environmental concerns, including combating coal power and promoting clean water. These previously ignored problems are pumping new life into the environmental movement. Brian Kelly, former Students for a Democratic Society organizer who now does organizing work for SEAC, told us, "The problem is the fucked-up system. (We need to) carve out a decent life through an alternative to capitalism."
John Cronan, an organizer for the radical union Industrial Workers of the World, advocates Participatory Economics (Parecon) as an alternative to capitalism. He highlighted Parecon's values as a solidarity-based system that abolishes the market and replaces it with participatory planning. Parecon, he says, will take into account the social costs that goods and services create; something commonly ignored in today's capitalist system, a system many claim perpetuates the environmental crisis.
"Climate change is highlighting the system flaws," Kelly said. He went on to place the environment and climate change as the highest priority in the upcoming presidential election, proposing green technology as the answer to the economic turmoil and global climate change taking place. The Power Vote program, he told us, supports the investment in green technologies by politicians and citizens.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has pushed local governments in many rural farming communities to create ordinances claiming nature as an entity that should have more political and legal prominence than property. These ordinances aim to curb pollution and provide communities with a safeguard against corporate influence.
Through similar efforts, grassroots organizations have managed to stop 59 coal-fired power plants in 2007 by persuading courts not to grant permits for the plants. This is one of many steps to contest the environmental degradation taking place.
"I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience," said Al Gore, calling for people to rise up against the construction of new coal plants, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative in March.
Gore's call to action has prompted many activists to battle corporations and self-interested government. "The current economic and political systems are out of whack with human and democratic values," Kelly said. "The system is exposing itself." According to many, the system is shifting dangerously close to totalitarianism.
There's even been a resurgence of the old Cointelpro (Counter Intelligence Program), an FBI-run spying and political sabotage program that was responsible for the arrests of 13 Black Panthers in 1973 in connection with the 1971 murder of a San Francisco police officer. The men were subjected to torture techniques similar to those used at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
The 13 Panthers were acquitted for lack of evidence and the case was closed. However, in 2005, with the help of the USA Patriot Act, the case was reopened and eight of the Panthers were re-arrested. John Bowman, one of the detained, announced to the press, "The same people who tried to kill me in 1973 are the same people who are here today trying to destroy me." Former Panther Richard Brown warned audiences at the Great Rehearsal that the Patriot Act has given the government the ability to profile any ethnic group or organization, past and present, as terrorists.
"The Patriot Act was passed in the name of protecting us and our democracy. But it limits us," Cronan said. Groups like New SDS have incorporated working against the Patriot Act through their antiwar work, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has consistently battled against the act.
Even the Communists are back. Earlier this month, the Revolutionary Communist Party held a demonstration in San Francisco, telling the small crowd, "The world today cries out for radical, fundamental change."
Many radical groups see opportunity in the current moment. Grubacic told us that, "The future belongs to the ones creating it in the present." *