Weaving the Threads
By B. Jesse Clarke
As RP&E enters its 21st year of publication, we bid a fond farewell to Juliet Ellis, our publisher, who has been Executive Director of Urban Habitat for the last nine years and with whom we have worked since 2005. Each of those years has brought new developments to the journal and this year is no exception. We are changing our format from a single thematic focus for each issue of the journal to broader continuing coverage of racial and gender justice, economic justice, environmental and climate justice, and regionalism. With this expanded capacity we will be able to track the advances, setbacks, solutions, and conundrums facing our movements on the ground without the long hiatus between special issues that has sometimes left our readers asking, “When will you be doing another special issue on…?” We will now be covering jobs, transportation, housing, and environmental health in every edition.
We are also pleased to announce that our pilot series of podcast interviews and speeches, which we launched as a 20th anniversary special (listen online at www.urbanhabitat.org/rpe/radio), will be a continuing feature. With these print and audio explorations we can continue our conversations with movement leaders and thinkers about the deep analysis and structural change needed as we move forward to face critical issues, such as: how do we align single-issue organizations, single-constituency alliances (a.k.a. identity politics), and local struggles into a force that contends for real change at a national level?
The U.S Social Forum has been a key locus where thinking and acting on this challenge has taken place in recent years. And a number of the stories in this issue were born in Detroit last summer in the course of conversations with allied media producers and grassroots organizers from around the country.
In other countries, a left political party or labor union would provide the core support for national convenings, journals, radios stations, educational institutions, and training centers, which would help develop the next generation of advocates to craft the political unity necessary to contend for power. Unfortunately, in the United States—beginning with the right wing surge of McCarthyism—left politics have suffered from a dual challenge of de-politicization of unions and fragmentation in progressive leadership
The hegemony of the two party system and business unionism have deprived left-leaning youth of entry into a base-building starting point where community power is rooted in the precinct or the workplace. Although schools and neighborhoods remain fertile ground for many movements, the transitory nature of student populations and the localized nature of community organizations have left the combined social movements relatively voiceless at the national level.
In this issue of RP&E, we explore the many ways that organizers are scaling local struggles around housing, transportation, and environmental health into networks of local, regional, national, and international action for change. From the shutting down of an incinerator in Detroit, to urban gardening in the U.S. and in Cuba, to the emerging transportation justice movement in the Bay Area, practitioners are making linkages that weave coherence into the multicolored threads of the campaigns and initiatives of progressives, radicals, queers, low income people, and communities of color in the U.S.
In traditional weaving, the warp threads stretch across the loom in straight lines while the weft thread twists through and pulls these threads into whole cloth. The challenge for the left is to become the weft thread that shoots above, below, and through the local and regional struggles to pull together the zones in which contention for power is currently taking place.
Organizing based on relationship and convergence, reciprocity and accountability, commitment to conscientization, and the development of local leadership empowered to advance its own interests—these are some of the positive trends emerging today. And despite the right wing’s apparent renewal in the mid-term elections, progressive movements are alive and growing healthily below the radar of the national political parties and national media. •