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The Secret Is to Begin

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IOPS | Getting Started |
Because these ideas are so ordinary, they can only be of use to people who are extraordinary. Fortunately, you fit the bill. |

When you resolve to take your destiny into your own hands, it's hard to know where to start. Ceding responsibility to others is easy: you vote for a political party, you donate to a nonprofit group, you pay taxes to a government, you enlist in an army, you enroll in a school, you work for a corporation, you convert to a religion. Practically our whole society is arranged that way. It can be daunting to come up with your own agenda, to start over with yourself as the agent of history.

But you're not starting from scratch. You have talents, longings, and dreams that you have given up on pursuing because there seems to be no space for them in this world. The first step is to rediscover them. We aren't just talking a negative struggle against external constraints, but the positive project of realizing our potential on our own terms. Anything you wish you could do – anything you think someone should do – begin it now.

Ready or not, you are already engaged in the struggles of our time. We were all born into them. It's not a question of whether to fight, but how. Do we seek individual solutions or make common cause? Do we address one problem after another, or strike at their roots? Do we keep investing resources in the institutions that are failing us, or stake our lives on something else?

The ruling order may appear unshakable, but change is the only constant in this world. Windows of opportunity are going to open when things will be possible that seem impossible now. The best way to prepare for such moments is to already be in the habit of acting on your own terms, outside the logic of the prevailing regime. When you know your own strength, you may be able to open those windows yourself.

Get in position. Find people who bring out the best in you. Learn to take care of each other and act powerfully together. Share things. Discuss struggles elsewhere around the world; draw your own strategic conclusions to test when the opportunity arises. Build networks, resources, and skills that will be useful in those moments of possibility. Dedicate yourself to a long-term project that challenges some aspect of the power structure. Wherever you can, open up the fault lines between those who prefer the world the way it is and those who want something different. Don't seek to concentrate power, but to diffuse it – a part of your potential is locked in everyone else, and you won't be able to access it without them. The outcome of a revolution is not determined by revolutionaries, but by which side the people on the fence ultimately join.

Take heart. The hardest part of taking your destiny in your hands is the fear of the unknown. There are no guarantees, and the stakes are the things you prize most in all the world. This is why it's a relief to consign yourself to others' projects and values, giving up on your own in advance so you don't risk failing yourself. Yet that means accepting the worst-case scenario as a foregone conclusion. If that's the alternative, you might as well hazard the leap into the unknown. On the other side, you will find us – the companions you deserve.

"It starts when you care to act, when you do it again after they say no, when you say 'we' and know who you mean, and each day you mean one more."
–Marge Piercy


iops integrity initiative



Discussion 9 Comments

  • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019


    • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

      "Absorb what is useful, discard what is not." –Bruce Lee

    • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

      "Life's being not dead." –Boulder Dash

  • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

    GGG_et in PPP_osition: BBB_uild NNN_etworks, RRR_esources, and SSS_kills that will be UUU_seful in those MMM_oments of PPP_ossibility. DDD_edicate YYY_ourself to a LLL_ong-term PPP_roject that CCC_hallenges some AAA_spect of the PPP_ower SSS_tructure.

  • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

    Bruce Wayne - age 8: [riding his father's monorail] "Did you build this train, Dad?"

    Thomas Wayne: "Gotham's been good to our family, but the city's been suffering. People less fortunate than us have been enduring very hard times. So we built a new, cheap, public transportation system to unite the city. And at the center... Wayne Tower."

    [We see the building in the skyline from the window] 

    Bruce Wayne - age 8: "Is that where you work?"

    Thomas Wayne: "No, I work at the hospital. I leave the running of our company to much better men."

    Bruce Wayne - age 8: "Better?"

    Thomas Wayne: "Well.. more interested men."

    • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

      Leaders are ubiquitous. All over. People are used to them..

      No objection to leadership per se. In some settings I prefer the back seat.
      No objection to rules per se. In some settings rules are necessary.
      No objection to goals per se. In some ways they are needed for guidance.
      No objection to crafting a song. I do and have done it.
      No objection to crafting a piece of music. I do and have done it.

      –Boulder Dash

    • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019

      ^^ "All anarchists oppose institutional forms of hierarchy and the idea of power as something to wield over others. That does not, however, mean that anarchists oppose organization, structure, rules, accountability, or decentralized forms of governance."

      ^^ "Anarchists are better dreamers than doers, and politics is the art of the possible. Although it may disappoint many on the left, a successful movement requires compromise, organization, and yes, even leadership, to actually get things done."

  • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019


    "The Best Way to Protest"

    "The best way to protest," the deeply conservative former president and MSNBC-CNN hero Barack Obama told University of Illinois students last year, "is to vote. … When you vote," Obama said, "you've got the power."

    As people sometimes like to say to this day on Chicago's Black South Side, which Obama pretended to be from: "Negro, please." Like most of Obama's fake eloquent utterances, his statement in Urbana was slimy, silver-tongued bullshit. We are allowed, yes, to vote, but mammon reigns nonetheless. As the mainstream political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens noted in their important 2017 study Democracy in America?, U.S. "government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office."

    Candidates like Obama, who blew up the public presidential campaign finance system with record-setting contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs and Citigroup in 2008 – and who then went on to honor those contributions by governing in utmost accord with the commands of the nation's unelected financial dictatorship.

    Contrary to the conspiracy addicts at the DNC, CNN, MSNBC, the CFR, the CIA, the New York Timesand the Washington Post, there was no "great American democracy" for Russian military intelligence to "undermine"in 2016. Insofar as Russia interfered, it was an intervention between two different oligarchies– theirs and "ours."

    No, the "best way to protest" is, for starters at least, to protest. And the best way to protest is with actions that threaten capitalist profit and disrupt business and business-[rule-]-as-usual. "There's a time," as Mario Savio famously said in December of 1964 during Berkeley Free Speech Movement:

    "when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus — and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!…That doesn't mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!"

    Three years later, the great protester Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected "progressive" pleas for him to run for president (as a Democrat, of course). The narcissistic presidential-electoral game held no interest to King. He called instead for "massive, active, nonviolent resistance to the evils of the modern system…The dispossessed of this nation – the poor, both White and Negro – live in a cruelly unjust society," King said in a lecture broadcast into the United States by the Canadian national radio network in December of 1967. "They must organize a revolution against that injustice…There must," King intoned, "be a force that interrupts [a classist and racist society's] functioning at some key point…mass civil disobedience" to "dislocate the functioning of society."

    There's a very different and more potent kind of politics beneath and beyond our bourgeois masters' carefully calibrated and constitutionally contained election cycle. Ordinary people "g[e]t the power" when they form militant grassroots movements and take collective and direct actions before, during, and after the election spectacles, whatever their outcomes.

    We can follow the dictates of MSDNC, CNN, Obama, Nancy "We're Capitalist and That's Just the Way it is" Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Perez et al: get out of the streets and wait for your precious little moment in a voting booth for two minutes once every two or four years. Or we can follow the paths suggested by Savio, King, and those other great protesters who both preceded and followed them, including Tecumseh, Black Hawk, Sitting Bull, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, the sit-down strikers, Herbert March, the Freedom Riders, the Selma marchers, Occupy, the Ferguson protesters, the Chicago and LA teachers, and the late radical historian Howard Zinn, who wrote the following about and against the "Election Madness" he saw "engulfing the entire society, including the left, in the Obama-crazed spring of 2008:

    "Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes — the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. … But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. … Let's remember that even when there is a 'better' candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore.… Yes, two minutes. Before that, and after that, we should be taking direct actionagainst the obstacles to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    That's great advice, but we need to go further given what we know about capital's cancerous compulsion to push the planet past the last tipping points of environmental catastrophe. Exercising workplace, marketplace, civic, and political bargaining from the bottom up is necessary but insufficient now. It's not just about "shak[ing] whoever is the White House, in Congress." At the current moment of ecological and authoritarian peril, it's about dismantling (by any and all means necessary) the corporate and imperial state and system. We need to take it down from the bottom-up, from the top-down, and from the sides-in and all the way around. The reigning class rule system poses a grave existential threat to any and all hopes for a democratic and remotely decent future. Sorry to be so stark, but Istvan Meszaros was right: "It's [eco-]socialism or barbarism if we're lucky."

    Paul Street's book | They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014) | Help the adjunct history instructor Street keep writing at: [LINK]

  • Irie Zen 29th Jan 2019


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