Dispatches has received a communique from an anonymous collective called OBU, announcing a sixteen-part Manifesto. The group has stated that it intends to send Dispatches one section every week over the next four months. The Manifesto apparently meditates on the current conjuncture and calls for the formation of a diffused cultural resistance of a brand new kind. The Manifesto as a whole is entitled OBU Manifestos 1-14 (Plus Two OBU Interludes). Past sections of the manifesto can be found under our Dispatches section tab, where they will be archived as they arrive.
OBU MANIFESTO #8
OBU makes alliances. OBU is alliances.
OBU is contemplating, just for instance: there is a labor-oriented community social justice group affiliated with particular unions. It has proven able to mount mass demonstrations and civil disobedience actions. It is genuinely multi-racial and cross-class. It has enthusiastic young organizers with good training. Its long-term goals for building working-class power are broad and fundamental; but its actions all are focused on the immediate priorities of the unions. This group’s organizing methods are lively and democratic; but its tactical, strategic, and wider communication practices are determined by a small steering committee and are tightly hierarchical.
OBU contemplates, on the other hand, a group with far looser organization. It is far more democratic. It meets, it holds forums, everyone present can speak and contribute to policy and strategy. Its meetings are long, but everyone tells what they feel and think. Its “breakout sessions”(intended to lead to action) accomplish very little. Its goals, ultimately, are vague in terms of accomplishing anything. But it allows everyone to participate… until the members lose interest because the group doesn’t accomplish anything.
OBU asks, What did you expect?
OBU recognizes that in order to organize, a movement needs committees dedicated to organizing, and that an organizing committee is not a discussion group. Fair enough. There are plenty of forums for discussion. The organizing committee is there to go out into communities and organize–to reach people, talk with people and listen to them, persuade them that the situation is not hopeless, that their contributions are vital and will lead, eventually, to success. With other people, the goal is to move people out of complacency.
The weakness often of the group committed to organizing is a loss of vision. In order to keep momentum and morale, there must always be an event upcoming–a rally, a hearing, etc. The organizing committee is obsessed with its numbers. Who is coming? Are they confirmed? Who are they bringing? Do they need rides? What are the numbers? Can we put a thousand people in the street? How about twelve hundred?
OBU is One Big Union
But what, OBU asks, does it mean to be part of a Movement? What forms of shared understanding, knowledge, feeling (of anger, love, determination), personal relationship are necessary? And how are these to be achieved? And if the community organizing is linked to the work of a union, the purpose of that link must be absolutely clear. Why, it must be made clear again and again, is the power of organized labor utterly essential to an effective movement for social-economic-racial-gender justice?
And the union, OBU insists, must prove this fact always. In every one of its acts, even as it negotiates its own contracts, it must think in terms of communities outside its membership. It must be part of the One Big Union that does not yet exist.
And who has the energy to make this happen? How many pointless meetings must be endured before the Movement truly if uncertainly comes into being?
And who makes the plans, sets the priorities? And how is this determined? Who decides who will decide? The people who are most active decide. And they are people who either are on salary from some group (e.g. a union or non-profit) or otherwise have the time to put into the project. They are generally not people with other time-consuming jobs or extensive family responsibilities. In this model, the more you organize, the more you are listened to; the less you organize, the less your voice is attended. It’s very much a corporate model. By doing the particular work that is most valued–organizing–you get closer and closer to being, finally, in the room where decisions are actually made.
But, OBU suggests, different tasks require different skills, and there are many tasks. The intense, but somewhat blindered labor of organizing can result in a forgetting of the larger aims.
OBU is Oligarchy Busters United
The connections, OBU insists, must always, always be made. We are doing this rally not because we’re trying to make our numbers. It’s not a game or an exercise. We’re trying first, to put pressure on political-economic institutions so that they will change their policies and actions; and, second, we are trying to change the ideological climate so that the aims and efforts of the Movement will be more widely known and shared, so that future actions will be more powerful, so that a political force able to challenge oligarchy will be brought into being.
Because it sure as hell does not exist now. The existing union movement is not it. The existing anti-racism, anti-sexism, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights movements are not it.
It is not necessary to have everything figured out. It is impossible to do so. But it is crucial to be trying to figure out how actions and ideologies connect. The overriding problem is oligarchy: poverty and inequality, the manipulations of racial bias, environmental destruction all are consequences of the dominion of a wealthy few.
It is astonishing, OBU considers, that the Left is as weak as it is, considering that its ideas and goals are, in fact, held so widely. But these are private views. We all believe we must fight poverty and inequality, racism, and environmental destruction. We are willing to sign petitions, post on FaceBook, give a little money, even occasionally give some time. But this is in the role of private citizen, compassionate and irate individual. In the aggregate, our primary public activities are work and consumption. We earn money and we spend money–as much as we are able. Our primary public role is participation in the market. And yet, the power of markets–that is, the presumed, fictive, usurped, and still quite real power–is at the center of our problems. That is our paradox. We are conjoined to the agent of our exploitation.
And so we must reimagine not just our political-economic world. We must reimagine ourselves.