Most Sundays, I make over 60 phone calls to Left/Progressive activists across the country. Mostly I leave messages on machines. The conversations I have are usually pretty short. I’m looking to find out what specifically local organizers are working on so that I can get those actions, events and projects posted to the statewide networking websites that my PJEP colleagues and I facilitate. Often activists express astonishment that there are people out there working hard primarily on helping other activists and organizers achieve their goals rather than focusing on a particular personal social change issue.
I think big-scale, long-term and larger patterns. Immersed in evolutionary theory and the evolution of humans and their unique form of split consciousness, focusing on current politics and social change, I find myself attracted to the bigger picture and longer-term goals or transformations. It’s partly personality, partly habit and partly what I’ve found interesting over time that attracts me to how interconnections form and larger systems function.
Making those Sunday phone calls, I’m struck again and again by how focused organizers are on what is happening in their immediate area and how little they feel attracted to making sure that what they are doing is available for exploration on a larger scale, a broader geographic region. Organizers, generally, don’t think big.
This is particularly obvious to me when I send an email to a large group of organizers that are the heads of chapters or affiliates of national organizations. I note that my communication is authorized or sponsored by their central office. A very small percentage of the organizers respond. Or, a central office emails the affiliates or chapters, urging them to contact PJEP to become part of a statewide network. Few respond. What local organizers are focused on is what they are doing at the moment. Thinking outside the moment to consider how that individual and the local organization will benefit from connections to numerous other organizations is a relatively uncommon occurrence.
In other words, most members of the Left/Progressive movement that I am in contact with, and I’m in personal contact with over 700 organizers in 30 states, don’t think big in the context of interconnections with organizations across their state and in other states around the country. Not thinking big is the same as not thinking in an interconnected, horizontal, transparent fashion. I believe this is because most of the organizers I work with are old (over 55). Organizers often also have low expectations regarding the benefits of working with other organizations or letting other organizations know what they are doing. This sense of isolation seems characteristic of Left organizers of all ages.
I haven’t hit upon a solution, a way of successfully encouraging activists to think big, take risks and see a larger picture across larger periods of time. The American Left/Progressive movement is rife with disappointed, frustrated organizers that keep their focus close to home. This is another reason why I believe the coming changes will be enacted largely through young folks and those with communications technology expertise in Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. For the young, big picture is effortless and ubiquitous. All they need is an expanded sense of time. Then, everything they’d like to see won’t just seem possible; it will feel achievable in an immanent future.