99% Spring: New radical alliances for a new era
By Joshua Kahn Russell, Harmony Goldberg | May 10, 2012
Last month, a broad alliance of organizations from across the progressive spectrum came together to train 100,000 people in non-violent direct action in the hopes of supporting a wave of action targeting corporations and the politicians that own them. It was called 99% Spring. Some also called it “co-optation.” We call it “alliance building.”
The conversation within the movement has been fascinating, and reveals some key pitfalls that the resurgent U.S. Left might fall into if we’re not careful.
Grassroots groups that organize primarily in working class and communities of color such as National Peoples Action and the National Domestic Workers Alliance helped lead the 99% Spring process. Despite this, the terms of the debate have almost exclusively centered on the participation and limits of MoveOn.org (as a symbol and stand-in for more moderate liberals, the institutional left, and the nonprofit industrial complex). “Are the liberals co-opting Occupy?” or “Is Occupy co-opting the liberals?” There is indeed a historical precedent of radical peoples’ movements becoming de-fanged by the status quo. And yet, too often, the historic limits of the Left in the United States have been connected to its internal tendency towards sectarianism and the politics of purity. At this moment, our own circular firing squads may be a deeper threat to the viability of our movements than “outside” groups.
It is precisely because of our long-term work with radical grassroots movements that both of us dove into helping organize 99% Spring. We were each involved in writing the curriculum and designing the trainings. We were challenged by, and learned a lot from, the process. Our organizations (the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Ruckus Society) are both movement groups that support frontline communities speaking and acting for themselves, and we were both part of the left wing of the 99% Spring alliance.
We are living in an incredible time. Occupy has helped us all re-imagine political vision and strategy. 99% Spring was a bold effort with a lot of success, real limitations, and some mistakes. We want to share our experiences from the heart of 99% Spring project to help our movements think more clearly about alliances, and some of the challenges that our political moment presents us.