by Robert Jensen

In the two decades I have been actively involved in left/progressive political organizing in the United States, most of the projects I have worked on have failed, both in terms of short-range policy victories and long-range movement building. Throughout that time I have seen our dreams about justice and sustainability beaten back by politically reactionary right-wingers and morally lazy liberals, leaving us to face social and ecological problems more intractable than ever, deeper in the hole than ever.

At this point, I’m more excited about political organizing than ever.

That may seem counterintuitive, but my excitement is grounded not in unrealistic expectations about imminent political victories but in real projects going on where I live. It’s not that I think policy battles are irrelevant; how governments write and implement laws, and how corporations influence governments, have a huge effect on our lives, and campaigns to influence those decisions are important. But without strong popular movements to challenge those concentrations of power, I see little hope of a more just and sustainable future.

The past groups I’ve been involved in never figured out how to (1) bridge the society’s racial/ethnic divides that also exist in our organizations, and (2) create an enduring presence at the grassroots. There is no easy solution to either question, but the creation of a permanent space in which people can come together across those divides is a start. For that to work, there has to be a truly collaborative process in which people respect each other and agree to dig in for the long haul.

In Austin, TX, we’re about to celebrate the opening of that kind of project, a new progressive community center, “5604 Manor.” A collaboration between the Workers Defense Project and the Third Coast Activist Resource Center, “5604 Manor” is a 4,000 square-foot building on a two-acre lot that includes three offices, a large event/performance space, and a backyard that can accommodate lots of garden plots. The work going on in the building includes advocacy for immigrant workers, development of worker-owned/operated businesses, educational outreach, and cultural programming.

When renovation work began, one of the crew wrote on the wall “Desde aquí, cambiaremos el mundo / From here, we will change the world.” That reflects our belief that the ideas that can change the world will not be hatched in the ivory tower or the halls of power. They will come from local soil, sinking deep roots and reaching up to the sun.

For more information on 5604 Manor and the groups participating, go to http://5604manor.org/.

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Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film “Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing,” which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. Information about the film, distributed by the Media Education Foundation, and an extended interview Jensen conducted with Osheroff are online at http://thirdcoastactivist.org/osheroff.html.
Jensen can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/index.html.

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