A prominent civil and labor rights activist who contributed to the Port Huron Statement shared lessons he learned during the “great upsurge” of the 1960s and 1970s, on Nov. 3 at Eastern Michigan University’s Halle Library.Kim Moody, former member of Students for a Democratic Society and cofounder of Labor Notes, was invited to speak at EMU by local chapters of Solidarity and Organization for a Free Society.
First Law of American Politics
Moody said the first law of American politics is that change is facilitated by social activism, not the electoral process of lobbying and voting.
“Out-of-control social movements are winning these things that could not be won through conventional American politics,” he said.
Moody listed two corollaries to this law:
- “Revolutionaries do not make mass movements. Mass movements make revolutionaries.”
- “Leadership cannot be proclaimed…and it cannot be simply elected…Leardership must be earned. It has to be demonstrated…and it has to be responsible, accountable.”
Second Law of American Politics
Moody said the second law of American politics is to make “revolution permanent.”
“Nothing happens without the movement, but what happens when the movement dies because they get the legislation?” he asked. “The answer is, the 1 percent and their politicians and their administrators and their middle level managers come back and rolll back our progress.”
“The problem was…their property was still intact,” Moody said. “What was their property? It’s what we call the economy…So guess what? They came back in the 70s and 80s.”
Moody argued that much of the New Deal’s progress was reversed, specifically citing increases in poverty and ghettoization.
“If you view these mass uncontrollable movements as the first step of a revolutionary process and you don’t make that revolution permanent, then you’re going to have a retreat,” he said. “We have to find a way to keep the process going.”
The Occupy Movement
Moody expressed enthusiasm for the Occupy Wall Street movement, but stressed that the movement needs to grow and evolve.
“We’re certainly not at the stage at which we can make this revolution, if we have a revolution at all, permanent,” he said.
Moody said he’s especially excited to see the anti-foreclosure movement that has sprung from Occupy, which includes the Washtenaw Eviction and Foreclosure Defense. He said at least 50 cities have programs like that telling banks, “We don’t recognize your claim to property.”
“That’s pretty radical stuff,” he said.Moody said he’s starting to observe the effects Occupy has had on the labor unions.
“This last labor notes conference was, to me, different than the previous ones,” he said. “It wasn’t just that it was bigger…what I kind of saw was something like a new layer of union local activists, a new layer of people who are taking responsibility for their local unions.”
“It’s a new generation…as far as being the leaders in the grass roots sense, earning leadership, it’s something new. There’s more of them.”
Moody was reluctant to forecast the implications of the Occupy movement, but he expressed optimism for where the movement is at and where it seems to be going.
“I’m not making the prediction that we’re on the eve of a big upheaval,” Moody said. “The point is that there is more out there on the ground than there has been in quite a while.”
The 2012 Election
[During the Q-and-A section of the talk, I took the liberty of asking Moody about the 2012 election]
“The ‘lesser of two evils’ thing is the biggest trap in America,” he said. “We’re very weak at developing electoral alternatives.”
Moody argued that the American political system is rigged to favor two parties in a “winner-takes-all” election because it makes it easier for America’s wealthy elite to manipulate.
“A winner take all system is easier to control,” he said.
Moody was also very critical of the architecture of the government, speculating that very little could be accomplished even if a favorable alternative party were ever to gain control of the White House. Moody argued that the convoluted structure of the government was meant to immobilize it, not to check and balance power.
“It was very carefully designed to make sure that nothing happened,” he said.