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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Wednesday, April 05, 2006

    Ward Churchill and the Movement

    I could write and say a lot about Ward Churchill's phenomenal talk tonight at St. Stephens Church here in DC in front of about 80 people, but I guess I lack the energy for that (at least by my standards; I guess this is still long). It was very rich and inspiring.

    One thing that struck me was that on very short notice, so many people will come to see a man who is bascially telling people to organize in your community and take action and fight systems of oppression. You can get 80 people in a room with virtually no notice if the person is as iconic as Ward Churchill, and yet to take action against the repression he writes about, to organize in a manner that aims to take action, you can build for weeks and get less than a third of that number. The very scene of Churchill in a room in front of a large group suggested much of the oppression he writes about, and what impressed me was that he KNEW IT and noticed it and was concerned that we think about ways to make the model more participatory.

    Another big thing that struck me was his discussion of colonialism and how it has become internalized. He writes about this a lot in his books, and so it was no surprise that he spoke about internal colonialism in the way that nations that have been de-colonized (like say, the United States), nevertheless practice colonialism on people who live within its borders (borders which are themselves colonial instruments). What's more, when we fight against any of these colonial powers, we ourselves have a tendency to re-create colonial structures. So, we talk about getting Bush out of office but think nothing of the colonial system currently in place. Or, we talk about taking over the state, but that very act props up the central mechanism of oppression. And, we organize this way, too. Some groups like ANSWER even defend that kind of organizing as necessary in order to fight the larger power of imperialism, which is the US government. Other groups pretend otherwise. All of them seem to think you can take on colonialism merely by taking on the colonial power, but all of them have a tendency to re-create colonialism in their own structures and thus can at best only morph colonialism into a new form.

    Have we changed anything if we do not challenge our own privilege? Our own sense of entitlement? Our own participation in colonial governing structures? He said that if he gave us a pill that got rid of war, racism, sexism, classism, and anything else that we consider unjust but have not understood and confronted the process that gives rise to all of these - namely colonialism - then we have not even begun to solve the problem. And, yet, too often we build social movements based on colonial models and as structures that mimic colonial institutions.

    So, he suggests community-based organizing and building networks of mutual solidarity free from a sense of moral purity because there is no such thing. I guess one could call it embracing what I'd call a deconstructive morality, one that's rooted in understanding the process of oppression, reacting against that, and taking action against the causes without any sense that we can control the ultimate outcome or without a vision of a better world. At the very least, we can work on stopping a history that has produced such unsustainable madness.

    At least, that's what I got out of it, in part. There was a lot more (especially about repression of movements and the idea that we are not being serious in our activism if we are not being repressed). All of it pointed to thinking about our actions and our dissent in terms of dismantling the cause of the injustice. Without understanding that, we won't get anywhere. I think that's why we who have been taking these weekly actions outside of people's homes are out there connecting dots and beginning to upset some people. Only now are we beginning to get serious. But, the fact that we have to hear the Gospel according to Ward, no matter how great that Gospel is, suggests to me that we've still got a very, very, very long ways to go.

    Jim Macdonald


    Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

    Thanks for your riveting insights.

    4/6/06, 12:34 PM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    "Gospel according to Ward"??? The notion of internal colonialism long predates Churchill. He's got nothing new to say that's true.

    While I am sympathetic to many of Churchill's political positions, the fact remains that he is an incorrigibly dishonest and despicable excuse for a human being. I would not join any movement that has him as a leader or spokesman, no matter what the politics.

    4/6/06, 10:37 PM  
    Blogger Jim Macdonald said...

    And "The Word" pre-dated the Gospel of John, what's your point? It would be a remarkable thing for someone to have anyone have anything "new" to say that was true. Isn't it the Bible in Ecclesiastes that says, afterall, that there is nothing new under the sun.

    In seeing Churchill, I was most interested in his personal demeanor that I've seen atacked vehemently so much so that I expected to find a real jerk. Instead, there was an accessible guy hanging out before and afterwards, willing to talk with anyone, and far less arrogant than I imagined. Perhaps, this is due to the fact he was in a very friendly audience of mostly anarchists. I can't say.

    But, you who know the depths of someone's heart so completely, why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye when there's perhaps a log in your own?

    If you understood my article at all, or Churchill's talk, is that we shouldn't be simply there to absord a Gospel or to go to events with Ward Churchill but to build a movement in our communities with our own people. Instead, you see movements and causes built around cults of personality (look at how many people make it their lives to oppose Ward Churchill or support Ward Churchill - it didn't take long for this blog to be linked to from a right-leaning blog). The liberals have taken on Bush as their cult of personality. That's not a movement, and I feel a sense of dismay that we seem to take the man more seriously than his ideas, which are urging people what much less well known people are also urging, that we take effective action.

    But, who is willing to take effective action when you can get serenaded by the truth? My father is a minister, a preacher, and I know as well as anyone that it's a lot easier to get people into church listening to your sermon than it is to go out and do anything loving to your neighbor (or enemy). Nice words...but let's meet in streets.

    4/7/06, 5:22 AM  

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