Making counter-power out of madness

By Laura Flanders for TNI's State of Power 2018

 

For those contemplating counter-power, the ten-year anniversary of the global financial crisis, or Great Recession, is perhaps even more immediately significant than the uprisings of ’68.

In the US, the decade since 2008 has not seen the emergence of the sort of counter-power represented by Syriza or Podemos. Resistance movements haven’t morphed into political parties and won national power, not yet. But we did see millions of US citizens vote for self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, and from his campaign has emerged a campaigning organization that talks about socialism, called Our Revolution.

All this is at least in part because we have seen a decade of mass consciousness-raising about capitalism, courtesy of the 2008 crisis and sustained by phenomena like Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt (and before that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests, which centred on a critique of global capitalism). Not just economic problems, but economic systems, long a taboo in the US, are up for debate. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, in a country that only 50 years ago was raised on red-baiting.

In 2016, 51% of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 told Harvard University researchers that they opposed capitalism. Only 42% expressed support. In October 2017, pollsters found that 44% of US millennials would pick a socialist rather than a capitalist country in which to live.

In November 2017, tickets to ‘Capitalism: A Debate’ sold out in a day and speakers from socialist Jacobin and libertarian Reason magazines had to move to a larger venue. The event sold out once again, this time in eight hours.

 

The mainly young, overwhelmingly white, young people who packed Cooper Union’s 960-capacity Great Hall for that debate were not yet out of high school when the 2008 crash happened. They saw what it did to their families and friends, as loyal workers lost pensions, savings and mortgages; and while banks were bailed out, the state refused to relieve students of voluminous college debts.

The seductions of the status quo don’t work as well for this generation because they came of age seeing it crash. They’re not wedded to the promise of the capitalist ‘American Dream’ that was proffered to their parents, because it shows no signs of being wedded to them, or even having a place for them in it.

The people whom 30-year-old Nelini Stamp knows place little faith in the traditional economy or in government, turning instead to decentralized, self-organized networks to get things done – everything from making a living to getting help to people after Hurricane Sandy. ‘I thought Occupy Wall Street was big but bottom-up organizing’s really taken off since’, says Stamp, now an organizer with the Working Families Party.

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