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Experimental Essay Revision

han yu's picture

Tensions, and Solidarity

       It may seem that people in the civil rights movements could be on the right track, resolved to deal with the contradictions by resisting with collective movements, recognizing the connections with other oppressed groups, and creating new languages for their revolutionary needs. However, in the real situations, there were still some problems and tensions to be improved by various strategies. The women’s liberation movement, the New Left, as well as SNCC and other groups that share similar ideologies to some degree, all hollowed the spirit of radical democracy and egalitarianism. Anti-leadership and the distrust of large organization with top-down style therefore emerged with more radical versions grown to anarchism. Unfortunately, “the anti-leadership consensus proved inadequate as a basis for organization” (Evans, p.222), and “[t]he lack of structure and of responsible leadership led, inevitably, to a loss of internal coherence as the women’s liberation movement expanded” (p.223). Many women who were empowered and gained experience in leading the liberation movements even felt that they were suddenly targeted with criticisms of being “stars” by those who deeply doubted any sort of “authoritism”. The tensions related to radical anarchism also existed in SNCC. Both Evans and McAdam talked about the SNCC’s split of two factions: freedom high faction and structure faction, one continued the politics of anarchistic democracy and the other called for structure and order. In a series of staff meetings, “[t]he SNCC staff were hardly strangers to heated debate and self-criticism. What marked these meetings as unique were not the passions aroused, but the failure to achieve any real consensus about the future direction of organization” (McAdam, p.126). The tensions were not only distinct in contrasting ideologies on the attitudes toward anarchism, but in racial and class groups concerning the white people becoming authorities. Many blacks in SNCC “feared that the white college students would try to ‘take over’. Their verbal skills would ‘put down’ local people and impede the development of indigenous leadership”. And “in many cases the students—sharp, articulate, trained in the verbal skills of the upper middle class—did take over” (Payne, p.132). Later, many SDS and ERAP staffs were also baffled by this tricky issue. Adopting the “participatory democracy”, they questioned themselves “Do we have any right to be telling people what to do? Isn’t organizing inherently manipulative? Can we have a national strategy without imposing it unfairly on local groups?” (Evans, p.137). All those doubts and tensions were legitimate, but here came a huge question: How could people maintain an organization that is not chaotic, and respect dissidence at the same time? How could people leading or facilitating the movements get their constructive opinions across without creating new hierarchies and silencing the directly oppressed group? And more importantly, how to have the people in the organization to move forward in solidarity?

       Currently I do not think that I have already come up with a total solution, but I still have some insights on ways to make the situation better. Reflecting on that some women in the liberation movements were criticized of being “stars” and SDS staffs struggled in avoid being manipulative toward local people, I really want to mention the style of Ella Baker and want to argue that, having some authorities is different from having hierarchies. Strongly believed that people should be pushed to “think things through for themselves” and “learn on their own”, Ella Baker served both as a prominent authority and a promoter of democratic participation of individuals. “Much of her interaction with students took the form of her asking questions, sometimes quite aggressively, rather than telling them what they had to do. Still, she could get her points across, and one of her frequently stressed points was a warning against dogmatism” (Payne, p.97). Far from being dogmatic, she genuinely respected opinions from any different people’s perspectives and believed that “[t]here are many legitimate and effective avenues for social change and there is no single right way” (p.97). Her opposition toward dogmatism, seemed to me, was the central merit of her being an effective leader not compromising people’s voices and participation. Adamant in her role and confident in her beliefs of how the movement would work, she pushed and intervened people’s thoughts by aggressively asking questions, rather than dictating, and was prepared and patient to hear any voices that may or may not different from her own’s. Other than finding the balance between authority and anarchy, mass meetings could also bring many positive influences and were especially beneficial to people’s solidarity. Compared to the smaller scale staff meetings that could hardly help people to reach any sense of common goals, mass meetings, as the “emotionally and politically pay-off” of the volunteers’ day-to-day hard work, could “change the behavior of their members by offering a supportive social environment, public recognition for living up to group norms, and public pressure to continue doing so” (Payne, p.259). It would be extremely hard for people to move forward in solidarity if they had no clear “consensus” on a common direction and were stuck with their organization’s internal tensions. Mass meetings, a form of demonstration that is both hard and not that difficult to facilitate, would help leading people back to the necessary sense of solidarity again. 


abby rose's picture

I appreciate the vein of thought you have elaborated upon in your revision for this essay. What is brought up for me as I'm reading this is where the fusion of consciousness-raising and mass meetings can fuse together to impact an audience. When I think of consciousness-raising, what immediately comes to my mind are the small group gatherings where people shared there stories. These more personal, intimate meetings differ from the mass meetings also utilized by SNCC and other civil rights organizaitons, but what does it look like to combine the two? Fannie Lou Hamer is a woman who did this by sharing her personal story in a public space, allowing her unique experience to speak to a larger collective experience of oppression. She led, but not by telling others what to do; rather, by baring herself to others to see a new (or shared) reality. I wonder why we do not see more leaders like this, and also wonder what are the benefits and dangers of leading in this way. How do the leadership styles of women like Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker conflict with one another, complement one another? In what different ways do they promote solidarity as well as refute dogma?