Kingston I love reading about the pinch in the shoes of the Tea-people as they try to scurry about and disclaim similarities to the Occupy forces that are springing up everywhere around the USA and the world. The cultural complaints are the most absurd, since that is mostly the differences in the ages of the faces capturing the camera time on the small and wide screens. The lack of leaders, the anger at the bailout, the Federal Reserve, and the banks are all common themes in both nascent movements. And, no matter what some of the Tea-people are trying to claim in today’s papers, my own personal experience with many of them around the country is that many do share the alienated frustration of unemployment, underemployment, foreclosures, and a sense that there is no better dream in their future, and they are both looking for a voice and real answers.
The real cinch in their belts making some supports and even allies of both of these efforts uncomfortable is the fact that movements, even small and short lived ones, are messy affairs that move more quickly than many people can easily follow. I thought of this as I read some of Myles Horton’s autobiography, Long Haul, after leaving Highlander. Horton knows something about all of this because as he says he was “lucky” to have “guessed right” two times in connecting Highlander and its educational activities to both the emerging labor movement through the rush of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 30’s and 40’s, and then the civil rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s. His recollections are valuable for many of us to remember in these times:
The best educational work at Highlander has always been when there is a social movement…. During movement times, the people involved have the same problems and can go from one community to the next, start a conversation in one place and finish it in another. Now …in what I call an organizational period, which has limited objectives, doesn’t spread very rapidly and has a lot of paid people and bureaucracy. It’s completely different from what takes place when there is a social movement. During organization times you try to anticipate a social movement, and if it turns out that you’ve guessed right, then you’ll be on the inside of a movement helping with the mobilization and strategies, instead of on the outside jumping on the bandwagon and never being an important part of it. You try to figure out what’s going to happen so that you can position yourself in such a way as to become part of it: you do things in advance to prepare the groundwork for a larger movement. That way, you’re built into it when the momentum begins. It’s like learning to ride freight trains.”
Horton’s remarks there are excellent advice for any organizers and for many progressive organizations. Let the Tea-people squirm as their movement is eclipsed, and for the rest of us, it’s time to make hay while the sun shines. These moments are brief, and they do not last.