Searching for Political Space in Prague and Elsewhere

ACORN International

ACORN CzechPrague New countries, new languages, and new people seem constantly in front of me on this trip, but what is surprising whether here in Prague, Rome, Palermo, Cairo, or back home in the United States is how very, very similar the questions are everywhere in the world for progressives trying to create real change and alternatives.  In Prague the Michal Ulver, the organizing spark behind the formation of ACORN Czech several months ago had assembled a group of diverse activists to meet me and introduce me to the spectrum of political activism.  There were strategists and intellectuals, students and anarcho-syndicalists, green party people of various movements, trade union activists, alternative media people, cooperative boosters, social democrats, ex-communists, and others.

Like progressives everywhere, they were both discouraged and hopeful.  All of them are excited about the Occupy activity in the United States and what it might mean.  I also believe they are largely excited because they are hoping this could be a spark that catches fire and reunites progressives here and everywhere.  The weakness of labor unions around the world has been a body blow and produced real cynicism because everywhere the organizing model seems mired in the past and people are having trouble finding the heartbeat for the future.  One man told a story of being abandoned by his union on his job.  What could I answer?  Many of these activists told stories of being pushed out of jobs in retail, in government, in factories, and now fighting through social systems and unemployment.  Furthermore, the installation of a right-center party in the Czech Republic has unsettled many with concerns about how protected public space and political action for progressives might be today and in the future.

There was a lot of interest in cooperatives and whether or not these institutions could provide real alternatives.  In fact “alternatives” are very much part of the dialogue here about all forms of civic involvement because various formations create alternative platforms for proposals for action and change.  It was hard for me to tell what was really happening in these meetings, but they are closely followed.

The interest in ACORN International and our patient, persistent form of base building had appeal, though there was extensive discussion on whether ACORN’s membership here would have to be “secret.”  That was shocking and unsettling, and I am still searching to understand the situation more  thoroughly.

How different are these circumstances anywhere?  Occupy with its resistance to “leaders” is a reaction to how people are pulled into the “flesh eating machine” as Marcuse famously called in a million years ago.  Reading about the ability of the US government to get access to emails without notice or court order, makes me think perhaps the reactions in Prague may not be as paranoid as I might first think either.

I’m not sure if I’m teaching more on the road or as always simply learning more and more every day about the difficult and challenges of the work?