As the great New Left activist, journalist and longtime Nation editor Andrew Kopkind wrote in these pages, “People will always have a need to join in collective efforts to secure a better life for the many against the greedy predations of the few…. There is always another chance to bring a better system to birth, which is what history means, after all.” In honor of this premier left chronicler, the Kopkind Colony was established in 1999, a few years after his death, by friends and family as a summer project to encourage the work of independent journalists, filmmakers and grassroots activists. Those at this year’s gathering suggest ten things you can do to use the lessons of the past to build a progressive future.
1 Know the enemy. War and economic exploitation are not particular to the personality of Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld, and changing the characters has not changed the plot. Read, or reread, Marx for what is still the most thoroughgoing critique of capitalism; read Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land for a social democratic vision of “the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good.”
2 Contesting how we learn from the past, countering the dominant belief system, and educating ourselves and others are some of the most important political acts. Start a newsletter, online or off; a political club; a low-watt radio show (go to Prometheus Radio to learn how; use Pro-media Communications as a resource). Get involved in the black, ethnic, youth or labor press. Go to Vox Union.
3 An advance for one group often leads to advances for others. The civil rights struggle inspired movements of marginalized people everywhere. The right’s recent assault on the Fourteenth Amendment should remind us that immigrants’ rights are everyone’s rights. Check out the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
4 Don’t take the politics out of culture wars. When Pat Buchanan declared a “culture war” at the 1992 GOP convention, he was organizing politically. The broad left’s mistake was to think this was simply an attack on identity and was thus the responsibility of “identity politics.” Read how the right cries wolf here and here. For an example of the creative merging of identity politics with broader struggles, check out Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
5 Don’t take the culture out of politics. When Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children wanted to close down a juvenile prison, they held a New Orleans–style mock jazz funeral procession. And the Patois Film Festival works year-round with activists on the issues exposed in the films.