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Social movements, critique, and organizing mobilization

Laurence Cox on social movements and the case of Ireland (excerpt):

Movement organisations, for their part, now face substantial challenges. Is there a way back from dependence on funding? The much-discussed US book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded suggests that if there is, it lies in a shift from service delivery to advocacy and campaigning, linked to a principled decision for financial independence and self-funding. My own sense from talking to organisers over recent years is that this is now widely seen as common sense, but that it requires the development of skills which have not been in much demand in the years of funding proposals and policy submissions; and the willingness to endure an upheaval in internal relations as members, rather than professionals, come to take the lead in practice and not simply rhetorically.

[…]What critical political economy has lost, in its long engagement with the politics of ‘opinion’, is a willingness to reflect on agency – how a critique can come to acquire social and economic force – and to find ways of translating technical expertise into straightforward, strategic demands; key issues which can be widely understood and widely supported by those who do not have postgraduate degrees but nevertheless perceive themselves as losing out from the bailout and the cuts.

The key battle in this last respect, for several years now, has been the struggle in Rossport in the west of Ireland. At its simplest, we have a government minister, since imprisoned for corruption, handing over the keys to €540 billion of gas reserves to Shell and Statoil; the state under various governments backing this up with the deployment of the military and a police occupation whose overall conduct the police Ombudsman has been instructed not to investigate; and a right-wing hate campaign in the media against leading campaigners. We also have a remarkable alliance of social movements doing its very best under immense pressure to resist and transform this situation. Most recently, a recording of police discussing raping and deporting activists has highlighted realities which many people have preferred to ignore.

Rossport is not only the place where the actual economic choices made by the mainstream parties are most clearly visible, it is also a place which brings together local communities in struggle, key union issues, ecological concerns, an experience of police violence shared by many poor people on this island, majority world solidarity and, most recently, core feminist concerns. In the late 1970s, an alliance of mass movements stopped plans for nuclear power in Ireland at Carnsore Point in Wexford. If anywhere has the capacity to be the Carnsore Point of the 2010s – a place where the machinery of destruction and impoverishment can be stopped in its tracks, and where social movements can rally around the development of alternatives for Irish development – it is Rossport.

In order for this to happen, of course, movements and intellectuals have to throw off the ‘muck of ages’, or rather the office suits donned for the years of partnership. The desire to be on the inside, in line for funding and a seat at the table, dies hard – as does the intellectual desire to be a respectable dissenter. A respectable dissenter, in our contemporary usage, of course, is in the last analysis a member of the elite – one calling for a different direction, but making this call to other members of the elite. An effective organiser, by contrast, is one whose primary concern is to find issues around which ordinary people are willing to mobilise, around which effective alliances can be made, and which can offer the possibility of disrupting the polite and respectable world of meetings and policy papers.

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