War and Militarism

by Connie Galambos

My first day at the U.S. Social Forum I suffered from sensory overload: thousands of perspiring activists on overdrive for their respective causes, pounding the Atlanta pavement in a march of solidarity, many along the way sidetracked (myself included) in desperate need of water.  The mantra “this is not just another conference” had done little to prepare me for the progressive pandemonium that ensued, and it took quick escapes every night to decompress about the past day’s adventures and prepare for the ones ahead.  While some of the nuances of the tents, tables, sessions, and plenaries on the USSF agenda were new to me, the themes were certainly predictable: human exploitation, natural resource privatization and depletion on a massive scale.

Through all the chaos, the experience clarified for me that despite that the United States cannot afford the hundreds of billions of dollars on the war and still address the issues that we as Social Equity Caucus members care about.  The war overseas is intricately connected to the battles we face at home: the random accident or sickness with potential to plunge us into poverty, the dismal education and violence killing our youth, the rampant corporate corruption resulting in the loss of our environmental resources, quality jobs, and security. ..

Our issues all converge in war, yet I was disappointed to note very few folks in Atlanta telling that story.  Even at the USSF, white folks struggled to narrow the frame of war to strictly an environmental issue, simplifying their work by not collaborating with the communities of color on the front lines abroad and at home; simultaneously, shades of brown were split up into issue-based sessions on how to addresses the multiple crises we face – war not included. 

My consciousness-raising about war’s connection to everything we care about at the Social Equity Caucus was so powerful that I struggled with where to best engage during that week, finding few spots that busted the typical binary decisions I faced growing up…as a light-skinned person of color from the global south adopted by a white middle-class family in the U.S., I do enjoy access to both sides of the proverbial coin and am regularly navigating between these disparate spheres of influence.  I waver between inspiration for and exhaustion from trying to build bridges between connections so obvious they leave me speechless!   According to my lived experience, there is no race, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, or geographic community where I truly fit in.  And Atlanta was a moment in which it was clear that even outside the Bay Area folks like me are more than just a ‘trend’, but emblematic of this rapidly changing – dare I say postmodern – world in which we operate.

I speak for my peers in expressing a tremendous amount of respect for the ground work done by generations before me to get us to this point: thank you for ushering in an era of massive social change, and for building strong institutions to carry that torch!  Generations X and Y are now surrounded by those legacies, struggling to define our identities and roles in the larger movement’s evolution.  We’re more passionate than ever about the issues, but the structures we’re inheriting don’t always fit and we’re rarely entrusted with the power to influence them in a meaningful way, let alone revolutionize them.  We’re negotiating program parameters, job descriptions, organizational charts, policy manuals, and funding mechanisms we didn’t have a role in creating, and quite frankly we sometimes feel trapped.  As a result, when opportunities arise for us in higher levels management roles, we often remain hesitant at best – preferring to supplement our incomes with the autonomy of consulting on the side, or ultimately to create our own organizations – that will inevitably compete with existing ones for less and less collective resources.

Consider but a few of the unspoken challenges faced by the best-intentioned folks who want to nurture youth, people of color and women to take over organizational and movement leadership.  How is staff with unprecedented amounts of student debt and a real estate market out of their reach considered when pay scales are established?  How are single parents and those balancing elder care supported to live a balanced life?    How are newer voices helping not just to support, but to influence the direction of the work?  The answer is that they usually aren’t, and we’re coping the best we can in the short term…recognizing this will not sustain us or the movement in the long-term.

It’s intimidating to put this critique out there, and acknowledge my own discontent with the system I’m in some ways benefiting from.  But I do so in an effort to keep myself honest and to encourage intergenerational dialogue that echoes long after this summer’s Social Forum in Atlanta.  We all have to be willing to take the risks to question ourselves and the way we do this thing we call activism – professionalized to the point of being a form of business.  As I come back to the office to work on fine-tuning the Social Equity Caucus, I’m pushing myself to think in that manner - how can we as a coalition work together in a way that speaks to our hearts and souls, and ultimately puts us out of this business?