Analyzing the "Movement"-Looking Back at PPRC 7
The latest installment in an ongoing memoir/critique of Portland's most dominant Peace Group: PPRC.
So far I've piled a lot of complaints onto PPRC and the various rallies PPRC runs, but I've also been talking about something else. Whether I was writing about the need for more equitable distribution of power, or just pointing out how blatantly dishonest or misguided PPRC leaders were, I've always been trying to address what it means to be free.
There's a big problem with my attempting to write about this subject:
I don't know anything about freedom.
I don't know what it would look like. I'd even be so bold as to say that nobody in the entire industrialized world knows what freedom is, what it feels like. We're all inhabitants of various strata inside a global spectacle-- we're the people who watch the big screen, or the little screens that are suddenly strewn everywhere, but who can't act on or change anything.
I have no first hand knowledge of freedom. But, I've read a few books on the subject. I've kicked the idea around. For instance, I know that some have written about our condition, namely slavery, as a psychological disorder:
Wilhelm Reich, for instance, describes the problem of slavery this way:
"I've observed [the slave] for many years and seen, first with astonishment, then with horror, what he does to himself; how he suffers, rebels, honors his enemies and murders his friends; how, wherever he acquires power 'in the name of the people,' he misuses it and transforms it into something more cruel than the tyranny he had previously suffered at the hands of upper-class sadists."
Reich, being a psychiatrist, wrote about sex and desire all the time. He described the free and healthy individual as unrepressed, unarmored, uninhibited. Skimming Reich you might think that a free society would be polymorphously perverse, orgiastic, and perhaps lewd. But, if we put aside ideas about free love, and just generalize about what a healthy and free individual would be like, we can come to the conclusion pretty quickly that, based on Reich's theories and perhaps just common sense, a healthy and free individual would not be a neurotic, controlling, tight ass.
So, starting with a negative definition of what a free person would be, I'd like to tell you about PPRC's "Goals and Vision" Retreat, and more specifically the "Goals and Vision" retreat planning meeting that I attended at my local Starbuck's Coffee House.
There were four of us who volunteered for this task of planning the parameters of what was to be an open discussion of PPRC's broadest goals, a discussion which would hopefully lead to developing some short term plans, perhaps very modest plans. Again, there were just four of us at this committee meeting, but nonetheless the meeting was facilitated and we took turns raising our hands, and the facilitator decided who would speak and for how long and so on...
My understanding when I'd volunteered, however, was that we were just going to find a space for the retreat and find some nice PC restaurant to donate food. So, I raised my hand immediately when I found out that the other three had more in mind.
"I don't think we need to lay out what can and can not be discussed. I thought we were just going to figure out how to get vegan donuts and coffee. But, if we have to say or define something, maybe we should define the difference between a broad goal and a tactic--"
"I don't even want to discuss tactics at the retreat," the facilitator said. I've forgotten her name so I can't give you a letter as a stand in. Let's call her Shirley.
"The word 'tactics' is a hot button word," an activist I'll call CH explained.
"I don't want to give the anarchists a chance to start preaching," Shirley said.
"We can't even use the word 'tactics?'"
"It's a confusing term. Most of the membership can't distinguish between a tactic and a goal," the activist I've been calling Z said.
"That's what I think we ought to define, at the beginning of the meeting, so people can put tactics aside at first and just talk about goals. I mean, I want to give everyone the room to speak. I want the Trotskyites to be able to explain their vision, and the anarchists, and--" But I was interrupted.
"I really don't want to hear about any of that. We've got to keep the discussion focussed on the war," Shirley said.
"Nobody wants to sit through hours of ideological debate," Z explained.
The discussion turned at that point, I'd had my say for the moment and the facilitator moved on down the stack. Z explained how he thought we should focus on defining a goal as opposed to a vision, or something like that, and CH just nodded and agreed. But, because there were only four of us there, it was my turn to talk again before very long.
"Listen, I want to hear about how we need a revolution. I want people to be able to talk about what they really think, and for there to be some disagreements. If we don't talk about it--"
"I don't. I don't want to hear about how we need a revolution," Shirley told me. She was, if you remember, facilitating the meeting.
"I have to agree with her," CH said.
"Listen, I'm not saying that PPRC should abandon its tactics of nonviolence and legal action, but I think we should keep the discussion open and broad--"
"That's what were trying to avoid," Z said.
"You weren't at the first retreat, were you?" Z asked.
I admitted I wasn't. But I went on to explain why I wanted a broad discussion. "If we never discuss these other issues, if we don't talk about anarchism or socialism or libertarianism or any of that, then we're going to just end up with an unspoken status quo position. A sort of reformist capitalist position that people don't even know they're taking, but which nonetheless dominates because it's just the air we breathe."
"Nobody wants to listen to Marxist arguing with Anarchists. We've all heard it before," Shirley said. "This is about stopping the war. And that's all. We can't do everything."
"Maybe you're right. But how can we, the four of us, determine that ahead of time?"
"That's what we have to figure out," Z said. "That's why we're having this meeting."
You might be able to guess that, after a few more rounds of this, I walked out. It was clear that the three other members of the "retreat planning committee" had an agenda, although it was mostly an unexamined agenda, and more importantly they had absolutely no faith in other people's ability to openly discuss anything or make rational decisions.
And the hell of it is, because we're all slaves on one level or another, the other three were mostly right. I didn't attend the retreat, the "retreat planning committee meeting" was dispiriting enough for me, but by all accounts the PPRC membership wasn't able to come up with any long term goals or short term plans. By all accounts there was no trust, no common ground, nothing but frustration.
My guess was that the parameters of the discussion, set in advance by a facilitated committee of four, probably played a role in the ultimate failure of the retreat.
We're all slaves. We're all, to varying degrees, uptight, neurotic, control freaks.
From Wilhelm Reich:
"Listen, Little Man: Your heritage is a burning diamond in your hand. See yourself as you really are. Listen to what none of your leaders and representatives dares tell you: You are a 'little, common man.' Understand the double meaning of these words: 'little' and 'common.' You are afflicted with the emotional plague. You are sick, very sick, Little Man. It is not your fault. But it is your responsibility to rid yourself of this sickness."
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