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Revolutionary Work in Our Time: Can’t Keep Quiet, This Time Gon’ Be More Than a Riot

Manju Rajendran
Date Published: 
June 1, 2010

Imagine a left that is united, vibrant, and relevant-a left so loving it becomes irresistible. We would organize to meet our communities' needs while building movements to transform societies and build a better world, becoming more whole and valuing each other along the way. We would create revolutionary culture to nourish our souls, awaken our desire, and inspire new action. We would center the leadership of oppressed peoples.

Most of us who read and write for Left Turn are working to build a juicier, more effective left. We believe in revolution and our visions are diverse. We are communists, socialists, anarchists, revolutionary nationalists, anti-authoritarians, autonomists, anti-racists, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, decolonizers, feminists, queer liberationists, disability rights warriors, transformative justice visionaries, leftist organizers, healers, artists of all kinds, combinations of the above, and so much more.

The pages of Left Turn magazine billow into a big colorful canopy holding revolutionaries of all stripes. We do not play more-revolutionary-than-thou and we intentionally include social justice workers who, through their daily reform work, have come to believe that the system needs replacing. Few left organizations welcome the broad political, ideological spectrum we do, and we do it purposefully, believing we need each other. We bring our folks together as people have done through the ages, storytelling and sharing strategy about the work we're doing in our communities. We celebrate each other's victories across movements.

Building Unity

Revolutionary Work In Our Times (RWIOT-pronounced "riot"), a national non-sectarian left unity-building effort, came together three years ago around simple common principles. We believe capitalism cannot be reformed, and we believe in revolutionary transformation of society. We engage the challenges facing leftists committed to advancing systemic change during a moment in history when revolution simply is not on the immediate political agenda. In RWIOT, there is a shared assessment that we need new, non-dogmatic approaches to revolutionary theory and practice. By working together to convene gatherings and workshops that bring together leftists from a range of ideological traditions and political practices, we encourage principled debate and dialogue on the left.

A joint workshop at the first US Social Forum (USSF) in June 2007 in Atlanta launched the RWIOT initiative. The New York Study Group (NYSG), Bay Area Activist Study Circle, Bring the Ruckus (BTR), Solidarity, Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO)/ Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad, Labor Community Strategy Center, and League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA) collaborated on a popular, participatory workshop called "Revolutionary Consciousness, Strategy, Vision and Organization in the 21st Century."

The RWIOT workshop at the USSF overflowed with over 200 people, and the excitement inspired participating organizations to work together to build a Revolutionary Summer School in New Brunswick, New Jersey in August 2008.

Left Turn and LA Communities Organizing Liberation (LA COiL, known at that time as the LA Crew) were invited into the process to help represent social movement organizers and revolutionaries who are not affiliated with cadre organizations or party-building efforts. The summer school was designed primarily around plenary sessions that covered questions such as the history of left movements, the current economic conditions and implications for organizing, theories of revolutionary change, and leadership of revolutionary movements. Participants also attended elective sessions on topics such as labor, queer theory, urban struggles, left re-groupment and re-foundation, and Black liberation movements.

Elder participants commented that they had never experienced left spaces that were so diverse across race, class, gender, and sexuality. The majority of participants identified as women or trans and about half identified as people of color. A third were queer-identified. Most participants were under age 35 but the age range was wide, allowing for intergenerational dialogue. Most were engaged in reform struggles on the ground.

Joining RWIOT

Following the Revolutionary Summer School in New Jersey, Left Turn decided to join the RWIOT national planning team. Malcolm X Grassroots Movement also joined RWIOT at this time. We combined our efforts with others to forge the RWIOT Strategic Dialogue in Chicago in August 2009. The presence of Left Turn on the planning team encouraged more anti-authoritarians and social movement organizers to participate in the gathering. There were over 250 participants, the majority identifying as women or trans, and about half identifying as people of color, with many queer-identified people and a wide range of ages.

Left Turn collaborated with many people locally and nationally to provide participatory workshops, thorough tactical work, joyful childcare and art-making, rejuvenating healing spaces, language access, delicious, healthy, locally-sourced food, and all with the help of a fabulous party called Leftist Lounge. 

While we successfully engaged in analysis about the current political and economic moment, in our post-conference debriefing we recognized areas for future improvement. We saw that we could have made more space for tackling questions of strategy and encouraging more deep dialogue between and among sections of the Left. In addition, we reflected that by choosing a more wheelchair-friendly space and seeking more ASL interpretation volunteers, we could have increased accessibility for people with disabilities and improved the gathering.

In March of this year, RWIOT hosted a roundtable called "What it Means to be a Revolutionary in Our Times" at the 2010 Left Forum in New York. Reflecting our efforts at increased breadth of representation, participants were much younger and drew a larger proportion of people of color than most workshops at the Left Forum conference. We talked about current political and economic conditions, opportunities, threats, and the US Left's relationship to global struggles. The question that seemed to resonate most deeply with the crowd was a perennial one: "What is the relationship between current reform struggles (like labor organizing, community organizing, electoral work) and revolutionary politics?"

Neighborhood of a Thousand Flags

If you are interested in joining Left Turn and the rest of the RWIOT crew at the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit, we will be repping hard and we would love to see you. We will be facilitating an experimental workshop called "Revolutionary on the Daily: Visions for New Societies, Revolutionaries Organizing Ourselves." As a starting point for powerful discussion, participants will design and construct creative cardboard houses and united neighborhoods as metaphors for our transformational visions. 

Left Turn is excited to have the opportunity to participate in a committed multi-year partnership experiment with organizations different from ours. Even though it is not always easy, we are learning and building relationships and we feel hopeful about how new alliances can deepen our thought and strengthen our work over time.

RWIOT attracts left organizations and individuals who agree that we do not have all the answers. A process like this requires humility and, in the words of Paulina Hernandez and Caitlin Breedlove of Southerners On New Ground, a willingness to be transformed in service of the work. In many ways, revolutionary work in our time is similar to revolutionary work in other times. It is a process of gathering, storytelling, imagining, and acting that has made the world new over and over. Let us cherish our comrades, learn from our lessons, and do it all better this time around. 

Manju Rajendran represents Left Turn on the RWIOT national planning team. Contact [email protected] with questions or thoughts about RWIOT. Manju lives in Durham, North Carolina and works for her mama's new restaurant, Vimala's Curryblossom Café, a just workplace serving healthy, affordable, locally-sourced, Southern and South Asian food.