By Miguel Guevara
In the year 2042, an oral history of the then 25 year-old ongoing Revolutionary Participatory Society organization/project in the U.S. will be published. The book’s fifteen chapters will excerpt and arrange insights culled from eighteen interviews to present events and ideas in a sequential, encompassing way.
By unknown dynamics, the book’s introduction, its 18 source interviews, and even drafts of its chapters, have begun to appear via email in the present. The web site at http://rps2044.org presents more about the project, its aims, and ways to relate to it, and offers more of its substance as well.
Celia Curie, you were born in 1994 and an aspiring actress at the time of the first RPS convention. You became highly active in RPS while a successful actress in Hollywood, including your famous Oscar acceptance speech. You became, in time, and for a time, Secretary of Popular Culture for the RPS shadow government, a Cabinet position created specifically for RPS purposes, after which you also became Governor of California, an office you still hold. Can you tell us when and how you first became radical?
I was raped by my uncle when I was fourteen which was in 2008. I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of how I would be perceived, and really, at first, of whether it was my fault. Later I didn’t want to create what would have been chaos in my family. My father’s brother did it. The fallout would be horrendous for my dad and then for my uncle’s family. I didn’t think he was violent like that with others, or inside his family, for that matter, but I have to admit, I did not know for sure. I still don’t know what came over him.
Afterwards, I used the internet, in private, to learn more about rape and about rape victims and perpetrators. I went pretty deeply into the subjects and became familiar with and indebted to many feminist writers. They saved my life. So that was my doorway to radicalism. For many people, rape or watching a loved one killed or jailed or torn apart by unemployment or drugs, or turned violent, or suffering preventable illness, lurks in their memories of their formative years. I had a hard time getting beyond that not least because all around me there were always reminders in what I saw and endured. But all that is for another time, I think.
Just ten years later RPS was percolating, and not that long thereafter, the Hollywood arm of RPS got going. Do you remember the start of it?
At almost any time you consider, at least a few actors have expressed political and social views beyond donating to candidates, where that last choice has always been commonplace for many. Most often, however, even the best Hollywood political participation had been of near zero long run relevance because it had involved little more than single issue attention and was rarely radical even about its highlighted issues. So if we don’t count innocuous prior activity, and effective but too narrow activity, then the Hollywood arm of RPS got going literally when some Hollywood actors and other film people started to meet with one another, face to face, to discuss how they could relate to RPS not long after the first convention.
We took a few meetings to settle on joining RPS and engaging in three types of activity. The first was to reach out to other people in our work situations and artistic communities to also join RPS. The second was to agitate for changes in Hollywood film practices to steadily make our industry better reflect RPS values and aims. And the third was to reach out to the broader population using film and the excessive visibility afforded famous people.
It started with just eleven Hollywood people. The first thing we did was to strengthen our own understanding. WE got less curious about people – gossip – and more curious about ideas. We assembled various RPS relevant literature and worked through it to decide if we really did want to join and become able of argue for RPS with others. It was a bit like deciding whether to relate to a film by collectively assessing a script. As we got into the material, we not only read and discussed it, we practiced among ourselves until we were confident we not only liked RPS, but we were prepared to represent it, argue for it, and think about its refinement and expansion.
At that point we started to reach out to other Hollywood people. That was tricky not just because it meant trying to address people’s concerns, but because one of the foremost concerns we encountered was why should I bother? To join, people would tell us, they would have to criticize much that they would rather ignore, and they would have to devote scarce time, but where would that lead? What are you doing, other than talking, they asked? What would I be doing, other than talking?
Of course, in our minds talking, which is what we were doing with them, was actually a lot, but nonetheless it quickly became clear that even with a rather small group, we had to have some activities that people could relate to beyond reaching out to others. So we came up with some.
Do you remember what those were?
Yes, of course. It may seem strange but once we really committed to RPS, what we did to expand it and win gains was so central to who we were becoming that to be only casually attentive was impossible. We were undergoing something pretty profound. Again, in some ways it wasn’t so different, for those of us who were actors, from getting deeply into a role, except this wasn’t fiction, and it wasn’t for a limited time, and we weren’t getting paid to do it.
We had been actors, but also directors and camera folks. Some of us were men, some women. Some were Black, Latino, white, gay, straight, fathers, mothers, and so on. All these attributes affected who we each saw ourselves as. Basically, we occupied role positions in society, like everyone does. And our roles largely determined who we were by the requirements they imposed on us. But upon joining RPS something changed, mostly without our even knowing it was happening.
It may sound a bit exaggerated, but it wasn’t. We were no longer a kind of intersection of the implications of the diverse institutional roles we occupied. It wasn’t that that factor was gone. All the daily pressures of our situations and contracts and the expectations of people we encountered still pushed and pulled us. But now a new factor dominated the whole mix. We were part of RPS. We were being revolutionary, and that quickly rose in prominence to contour everything else. It became who we were at a far more basic and defining level than all the rest. We knew progress would be neither swift nor easy, but we didn’t dwell on that. So, yes, I remember the early period because my relation to RPS quickly became the touchstone of who I was and who I could be.
But to answer your question, within a year or so, we began three projects. The first was to establish a social school for people in the movie industry. It was a bunch of courses and group sessions that required two weeks of intense participation. It was about understanding society, developing and advocating vision for a better society, and addressing the mechanics and possibilities of the film industry. This was no small undertaking. Some of us taught but we also invited some RPS folks with more experience to offer classes. We borrowed materials and techniques from similar efforts on various campuses and in other chapters of RPS.
Hollywood people had always been ridiculously constrained by their time allotments and we were saying that to participate you needed to free up two whole weeks. If you wanted to teach, you had to give even more. We were asking a whole lot more from people than you might think. These weren’t young students, but highly accomplished adults used to people doing their bidding. And we eliminated that. Folks not only learned a lot, they enjoyed themselves and made new friends. We created capable members.
The second project was to uncover and then publicize pay rates for everyone in Hollywood and to proceed from revealing that information to agitating for more equitable relations.
You can imagine how well that was received. “You want to know what?” And then, even more upset, “you want to do what with the information?” And worst, “you want to do what to my income?” This was a difficult sell, a long term project, but the ethics were so clear that with calm and informed persistence, we eventually turned the tide from our appearing crazy, to those defending old ways appearing greedy and antisocial.
Finally, the third project was to reach beyond Hollywood. We settled on two ways. We pressured local film making and media producers to give space and tools to grassroots participants. And we created short films and even some full length ones promoting RPS ideas and program.
And at the start there were only about ten of you?
Yes, eleven at the start. And it was critical that we quickly establish a programmatic agenda to make evident the need to grow our numbers since everything we wanted to do required having more people. And we did grow, as you know.
I remember our first meeting. We got together at an actor’s huge outrageously fancy house. The eleven of us were in an ornate, comfortable, but a bit sterile living room. You could have installed a basketball court with room to spare. One wall was all window looking out at a massive deck with a pool fit for a whale. Beyond that we admired the Pacific. The dynamics were strained. Some of the eleven lived more or less comparably to our host. Others, while certainly not poor, had never even seen a house remotely like the one where we met to discuss RPS.
The most famous actor in the room made a tepid pitch about having given money and held a funding event for the then not long past Sanders campaign. Had that set the tone, my guess is we would have gone nowhere. But Matt chimed in about how that kind of involvement wasn’t enough, and how the conditions that most people endured overseas but also in the U.S. were ultimately too abysmal for band aids. He noted how global warming and wars literally threatened survival, and mainly how we all knew damn well that RPS was right about society needing a new social system and how given all our assets we had a responsibility to quit dodging the truth and start seeking serious change. That resonated and we were off and running.
What opposition did you have to overcome? Do you remember?
Absolutely, I remember, not least because much of it recurred so often.
Setting aside contextual and personal tensions, which often erupted over things like the house our first meeting was held in, the problem with trying to enlist people from film, and singers, painters, and novelists, too, ultimately always pivoted around one issue.
Actors, directors, writers, cinematographers, singers, and artists would tell us, “we do something special. We are not like others. We need special freedom to be creative. Creativity is different than other work. We should enjoy incomes commensurate to our creativity. We should be free to do whatever we like including not having to worry about balanced job complexes sapping our focus.”
And finally, thinking they had a knockout punch, they would add that “it is insane to think the public should have any say in planning art. The whole point is that artists have to do that, and then the public likes it or not.” Looking at us as if we were crazy they would announce that “the idea that artistic creators should have to cooperatively negotiate with the public about their work would be the death of all art. Get away from me with that stuff.”
Our problem on hearing their reactions was first to disabuse artistic people of the conceit that they were uniquely special and deserved special benefits. A scientist is creative, a doctor is, a designer is, a builder is, and, with training and balanced job complexes, we all would be for part of our work time. Even beyond that, creativity should be and typically is its own reward. What needs to be remunerated is not being creative, but working hard, long, or at onerous conditions. It wasn’t easy to get folks to listen and think about that, but once people did, our progress was pretty steady.
And second, we pointed out that saying actors, directors, or other art workers shouldn’t have to have balanced work is saying that others who monopolize creative and empowering positions shouldn’t have to either, which is saying that we should have 80% dominating 20%. We wouldn’t dodge their point but would argue that even if balancing circumstances for empowerment effects would somehow reduce time for creativity, it would still be essential to do. However, we would then add that in fact, overall it would have no such negative effect. Instead, having everyone do balanced work would liberate and add to artistic output the creative potentials of vast new constituencies. It would also broaden the comprehension of all those trying to communicate about life and life circumstances, whether writers, actors, singers, directors, or whoever.
And finally, third, we explained that having a new system of allocation to give workers and consumers self managing say wouldn’t mean the public decides what goes in a novel, play, or film, any more than it would mean the public decides what research a physicist or biologist does, or how some architect designs a building. It would mean, instead, that the public decides, in cooperation with producers – which in this case meant the people who compose the film industry – what serves the public, what benefits society, and based on that how much outlay of social product should go to films, as well as what counts as socially valued film projects and therefore what people can produce as work to be remunerated. If the public wanted no music – well, in that case creating music wouldn’t count as socially valued work. If the public wanted some music, but not much, then the number of singers, musicians, and composers who could earn income for creating music would be accordingly low. One could still produce or create something not wanted, of course, perhaps even hoping to change the public’s mind, but one couldn’t call it socially valued labor. Likewise, the same applies if the public wanted no novels, or no engineering, or whatever. But such fears are, of course, utter nonsense.
The public doesn’t have to understand or appreciate every film or painting, or every song or performance, or every construction method, for that matter, or every research project, to know it wants society to have art, engineering, and science. What the public really settles on in light of reports from those who would do the labor is the amount it wants, which in turn affects, of course, the amount respective producers can produce for income. But what the producers actually produce, they decide.
Okay, I assume you don’t want me to rehearse it all here, but the interesting and even fascinating point was that considered fully it turned out the new economic relations applied just as compellingly to artistic endeavors and to intellectual endeavors as to rote endeavors of any type. The worth of equity, classlessness, and self management, applied equally to all people, groups, and activities.
How did you personally understand the role of a Hollywood Star in society at the time of the first RPS convention and how did that start to change in the convention’s aftermath? What were some of your personal changes?
Back when RPS first convened I had been in some commercials and gotten some minor supporting parts. I had prospects, but I certainly wasn’t anything like a star. My income just kept me functioning. To me, a star was a larger than life person, rich or very nearly so, with huge stature and visibility, who travelled in an odd kind of bubble of security and privacy, constantly threatened by out of control paparazzi and sometimes even by fans or psychopaths. And I should say, my attendance at our first meeting, in the actor’s palatial home, didn’t change my view.
Before long, however, I started to think of Hollywood stars and other renowned artistic creators as being people who by dint of special inborn qualities, hard work, and virtually always a lot of luck, had gained access to a particular film or TV or art loving audience. It seemed to me that they didn’t deserve excessive income, but they had excessive everything. And so I thought these people should either renounce all that wealth, or, if for the moment wealth had to be distributed in a manner so tilted to their benefit, then okay, until we could win new social relations they should put a lot of it to social ends.
For a long time, many actors and other artistic people of note, like many media moguls and other owners of tremendous wealth, gave a lot away to various causes, some rather silly, but some quite important to real people’s lives. And I didn’t disparage that as being only self serving, which at times it no doubt was, or only for tax purposes, or good press, which it also often was, but I did decide that what was far more important then modestly and temporarily marginally mitigating poverty and deprivation was to try to change society to eliminate poverty and deprivation.
What were some of the key events from the RPS convention to now, in the emergence of a new kind of acting and creativity in movies, theater, and all kinds of art?
I think the school mentioned earlier, which was the first thing we undertook, and which grew dramatically, had a profound effect on broadening the consciousness, skills, and confidence of workers in the industry. It became a foundation for much else.
There is an important point about that that bears on many RPS areas of focus. One kind of RPS activity was having demonstrations, or campaigns about some policy, or electing some candidate, and so on. But another kind of activity, typically far less celebrated and visible, sought to attract new allies and solidify the commitment of existing members and especially to improve their ability and willingness to hold demonstrations and pursue campaigns really well. Often the less celebrated, less visible efforts at education and outreach were more fundamental than gaudier activity.
The production of films about social issues where each film not so much exposed or pleaded on behalf of suffering constituencies, but, instead, offered clear formulations of positive potentials and campaigns to relate to, was another big factor. Also important was the way those involved related to such projects. The tendency was to contribute ever increasing proportions of a film’s surplus revenues to the projects the film advocated, and also to include voices of activists, and finally for the involved film workers and actors to link up with the supported projects in lasting ways and to advocate for the films and the projects in interviews and public displays, rather than, as was earlier always dominant, simply advocating for themselves.
The major dramatic film about RPS, “The Next American Revolution,” which came out in our early years and which had so many famous participants foresaw much of what has later happened and certainly elevated RPS visibility throughout the U.S. and the world. But it was also incredibly important because those who worked on it functioned quite collectively. We had balanced responsibilities. We took sensible salaries. That was probably the tipping point event for the industry, not least due to all the Oscars the film won and the incredible speeches we gave on Oscar night.
You are being a bit modest. It was your Oscar and your speech that was so incredible.
Well, I had a great role in that movie and the times were such that while it portrayed a revolutionary in a revolutionary process, and while its intent was to inspire and provoke, nonetheless the artistry of the script and film was such that I got the best female actor award. And yes, I suppose the speech I gave was a bit of a highpoint. But don’t exaggerate my personal role. I was in the right place at the right time with a speech a good many people had a hand in crafting, and the fact that when I spoke so many stood in unity and in that way guaranteed me time to finish was also exemplary.
In any case, way beyond that film and its impact, and the subsequent Oscar events, we had the great industry strike, long nurtured by continuous agitation and organizing. That was an incredible spur to change and was, I think, perhaps the first time coordinator class members in such large numbers came out so militantly and outspokenly along with workers for dramatically reducing coordinator class advantages. We all accepted and celebrated working people’s leadership. It not only turned the industry inside out, it helped spur similar soul searching activism in countless other fields from the sciences to architecture, medicine, law, athletics, and many others.
What resistance to all that and the rest of what people like yourself are fighting for remains?
Well, as you know, we now have workers councils throughout Hollywood and while there are still owners and other officials doing some films the old ways, well over half of today’s films are done almost entirely in new RPS ways. There is a perpetual confrontation of the old and the new, where the new is gaining steadily especially in the commitments of young folks newly entering the fields involved. And this pattern exists, as well, in schooling and health care and many other fields too.
But, nonetheless, the old resistance still exists. Indeed, it may only disappear when the people favoring it get too old to persist. Sometimes people retain old ways until Father Time intervenes. But, far more admirably, of course, many other people leave behind prior views when they witness that better ways with gargantuan gains for humanity, albeit with some losses for themselves, are possible.
Back to your question. We still face two main kinds of opposition. One kind is honest, albeit not even a little worthy other than that the people with this view avoid hypocritically lying about it. “I don’t want to give up my massive income. I don’t want to give up my avoidance of activities I find onerous. I want to defend my coordinator advantages because I like them.” That reason is rarely spontaneously voiced, of course, not least because even rich people like to be able to look in the mirror and admire themselves, not to mention retaining relations with their children, so they usually opt for different rationales to hide from themselves the greedy sorry truth.
More commonly, therefore, film industry resistance to RPS takes the form of assertions that with RPS-style changes, artistic quality would collapse and aesthetic motivation would die. RPS would decimate art and deny those who love films the best possible product. If we make for incomes what RPS calls equitable or if we eliminate corporate divisions of labor or adopt cooperative negotiation of economic allocation, these critics say, it will gut art. These are the same complaints as twenty years ago. The main change is that back then these naysayers were everywhere and we had to argue with nearly everyone in the industry using analogies between racist and sexist nonsense which was at least well understood by most in Hollywood, and classist nonsense, which was foreign to most – and using some modest thought experiments to try to get our views across. Now, however, the naysayers are few in number and though the beliefs and analogies are still available and applicable, even more compelling are the huge and singularly successful projects undertaken in RPS style and the gigantic good will and quality these new projects regularly generate.
How do you think full RPS success will alter artistic creation and performance both for those creating and for those experiencing the products?
The audience for all artistic work will be much larger due to people having more time for such enjoyment and inspiration, and also due to their having knowledge that increases “consumer” benefit.
Artistic workers will be like any others. They will not have inflated incomes or excessive power. They will work in balanced job complexes in industries that relate to the will of both workers and consumers, where, along with their diverse workmates, they collectively self manage their involvements. Artistry will still be admired and celebrated, but it won’t be excessively enriched.
But will there be the high level of creativity and excellence there is now? The high volume of creative output?
If you go back to the first decade of this century, how much high creativity and excellence was there beyond special effects and exploring the psyches of murderers? But even if we set that aside, it is important to note that high levels of excellent art though important, should not be our only criteria of judgement. Think of it this way. Suppose you are looking at a workplace producing shirts. Do we have as our highest and even our only aim maximizing the quality and quantity of shirts that come out the door?
Of course not. If we did, why not work people virtually to death and then just dump them in the ally and call in more replacements? Or why not produce tons more shirts than people want? Or why not produce only for some rich or particularly shirt addicted clientele, ignoring those who prefer less expensive but also less exceptional products. None of that makes sense, of course, and we can easily see that.
Sensible output has to take into account the implications for those doing the work and for the society receiving the product as well as for those not receiving other products that could have been produced instead. This is the kind of judgement that RPS’s approach to allocation facilitates. And if that means sometimes we seek less output, or settle for good output but don’t exert to the degree of trying to get better when that would entail too much hardship for those involved, that is fine. If it is what people freely want, then providing it is appropriate.
Okay, but all that said, in fact we will continue to enjoy the high level of creativity and excellence there is now, and indeed steadily higher. And likewise we will enjoy a warranted high volume of creative output. Sometimes social need will call for less, other times for more. But the people working in each industry will be far better able to provide more, and the public will be far better able to enjoy and benefit from more, because the population as a whole will have far more of its creative potentials nurtured and supported.
Someone who worries about a decline of art – just like those who worry about a decline of doctoring, engineering, research, or what have you – must believe that the lost output from those previously engaged only in empowering tasks who now do balanced work cannot be made up by the newly cultivated and expressed talents of the 80% of the population formerly stomped into relative silence and subordination. But that view is no less classist than the person, in the past, who thought women couldn’t contribute creatively, or Blacks couldn’t, was sexist or racist. The claim of incapacity of Blacks and women was nonsense though it was quite serviceable to those protecting advantages. It even seemed to correspond to facts – Blacks and women weren’t producing art – just as rationalizations about class seem to correspond now – workers aren’t producing art – though increasingly less so with the incredible growth of RPS, workplace councils, and effective implementations of balanced job complexes in Hollywood.
What was the turning point, for you, when you felt like the struggle had matured from trying hard to have a chance, to being full tilt on the road to victory?
I think perhaps everyone in films would pretty much agree on that. It was the industry marches, where actors, directors, videographers, tech folks, designers, drivers, dressers, and all workers on films together marched through Hollywood, for hours on end, all decked out in their work outfits, all chanting and singing, and then, went into local communities to neighborhood meetings enjoying dinners and conversation at community gatherings, and then, utterly incredibly, did the same thing over again, with everyone traveling to participate in the same way in New York, and then Chicago, Boston, Houston, Memphis, Miami, and Cleveland. We were literally saying, honestly and correctly, this is what we have done and you can do it too. That was a helluva lot of internal solidarity and incredible outreach to diverse communities at the same time.
I of course remember and was as entranced as the next person at the events in New York I got to go to. I hope it is okay if I ask you a rather personal question about acting and your experiences of it? You have been considered beautiful all your life, and I wonder what place you think this has had in the past and should have in the future, in Hollywood and I guess in society, too?
You are right about it being personal, but it is also perfectly fair, even if it is hard for me. Growing up, even at a young age, what you look like used to have, and still has, major implications. I was, and I guess I am, by our society’s standards, as you say, beautiful. None of us can see that, easily, in ourselves, or that is my impression, at any rate. But I know I see it in others. Sometimes a person’s beauty can be almost shockingly powerful, mesmerizing, addictive, I know. But there is much more to it, especially in a horribly sexist society.
At a young age you learn behavior patterns that work to get you things you want. You have no real understanding, you just pick up on how smiles affect people, or how being a bit coy, or coquettish, or what have you, affects people. And this becomes part of who you are with attendant gains, but with losses, as well. Materially you benefit. Psychologically, sometimes, too. You get confidence and style, I guess. But other times, you get a warping of personality and mired in feelings of entitlement or guilt.
At any rate, in Hollywood the dynamics were – and to a degree still are – greatly exaggerated. Beauty is, to a point, bankable, for women and to an extent men too, and what is bankable is, in a profit seeking industry, cultivated and sought, but then also dispensed when it dissipates.
So in the old days beautiful women and handsome men too, to a lesser degree but still quite a lot, were signed on and if you could perform reasonably well, and you weren’t too much of a problem for those around you, and if you would bend when pushed, you would have a career, at least until your looks faded.
I don’t know entirely how I feel about it. Being eyeballed from my preteens on, being hit on, and in many people’s lives, being taken advantage of not to mention raped – and this was my experience too – is horrible. Think about knowing that thousands and maybe even many more than that fantasize doing things with or to you. Transcending all that, if you can manage it, is not easy, and generally requires help which is all too often absent. All this should be gone. The objectification, the exploitation, should be gone. Similarly, the riches for beauty or the power for beauty should be gone.
But what about other aspects? Suppose someone is born really strong, or able to run outrageously fast, or with great reflexes, or able to think really fast, or whatever. We say the person should not be able to parlay that lucky happenstance into wealth, power, or unfair circumstances of any kind. So that should apply, as well, to being born looking special. But about the other traits, we have no problem that they are admired, or that having them means you can do some things which, without them, you could not do. So, though it makes me nervous, should that also apply to appearance?
The odd thing is that special traits or features or qualities or talents in a person all, in old societies, had both benefits and debits for the person. The sex overlay made one of those different, but if you think about it, any special quality tended to convey advantages, pressures, options, rewards, and costs. So I have a feeling all of this is going to work itself out in a new society in ways we might not be able to foresee yet. I think what we can say for sure is that being lucky in the genetic lottery – given social standards and tastes – should not convey material advantage, greater say in society, or freedom from responsibility, nor should it impose undo pressures, denials, or abuse.
I think RPS isn’t the end of history. When RPS wins and in time society is fully participatory, it doesn’t mean all change is over. We will have achieved civilization, but there will still be some old and I assume plenty of new issues to discern and resolve. For now, I think winning RPS will do. For later, we, or our kids, will see what comes next.
Ceclia, an issue that recurs often is what is the appropriate pace of change? How have you understood that?
Do we want to advance as much possible, as fast as possible, and then bring along as many other people as possible? Or do we want to elicit the broadest possible advance, and move forward together as much as possible?
Can maximum immediate advance by a few bring all others along? Or will maximum immediate gain by a few run so far out in front that others are left behind while those leading become isolated and vulnerable? Does carefully moving forward with as many as possible prevent backsliding and propel everyone further?
There is no one right answer for all situations. Let me give you one example that perhaps highlights the issues. Some regions move faster for whatever reasons, than others. So, when there was a growing labor movement in Cleveland seeking not only a higher minimum wage, better conditions, and a shorter work week well before efforts attained similar strength elsewhere in the country – back when RPS was first developing – Cleveland’s workers came up against this issue. Some said, “let’s just go all out. Let’s occupy factories, disrupt downtown. Fight to win. We will lose, sure, for now. We won’t have enough support to prevent national guard repression, nor to sustain ourselves, and we will have to back down. But the rest of the country will see our uprising. Our aggressiveness will inspire others. It will spread. We won’t win now, that is true, but by moving fast we will contribute greatly to winning later.”
Others said, “wait a minute. First, others in the country will see us losing. Is that going to inspire them to emulate us? More, here in Cleveland, if we follow that path, after we get repressed and lose, what will we have achieved? We will have taken our growing movement and trashed it by our choice. Instead, why not keep building and send out emissaries to other towns and cities to explain how we have proceeded and how they can do likewise, and how, if we all do, we will all together win? Instead of now occupying factories and causing represssion and losing, why not keep on building our chapters in the factories, and propose how we would operate the factories, and support counter institutions outside them, as well, until we have sufficient support here in Cleveland, and elsewhere as well, to take them over? Faster pace that leads backward is not better than slower pace that leads forward.”
Did RPS offer anything useful by way of dealing with this issue?
RPS generated an overall mindset of winning a new society, not merely posturing in the moment. Also, the tremendous emphasis in RPS on trying different approaches and on keeping them all operational often allowed compromise. Not always, but sometimes you could partly try fast pace, partly try slower pace, test each, and then pour more effort into whatever worked better. This was ideal when people arguing for each approach did not want to be right to be able to brag about it or to win the argument and be a winner, but wanted to follow the best path, whatever it turned out to be.
Can you give some instances of all these possibilities?
Well, Cleveland took the patient approach. Boston/Cambridge had a similar choice, but it was earlier and more about campus activism. There are lots of schools in Boston/Cambridge and the student movement grew there very rapidity and earlier than in most of the rest of the country. So it too confronted the choice. Should the students go as quick as they could, so to speak, escalating and getting repressed before there was mass support, but as a model of what might happen and to spur others on? Or should they go slower, develop more of a base, far less visibly to others elsewhere, but more sustained and, one would hope, with better results. And in fact they did find a way to try both approaches, at least to a degree.
Most of the campuses embarked on a slower approach of building organizations and reaching out to local communities. At the same time, as you know MIT and Boston University had massive occupations and confrontations. The mix turned out rather good. Other students on other campuses supported the militant events, but simultaneously urged those involved to relate to the longer term efforts in return. The militant events caught the eyes of the nation, as intended, but the parallel endeavors also got visibility and were the lasting legacy, I guess you might say.
Another example, at least in my view, was the way many demonstrations adopted a multi tactic approach. A massive march would have, the day after, a big civil disobedience event. Each would give strength and added meaning to the other. But, as well, it meant one could participate as one preferred, rather than either be involved or not. Strikes and boycotts developed diverse ways of relating too. So did things like big teach-ins and accompanying demonstrations or sit-ins.
I have been asking folks, and I forgot to do so with you earlier, to perhaps recount an event or campaign or situation during the rise of RPS that was particularly important or inspiring for them. Could you do that too, now?
You said personally, and I think you mean something a bit more idiosyncratic to my own involvements, and for that I think I was moved beyond measure by two events or campaigns in particular. The hotel and motel occupations of 2030 and the national prisoners strike of 2034.
You know, one feeling about prisoners is, well, they are captured. There is not much point organizing folks who have already been taken away. But another feeling is not only much more humane, but also more strategic. These are victims of injustice. They are why we revolt. They are who revolts. It just takes effort and clarity to see it, and the prisoners’ campaign brought that.
It was an accident of circumstance that I happened to be visiting one of the prisons, with a kind of artistic show, while it was occupied. There was no way to leave, and I like to think I would not have left even if I could have, but I don’t know. The fear of a rerun of Attica – a long past site of prison struggle and massacre – was palpable, and I was certainly scared. But the scale of external support, and of wavering by the guards, precluded anything like that. Still, it felt imminent, over and over, and yet the prisoners carried on. Their courage was incredible.
And the housing battles, they were just so out of the box, mentally, I guess the phrase is, and at the same time so perfect at revealing the inane priorities of profit seeking and market competition that they touched me very deeply. And in this case I was even involved, in that I helped organize at some sites, among dwellers, not simply outside as external support.
Celia, can you tell us a bit about running for and becoming Governor of California. What did you take from the electoral experience?
We had to traverse the state over and over to get out our message. We talked directly to huge numbers of people, and then our public gatherings, speeches, TV addresses, and the debates reached still more. Throughout the process we extolled the RPS program and urged RPS involvement by our supporters. We constantly indicated not only the programs and policies we would try to rapidly institute, but also where we hoped the changes would lead.
The truth is, when we started, we didn’t anticipate winning. We ran as a way to organize very widely, to perhaps put pressure on whoever would win, and to develop organization for future runs and policy campaigns, as well as for grassroots organizing. We thought that we could use the process to broaden understanding of and support for RPS ideas and aims and to literally build new organization and membership, advancing movements at every step along the path. And we swore to one another that we wouldn’t compromise any of that to win office. Winning office was only relevant, we told ourselves over and over, if it happened in the flow of our overall effort, not by way of compromising our overall effort. Our definition of winning the election was to do all that we intended without compromise, and then, if by some chance we actually got most votes, terrific.
Even with that overt commitment, it wasn’t easy to keep in mind and not forget our main agenda. The pressure grew enormous as support came from all kinds of directions. And the pressure to compromise and play games to win came not just from the media or various pundits and potential donors or endorsers, but from inside the campaign as well. The prospect of victory was like a drug. It often diverted minds from the prospect of actual success. I mean, you are about to give a speech to some large crowd or perhaps members of some constituency or organization. What do you do?
Approach one: You simply describe your intentions, beliefs, values, and agenda, making your strongest case for them.
Approach two: You examine polling results to determine what your audience is thinking, and then you tailor your words to try to win them over.
These two approaches diverge, and it isn’t the case that someone who is pursuing the second is necessarily doing it for self serving reasons, though, in time, you tend to become what you are doing.
I think what kept us on the first approach wasn’t just good people having my ear and delivering criticism without fearing I would dismiss them, but also the mindset we developed which was that an election would be hollow or even counter productive if seeking victory caught us up in traveling an elitist path.
And we stuck to our priorities. I was in office only a week when we had begun implementing without the slightest hesitation, our full program. We didn’t at any point think, okay, let’s get that important gain, short of our full aim, by way of this or that compromise. No. We said let’s get everything we laid out, and more, by way of popular power, not back room compromise.
I should say, though, I think this was far less hard than it might have been due to the scale and commitment of public support we had for the full program, and due to the obvious upward trajectory of that support. Without so much support and its tendency to steadily increase, we would have always been afraid that not compromising would win nothing, rather than always feeling that not compromising was the way to win everything.