May 17, 2011

Some Movement Basics


Let’s combine some of the ground we’ve been covering. I’ll start by going back over the basic framework and chronology of movement-building as I described it last month, adding some commentary. Then I’ll go back over the Food Sovereignty principles and a few others, suggesting how the stages of movement-building may apply to each.
First the movement: 

1. Engages in “apolitical” economic relocalization as much as possible. 

This is the basic stuff about strengthening the local economy. Local governments and service organizations themselves often still engage in this at least semi-seriously. More important for our purposes is the newer relocalization movement which is concerned with economic issues as well as the imperatives imposed by energy and environmental issues.
Here we find a panoply of actions – farmers’ markets, community gardens, a new interest in personal gardening (this is becoming a movement in itself), reskilling (everything from learning basic fix-it skills to learning whole non-fossil fuel based skill sets), time banks and alternative currencies, alternative transportation schemes, homeschooling, and many others – which don’t necessarily have a direct political content nor are necessarily conducted within the context of a broad political consciousness. At any rate, groups dedicated to these seem prone to want to be a apolitical as possible, in order to broaden their appeal and make their ideas as accessible as possible. This is often sound tactics. 

2. Among committed citizens, also forms a nucleus for political relocalization. Systematic political education goes on among this group. This group must also formulate a politically and spiritually inspiring philosophy and mindset to accompany the toolkit of actions. 

Here’s a parallel action to build this political consciousness. Perhaps some members of the economic relocalization groups start a book club or public speaking club or something. Here these self-selected members may be joined by other politically interested people who weren’t initially as interested in the purely economic relocalization actions. Together these work to formulate a democratic political philosophy and to build a democratic political consciousness. This philosophy and the mode of expressing it through words and actions must combine the critique of kleptocracy with an affirmative vision of how democracy can establish freedom and broad prosperity. The joys of community action, the sense of togetherness it brings, can be part of this. All this dovetails with the economic relocalization actions. 

3. To what ever extent possible, this nucleus becomes involved in local politics. But this may not be an initial priority everywhere. 

A possibility for starters is liaison and coordination with “the authorities” where services are being cut. (As discussed in #5 below, this way of seemingly letting government use us is really a strategic maneuver.) The local movement could take over services with the imprimatur of the government in return for the use of facilities and other non-cash reciprocities. We could organize around specific statutes enshrining democratic principles, for example local food sovereignty law and anti-corporate personhood law. As the public profile and volunteer activism of the movement increases so that the need for paid PR decreases, activists could also run for office within the existing electoral structure and seek to take over local government that way. 

4. To whatever extent government and corporate power hinder the activities of (1), the political activists take any opportunity for broader political education of various producers and perhaps the public. 

This will be one of the major tasks of the political nucleus. It must educate a populace about the ways in which centralized and corporate power, both totally alien to a region, are afflicting and draining that region of its vitality and freedom. This education must also include the broader picture of how the kleptocracy is destroying the real economy of America (or any other country) as a whole. 

5. Wherever necessary and possible, the locally involved political activists take on responsibilities of local and regional government, gradually achieving objective legitimacy. But actual assertion of authority against parasitic “official” structures would have to wait for later. 

While the movement is absolving government of its obligation to provide various social services, it’s also confirming the abdication of legitimacy on the part of government. The political education must spread awareness of this fact. At the same time, through its actions the movement appeals to the public as a parallel quasi-government structure, seeking acclaim and legitimacy that way. Eventually, the movement must be ready for various power showdowns with the “constituted authorities”. As we know, we shall embody the true constitution. 

6. To whatever extent possible, these organizations, at whatever level of development, would come together to consult in a kind of federation. To whatever extent possible, they could coordinate and assist one another. 

We’re already doing this in embryo, even if so far we’re only speaking for ourselves. If we’re already involved in groups, we can at least start by describing what our groups are doing even if we’re not yet able to speak for the group. In my case, my group is still very much in the apolitical stage, and I’m still being circumspect about keeping my online and community volunteering actions separate. But I’m looking for an opportunity to start the political nucleus somewhere. 

7. This structure would then gradually make its presence known to the public, mostly through “apolitical” education about the economy and relocalization, but also political education, wherever it seems that would be fruitful. 

Perhaps for the time being, this “national” network could be more proactive in political expression than many of the individual rhizomes. The ideas developed here could then be adapted to all sorts of local conditions.
The online organizing we discussed can function both to help organize the local groups and to develop this network. 

8. Then, once the next, terminal crash comes, and/or the general deterioration into permanent depression accelerates, the movement will be prepared to offer a home, a means of self-help, and a realm of action, to any size mass of people ardent and desperate for a solution. 

The goal is to prepare to receive the refugees from the system. This may always remain a relatively small number, or it may explode into a mass movement. Anything is possible.
To continue with my using Food Sovereignty as a primary element of democracy, lets go back over Via Campesina’s Seven Principles, with some suggestions on how the framework described above can further them. The numbers cited in my comments here refer to 1-8 above. 

1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right. 

This is a primary subject for political education – #s 2, 4, 7. 

2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it. 

We can draft a model policy (2, 4, 7). In practice we must call for the redemption of all corporatized land and land which has been condemned to idleness by the parasitic rich. All REO (real-estate owned) bankster land is already the property of the people.
There are several possible levels of direct action, from guerilla gardening to organized squatting and adverse possession. These can be justified politically (3, 5) and have local political cover sought for them (like with the local laws linked above).
The greatest efflorescence would be our own version of Latin America’s Landless Workers’ Movement. This would need to be part of a broader movement encompassing the unemployed and the homeless. 

3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals. 

Here’s another job for the political education (2, 4, 7), with a special emphasis on the environmental and energy necessity for food relocalization (a broader context for looking at #1). 

4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.

5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed. 

More for the political education. 

6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated. 

The prescription here is the same as that for the second principle. 

7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision-making on food and rural issues. 

This is what we’re striving for with 3 and 5. The education toward it is part of 2, 4, and 7.
To mention another example, if we look again at this anti-corporate constitutional agenda: 

* The enshrinement of Food Sovereignty as a basic right. (This would certainly have been the First Amendment if anyone in 1788 could have contemplated a day when the federal government would explicitly deny we have a right to grow and eat the foods of our choice. But even the opponents of the centralized government who demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, as suspicious as they were, never contemplated such an obscene assault on our liberty and dignity.)

* Corporations are not persons and have no constitutional rights. Only humans have rights.

* If corporations are to exist at all, an amendment could explicitly limit them to the purposes and constraints which would have been familiar in the 1780s.

* The Full Faith and Credit clause shall not be construed to include corporate charters. All corporate activity shall be subject to the chartering laws of the state, except as restricted by one or both of the two previous amendments.

The point of these would be to prevent races to the bottom (since e.g. Delaware’s not all that big a market, and outside Delaware a corporation chartered in Delaware would be subject to the provisions of those other states, not those of Delaware)

* The federal government power shall be strictly construed according to the explicit letter of the Articles.

* “Interstate commerce” is only commerce which within a discrete transaction crosses a state line.

* Some way to declare that globalization “treaties”, i.e. contracts of adhesion, are most definitely not “the Law of the Land”, overriding federal, state, and local law.

* Clarify Article 1, section 8, to specify that the government may not alienate the sovereign power to coin Money. That is, the Fed and all private bank money is unconstitutional and to be abolished. 

We see how some of these could start with inertial facts on the ground (1), while political consciousness could be propagated through both the local political nucleus (2, 4) and from the broad network (7), and through the course of local politics (3, 5).
So that’s a few more suggestions in the course of working out my thoughts on this. We’ll need to flesh everything in with as many practical examples (already demonstrated/deployed as well as prospective) as possible. We can brainstorm lists of relevant actions, for example, and then arrange these into a possible coherent strategy.
That’s it for now. I’m going to be in the woods and off the Internet (and probably quite wet, if these rainy weather reports hold true) till Wednesday afternoon. I’ll respond to comments when I get back.


  1. This post sets forth a course of action that strongly resonates with me. Nice work.

    The focus on trying to take local political power is reminiscent of Bookchin’s “Libertarian Muncipalism,” and it might be worthwhile to explicitly bring that into the discussion to compare and contrast approaches. Bookchin took a lot of heat for proposing “taking power” locally, and that’s something that should be addressed early on with respect to your approach.

    If people don’t have access to the book, this little apologia provides a nice summary:


    Also, your affinity groups sound a lot like Lynd’s “Solidarity” group in Youngstown. Wobblies and Zapatistas has some good stuff on that, but a fine online source is Lynd’s address to the IWW at its centenary:


    If you’ve already read these sources, then I’d say it shows, and that’s a good thing. If you haven’t, then you’ll experience that same sort of intellectural deja vu that I did when I was first exposed. “Yes! Exactly! That’s what I was thinking.”

    And neither Lynd nor Bookchin are ivory tower theorists. They both bring decades of practical experience to their work.

    Comment by Goin' South — May 17, 2011 @ 9:09 am

    • Thanks for those suggestions, GS. I haven’t read those yet, but I’ll put them on my list.

      And it’s good to keep pointing out (especially at contested places like Naked Capitalism) that this stuff isn’t ivory tower dreaming, but practical discussion things that have an excellent record of working in reality (where they’re not simply destroyed by force, which is proof of nothing but force).

      Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 3:28 am

    • By the way, thanks for these links. You’ve linked several really useful texts over the last couple posts that I probably never would have come across otherwise.

      Comment by paper mac — May 19, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  2. Russ,

    I haven’t had a chance to read your latest post and so I apologize to get off topic, but I thought you might be interested in this article in case you haven’t seen it:

    Feds sting Amish farmer selling raw milk locally

    “A yearlong sting operation, including aliases, a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and surreptitious purchases from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania, culminated in the federal government announcing this week that it has gone to court to stop Rainbow Acres Farm from selling its contraband to willing customers in the Washington area.

    The product in question: unpasteurized milk.”


    So instead of targeting banksters, this is how the Feds spend their time and money, harassing a simple Amish farmer.

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — May 17, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

    • Here’s some chronological details which prove this is a premeditated campaign of repression rather than a legitimate response to a “food safety” issue.

      The first fact to understand is that raw milk has never cause a significant number of food-borne illnesses, a fact proven (and subsequently suppressed) by the CDC itself. Anyone truly concerned about the safety of the food supply from pathogens and any other threat – crop failure, terrorism, etc. – would advocate decentralization and decorporatization of the system for each and every one of these threats, since that’s the solution in all cases.

      Anyone who wants to maintain, let alone further concentrate, the system yet claims to be concerned about “food safety” is telling a bald-faced lie.

      A year ago the feds were in principle gearing up for a repression action against raw milk producers and consumers. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) sued on various constitutional grounds.

      The FDA’s initial (and typical for an anti-democratic government) response was to ask for the suit to be thrown out for lack of standing and ripeness, because it had taken no enforcement actions.

      But it did proclaim in theory that it recognizes no constitutional food rights, and reaffirmed its Orwellian definition of “milk” as pasteurized milk only. (Therefore by definition to call raw milk “raw milk”, that is to use the term milk at all for it, is by definition “misbranding” which makes one a fair target for the full force of the enforcement regime.)

      Before the court could even rule on the standing and ripeness issues, the FDA launched its enforcement onslaught starting in June. From there the process has snowballed.

      When we place this in the context of the Food Control bill wrangled over from 2009-10 and finally passed at the end of 2010, we can see that this assault on raw milk rights is being undertaken not in order to make the food supply more safe, but:

      1. At the behest of Big Dairy, which fears an increasingly potent competitor with a built-in resistance to corporate concentration.

      2. As a testing ground for corporatized food control in general. Hacks and idiots scoff at the idea that the Food Control bill could mean a ban on backyard gardens, but in principle that’s a possible interpretation of its provisions (especially if you conjoin them with theories of the commerce clause being applied by defenders of the health racket Stamp mandate).





      Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 3:53 am

      • Thanks Russ. I understand that our government is a criminal enterprise and that this had nothing to do with “food safety”. I appreciate you providing me with the details, and the links, which I’m in the process of reading, thanks again.

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — May 19, 2011 @ 9:23 am

  3. I have been thinking for a little while about how the operational framework you laid out previously and expanded here interacts with the urban/rural divide over time. My feeling is that, no matter where you are, the kind of legitimacy needed for this movement must arise from a base of economic power independent of the corporate fiat economy. We must be able to feed, shelter, and provide meaningful labour for our communities, independent of the corporate cash economy. That seems clear from the framework principle #1 as well as the Via Campesina principle #1.

    It likewise seems obvious to me that the spectrum of activities available to pursue those goals is highly dependent on, and restricted by, both class and economic geography.

    Russ, your last post stated: “Land and natural resources are things of nature, and can therefore be the property only of sovereignty itself; Western political theory always recognized in principle with the labor theory of property that to gain a possession right on the land one must productively work the land.” This is a sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly. It underlies both of the principles mentioned above. It is also basically inaccessible as lived experience to the urban working class and poor.

    This is mostly a consequence of higher intensity of rentier parasitism in urban areas vs. rural ones (not that rural communities don’t suffer the costs of land speculation and rent extraction). Few of the lower classes in urban areas own land or relate to the notion of “working the land”- most of us relate to the built environment (which is entirely owned or policed by Them) much more strongly than to the soil on which it stands.

    This brings me to the second Via Campesina principle- “2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples.” An interesting thing here is that “landless people” refers to those who have lived on the land, with the land, worked the land, but have no legal title to the land (at least none that the corporate system recognises) – herders, peasants, subsistence farmers and hunters. In a sense, the urban poor and working class are doubly landless- not only do they lack legal claim to any land, they have no psychological attachment to the land. Food, water, shelter come from the built environment, from systems they are alienated from.

    It’s increasingly my belief that the heart and soul of this movement must, therefore, be in the rural and exurban areas. Operationally, I think rural areas will provide a more permissive environment for relocalisation of food production, sooner. Rural areas therefore will have a significant jump-start on this most fundamental activity. More people in rural areas own agriculturally significant pieces of land, can covertly or overtly expropriate tracts of unused land, etc. By contrast, few of the urban poor or working class currently have access to anything like enough land, time, or resources to generate a significant portion of their own food.

    The major upshot of this is that the model that needs to be pursued is going to differ significantly between urban and rural areas. Urban areas are labour-rich, land-poor, and under high intensity rentier parasitism and security state surveillance. Meaningful land reform is not likely to happen until there are serious dislocations in the corporatist system. In urban areas, the creation of “nucleation sites” with the practical know-how, resources, and political agenda will be necessary to take fullest advantage of these sharp transitions, which will provide little margin for error.

    So, where in rural areas, relocalisation of food production can be pursued more-or-less immediately, in urban areas we will need to pursue other strategies in order to build communities in which meaningful labour can take place outside of the corporate sphere, until that sphere begins to dissolve. Perhaps the nuclei will be a few high-intensity agri- and aquaculture operations, but these will be unable to employ many people until expropriation becomes viable. Because political power will be difficult to build without an independent base of economic power, federal trade relationships with rural groups will likely be a precondition to establishing and cultivating these nuclei. It’s not really clear to me how this would be organised at this point, although it seems obvious that an exchange of sovereign rural food for democratic urban labour will be the only way for urban communities to carve out an economically independent sphere.

    Comment by paper mac — May 18, 2011 @ 2:21 am

    • I’d disagree with several of your assertions about urban residents based upon my personal observation, “fresh food” movements in many cities and the realities of rural life.

      “they have no psychological attachment to the land. Food, water, shelter ”

      I live in a Rust Belt city in a predominately AA neighborhood. We have a farmers’ market a few blocks away that draws not only some small farmers from the surrounding countryside but also some local growers. These local growers grow their crops in a vacant lot adjacent to the farmers’ market that was set up by the local extension service. These people are growing food in raised beds, sometimes using kiddie pools, on a broken-up asphalt base using garden hoses and hand-carried water to irrigate. To assume they have no “psychological attachment” to food and land could not be more wrong.

      Are you unaware of the vibrant “fresh food” movements in many of our urban areas. The growing open space in the middle of cities is being used to grow food on a commercial scale using organic techniques and community-based ownership.

      Finally, your view of the situation in rural America is quite idealized. I grew up on a farm in the 50s and 60s and watched small farming disappear. Corporate farming has poisoned the land and eliminated sound ecological practices. Monsanto is making it difficult for anyone in farming country to grow anything but their seed.

      And culturally? Fear and bigotry have replaced the kind of neighborliness that I remember.

      While rural settings are needed, they are hardly the easier route.

      Comment by Goin' South — May 18, 2011 @ 8:41 am

      • Hi Goin’ South. Definitely talking in broad strokes here (I’m also not American, so there’s that). My observations of the fresh/local food movements in urban areas have been that they mostly draw on exurban and rural producers, not core urban ones (I think this is different in the States). I live in a city with essentially no vacant, cultivatable land in the core- some brownfields, but even those are assiduously policed. This will likely change as the corporate economy continues to disintegrate, but for the time being, there are vanishingly few candidates for sites (much less affordable ones) capable of production on anything like a scale to feed thousands, much less millions. I’ve also observed that much of the fresh/local movement here is centered around the urban middle and upper classes as consumers. That’s fine to an extent, but the urban middle and upper classes aren’t really the people I’m concerned with feeding. Those are people without any access to land at all, in many cases without even family memory of having lived on and from the land.

        As far as my conceptions of rural production goes, I really can only speak to my local area. There are still a lot of small farms in the area of the city, and more distant parts of the province have vast tracts of basically unused, unsurveilled crown land. I know people who grow covertly on this land, and it’s definitely doable on a reasonably large scale, which is currently not possible in the urban cores.

        Rural settings have their own challenges, I am sure, and I would be happy to hear your thoughts on the matter. I maintain that the difficulty in accessing land makes food sovereignty for the “landless” (a misuse, perhaps, of the term) of the cities a goal which must be pursued differently, both politically and practically, and likely far more slowly than in rural areas, at least in Canada.

        In any case, I’d definitely be interested to hear more about the local food production in your city, especially in terms of location, scale, distribution, etc.

        Comment by paper mac — May 18, 2011 @ 10:19 am

      • Here’s a link to a CSMonitor article about urban farming in Detroit.


        If you’ve never traveled through the urban cores of the Rust Belt cities just on the other side of the Great Lakes, I can see why you’d be unaware of the possibilities. Huge tracts of land are now vacant, and most neighborhoods have many vacant lots. Many cities are now allowing chickens and even rabbits. Most cities have programs that allow someone to buy neighboring vacant lots for a $1.

        On top of that, there are piles of houses available for purchase at under $10,000. These require considerable rehab, but even with those expenses, it’s still possible to have a two-family house for under $20,000.

        The situation is quite different from Canada. Compare Hamilton and Buffalo sometime, or even the two sides of Niagara Falls.

        Comment by Goin' South — May 18, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

      • My time in the States has almost entirely been in New England and the West coast, with a little in the prairies. I’ll have to make a point to tour the rustbelt areas you mention. I was aware that there were some reclamation projects going on, but I didn’t realize it was happening on a scale that’s economically meaningful already. Perhaps that provides an example of the post-dislocation transition that I’m anticipating here, although I’m not sure that the cities I’m thinking of in Canada could get as thoroughly hollowed out as the manufacturing cities of the rustbelt.

        In light of this discussion I think its better if I discard the “urban/rural” description which I’ve been using as my sort of mental argot to think about this and just refer to specific situations.

        This is my neighborhood: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._James_Town

        There are a couple of areas nearby which share many of the same characteristics. These are:

        -high density (~15-20k people living on <.25 km^2 in the northern part of SJT).
        -few/no green spaces, little/no access to land
        -residents overwhelmingly employed in services in the corporate economy
        -residents overwhelmingly source food from 2-3 corporate stores

        This neighbourhood could benefit hugely from relocalisation of food production and other economic activities. My feeling is that that's probably the only thing that will keep people here from entering corporate debt peonage or becoming economic refugees as we grind on into the post-carbon era.

        There are a lot of challenges here, but I think two of the most significant are water and waste. Even supposing that we had land, greenhouses, or whatever we could start working on, if we're eating the food and using toilets flushing into the municipal waste system, it's for naught. Relocalisation is going to be dependent on closing loops as much as possible, importing mineral and chemical fertilisers is at best a short-term stopgap. So we'll have to try to obtain as much control over the water and waste systems as possible in order to mitigate dependency on imported water and nutrients. I think in the medium-term, if we're going to be bringing in foodstuffs from farms on the periphery of the city, those groups engaging in permaculture are going to need to get back most of those nutrients at the end of the day. That will require a cultural change in the way we dispose of our waste, as well as pose a logistical challenge.

        It may be the case that this kind of neighbourhood is organised in an inherently unsustainable way, or will inevitably lead to debt peonage. I'm not sure. Still a lot of thinking to do. Anyway, thanks for the conversation.

        Comment by paper mac — May 18, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

      • I don’t have much to add to this right now, because I think you both describe the problems and possibilities very well.

        To sum up, in most areas it’s still true that the cities are far more in the corporate and police state grip than rural areas, so for those reasons as well as the simple extent of potential land immediately available, it’s likely that as the movement gathers real momentum, it will first be out there.

        It’s also true that, while few people anywhere have an ingrained cultural sense of the land, there are more of them out in the countryside.

        But I think acculturation is something which is always up for grabs, and as GS describes, as soon as city-dwellers see opportunities to grow and distribute their own food, they seize them.

        And in cities like Detroit (the example I’m most familiar with) which seem to have already been spit out the other side of the full Depression, this movement is already growing. The opportunity is there for anyone able and willing to live frugally to get in there and acquire land cheaply, although much of that soil will require lots of rebuilding.

        (Maybe a place like Detroit is actually better off for having been ahead of the curve in economically collapsing before the kleptocracy was prepared to force it to collapse into a feudal hole. That may be more evidence for the thesis that the faster things get worse, the better.

        Of course, the criminals will try to herd any escapees back in. The point is often brought up that the biggest danger to relocalization actions like those in Detroit is that if they work too well during the period of the phony recovery, they may be setting themselves up to be gentrified.

        So there’s another timing issue, and another reason why efforts like these may be forced to be precocious, not only in existing at all (movement element #1) but in becoming politicized (#2-5), in this case for self-defense.)

        Paper mac, your diagnosis of the water and waste issue is right on. Sound agriculture and democracy will require that regional economies of these things be self-reliant and mostly self-contained. It’s OK to export a food surplus once you have enough to eat yourself and are recycling your waste on the farm.

        But if you’re importing food in order to survive and simply trying to find ways to dispose of your waste because you have no way to use it, you’re caught in the trap. Same for water.

        In the short run, wrenching enough democratic control of the water and waste systems may be even harder than getting access to enough land.

        Well, I don’t have the answers yet. But thanks to both of you for laying out the questions so well. These are specifics we need to focus on.

        Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 4:18 am

      • Thanks for both your comments. Good points all.

        paper mac, you might be amazed at what is going on in Rust Belt cities these days. Also, it might provide valuable perspective to travel through some rural areas other than New England. I was raised in the heart of Midwest farming country, and that has changed dramatically–and for the worse–in the last 35 years. Or check out the South. This familiarity with the land you guys talk about is pretty scarce beyond hunting skills. It’s not like my grandparents who raised their own beef and a lot of their own fruits and vegetables. These days, the land is owned by corporations and a few remaining big farmers who farm cash crops fence row to fence row. No crop diversity. Barns and farmhouses falling down. Few gardens. Very few raising their own food. Plenty cooking their own meth.

        One problem with rural areas is that if you want a community that is diverse from the standpoint of race, religion or sexual orientation, that will present serious problems in most rural areas, especially if your community’s folks are gathered into one locus where they’ll already be viewed suspiciously. And to hope to participate in politics in such an environment? I’d say it’s not realistic.

        Ironically, as a Midwest farm boy, that is that last place I’d be trying to start of community of non-conformists.

        The loops that paper mac discusses need to be kept as short as possible. Also, a diverse movement will be stronger in the long run, but it must start in a place where it won’t stick out like a sore thumb. Finally, the energy costs of living out in the country are far greater than in a walkable urban neighborhood also served by public trans.

        Soils will be poisoned wherever you go. In rural areas, the source of pollution is ongoing. In industrially dead urban areas, it’s ended and can be ameliorated. Streams may actually be cleaner in urban areas now than in the country where they’re filled with wastes from factory hog and chicken farms.

        As far as threats of interference, I’d say the biggest threat in rural areas comes from hostile neighbors who are likely to have the tacit approval of law enforcement in their efforts to make the “hippies” feel unwelcome.

        Urban law enforcement has bigger fish to fry than hassling people trying to raise a few chickens. paper mac’s point about bourgeois “fresh fooders” is true, and those folks are potential allies in these efforts because of the green angle. The urban areas also have anarchist communities with Food Not Bombs and other groups that will be allies and helpers. Try finding that in rural Iowa.

        And if you’re interested in participating in politics, it will be far more likely to be successful in diverse urban areas where class-based coalitions can be formed.

        Now I know that such urban communities will have to depend on rural areas for some things. I think it’s quite possible to grow fresh fruit and vegetables, some eggs and poultry in the city. But for fall canning/drying, some larger quantities from farms will be required. And if you’re a meat eater like me, you’ll be looking to farmers for a hog or half a beef. While it would be great to have similarly minded folks in rural communities to partner with, there are already farmers out there who’ve been non-conformist for generations like the Amish. Their methods are amenable to our philosophy, and they’re decent people to deal with.

        I’ll end this little manifesto/sales pitch for an urban focus to these efforts. Thanks for listening. 😉

        Comment by Goin' South — May 19, 2011 @ 8:04 am

      • This gets into a subject I was hashing over as I wrote my earlier reply, but don’t have my thoughts fully ready to write down yet – what kind of “activists” we’re talking about.

        I will say that I’m not envisioning some kind of Food Freedom Riders who are going to descend on benighted places to teach the local yokels how to farm sustainably. This movement has to be indigenous almost everywhere or else by definition it can’t work – it’s relocalization.

        So while people may face hostility, it’ll be the exacerbation of existing hostilities rather than hostility of local people against suspicious-looking “hippie” outsiders.

        (Nor do I picture these activists generally being identifiable “hippies” in any absolute sense. Of all the people I know who are involved in this stuff, only one or two might fit that description. This movement is countercultural only in the sense of being diametrically opposed to kleptocratic “culture”. It’s in perfect accord with both democratic and traditional values.)

        I hope your final sentence didn’t indicate that you think this line of discussion is unwelcome. On the contrary, this is exactly the kind of stuff we need to hash out in thought in order to develop a coherent, detailed strategy.

        Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 10:21 am

      • Agreed on the approach. See my comment below about “accompaniment.”

        Re: last line–I just don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression. These ideas, links, etc. are not pouring out of me because I’m trying to correct or lecture anyone. It’s just the product of enthusiasm generated by finding some similar-minded folks.

        Comment by Goin' South — May 19, 2011 @ 11:13 am

      • Goin’ South, you’re making me realize I’ve been taking some of the advantages of urban areas for granted. Because I want to start a fish farming operation, I need a reasonably-sized industrial space with good municipal water, good HVAC, etc etc and I’ve been really caught up in the tactical details of how difficult this is all going to be in light of how my city is geographically/economically organised. Its good to step back and think about the political advantages of organizing in urban areas with diverse populations.

        I think it might be useful to distinguish between different types of urban environments so we know that when we’re describing an urban relocalisation strategy, whether it’s one that’s applicable to a Detroit or Buffalo, or one that’s more suited to Toronto or New York. I think we can meaningfully distinguish between high-density/low-land-access strategies and low-density/high-land-access (relative to the first group, not to rural areas obviously) strategies. What other axes should we be thinking of when clustering different tactics? I’m thinking land ownership concentration might be one. A few powerful landlords would be initially difficult to deal with to the extent that we need to alter the built environment, but would provide a good political rallying point. Ownership dispersed among many local owners and many landlords would probably be more tractable for initial efforts to set up gardening projects and so on, but might make it more difficult to mobilise residents with many different interests.

        Another thing I have been thinking is that it would be useful to get a handle on is issues of scale. I can imagine that people in Detroit, with 25k acres of unused land (as noted in Goin’ South’s CSmonitor article), could plausibly obtain something like subsistence from the land in fairly large numbers (thousands?). That’s probably on the scale you need for a relocalisation movement to be robust. In high-density areas, is it even possible to obtain the kind of agricultural intensity we need to provide a significant portion of people’s diet? How many people are these high-intensity techniques going to employ? I know that high-intensity aquaculture doesn’t require much labour for the amount of product generated, what about high-intensity permaculture? If we can define an upper “density limit” that is supportable on a particular landbase, what do we do with that information in communities where that limit’s been blown through ages ago?

        Comment by paper mac — May 19, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

      • I think we can meaningfully distinguish between high-density/low-land-access strategies and low-density/high-land-access (relative to the first group, not to rural areas obviously) strategies. What other axes should we be thinking of when clustering different tactics? I’m thinking land ownership concentration might be one. A few powerful landlords would be initially difficult to deal with to the extent that we need to alter the built environment, but would provide a good political rallying point.

        Good thinking. I’ll think about that too.

        I was already pondering more emphasis on concentrated land ownership and less on the philosophical refutation of land property as such. After all, corporatized/hoarded land is the main target, and if suburbia is gradually being liquidated anyway, what’s the point in needlessly antagonizing middle class “ownership society” prejudices in themselves? There it’s better to point out how the whole line of propaganda has been a scam in practice rather than based on something illegitimate in principle.

        But then, I’ve already been implicitly doing that for a while with my call for homeowners to jubilate mortgage debt and stay in the house.

        As far as land, the main things are to determine how much can be put into post-oil agricultural production, how much soil rebuilding needs to be done, how much food this could grow for how many people (as you mentioned, this is more or less problematic in different regions), what kind of economic redemption this could represent relative to the region’s prospects under kleptocracy, and what political obstacles there are to the project. (And part of our education should always be that all obstacles are nothing but political, no matter what sham factors the enemy tries to adduce.)

        Other factors might be the main economic sectors of an area, its political predilections, its natural allotment of water and other resources.

        Well, I’ll brainstorm it further.

        Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

  4. Russ,

    OT, but not entirely. Re: a comment on NC re: the reaction of the downwardly mobile–you might want to re-think that. Bookchin has some very interesting things to say about that question. If you look at 1848, Paris in 1871, the CNT in Spain, two groups are contributing to the revolutionary momentum: the completely rootless and the downwardly mobile. Bookchin challenges Marx’s assumption that it would be the industrially employed proletariat that would lead the way. In fact, their “discipline,” especially when combined with wages and benefits a little better than the bottom of the run, make most of them quite conservative. It was the tradesmen who were losing their livelihoods to mass production who were ready to fight. In Spain, the Barcelona factory workers weren’t that keen on the CNT and especially the FAI. It was the Murcians living in shanties.

    While the best place to find this is Bookchin’s history of the CNT, there’s something online that discusses it in brief:


    Comment by Goin' South — May 19, 2011 @ 9:08 am

    • That’s interesting, and runs counter to much of what I’ve read, at least about the CNT. But I’ll check out the link, and keep that in mind the next time I consult Dolgoff’s Spanish Collectives (which has an excellent introduction by Bookchin).

      I was thinking mostly of the history of moribund class awareness in the US, as well as the general historical tendency of the downwardly mobile middle class toward fascism rather than self-helping class consciousness.

      At any rate, what I said is definitely true of today’s middle classes all over the West, even as their liquidation is proceeding in broad daylight.

      I can return the link favor – this piece on the “Sub-Proletarianization of America”


      takes up the possibility that revolution will either come from the shantytowns or else from nowhere, and that therefore Fanon’s analysis is more relevant to our present moment than classical Marxism.

      I wrote a post on Marxism discussing the same subject


      and in the comment thread (my first reply) I declare that this is a post-proletarian age and “We’re all lumpenproles now.” There’s no doubt that we’re all slated for the shantytowns.

      Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 10:10 am

      • Both excellent posts. Thanks. And heading in a direction similar to Bookchin in many ways.

        As to Fanon’s important question about how we lumpens are organized for good rather than evil, the answer seems to lie in your suggested program. Create communities and welcome refugees. I’d add that these communities should be created in the midst of existing lumpen communities, and that the community members should practice what Lynd (adopting Romero) calls “accompaniment,” not arriving as some kind of mentoring vanguard, but instead as ready to learn as to teach.

        What will the organizing principle be? First of all, survival. Individualism dies pretty quickly in these kinds of circumstances. Second, it should be self-governance. Create a community of self-governing survivors and you’ve demonstrated the viability of an alternative system and given people something to fight for, not just against.

        Comment by Goin' South — May 19, 2011 @ 10:55 am

      • Survival is a good point. If people see things that way, that’s a good entry point for those who need a stronger impetus than democratic aspiration. (Of course, I want freedom and democracy itself to be the affirmative, the reason why we fight against kleptocracy. But you’re right that some people can’t see that at first.)

        Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 11:15 am

  5. Great post. Very inspiring. I think a comment I placed in your last post was coming from a place of frustration with the latest news cycle…

    Two local guerrilla-gardening type friend, a wonderful couple, came over last evening to help us put our garden in. It’s amazing what can be done cooperatively versus alone as an individual. We rewarded them with a big vegan dinner. In our ten by twenty plot we planted herbs (thyme,oregano, basil, etc.), spinach, radish, tomato, pepper of various kinds, kale, lettuces, chard, peas, and more. Pretty exciting!

    We live in a duplex, and our downstairs neighbor, a mother of two, was out in the yard. She and her husband work full-time (as do I). I really like them. She looked at what we were doing with an odd look on her face, and said, “That’s a lot of work!”

    I think that for the average “middle-class” (really white collar proletariat like me) family, with both parents working, the time and effort needed to garden seems exorbitant.

    However, the average American adult watches about 20 hours or more of TV per week. Wow! Can you imagine how much gardening, or sewing, or crafting, one could do with 20 hours per week?

    Sorry to ramble… the point I have related to your post is that I intend to go to the coming spring neighborhood get-together event and try to organize a gardening group that will meet to trade tips and even trade work… kind of like how rural people used to have “barn-raisings.” Need your garden tilled? Have us all over and then provide dinner and beer. And let the talk of re-localization and politics start to flow with the beer.

    Regardless, your schema and steps are wonderfully fleshed out and inspirational, and will help us all as we start the process of engagement with our neighbors and communities.

    Comment by Publius — May 19, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    • That sounds like a great plan. My goal for the time bank we’re trying to start is to eventually focus it affirmatively on food relocalization, perhaps integrating it with a Garden Share program.


      It’s weird, yet all too typical, that people like the person you describe take their underpaid corporate service as given, but view doing something for ourselves and our communities as “work”, i.e. a chore.

      I know from personal experience how much time it frees up to get rid of the TV. One of the most life-improving things I’ve ever done.

      If you or another gardener more expert than I reads this in time, then please help with this.

      Yesterday afternoon I seemed to get back just in time to catch a cutworm in the act of killing one of my tomatoes. I killed the bugger and piled up soil around the stem, covering the two big chomps it had taken. I once successfully rescued a plant that way.

      This morning the tomato still looked OK, and I thought I’d gotten to it in time. But now the whole thing’s wilting. Has it just given up the fight, or is there anything else I can do?

      Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 11:23 am

      • Prune it down to cut its demand for moisture since the cutworm damaged enough of the stem to significantly reduce the supply getting to the leaves. That might give it time to heal.

        Also, put a ring of paper around the stem from about 1″ below the soil line to 1-2″ above. That should discourage the cutworms.

        Comment by Goin' South — May 19, 2011 @ 11:46 am

      • Thanks, GS. There’s really nothing to prune, as it’s still a seedling that went into the ground 1.5 weeks ago. But I did figure that the only difference was that after many days of rain and cloud (including heavy rain yesterday), the sun started to intermittently shine this morning. So even though the soil was still wet, I tried watering it.

        It doesn’t look good. And it figures – out of 20 plants, I have 16 Black Krims and 4 Cherokee Purples, so guess which variety the damn thing killed.

        I already had cardboard cuffs around all the plants in the ground, but this one didn’t work, evidently. Hopefully the rest will.

        Comment by Russ — May 19, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

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