Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Buddhist Futures: Symbiosis

This is where I think the future of progressive politics is headed, and it’s where I’m headed. Dual power is rooted in people’s everyday lives, in cities, towns and neighborhoods where they live locally, but it’s fully networked and thus scaled up the global level. That’s what is called ‘dual power.’ We must live and act locally, providing mutual aid in a socialist municipality, but scale up our political power by networking globally.

Symbiosis: a new grassroots network

Brendan Montague

| 10th January 2019

Capitalism = crisis banner
Local direct democracy groups across North America are assembling a revolutionary confederation.

Symbiosis – an expanding network of revolutionary organisers and local initiatives –  is assembling a confederation of democratic community institutions across North America.

The emerging network consists of diverse groups and member organisations, from Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi to Olympia Assembly in Washington, who are participating out of a recognition of the need to carry the movement for radical democracy beyond the local level.

The project has been gathering support over the past year and will be launched at a continental congress in Detroit from 18 September of this year.

Shared vision

Z, a co-founder of Black Socialists of America (BSA), said: “It is imperative that any groups or organisations moving in a social or economic sense on the vision we share for a democratic and ecologically sound world not struggle on their own, but instead under a global support system aimed at both dismantling our exploitative socioeconomic system (Capitalism), and building a democratic, cooperative system in its place.

“Symbiosis is in a position to build this support system.”

Symbiosis has now released a launch statement announcing the congress, initially signed by 14 organisations.

It states: “Over the course of the past year our organisations have been strengthening our relationships with one another, learning from each other, generating shared resources, and honing a common vision of how to create together the genuinely democratic world that we need.”

Beyond the shared vision of radical democracy and egalitarianism, what unites these groups is a common political strategy, of building institutions of popular power from below to challenge and replace the governing institutions of capitalist society.

Kali Akuno, co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, said: “We have to move beyond the limitations of bourgeois democracy, particularly its representative forms, which intentionally limit the agency and power of communities and individuals in our societies.

“To get beyond these limitations we have to build democratic formations and practices in every facet of our lives—where we work, live, play, and pray — and utilize these formations to exercise dual power, that is utilising our own power and agency to govern our own lives beyond the limitations imposed upon us by the state and the forces of capital.”

A shared commitment to building ‘dual power’ unites the member organisations of Symbiosis.

Formidable challenges

At the next congress delegates from grassroots organisations across North America will gather to form a confederation between their groups, to grow and coordinate a movement that can bring about a just, ecological, and free society.

Brian Tokar of the Institute for Social Ecology, a member organisation and sponsor of the event, said: “The problems we face today require a bold and unified response. We face the rising threats of authoritarianism and inequality, structural forms of domination between the haves and the have-nots, and the scapegoating and oppression of immigrants and people of color.

“We also know that the destabilization of the climate and the fossil-fuelled destruction of the Earth’s life support systems play a central role in all the problems we face.”

The idea behind the confederation is that these formidable challenges are insurmountable for individuals and small groups. Kelly Roache, a co-founder of Symbiosis, said: “By coming together, we can better recognize and organize the changes necessary to secure our future more than what any of us can do at the local level.”

A common platform would also allow this growing movement to pool resources, raise their public visibility, and seed new organizing initiatives.

Local groups

The congress will prioritize local, democratically-run movements and organizations that are building new economic and political institutions, such as people’s assemblies, tenant unions, and cooperatives.

Local groups are invited to join the congress and sign on to the launch statement, and individuals can also join as members.

In April 2017, members of the Symbiosis Research Collective published the essay, Community, Democracy, and Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond, which won first prize in the Next System Project essay competition.

Journalist and author Naomi Klein, who reviewed the essay, said that the Symbiosis vision “sketches out a flexible roadmap for scaling up participatory democracy”.

Over the past year, the network has grown to over 300 individual members, in addition to the 14 member and partner organisations who have signed onto the launch statement thus far.

The Symbiosis Research Collective has also published an ongoing series of articles with The Ecologist reaching an audience of more than 23,000 readers.

In July 2018, Symbiosis co-coordinated the Fearless Cities North America conference (NYC), which convened 300 municipalist activists from the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Europe, and Latin America. In December 2018, they started a crowdfunder to fund the congress.

Currently, members are working on developing resources and information for people who wish to begin organizing where they live and work.

Endless possibilities 

Mason Herson-Hord, another co-founder of Symbiosis and co-coordinator of the research collective, said: “By the time of the congress, the Symbiosis Research Collective will have put together an in-depth primer on community organizing and dual power institution-building, including important historical examples, practical guides, and the theoretical underpinnings of our revolutionary project.”

In their launch statement, these authoring organizations write that the congress is only the beginning.

“Ultimately, we will need such a confederation to carry our struggle beyond the local level. Ruling-class power is organized globally, and if democracy is to win, we must be organized at that scale as well. As this project advances, the possibilities are endless.”

This author 

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Symbiosis. Symbiosis is a network of community organisations across North America, building a democratic and ecological society from the ground up. Find out more on their website.

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