Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
What influenced your political formation as an activist?
I was brought up in a pro-union working class household. That gave me a keen sense of economic oppression and has influenced my activism ever since. I was also part of a religious denomination that believed that children can be called to preach, and at 12 years old I prepared a sermon that racial equality was the will of God. It was a one-day preaching career. This was 1949 and no one wanted to hear a sermon about racial equality. That was hugely impactful for me. I learnt that saying the truth as one understands it is going to get various reactions.
I had a lot of influence from Ella Baker, who was an awesome civil rights hero. She was influential in the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC) and they were the real pioneers in Mississippi. They were the ones going into the hardest of the hardcore states and doing projects with extremely disempowered people. And they were convinced by Ella Baker that the only technique that could really be empowering was one based on discussion and participation and on following the lead of the people who were the most disempowered. That was in stark contrast to the style of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr [Martin Luther] King, which was much more an inspiring kind of leadership. I was intrigued by this alternative approach because it seemed so respectful of the extreme oppression that folks were living under and how much that oppression had been internalised.
I think we need to learn more about under what conditions consensus does and doesn’t work. It depends on the context and the people and the degree of trust. The SNCC were working in a kind of container in rural Mississippi – often in the black church, in a rural setting, with people who knew each other very well. That is very different from people who don’t know each other gathering in the city centre, being watched by media and the mayor and everybody else and saying, ‘Okay, now we’re going to make decisions.’ In our Occupy in Philadelphia, the lack of trust was enormous. It’s so hard when people won’t listen and won’t trust to reach any kind of fair decision.
One thing that impressed me in Boston is that a subset of the Occupy people joined a campaign against the public transport authorities raising fares and lowering service – an issue of huge importance to working class people in Boston and people of colour. They weren’t just saying, ‘Come over to our turf and join our Occupy thing.’ They were saying, ‘We know a struggle when we see it. We want to be with you. This is about solidarity. Let’s go!’
A revolution doesn’t come without a revolutionary situation, and a revolutionary situation is created by history, not by us. So while we’re waiting for the revolutionary situation we can be preparing for it. And the best way to do that is to be side by side with those whose interests in having a revolution are greatest, so that we have been through struggles together and we are trusted. There will never be enough self-identified activists to win a revolution. It’s always people who have other primary identities, like father, mother, grandfather. We have to be with them and campaigns are one way to do that. It’s building that infrastructure of relationships that makes revolution possible, and I don’t see a short cut.
I always say to people who advocate violent struggle, if you really want to be pragmatic, then you will develop at least one nonviolent and one violent struggle strategy, and then compare them and make a choice. I’m not prepared to say that there is a nonviolent way to win in every situation. But I’m also not prepared to say that a violent way would more likely win. There are plenty of situations where neither way would win, where your opponent is just overwhelming at that moment in history.
George Lakey’s Toward a Living Revolution is published by Peace News Press, £15. www.peacenews.info
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
How can the heavily-armed Israeli state claim to be victimised by one teenage activist? By Richard Seymour.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism