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It’s Not Easy Being Young in This World: Help the “Lost Generation” Find its Way
17 March 2014
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
It’s not easy being young in this world. And I live in Canada; what does that say? I am 26-years old, in debt, a university dropout – in “the only nation in the world where more than half its residents can proudly hang college degrees up on their walls” – according to a 2012 study by the OECD; a position Canada has held as the “most educated country” in the world since 2000. Yet, I am not among those who are officially deemed ‘educated’ and so my job prospects are glimmer, still.
In 2011, one of Canada’s leading newspapers – the Globe and Mail – reported that 78 million young people were without work around the world, “well above pre-recession levels.” The head of the International Labour Organization warned that the “world economy” was unable “to secure a future for all youth,” which “undermines families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies.” Noting that there was “already revolution in the air in some countries,” unemployment and poverty were “fuel for the fire.” The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had previously warned that youth unemployment in poor nations was “a kind of time bomb.” It is the threat of a “lost generation” of youth that is radically altering the lives of youth – and everyone else – in the world today.
Beyond the Arab Spring uprisings of the Middle East – and the counterrevolutions, coups, civil and imperial wars that have accompanied them, seeking to co-opt, control or crush them – has been the massive unrest spreading across much of Europe, notably in south, central, and eastern Europe. This great unrest has accompanied the economic, financial, and debt crises which have gripped Europe in recent years, with countries imposing ruthless economic policies that impoverish the populations and make them ripe for exploitation by multinational corporations, while keeping them under the harsh boot of militarized police and increasingly authoritarian states, where fascism is once again on the rise.
But in Canada – the world’s most “polite” nation – where more than half of the population have degrees, roughly one in three university graduates (of 25 to 29 years old) “ends up in a low-skilled job,” low paid and part-time, while 60% of these graduates leave school with an average debt of $27,000. This, noted CBC’s Doc Zone, “is a ticking time bomb with serious consequences for everyone.” Young Canadians are “overeducated and underemployed.” We “are entering an economy in the throes of a seismic shift where globalization and technology are transforming the workplace.” An added challenge is that, “for the first time in history youth are facing… competition with their parents’ generation for the small pool of jobs that do exist.”
Canada’s youth have continued to be referred to as a “lost generation” whose future is of “people without jobs and jobs without people.” But this is not merely a Canadian phenomenon. The OECD – the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic think tank representing the world’s 34-or-so richest nations – noted that the threat of a “lost generation” was global. Canada’s youth unemployment rate was at around 15% – for 15-24 year-olds – while in Spain and Greece it had risen above 50%, as was reflected in the increasing social unrest.
Canadian youth are unemployed at a rate double the national jobless rate of 7.2%, the “biggest gap between youth and adult unemployment rates since 1977.” Youth are – due to lack of experience – twice as likely to be laid off as older, more experienced workers. A July 2013 report by one of Canada’s largest banks – CIBC – stated that there were 420,000 youth (15-24) who were “neither employed nor enrolled in school… basically on the sidelines doing nothing.”
The CIBC report more-or-less bluntly stated – that is, blunt for bankers – that: “The current environment of part-time work, temporary jobs, corporate and government restructuring and downsizing is especially tough on young people whose lack of experience and seniority make them much more vulnerable to labour market changes.” In other words, we’re fucked. As the bankers continued to explain, while youth may be enrolling in schools more, staying in schools for longer, degrees are “no longer enough.” Schools must more and more become “training grounds” for corporate employment. Education will also have to become more expensive, require more debt, and thus, become increasingly privatized and specialized, so as to ensure that fewer people gain access to it. Instead of going to school, the bank suggested, “Do whatever it takes to make you different.”
I thought it would be a cold day in Hell before I followed advice from a banker, but here I am (cold it may be), trying to do what makes me “different.” So what the hell do I do? This is a question that has plagued many of my friends, my family, and indeed, myself.
My general cookie-cutter answer to the question of ‘what it is I do’ sounds something like this: I research and write about ideas, institutions and individuals of power, and methods and movements of resistance. That is, at least, the most succinct way that I know how to explain it. But perhaps it is time to go into a little more detail about what I do, and what I have done thus far.
I started doing research and submitting my writing to various alternative news websites back when I was about 19-years-old, still a university student in Vancouver, studying Political Economy and History. After a year or so of submitting articles, I received a job offer from one of the sites I was submitting to – Global Research – and began working as a Research Associate. I eventually moved to Montreal to be closer to my work, and when I was 22, we published a book on the economic crisis that I co-edited with my boss and in which I contributed three of my own chapters, covering issues related to central banks, think tanks and global governance.
When I was 24, I decided to move on, in part to protect the autonomy of a book I had started working on, and in part due to personality differences (and clashes). While I valued my newfound freedom, I chose a risky path. I was left as a 24-year-old unemployed non-French-speaking Anglophone in the French-speaking province of Quebec. My options were limited. At the time, it seemed that it came down to working at a call center, as a dishwasher, or going on welfare. Instead, I chose to try to chart my own way, to try to find a way to make money and survive doing what I love, and what I had developed skills for: research and writing. It was at this time that I decided to re-imagine my plan for writing my book, and I launched The People’s Book Project in the fall of 2011.
The objective was – as it remains – to crowd-fund my efforts to research and write one – and what later became a series of books undertaking an institutional analysis of power structures, to dissect and expose the ideologies, institutions and individuals that wield enormous power over the world.
From the time that I began The People’s Book Project until today, it has been a whirlwind of challenges, opportunities and growth. There were several people who, from the early days of the Project, contributed financial resources to allow me to continue with my work. It is never easy trying to live off of the kindness of strangers, from donations sent from around the globe. It’s not exactly a stable source of finances, and while one month may seem to be worry-free, the next month I could be broke. My family also stepped in to help me along my way, often subsidizing my efforts to a large degree as well. Thanks to my family, friends and strangers from around the world who have donated, The People’s Book Project is still continuing to this day, with thousands of pages of written research, rough drafts of chapters, and various edits compiled. One book became many, and with the growth of research, the analysis and understanding changes with time.
But circumstances also had a way of changing my focus. In early 2012, I decided to return to university, this time in Montreal. I enrolled and only signed up for one class (History of Haiti), since I wanted to continue devoting most of my time to my work. Within a month or so of returning to school, students from across the province of Quebec went on strike against the government’s plan to dramatically increase tuition costs (and in effect, to double the debt load most students would have to take on).
Suddenly, so much of what I had been writing about was happening right outside my window, on the streets, at my school, in the city where I lived. Hundreds of thousands of students protested, riot cops called into my school, charged by riot police for peacefully assembling, thousands of students were arrested, as police shot protesters with rubber bullets, tear-gas, ran them over with cars, vans and horses, until the government itself declared protests themselves to be illegal. The whole city rose up in response, and it was perhaps the most inspiring thing I have ever been personally witness to.
At that time, I chose to contribute to the student movement in the only way I knew how: to research and write. I was reading the English-language coverage of the student movement from within Quebec and across the rest of the country. What I was reading was about how “spoiled little brats” in Canada’s most “entitled” province were complaining and rioting about our government raising tuition when the rest of Canada had higher tuition (and debt to go with it). What I was reading was a world away from what I was seeing, hearing and experiencing. I decided that I would write about that story.
Very quickly, my writing was being picked up by multiple news sites like never before, as people hungry for more than the usual banality of the Canadian media were taking in new perspectives and seeking new sources of information. My article – “Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement” – surprised me by going viral (by my standards), especially when it was picked up by CounterPunch and the Media Co-op, and thereafter I was consumed with writing about developments during the strike, as well as giving interviews with radio and even television stations. I was being quoted by a CBC blog, as well as in mainstream newspapers in British Columbia and Manitoba. Everything had been moving so quickly, and after months of working and writing about the student uprising, as it began to wind down, so did I. Ultimately, I had a bit of a ‘crash’ from over-exhaustion, but was soon back to writing.
In terms of the evolution of The People’s Book Project, the Quebec student movement was evidence to me that I could not simply focus on studying and writing about the institutions and ideologies of repression and domination, but that I had to place an equal focus on movements and methods of resistance, understanding that one cannot exist without the other, and that together, they provided a more coherent view of reality, this began to place increased focus on the issue of resistance being included within my research for the Book Project. After all, it is through resistance, rebellion, revolt, and creativity that we are able to find hope in this world and the situation we find ourselves in. It would simply not be enough to provide an examination of the structures that dominate our world without allowing for some hope to be understood and seen in those forces that resist these institutions and circumstances.
From here, my work on the Book Project began to rapidly expand. I turned my focus to Europe, and specifically the European debt crisis, examining the causes and consequences of the debt crisis, as well as the mass unrest, protests and social movements that have emerged as a result. In the span of a few months, I compiled over 350 pages of writing and research on the European debt crisis to contribute to the Book Project, samples of which I have since published online, notably on the debt crisis in Italy, focusing on the issue of austerity, and have also written on the uses of ‘political language’ throughout the debt crisis and all economic crises as a means of obscuring reality and, as Orwell wrote, “making lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind.”
Studying the debt crises in Europe pushed me to try to better understand the uses and abuses of language by power structures and ideologies, and notably, in the fields of economics and finance, where the language appears very technical and specialized, to the point where it seems incapable of being understood by anyone without a degree in those fields.
By this time, I had also decided to drop out of school. I wanted to focus exclusively on my work, and school had seemed to become more a hindrance than a help. So, for the time being, I have given up on any goals regarding degrees and diplomas, instead, I have chosen to let my work speak for itself as opposed to getting any officially-recognized ‘credentials’.
I have, however, learned a great deal from the years I spent in school, namely, on an evolving quality of research. I don’t really look (or like looking) back at things I have previously written and published, especially those from several years ago. I rarely agree with any views I then-held, I find my quality of research seriously lacking, my analysis halfway incoherent, and my own understanding to be rather superficial. I am sure I will view my current work in a similar way several years from now, but I feel that this is a good thing. It is a sign that I am continually evolving in understanding and approach, and that I have still have a great deal to learn. This has been both a strength and a weakness for my Book Project. It has been a strength in the sense that the quality of research and analysis for the book increases over time, but a weakness in the sense that it extends the time that it takes to do the research and writing. The trade-off, I hope, is a worthy one. At least, I feel that it is. For readers, they may decide in due time.
For the past two years I have also been doing almost-weekly podcast episodes for BoilingFrogsPost, founded by Sibel Edmonds. The format has been wonderful, as I have been given an incredible amount of freedom to discuss whatever issues I want for whatever length of time I want, and it has connected me with a host of researchers, writers, activists and others from across the spectrum.
The past year has also been an especially busy one. I began getting offers to do an occasional commissioned article for various websites. This, again, has been both a strength and weakness for the Book Project. While it has helped in terms of being paid work (a rarity for any writer, it seems), as well as allowing my to work on subjects which are related to those of the Book Project, it has often torn me away from working specifically on the book, as most of my time had to be turned into writing articles for other sites, as well as working on several other projects which I took on.
My writing has been increasingly picked up by TruthOut and AlterNet, writing about the major think tanks that have been used to advance corporate and elite interests around the world, massive unrest in Indonesia, the world’s largest ‘free-trade’ agreement between the EU and US, and the development of the modern propaganda system, as well continuing to write about banks and “financial markets” (and their relationship to drug money laundering). Indeed, some of these articles have resulted in me being contacted by a big bank or two inquiring as to my sources for mentioning their name in relation to laundering drug money (which I promptly provided!).
I have also been working on an ongoing project for Occupy.com, called the Global Power Project, which focuses around institutional analysis of individual organizations, examining their history and evolution, as well as compiling the CVs of all the individuals who lead the organizations in order to chart a network of influence wielded by these various groups. My focus for this series has been primarily on studying banks and financial organizations. I have done a series of exposés on JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Morgan Stanley. I have also examined various organizations which bring together large groups of bankers with finance ministers and central bankers, such as the Institute of International Finance – the world’s largest banking lobby group – and the Group of Thirty, which resulted in me being contacted by the executive director of the G30 expressing his disappointment that I did not contact him or the group’s members for comment in my article series.
I have also authored an essay in cooperation with Occupy.com and the Transnational Institute for the TNI’s yearly ‘State of Power’ report, where I focused on analyzing the European Round Table of Industrialists – a group of Europe’s top CEOs – in shaping the evolution of the European Union. I have also been published in an academic journal published by the Spanda Foundation, where I contributed an article on environmental degradation and indigenous resistance to the social order. On top of all this, I also recently began another ongoing series for Occupy.com, the World of Resistance [WoR] Report, discussing issues related to the spread of global protests, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions.
One of my previous articles on the Trans-Pacific Partnership was also cited in Project Censored’s “Most Censored Stories” for their 2014 edition. I have also appeared on CBC Radio’s The Current to discuss evolving events in Tunisia’s revolution, as well as having had an op-ed published in a mainstream newspaper in British Columbia, The Province, where I countered an argument put forward by a regular columnist for the newspaper chain, discussing indigenous issues in Canada, a topic I have also discussed on APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network).
I am also the chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, a new U.S.-based “working class” think tank where I focus on discussing foreign policy and empire. I have written pieces for the Hampton Institute discussing the use of political language in modern imperialism, President Obama’s global drone terror campaign, the “secret wars” that America is waging in over one hundred countries around the world, U.S. support for death squads, the history of U.S. support for Arab dictatorships, notably in Egypt, where the struggle continues today, and I also wrote a large report on the American institutions and “intellectuals” that promote global empire.
So why did I go through a list of the various things I have written and am working on? Well, the answer is simple: I am asking for a ‘public subsidy’ for my writing and research, by you – the public – and so it seemed necessary to let you know a little bit more about where I’m coming from, what I’m doing, and what I’ve done, so that you can determine for yourself if my work is worth continued support.
My aim is to raise enough funds so that I can put aside a good deal of time from my various other time-consuming projects so that I can focus exclusively on the book and get the first edition done as soon as possible. But this requires actual funds, and I am far from having anything close to the amount necessary to dedicate meaningful time to this project. I hate asking for money, but I have come to terms with being an intellectual prostitute for the time being. However, I would rather prostitute my mind for the benefit of the wider public – and most especially the youth of the current “lost generation” to which I belong – as opposed to whoring my mind and efforts out to some various institution. At this point, however, I am essentially unemployable in almost every field, and so my options are rather limited. But I think that through my work, I can help others see that as a species, we do have other options, but that requires us to come to a common understanding, and to engage in common action. We cannot change the world, or steer humanity off the course of seemingly-inevitable extinction, alone. We need each other.
The People’s Book Project is the primary means through which I think I can contribute to this endeavor, to help give the “lost generation” a little bit of guidance. But just like the larger work and efforts that this world will require (and notably, require of the “lost generation”), I cannot do this alone. I require the support of readers and others. So please consider making a contribution to The People’s Book Project, and help the “lost generation” try to find its way.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
A Revolution in Thinking: What is the People’s Book Project?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
“I am… a Revolutionary.” – Fred Hampton
Since September of 2011, I have been asking people – readers, activists, and others – to support my endeavour to write a comprehensive, critical examination of the individuals, institutions, and ideas of power, domination, and control in our society – both historically and presently. I have called this process ‘The People’s Book Project.’ The support I have asked for is in the form of financial donations, which have come from people around the world: Canada, the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands Antilles, Taiwan, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Malaysia, and Norway.
According to the site statistics, the website for The People’s Book Project has reached people in the following countries: the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, India, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Philippines, Finland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand, Hungary, Greece, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Suriname, Taiwan, Spain, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Austria, Slovakia, South Africa, Qatar, Slovenia, Poland, Russia, Puerto Rico, Estonia, Pakistan, Singapore, Chile, Nigeria, Egypt, Argentina, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Peru, Uganda, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Lithuania, Japan, Serbia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Bosnia, Fiji, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Nepal, Georgia, Israel, Benin, Luxembourg, Panama, Kuwait, Latvia, Iceland, Azerbaijan, Cote d’Ivoire, Jordan, Venezuela, Zambia, Bahrain, Aruba, Colombia, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Armenia, Tunisia and Ecuador, among others.
The Facebook page for The People’s Book Project has support from people all around the world: the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Sweden, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Mexico, Indonesia, Netherlands, Ireland, France, Chile, Estonia, Italy, and Brazil. According to the Facebook stats for the page, 57.7% of those who the page reaches are between the ages of 18 and 34. Many of those who cannot financially support the Project have done so in other ways: re-posting my articles through social media, posting them on blogs, translating them, and spreading the word through other means. Both financially and fundamentally, all of this support has been of immense importance, and both are of equal necessity.
Why is this support necessary?
The People’s Book Project relies upon grassroots support from people around the world in order to remain independent, focused, active, advancing, critical, dedicated, and driven. The avenues for truly independent research and writing is lacking; free to discover itself and its own truths instead of being directed by the purse strings and for the purpose of institutions – whether think tanks, foundations, universities, government, industry, or otherwise. My research and writing is outside the oversight, control, direction, funding and suppression of any institution. It is precisely that which makes this Project have both a great deal of potential, and a great deal of problems. The potential, because the research can take – as it should – its own course to discover knowledge and truth: it is not directed, but instead, it directs me. The sheer volume of research and writing that has already been undertaken presents a great opportunity for a wider audience to receive important knowledge which may inform their ideas and actions: it is knowledge designed not to conform, but to inform; not to indoctrinate, but to liberate; not to overpower, but to empower. Because these are my intentions, and because I ask for support from people – individuals like you – to aid in these efforts, I think it’s only fair if I elaborate on the process of The People’s Book Project, and on my role in it.
What is The People’s Book Project?
I have elaborated on this central question for a great deal of time in many places and forms. Whenever I am asked – “What is the book about?” – I let out a sigh, and think to reply, “What isn’t it about?” I think this, because the more research I do, the more I write, the more I come across, the more stories, individuals, institutions, and ideas I feel the need to discuss and examine and explain; to understand and illuminate the interactions, exchanges, relationships and reactions of these ‘new’ ideas to the ones I have already been spending so much time researching and writing about. As a result, it seems the Project continually gets larger, the scope grows wider, the subject matter swells and expands, the ideas change and evolve. It is precisely because of this last point – that the ideas change and evolve – which pushes the process further: why wouldn’t we want our ideas to change and evolve? It is for this reason that the scope expands and develops, the time it takes to write and research grows, and the efforts increase, and with that, so does the need for support.
Since I have asked for – and received – a great deal of support, and since I will continue to need that support in the future, it is important for me to explain not only an idea of a ‘finished product’ – a series of books – which is being supported, but also the process of getting to that finished product. I also must acknowledge that it is me individually who is being supported in this situation, and therefore it is perhaps appropriate if I explain a little bit about myself and what I am doing. This Project is almost the entire means through which I support myself, I have no other job – (other than a weekly podcast at BoilingFrogsPost) – and I come from a family who are very much among the rapidly-vanishing middle class of Canada. I have just this past January returned to school after more than three years out of school to continue a Bachelors degree, but I am only taking one class in order to dedicate most of my time and efforts to the book. Currently, the students in my province of Québec are on strike, protesting a doubling of tuition fees, which I would certainly not be able to afford.
I have hesitated to write myself into the narrative of the process of the book’s evolution, instead focusing on the subject matter itself. But as the people – you and others – are supporting not only a product, but a process, and a person, it is important that I elaborate on the process and my part in it. In short, to truly explain an end product, one must also examine the process and persons involved.
What is the Process of the People’s Book Project?
I have approached the research and writing of The People’s Book Project in a way unfamiliar to those who have undertaken the task of writing a book on a specific subject. When I began writing this book, the scope of it was comparatively small and narrow, the length was supposed to be short and confined, and the subject was based upon a foregone conclusion. It was to be the product of an institution, not an idea; it was directed and defined as to what it should be and what it should not be. For myself at the time, I was struggling to keep it within the confines of what it was “supposed” to be, for the more research I did, the more I discovered and learned, the more the book – and its ideas – evolved and changed with me. As a result, I could not find it within myself to be moved to – or be proud of – producing a book which began with a preordained conclusion, that the research was simply meant to conform to an idea which was already decided upon. If I were to do that, I would write a book in which I could not agree with nor support its conclusions, nor could I promote it or pretend that it speaks to some great truths when it does not stand up to the scrutiny of my own truths. For this reason, I decided to change my situation and leave my job to pursue my passion. I left behind all that I had written, and started anew, letting the process dictate the product.
Frequently, I find myself even trying to restrict the content and flow and direction of the book. A writer and researcher must, after all, make choices: choices about what to research, what to write, how to write it, why to write it, what to leave out, why to leave it out, etc. Without choices, nothing would get finished (or started, for that matter), and the results would speak for the lack of choices. In spite of my own choices on what subjects I will pursue, what angles I will examine, what I will leave out, what direction I want to go, and even what conclusions I have in mind, I all too often find myself facing this ever-present, persistent, and pervasive power which seems to suggest to me that the only choice I truly have at the moment, is to decide to let the process take on a life of its own.
How does this work?
I will give you a recent example. I have set about – and received a great deal of support – to write a series of chapters on a radical history of race and poverty, specifically focusing on the United States. I wrote a “brief” 20-page essay on the subject, covering its broad focus and ideas, thinking that my efforts would be emphasized on elaborating on the concepts already mentioned in what I wrote, that it would be about filling in the details, connecting the missing dots, and better explaining the circumstances and situations. I often don’t write and research a subject in its exact sequence of events; rather, I approach a subject by focusing in on one aspect, one event, one individual, idea, or institution which has caught my interest and fascination. I use that specific point of interest to act as inspiration; in fact, I cannot help but allow it to inspire. In seeking to learn all that I can about the particular individual, institution, or idea, I must examine its relationship, interaction, and interdependence with other individuals, institutions, and ideas of that particular time, and from there I must go into its history: where did these individuals, institutions, and ideas come from? From there, I follow the path as to where they went: what were the repercussions, results, reactions to and of these individuals, institutions, and ideas, and where do they exist (or not) today? And then of course, the big question: Why?
So for my current subject – a radical history of race and poverty – my point of entry at present into the subject was brought about as a result of the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. I have researched and read about King and his assassination, and how the King we idolize today is not the King who died in 1968. When MLK Day passes, the media, commentators, images, and sounds we hear are about the MLK that existed up until 1965, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the non-violence of the “Civil Rights Movement.” In the last years of his life, however, King became increasingly revolutionary: he was speaking out against the Vietnam War, the American empire, poverty and economic exploitation, and was even organizing a major national poor people’s campaign to end poverty in the United States. The King up until 1965 was a reformer. The King thereafter was a revolutionary. This is why, when today we “remember” King, we purposely neglect the memory of the man who he was – and was becoming – when he was murdered. By doing so, we are able to forget the issues he was talking about, and how they are even more relevant today than they were in the time in which he spoke, and we can congratulate ourselves on “giving freedom” to black people in the United States. With a black president, many have declared a “post-racial” America. The discourse of race and poverty, discrimination, racism, segregation and exploitation is no longer seen as valid or useful. Naturally, this is wrong.
However, another thing happened to me as I began reading about King and his anti-poverty campaign: I was exposed to new ideas, individuals, and institutions. Specifically, I have been exposed to the ‘Black Power’ movement, organizations like the Black Panthers, individuals like Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, and others. I began reading about these individuals, listening to their speeches, researching their ideas, learning about their organizations and actions and objectives and then suddenly, it happened, the process took on a life of its own. I have been utterly and completely inspired by the ideas, individuals, and actions of the Black Power movement. I realized that the revolutionary Martin Luther King that I so admire in the last years of his life, was not the only person speaking about such profound issues related to race, exploitation, history, and empire. What King was talking about in the last year of his life, a younger generation of black leaders had been talking about and acting on for years.
Suddenly, I had to know as much as I possibly could about Black Power, about the individuals involved, and about the ideas and their emergence, evolution, and relevance for today. When people typically hear the words ‘Black Power’ or ‘Black Panthers’ today, there are pre-programmed images and ideas which come into mind (especially if, like myself, you have lived most of your life in a predominantly white community and society): you see the images of leather-jacket and beret-wearing black men with sunglasses and guns, you think of violence and reactionary ideas, and even the concept of “reverse racism” – racism by blacks against whites. Like most things, the pre-packaged conceptions are a far cry from reality.
Black Power was not about hatred of whites, it was about empowerment of black people. The Black Power leaders – like Stokely Carmichael – understood that “integration” into white society would not liberate black people, because the solution was not one of repealing segregationist laws and then suddenly the scourge of racism would be erased from society and history. Black Power leaders and ideas were grounded in a significant historical understanding: they understood that racism was institutionalized in society, in all of its institutions and structures of power, not merely in the specific segregation laws of the South. Thus, what was needed in order to eradicate racism was to remake the institutions and ideas of society, not to simply step into the corridors of power (as Obama has) and proclaim a “post-racial” America. Black Power was not about dealing with the symptoms of racism (such as segregation, voting rights), but rather, in addressing the root causes of racism: found in the socio-political and economic system itself.
Racism was born out of class struggle, economic exploitation, imperialism, and poverty. It has remained a central feature of these issues right to the present day. The Black Power movement sought to challenge the root causes of racism. To do so, it was argued, black people themselves had to organize, mobilize and create their own source of power in society, they had to empower their own community and create their own institutions and articulate their own ideas – not against white people – but for black people. The understanding was that since integration would not solve the root causes of the problem at hand (institutionalized racism, as Stokely Carmichael wrote and spoke about), it was not a solution. Instead, black communities had to build their own power base in creating a new society with a new vision, free of racism (thus, those who equate Black Power with “white racism” do not understand Black Power). With its own power, vision, and objectives, Black Power would not have to conform or submit to the institutionalized power structure which already existed in society, and which had repressed black people for over four hundred years.
The Black Power movement was not about destruction or violence, it was about creation and protection. The Black Panther Party became a prominent symbol of Black Power. It was founded as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and its initial objective and the ideas behind arming themselves were not based upon an aggressive idea, or one which aimed to “overthrow” the government (as was the media and government portrayal of the Black Panthers at the time, and up until present). Rather, why they armed themselves was for self-defense of the ghettoes. The black ghetto communities in the United States were subjected to incredible amounts of police brutality, murdering black residents, and even white terrorism. The Panthers emerged, acting lawfully and legally in California (where gun laws stated that people could be armed, so long as they did not point their gun at anyone in public), and would act to protect the ghetto residents against the police and other forms of violence. When police would come into the ghetto, the Panthers would make their presence known and would observe the actions and conduct of the police to ensure that no violence was committed against black residents. Black communities were not protected by white people or the state, they were oppressed and attacked by white people and the state. In such a circumstance, one cannot condemn the actions and objectives of black residents to organize and seek to defend themselves.
The Black Panther Party was not only about self-defense; in fact, that was a rather small aspect of what they did. What we don’t hear about is the fact that the Black Panthers – and their leaders – were revolutionary philosophers and intellectuals, who put action to words, gave inspiration to people (whether black or white or otherwise), and empowered their communities: they organized and made self-sufficient a free breakfast program for black children in the community, free healthcare for residents, free education and literacy. J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, declared the “free breakfast” program to be the greatest internal threat to the United States at the time. Why? Because it was empowering a community of people to become self-sufficient, to not depend upon the existing power structures, but to create their own, based in the people and population itself. This, indeed, was dangerous for the existing power structures.
As a result, the FBI and the federal government undertook a war against black America. Through the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and other existing avenues, they infiltrated black organizations (as well as anti-war groups and other organizations) and sought to destroy the movement from inside. The COINTELPRO operation was used not only against Martin Luther King (and resulted in his murder), but against the Black Panther Party, and resulted in the assassination of many of its leaders. One such leader was Fred Hampton, a 21-year old man who was a revolutionary philosopher and activist. Not only did he help create the free breakfast program and other community programs in his branch of the Party in Chicago, but he even negotiated a peace settlement between street gangs and brought them within the movement, he (and the Party) worked with white activists and movements in northern cities and in the poor rural south. Black Power saw as essential the empowerment of all people, everywhere, white or black, articulating the fact that the black community would empower itself to create a society free of racism, but that this required white people to seek to empower their own communities to challenge and eradicate the causes of racism within white America. The Black Panthers worked with, traveled to, and inspired and were inspired by revolutionary movements all over the world, from the Caribbean and Latin America, to Africa and Southeast Asia. They spoke out against imperialism and exploitation not only nationally, but globally. Fred Hampton was one of the most profound thinkers, speakers, and actors within this movement. He was a young, vibrant, energetic speaker and activist, garnering the respect of activists all over the nation. In 1969, at the age of 21, he was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, shot to death at 4 a.m. as he was sleeping in bed with his wife, eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. She survived, and two weeks later, she gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr.
Why are these names, ideas and activities not better known today? Not only is Black Power important for black people to understand and learn about, but for all people. The reason for this is simple: Black Power was truly, at its core, about People Power. The movement inspired and often worked with other communities struggling for their own liberation against repression, such as the American Indian Movement (which was also subsequently destroyed by the FBI), and it lent rhetorical and ideological support to women’s liberation and gay liberation movements that emerged. Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, later wrote and spoke out on the need to support and promote radical women’s and gay liberation movements. Black Power elaborated and acted on ideas which had potential for the liberation of all people. Perhaps the most important principle of the movement was this: that when confronted with oppressive, dominating, and exploitative institutions and systems of power, the pathway toward liberation is not to join – or integrate – with that power, but to actively create something new, at the grassroots, organically developing out of the communities. The relevance these ideas have to the present circumstances of the world is shocking, and no less important to rejuvenate.
My newfound interest in Black Power has inspired me to such a degree that it is evolving my ideas of society and humanity as a whole. This is the profound importance of new ideas: that they lend to the evolution of our own, already-held ideas, that they may further inform the knowledge we already hold and articulate. Many of the ideas of Black Power already conform to ideas which I already held, such as the notion of empowering people and creating a new system instead of integrating within the existing system, the negation of the idea of “usurping” power (or overtaking the government or other existing institutions), and instead, creating a new form of power: vested in the people. However, this does not mean that the ideas of Black Power simply confirm or reaffirm ideas I already held, but instead, further inform them, lead to their evolution and understanding and aid in their articulation, presenting a view and lens through which to see a path of action. Programs like breakfast for children, education, and free health clinics, run by and for local communities, are ideas that need a desperate resurgence. As the current economic crisis descends deeper into a depression, and poverty and exploitation increase, such ideas and actions are essential to human survival as a whole. They bring hope and heart to issues largely void of both.
While a great deal more people than ever before are aware and increasingly becoming aware of such important issues as imperialism, domination, and exploitation, there is a tendency to pursue the path of integrating these individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. The growth of knowledge is leading to mass movements articulating a single philosophy (dogmatic and rigid in their interpretation and understanding), and seeking to put into power one or a few individuals who articulate that philosophy. Thus, the quest for change and articulation of hope become about a single individual, a single idea, and rests upon the premise of integrating such individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. What the history and philosophy of Black Power teaches us is that what is needed is not integration, not usurpation of power, but creativity and creation: not to take power, but to empower.
As such, the history of Black Power is the history of People Power; black history is human history. While it is incredibly important for the black community to learn and remember this history, it is no less important for all peoples – regardless of race, religion, culture or creed – to learn this history. If you claim to articulate a philosophy of change, which can and should work for the benefit of all people in all places, one must not simply learn their own specific cultural history, but the history of all peoples and cultures. An understanding of black history is best delivered by the black thinkers, actors, and ideas which make up that history. Modern black history – both in the world and in the United States itself – is a history of a particularly brutal, oppressive, exploitative, and ruthless social, political, and economic system. If our objective is to truly understand the system in which we live, articulate its strengths and weaknesses, and plan for a solution to change these circumstances, if we do not understand and address the history of what that system did to its most oppressed, most exploited, and most dominated populations (whether black, Native, indigenous, disabled, etc.), we cannot – and DO NOT – properly understand the nature of the system in which we live. Thus, how can we even pretend to have “the solution” if we do not properly understand the problems?
Stokely Carmichael articulated the concept of “internal colonialism,” which was a description for the ways in which the United States government treated the black population of the United States. Many people criticized this term at the time, thinking it to be exaggerated and inflammatory. Carmichael commented that it was an absurd negation of logic to think that what the United States did to others around the world would not be done at home, and he used an example of suggesting that this was the equivalent of saying that the Mafia runs crooked casinos in Peru, but honest ones at home. Thus, just as black history is human history, Black Power is People Power. As such, understanding this history is of vital importance in understanding how to change history as we live today. To allow such profound, important, and philosophical leaders and actors of this history – like Carmichael and Hampton – to rise up and again speak their words and have them heard, will make the murder of 21-year old Fred Hampton and the dozens and hundreds of others have more meaning, will give his words new purpose, will give his ideas new understandings, and will bring the fallen new life as they again, even decades after their deaths, empower the people of the world. To not revive these ideas is to let them die with the individuals, to not bring meaning to their lives and actions, to let them be forgotten to history. This is why when today we hear about “Civil Rights,” these ideas and individuals are not remembered. This is why the movement is referred to as “Civil Rights,” because it implies a specific objective of reform, when, in reality, the “Civil Rights” struggle was but a single phase in a long and evolving history of Black Liberation, which today can and must empower the long and evolving history of human liberation. As Fred Hampton once said, “I am… a Revolutionary.”
So this brings me back to The People’s Book Project, and the process in which it exists and evolves. My exposure to the ideas of Black Power has not even surpassed two weeks of research, but already it is changing, evolving, informing, and adding to the ideas and issues of the book itself. Already, I can see that this area is so important, that to not write about it is to commit a great injustice, that it is already altering the conclusions of the book which I thought I had in stone. Again, the process takes on a life of its own. This is important because it allows me to grow and evolve my thoughts and ideas as I do the research, instead of supporting and regurgitating only that which confirms to my pre-conceived ideas and notions. As I do this, I am able to expose these ideas to others, and to hopefully inform their ideas and actions. This process is long, detailed, and challenging, no less so because of my own living situation in which I find myself having to write it. But that does not matter. What matters is what the process and the book mean, not only to me, but what they could potentially mean to others.
I would like to quote Stokely Carmichael quoting George Bernard Shaw, “All criticism is autobiography… you dig?” My critique – my book – is as much what I think as it is who I am. Both what I think and who I am are in a constant state of evolution and development, and thus, so is the critique itself. The People’s Book Project, as such, is as much a process of development as it is an objective of creating a finished product. I set out to write a book which may help in the cause of liberation for all people in all places. The process of writing this book, then, must be a liberating process; it must not be confined by rigid structures and direction, but must be permitted to find its own free expression, to discover its own path and direction, and to be the change it seeks, as Mohondas Gandhi suggested. The fact that this process is funded by people from around the world, providing what little dollars and cents they may, spreading the word and ideas as they can, is also evidence that the process is being the change it seeks. The patron of this book is not a think tank, a university, a foundation or a government grant. The patron is the people, the community – globally speaking. This is why it is the People’s Book Project, not my Book Project. As much as I am (for obvious reasons) the most influential single person in this project, I would not be able to do what I am doing if it were not for the support of others, everywhere. As much as I am the most involved in this project, despite all my efforts, I cannot control or direct the process more than it controls and directs me. That process is facilitated only by the support from people.
As a result of this process, I have come to accept that this book is not my product, but rather that I am just as much a product of the book. As the process of the project changes me, I change the product of the project. As the people support the process, they allow both of these changes to take place. The end result will be that when the project – which will certainly be a series of books – is finished, it will be all the more important, informed, and purposeful. Thus, the product of this process will be far more beneficial to the people and purpose for which it is being undertaken: to provide knowledge to inform action in the cause of liberation. If I do not seek to produce the best possible piece of work I can and have ever produced, what would be the point? This is why I abandoned what was supposed to be a 200 page book on “Global Governance” and embarked on the journey of a project which has thus far, resulted in an 800-plus page book on people and power.
Now, I have friends and family who are in editing and publishing and writers and researchers, and they hear – “800 pages” – and they think and say, “What the hell are you doing? Edit, condense, concise, cut down” – and of course, they do it out of love, and I need to hear such suggestions and informed opinions. This is important. As I previously mentioned, writers must make choices, and it would appear that at the moment, I have not made many choices save to say that I have chosen to let the process overtake me and the Project. Now I have explained why I made this choice, that it directed me more than I directed it, and what this means in terms of a finished product, in terms of the purpose of the Project. This does not mean, however, that I will not make choices in the future. This Project will not be never-ending and eternal (though it often feels like it, as I am sure it does to ardent supporters who perhaps desire a finished product in the near future). The process has taken on a life of its own, that is true, and it has its place: it is important and essential to the finished product. But when I am left with what I can only assume will be a book far beyond 1,000 pages, when I have made the choices not to go further (as indeed, I cannot cover everything), but to cover what I think as to be most important (as the process itself dictates what is so), then I will make choices in editing: what are the common threads, ideas, institutions and individuals, what are the major events, the major actions and subjects, what must be within and what can be left out, what order should this story be told in, what structure for the chapters, how can it be broken up, how many books should result, and what are the conclusions that I am left with at the end of this current process? For it is when I reach the end of this current process, that I will understand the ideas and information within the research and writing, and thus, it is then that I will truly develop the thesis, and at which point I can truly tell the story as it can and must be told. The editing process is one all to itself. And when I get there, I will do what needs to be done to ensure that the book and books are readable, presentable, approachable, and purposeful.
The books will not be the beginning and end of human history, far from it; they will not be the most comprehensive examination of our modern world (though I certainly am aiming to make them as much, at least for myself as for others), but rather, I see them as a stepping stone, out of which others will critique the books, their ideas, and their suggestions, and through which such critique, the ideas within them will become more informed, more evolved, strengthened and empowered. I will no doubt write future books and research elaborating on the evolution of the ideas within. In such a scenario, the process is, for me, my very life; but don’t worry, this book will not take my entire life. It is simply what I must do at present, to provide for myself and others, a foundation upon which to stand and create something new. It is not to be a rigid dogma, a concise and complete compendium of all knowledge, no single source could ever hope to (or should) be such a thing. It is simply meant to inspire, to inspire with knowledge, to inspire others to add to and critique that knowledge, to evolve and make it stronger, to inspire action and ideas, to inspire and empower people, regardless of race or place. For this to happen, however, I will need to finish the book and get it out to others. Otherwise the process and the product are nothing more than a selfish and insulated personal journey without any other higher purpose. Thus, when the time comes, I know I will have both the instinct and the impetus to know when to make the choice to stop, to say, this is the story I need to tell.
It was upon researching about Black Power these past few weeks that I have come to truly embrace all that I have written about here, that I have come to be inspired to move forward, but that I have also become determined to allow the process to direct the person (me) in creating the product (the book). For if I had stood rigid and controlling over the subject and direction of the book, and decided, without investigation and understanding, what I would and would not include, I would not have allowed myself to research the issue of Black Power, and as a result, I would not have understood the absolute importance of this movement to human history and its evolution into hope for the future of humanity. If I had taken power over the process, instead of allowing the process to have power over me, the end product would be all the more pointless for what it hopes to achieve. At this point, I cannot imagine producing a finished product which does not include the relevancy of Black Power to the past and present.
So I want to extend my appreciation, with the utmost sincerity, to those who have supported this process both financially and otherwise, because none of this would be possible without you, it would not be where it is if it were not for your support, and it will not get anywhere without your future support. So to my patrons, I felt the need to inform you as to the process of this Project, so that you may better understand what it is you are supporting, how you are supporting it, where that support is going and what it is producing. In every sense of the word, then, this is the People’s Book Project, because it would not be possible without the support of the people.
And how many books can say that?
Thank you all, now and forever.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.