Private, Public, Communal: Between Private Action and Public Activism

Whatever usually goes by the name “group activities” I rarely am a fan of. So when i read something like this (quoted from here) regarding justice advocacy for involuntarily displaced peoples:

We will continue to get no reward for this effort, nor have any resources to assist us, so we must individually find ways in our private lives to be sustainable. But we do it for a greater love than ourselves, right? We do it for a kinder gentler world for children. If we can spare one child some unnecessary trauma, then that’s reward in and of itself.

I am inclined to say, “Yeah!” Except, more and more lately the consequences of individual action–and I think this has become politically more the case during my lifetime–more and more get swallowed up, overlooked, co-opted or, in a word, neutralized by the social structures (in the US) where they occur.

So even as I sympathize and understand what’s being said above, i have to admit that “no reward” doesn’t cut it in an increasingly austerity driven economy; having no access to resources often drives up creativity, but also tends to impoverish quality, reach, and visibility; to find an individually sustainable way seems to mean, ultimately, a sort of quietism, even when coupled to (an individually oriented) activism, or at least that’s the worry.

At the same time, if I see clearly that the liberation of India and US Civil Rights involved dramatizing visibly (i.e., in the media) the violence of the oppressor, I have also seen how 1.5 million people saying no to Iraq didn’t get on the news, and that six gigacorporations own 90% of the media market.

I am currently working with people to make Public Service Announcement about global climate change. The horns of the dilemma involve the sense of futility involved in individual action (private) and the sense of logistical impossibility in getting sufficient numbers for global action (public). I propose the communal as standing “midway” between these two (threateningly) disempowering horns–traditionally, of course, communities an the communal tended to overlap, but now it seems we have to intentionally make the communal, as something between the public and the private.

Let what I’m saying be mistaken for collective action; I’ll just say, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

An example: arranging a (local) social world where, for instance, a group of people provide the means to feed each other, not via only potlucks and the like but even, for instance, that each might show up at another’s and ask for a meal, and vice versa. If by “need” I mean something that we not or do not want to change, and by “necessity” I mean something that meets that need, then the communal proposes a (local) social arrangement to meet our needs not with the usual necessities that we resort to. If I say “I need a job,” really I mean, “I need to pay my bills; a job supplies the necessity that meets the need”–and then rethinking that so I can find another necessity to meet my need. Do we all (in our local group) require the necessity of a car, or can one or two people meet those needs? (Voila, lowered carbon footprint). &c.

If this isn’t all too sketched or unclear, then how could the communal as I’ve described it manifest here and locally? How can we manifest alternative necessities for our needs here and locally?  This blog of course serves as something of an example, but I wonder how often it winds up threatened by the sense of a futility of individual action or logistical impossibility of global (public) action.

If this sounds like I’m describing this as a failure, that shows (I think) the power of discourse that surrounds the tangled question of “how do I as an individual make a difference” regarding justice advocacy for involuntarily displaced people (adult and child alike). Rather, I’m asking what does a sustenance provision mechanism look like for an online communality–intellectual and emotional support is a key, already existent component of this, of course, How do you borrow my virtual car (the resources I have to share); what does that look like; how does it work?

Most broadly, how do “us” enable new necessities as alternatives to the necessities we each already misconstrue as our individual needs surrounding “adoption”?

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3 thoughts on “Private, Public, Communal: Between Private Action and Public Activism

  1. I really appreciate this. Something is in the air in terms of change. A few months ago I started out writing a small piece on “communal” versus the “individual” as a kind of followup to the RAD discussion, and it has ballooned to 24 sections and 50 written pages. I’m not sure what to do with it. But your point is well taken. Beyond the incapacity of the individual to effect change, the other myth is that small groups organized according to categories ascribed to them by the dominant mode and using tools of said mode can somehow “triumph”. It’s like a caught fish turning the hook against the fisherman: the system categorically won’t allow it. We are not working in an indifferent environment we need remember. The collective is targeted at every step, in every way. This isn’t paranoia, it’s historical fact. And so it is a modal shift that must take place, and which is to some extent taking place in many places around the world, and taking root where counter-revolution does not prevail. Not where I was acculturated, and not where I live now, certainly. But at least here a certain social contract still prevails that makes living day-to-day bearable. I’ve not provided any answer to your question, as usual. Apologies for that.

  2. If you are speaking of a “zone” that is not based on political/social process or movement theories, and is further not action taken by a solitary individual, I think that particular re exists as something of a non-institutionalized, floating social agreement between individuals that happen to be situated, by circumstance, in a manner that is almost-but-not-quite-like the Zapatistas. At its heart, perhaps it is decolonization by the colonized…

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