One of the conclusions I have come to after studying the Civil Rights Movement (known at the time as the Southern Freedom Movement), is that it was built on the foundations of community and personal relationships. My thinking on this topic was echoed in an op-ed piece in the New York Times this morning (see excerpts and link below). Susan Matt argues that leaving home, family and community takes a serious psychological toil on people. It seems to me that the price one pays for the kinds of geographic mobility that capitalism requires from us -- "depression and displacement" -- are serious obstacles for shared action and risk taking, which are fundamental to building and maintaining social movements.
John Dewey seemed to argue in Democracy and Education that a group of people cannot act in their own interests unless they a part of a community, which he defines as a group of people that spend enough time with each other so that they "attach the same meanings to things and to acts which others attach."
To have the same ideas about things which others have, to be like-minded with them, and thus to be really members of a social group, is therefore to attach the same meanings to things and to acts which others attach. Otherwise, there is no common understanding, and no community life. But in a shared activity, each person refers what he is doing to what the other is doing and vice-versa. That is, the activity of each is placed in the same inclusive situation. To pull at a rope at which others happen to be pulling is not a shared or conjoint activity, unless the pulling is done with knowledge that others are pulling and for the sake of either helping or hindering what they are doing. A pin may pass in the course of its manufacture through the hands of many persons. But each may do his part without knowledge of what others do or without any reference to what they do; each may operate simply for the sake of a separate result—his own pay. There is, in this case, no common consequence to which the several acts are referred, and hence no genuine intercourse or association, in spite of juxtaposition, and in spite of the fact that their respective doings contribute to a single outcome. But if each views the consequences of his own acts as having a bearing upon what others are doing and takes into account the consequences of their behavior upon himself, then there is a common mind; a common intent in behavior. [more of this at the very end of this post]
In the 1950s in the South, the black towns of Mississippi and Alabama produced local leaders who could mobilize their communities because of the "shared activity" and "common consequence"of segregation and the plantation system enforced by lynchings over generations. And one of the reasons that community activists were fighting for desegregation and NOT INTEGRATION, was the dessire to maintain those communities. They were fighting to eliminate the humiliation of segregation, wanted freedom of association. They were not fighting to leave their communities, abandon their values, their culture or their shared interests and relationships...their homes.
Much has been made of the Occupy Movement not being "specific in their demands" or disciplined or strategic in devising and implementing their tactics. That will happen after they succeed in rebuilding communities that have been destroyed during the last 50 years. For example, urban renewal destroyed the stoop culture of urban neighborhoods.
The New Globalist Is Homesick
By SUSAN J. MATT New York Times, March 21, 2012
The global desire to leave home arises from poverty and necessity, but it also grows out of a conviction that such mobility is possible. . . . This outlook was once a strange and threatening product of the Enlightenment but is now accepted as central to a globalized economy. It leads to opportunity and profits, but it also has high psychological costs. In nearly a decade’s research into the emotions and experiences of immigrants and migrants, I’ve discovered that many people who leave home in search of better prospects end up feeling displaced and depressed. Few speak openly of the substantial pain of leaving home.....Today, explicit discussions of homesickness are rare, for the emotion is typically regarded as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity. This silence makes mobility appear deceptively easy.....The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition.
The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that undergirds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
More from Dewey (Democracy and Education) on personal relationships and community
We are thus compelled to recognize that within even the most social group there are many relations which are not as yet social. A large number of human relationships in any social group are still upon the machine-like plane. Individuals use one another so as to get desired results, without reference to the emotional and intellectual disposition and consent of those used. Such uses express physical superiority, or superiority of position, skill, technical ability, and command of tools, mechanical or fiscal. So far as the relations of parent and child, teacher and pupil, employer and employee, governor and governed, remain upon this level, they form no true social group, no matter how closely their respective activities touch one another. Giving and taking of orders modifies action and results, but does not of itself effect a sharing of purposes, a communication of interests.
Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative. To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience. One shares in what another has thought and felt and in so far, meagerly or amply, has his own attitude modified. Nor is the one who communicates left unaffected. Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing; otherwise you resort to expletives and ejaculations. The experience has to be formulated in order to be communicated. To formulate requires getting outside of it, seeing it as another would see it, considering what points of contact it has with the life of another so that it may be got into such form that he can appreciate its meaning. Except in dealing with commonplaces and catch phrases one has to assimilate, imaginatively, something of another's experience in order to tell him intelligently of one's own experience. All communication is like art. It may fairly be said, therefore, that any social arrangement that remains vitally social, or vitally shared, is educative to those who participate in it. Only when it becomes cast in a mold and runs in a routine way does it lose its educative power.
In final account, then, not only does social life demand teaching and learning for its own permanence, but the very process of living together educates. It enlarges and enlightens experience; it stimulates and enriches imagination; it creates responsibility for accuracy and vividness of statement and thought. A man really living alone (alone mentally as well as physically) would have little or no occasion to reflect upon his past experience to extract its net meaning. The inequality of achievement between the mature and the immature not only necessitates teaching the young, but the necessity of this teaching gives an immense stimulus to reducing experience to that order and form which will render it most easily communicable and hence most usable.