Theory of Change Document

Below you'll find the written conclusions of our Theory of Change conversations within Metro Justice. These conclusions came from a major online survey of our members, presentations and discussions organized by membership and staff, dialogue with and the Annual Dinner presentation of Bill Fletcher Jr., discussions at each recent meeting of our Council, and discussions of the Strategic Planning Committee.

When reading it, we ask that you consider two things. First, our Strategic Planning Process is an on-going process. This will be a source of a discussion and will likely change in some ways throughout the process. Second, this is not a messaging document. We intend for this to help us find clarity in our mission and direction, not as our slogans or key talking points. This is a document meant for internal Metro Justice purposes. We hope that our members find this helpful in their efforts and that you share with us your feedback.

Pluralism and Diversity of Opinion

Metro Justice is an organization of individuals coming from a diverse array of political experiences and perspectives. Members have joined from a variety of political, economic and social backgrounds and have sought different levels of participation within the organization. There is no specific “guiding ideological framework,” nor do we have allegiance to a specific political party or tendency. We are an organization of veterans of many movement campaigns over many decades, as well as encompassing new “campaigners” in this work. Pluralism has not only been a factor in the life of the organization, but an unarticulated objective, as well. It makes sense to us that because of composition of our membership, a variety of approaches, viewpoints and indeed, routes to change exist within our ranks. There are strong points of agreement, however. From its formation, members have sought to express solidarity with persons of color and to challenge the organizations and policies that restrict, diminish and oppress the full expression of equality and justice for all people.  In building our Theory of Change, we strive to develop a unity strong enough to provide meaningful clarity of vision and direction in this time. That unity should be broad enough and loose enough to encompass the wide range of our members and allies currently involved and communities and populations that we hope to include in the future work of Metro Justice.

We should note that as we work on this, the dangers of the right wing, in this country and globally, present new and profound challenges. This phenomenon underscores our desire to build the highest level of unity amongst ourselves, our allies and other progressive forces. 

Class Struggle as Framework

As stated earlier, we see increasing concentration of power, wealth, and control in the hands of very few people in our nation and world. At the point of writing this, 84 people control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people. The nature of our current economic and political systems ensures that this concentration will naturally increase without sizable, organized push for social and economic justice. In the case that substantial resistance doesn’t manifest, the livelihoods of millions of people will get more difficult in notable ways. Spreading poverty is the natural result of massive profits and wealth concentration.

It’s this conflict between two main economic classes that lead to problems of inequity, poverty, alienation, and exploitation. On the one hand, there is a small minority of people who hold the majority of the material and financial wealth, have unfettered access to positions of power, or to those who hold them; have an inordinate amount of influence over economic policy, and who benefit from international trade agreements in the neoliberal mold, international tax havens, etc. On the other hand, there is the vast majority who hold little to no material or financial assets; are often wage earners; who primarily sell their time, labor, and intellects as their primary means of survival. These two groups have inherently contradictory economic and political interests. We are firmly on the side of the working class. While there may be differences in degree of poverty and privilege within the working class, none of us have power or control over real wealth, nor - as individuals - do we seriously influence the way wealth operates in the community.

The vast majority of people in our society have direct interest in a genuine societal redistribution of wealth. That redistribution can and should happen through many methods. Increased wages and benefits from our labor is a clear way to ensure that working people get a more just share of the wealth that their labor creates. Wealth can also be importantly redistributed through progressive taxation to fund a strong social safety net and public services. Wealth redistribution as a solution to many of our problems will almost always be opposed by those with wealth and power. We shouldn’t expect them to be on our side, but instead to fight us as directly as they can and to muddy the waters of debate as much as possible.

Recognizing class struggle, being able to name what class is and how it shapes our political lives, is critical skill for our current activism and a necessary component of leadership development. A clear class analysis helps to combat the view that poverty is the fault of the poor and dismantle internalized working class elitism. In the class-devoid narrative of the United States we must specifically and emphatically draw the connections to class dynamics at play.

Lastly, a class analysis should not be divorced from a racial analysis, and vice versa, as we’ll outline below. A major component of white supremacy and racism in the United States is the disproportionately high rates of poverty in Black and Latino communities. However, ascribing the lack of jobs and low wages among people of color to racism solely misses the story of the white working class and the historic interests of the wealthy. Keeping the two distinct from one another -- race and class -- provides only half the story, neuters us in our ability to understand the roots of the pressing issues today. It also removes points of solidarity with people of color, and prevents broader alliances. We believe firmly in the building of multi-racial alliances of the working class that highlight the need for real solidarity across racial and ethnic lines.  

Challenge White Supremacy

The legacy of centuries of racial and national oppression, the experience of colonialism and the imprint of slavery and genocide have shaped and continues to impact life in the United States. We view institutional racism as the central factor in the plan to divide working people from acting upon a mutually beneficial agenda of lives free from exploitation and oppression, where each person’s full humanity is affirmed and there is a place of full equality for everyone. Due to this centrality, the fight against racism and white supremacy must be a part of our analysis and a component of our work at every level.

We believe that there is an interconnectivity rooted in race, class and gender. History has demonstrated time and again that the heaviest blows of crises fall upon communities of color. And the leadership of persons of color in building fightbacks and progressive initiatives has been a source of inspiration and emulation. While the leadership of communities of color in defeating white supremacy is critical, white people - particularly the white working class - must recognize both their responsibility and self-interest in combating white supremacy and institutionalized racism.  

We believe that you fight racism with solidarity and that solidarity is a concrete task of finding our common interest of collective liberation. We advocate the building of multi-ethnic organizations of the working class. While segregation continues in our society, very few workplaces, apartment buildings, schools, or neighborhoods are represented exclusively by any one ethnic or racial group. Building organization around commonly held interests, that explicitly engages internal racial disparities, creates openings for unity and solidarity across races. This is the critical element of fundamentally destroying white supremacy.

Our racial analysis must include a class analysis, just as our class analysis must include a racial analysis. In the United States of today, these concepts are inseparable

For Collective Liberation

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist, Queensland.

We see the interconnectedness of many systems of oppression and marginalization that drive many wedges of separation through our communities. None of the struggles around race, class, gender, or sexuality can be completely won on their own. For us to have real hope of a world beyond institutionalized oppression, they must be fought together.

We do not approach our work as altruistic saviors, but as people seeking their own liberation and understanding that our liberation is bound together with that of all oppressed and marginalized people in our world.

Building Architecture and Catalyzing Social Movement

Ultimately, the many problems of oppression, marginalization, and inequality that we face in society are the result of power imbalances. The wealthiest among us and the political elite wield power to defend their own interests. Capitalism and White Supremacy are the tools of to retain those power structures.

The hope for marginalized, exploited, and oppressed people is organization and collective action. While individuals and small groups of the elite wield coercive power to maintain their dominance, our power lies in massive, broad-based organizations that refuse to be co-opted by elite power structures. When we take mass, collective action our power is considerably more significant than that of the ruling classes.

In critical, often unpredictable moments, organizations can spark into broader social movements, where many independent organizations and groupings erupt into high levels of activity demanding fundamental changes. It’s these social movements that have the capacity to most massively and rapidly change social structures, and our responsibility to try to catalyze them.

Organizations that are built by, accountable to, and democratically controlled by the working class and marginalized communities are the answer to the power imbalances that plague our current society and lead to the inequities and oppressions experienced in our daily lives. When bodies of workers, tenants, students, neighbors, etc. get together and take direct action to demand real changes in their livelihood, they simultaneously impact their immediate needs while building the power necessary for massive changes in our politics and economics.

While the demands and activities of these organizations are often more narrow than that of social movements, these organizations serve as critical ground for training, political education, and reflection among exploited and marginalized people. They also serve to build critical capacity and resources for the moment when social movements take off. Providing early social movements with leaders and resources can often be the deciding factor between success and failure. So as activists we have a clear imperative to build, nurture, and strengthen these organizations of the base.

As the high levels of social movement activity die-down, whether through success or attrition, these organizations should be in a strengthened position to push forward the mission of the movement. Sustaining the power of working class and marginalized communities between times of social movement activity is the final critical role these rank-and-file organizations.

Through organizations of workers, students, tenants, etc. we discover the ability to win short-term demands, build community leadership, catalyze and sustain social movements. For these reasons the creation of these organizations is our primary concern.

Building Alternative Institutions

From the occupied factories of Argentina, to the cooperative economies on Mondragon in Spain, the poor and the dispossessed are proving daily the possibility of building and running their own institutions.

Alternative institutions may take many forms: community banks, worker cooperatives, free schools, free clinics, copwatch programs, alternative media, counter-cultural institutions, and beyond. But in all instances, alternative institutions should be considered those in which the working class makes all the fundamental decisions, doing so directly, through organizations of its own choice.

There are dangers and limitations, however, that we should be conscious of in the building of these institutions. There is a long history of alternative institutions being swallowed up and integrated into capitalism, ultimately becoming a part of the very system they were meant to challenge. There is also a potential that they may draw time and resources away from the building of social movements, which should be viewed as the primary engines of social change. However, at their best, alternative institutions have the capacity to pose a real threat to the 1%, lend to the building of social movements, and demonstrate to oppressed people their own capacity to control their own communities and institutions.

Revolutionary Edge of Reform

In an era of never-ending assault on the working class and oppressed people, we believe that any and all resistance to those attacks are noble and critical. However, resistance itself is not enough. We need to win concrete change in people’s lives and do so in a way that advances our long-term goal of highly organized communities, workplaces, schools, etc.

This means that we don’t simply fight to win benefits just for the sake of the victory and its impact on our communities. We also don’t hold to extreme demands that offer no hopes of building a broader movement of social, political, economic struggle. This notion, fully developed in Steve Williams’ “Demand Everything: Lessons of the Transformative Organizing Model” provides clear criteria for how we select the issues that we will organize around. They are:

  • Improve the living conditions of our members, constituency, and the broader working class.

  • Establish building blocks of the organization’s long term vision.

  • Build the power of and solidarity among various sectors of the working class, of low-income people, and of people of color.

  • Undermine the power of the ruling class and its institutions.

  • Shift public discourse to make larger victories possible by undermining the logic of oppression.

  • Develop the leadership of the organization’s membership and staff.

  • Expand and deepen strategic and tactical alliances with key forces.

  • Grow the membership and strengthen the organization.

By following this organizational model, we believe we can win vital improvements in people’s lives without sacrificing our long-term vision. Instead each victory will move us towards greater victories and power for the working class and communities of color.

Because we don’t simply fight for the sake of immediate victories, but for the purposes of building power of our own organizations, we engage in the legislative arena with hesitation. Winning legislation to solve the problems of our community can, at times, undermine the community’s ability to realize it’s own power or build stronger organization to win more sustainable demands. When we find that winning legislation is the result of genuine transformational organizing rather than the political maneuvering of power brokers, we can then commit to fighting in that arena.

It’s for these same reasons that we don’t see electing new people to office as a part of our mission.

Developing Deep Political Analysis Broadly

When one sails, one must first learn their position. The second thing one learns is that even if your destination is straight north, one will need to swing east to west to capture the energy of the movement of the wind.  As an organization that is learning more and more where it is going, Metro Justice needs to understand the current power of the moving social winds, when to ride them, and when to turn sails to get closer to its destination.  We are a small ship, we can turn faster than others, we can serve as a reference point to where we want to be.

Somedays Metro Justice will need to focus more on base building, other in developing its leaders, others in action. Only when we know our destination we will know how to set course, and shift with the wind.

If our destination is to have an organization ready to take action in support of increasing democracy in the ways and places we make a living, in the ways we are able to support our families, and in the ways we are able to support our local, national, and international communities, then we need support the process by which people get ready to take action. For this, we believe that a popular education model that is willing to dive deeply into histories and ideas of social change is critical.

We have seen the great success of Metro Justice as it concentrates on action toward the specific victory of the Fight for 15.  We have also seen the cost of ongoing mobilization on the workers, volunteers and staff that made that victory possible.  Our size and resources do not allow us to process and restock volunteers and workers leaders.  It has been always clear that our strategy needs to answer the question: how do we nourish those taking action and how do we prepare others to take action?

The first thing we understand is that no power point presentation, no matter how good, will save us. We understand that action that provides disruption is necessary.  We experience class and race in our bodies, at a specific time, in a specific place, surrounded by specific people. We need to learn to provide disruption in those specific moments that create pause and challenges to what is happening.

The second thing is that disruptive action may need to start taking place in small settings. It is then crucial to take those actions and evaluate them in the setting they take place and within the context of the bigger destination.

Commitment to National Project

Drastic social, economic, and racial justice cannot be achieved and sustained in Rochester alone. Many of the structures of exploitation and oppression we face are national in character, others are international. We must commit to supporting national and international social justice efforts.  

Rochester is our home, and where the vast majority of our organizing efforts will focus. But we will actively search for opportunities to connect to movements that extend beyond our region and with like-minded organizations across the country and world. Building key strategic alliances across the United States in particular will be critical for several reasons: 1) shared leadership, skills, and vision will help with deep development of our leaders, 2) the momentum of nationwide and global movements helps to grow our movement locally, and 3) these relationships can help us tap resources from across the country to help us build our organization and movement at home.

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