Why RED, Why Now?

E. D. wrote the following text as an introduction to the Radical Education Department. RED is holding the first in a series of events Wednesday, July 11th at 7 p.m. at Wooden Shoe in Philadelphia (704 South St.):  “Building a Revolutionary Coalition in Philly.” I will be attending.

woodenshowI have always strongly believed in the importance of collective organizing and institution-building in order to maximize our agency by working with others to construct platforms for the future. In my various experiences organizing and founding alternative institutions, however, I have also come to learn that many projects never get off of the ground because they are all too quickly ensnared in the bramble of petty debate. This can include such things as individuals being more invested in their subjective preoccupations than in collective action or—particularly in intellectual circles—the sophistication Olympics, in which pedantic posturing and problematization exercise their domineering, disheartening and imperial rule over anything practical, tactical or productive. When a group of us came together so seamlessly to contest the promotion of white supremacist misogyny and top-down class warfare on a conservative college campus, it struck me that we had the baseline of shared convictions that would allow us to move ahead productively with other projects.

Continue reading at Incite Items

Building a Revolutionary Coalition in Philly


2 responses to “Why RED, Why Now?”

  1. wtpepper Avatar

    This sounds promising—you are fortunate to have found a group of people who are “on the same wavelength,” as you put it. And certainly one of the greatest impediments to any real action is the tendency to false “sophistication,” the endless demand that we need to qualify and complicate everything indefinitely, until we lose all capacity for action. (Witness the response to Glenn’s post prompted by “Mindful Living Week”: the focus on Americans, most of whom are white, is called in to question, as if it is not okay to critique these people because there are others also practicing Buddhism. The strategy is to defuse critique because there are always some to whom it does not apply—so we shouldn’t ever do it at all. What is wrong with critiquing this particular practice? It is a real practice in the world and to say we shouldn’t critique it if it isn’t a universal practice is a simple attempt to demand quietism…but enough on that). It always seems to me that such demands to become more “sophisticated” (to use your term) and all the other petty debate is just a disingenuous attempt to limit action to what will turn a profit, to what will gain those participating some kind of cultural, or preferably actual, capital. The “transverse” organization could avoid this activism-killing strategy, but it kind of does require a group of people who are on that same wavelength, and who would support multiple small-scale actions which promise no financial reward. Good luck..I hope it works out.

    I wonder if you are prepared for the possible consequences of using your positions and credentials in radical ways? If you do anything really radical, it could very well be career-ending. Maybe not if those involved have the right kind of credentials (say, from the right kind of Ivy-League universities, or the European equivalents), in which case you might get more latitude…but still, there are limits.

    Surely the goal of education is always subject-formation. And you could use your position in higher education to form a kind of subject who might think critically, have actual agency, and who might participate in “dismantling” the “practico-theoretical framework” that reproduces the status quo. I hope you do. But be prepared for the cost. You won’t get tenured or promoted, may have trouble getting another job, and may sink to the level of itinerant lecturer (if you’re lucky). Now, I don’t have the cushion of any degrees from prestigious universities (all my degrees are from state schools), so perhaps the repercussions are more extreme.

    But let me offer you an example: I was teaching a graduate class in poetry to students planning to work as high school teachers, and I asked them to write a paper defending poetry. Basically, I wanted them to consider why it might be a good thing to force teenagers to read poems, essentially against their will. What might they gain from being made to read a poem? I expected that such a defense would be simple (that students with degrees in English LIterature could come up with some reasons to read a poem), and that it might motivate them to think more carefully about HOW they would teach a poem to an adolescent.

    So, I lost that job. This didn’t stop me. I did the same think with a class on Shakespeare: asked them to make a case for reading Shakespeare. I don’t do that anymore either. Certainly, I expected this. And when I got my doctorate I was prepared to never have a tenured position, to never make a real living wage out of teaching. I knew that failing to produce good subjects of capitalism would limit my career and employment opportunities.

    My point is, are you willing to consider that if what you do in your position is in fact at all radical, you will not keep that position long? And I’m not saying you’ll get fired if you try to recruit anti-american militants for a guerilla army. I’m saying if you try to teach students to consider such simple questions as “why read a poem?” you may risk your job.

    Or, and I would seriously like to know this, is this a problem limited to someone like me, with degrees from public universities whose jobs have therefore been limited to lower-level colleges and universities (lower-tier state schools and fairly non-competitive over-priced private schools)? Do you not face this same struggle if you work at the kinds of schools at which someone like me could never get even an adjunct position? Can you be more “radical” there? I hope so, or the world may be doomed.

    Myself, I come from and spend much of my time among the “destitute, dirty, and drug-induced dropouts” of America. So perhaps these are limitations that others don’t face.

    Good Luck! I sincerely hope RED is a success!

  2. Glenn Wallis Avatar

    Hi Tom. Thanks for this comment. I’ll say more about it later. I’ll also try to get E. D. over here to engage. It would be cool, too, if you could also copy and paste it at the Incite Items site where the article appears. This discussion at another blog, djb, is also relevant to your comments, for instance, concerning the risks of actual radical action on an institution of higher education. Maybe you, and others, will want to chime in.

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