Lessons from Populism: Build the Better World Yourself

"The ultimate problem in Nebraska was the absence of the kind of statewide cooperative infrastructure that elsewhere provided the agrarian movement with its vehicle of organization, it schoolroom of ideology, and its culture of self-respect. Cooperation, sometimes merely the promise of cooperation, could attract farmers to the Alliance and, under other additional influences, could propel them towards an insurgent political stance; but only the cooperative experience provided the kind of education that imparted to the political movement the form and substance of the greenback heritage. It was banker opposition to large-scale cooperatives that made farmers want to do something about private banking control over the nation's currency."

There is a great value in the study of history. The populist movement did not catch on in Nebraska, according to Goodwyn, because farmers did not become involved in the direct work of building the cooperatives which would free them from debt peonage to the merchant class.

So my challenge to the occupy movement is this: occupying a park is not the immediate organizing towards a better world as I once thought it was. In fact, as many of us found, living in a winter-bound public park is way worse than living in a house. Our occupation is, instead, a living petition, a prayer, directed towards our governmental officials to change things for us.

Do we lack confidence in our political structures? Do we believe our government incompetent and undemocratic, thralls of the one percent and multinational corporations? Let's move in spite of our government. I ask, how can we go about the work of fixing, through our direct cooperative labor, the problems that this government and their corporate partners have engendered?

Occupying parks was never our end goal. It is a step in the process by which we build a populist movement.

And if we listen to the historical witness of the Populist Movement, a successful populist political movement is built in response to the frustrations that arise at being prevented from organizing a direct, on-the-ground project to acheive economic independence from state and corporate forces.

Many people ask, what is our "slavery" issue, a turn-or-burn negative for our movement? Instead, I ask, what is our worker cooperative movement? How can we build the solution to our own problems? How can we build our own banks, investing in sustainable, long-term green projects that affirm worker dignity and respect the environment? How can the unemployed organize employment among themselves? How can we create our own economies? Our own currencies? How can we work together, in our communities, to give our kids the critical thinking skills that our test-driven schools are lacking?

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About the Author

Hi. My name is Jeremiah John. I'm a sf/f writer and activist.

I just completed a dystopian science fiction novel. I run a website which I created that connects farms with churches, mosques, and synagogues to buy fresh vegetables directly and distribute them on a sliding scale to those in need.

In 2003, I spent six months in prison for civil disobedience while working to close the School of the Americas, converting to Christianity, as one does, while I was in the clink.