Common Challenges to Building Consciousness
Arguably the hardest aspect of organizing (especially revolutionary organizing) is building consciousness. Not specifically of the subject matter (i.e., anti-capitalist/imperialist, socialism, equality, prisoner struggle) but of their role in the larger picture and its influence on their lives. Such consciousness leads to meaningful action. Due to this, it is the most rewarding of political objectives. It is also the most difficult to cultivate.
In pursuit of building consciousness, revolutionaries face many obstacles. A predominant, recurring obstacle is expanding peoples' perspective beyond their individual material concerns. A person's material interests constitute primary motivation for activism against and contributing to capitalism. In the Third World we see stringent struggles against capitalism. The opposite is equally true within capitalist societies. Material interests/motivations are inextricably welded to an individual's perspective of, and instinct for, self-preservation. This leads to a spectacular (depending on your ideological bent) narrowing down of alternatives, options and ultimately choices. A non-conducive situation for First World revolutionary organizing.
Our natural inclination is to allow self-preservation to impulse our actions once fear or a threat exceeds acceptable levels. People react as basic as scared animals in danger. Due to social evolution, our responses are more complex and advanced, more involved, what one can call a "social" self-preservation instinct. Similar to the brain shutting down because of excessive stress or trauma, emerging consciousness among First Worlders regresses when one's standard of living is threatened. Breaking First World attachment to physical/material comforts (possessions, commodities, thing-centrism) is first imperative to any revolutionary organizing, in particular; and wider political consciousness, in general.
A great amount of time, energy and attention must be given to shattering these real constraints. Class suicide among First World activists is the end result of such efforts. Through a patient, methodical process of expansive efforts (educational of real costs of capitalism/imperialism), diligence in those efforts and demonstrating the feasibility of alternative means (non-capitalistic), an organizer can make a meaningful contribution to supplanting capitalism.
People are selfish and revolutionary anti-imperialists should remind themselves that their target is the personal element, first and foremost. Even the perfect rally/demonstration, regardless of how correct its politics, will have a difficult time penetrating the calloused minds of those long accustomed to, and blinded by, capitalism. Especially when it concerns prisoners and penal systems/institutions. Most First Worlders simply deem it a necessary evil to preserve society.
MIM(Prisons) responds: Those First Worlders this author refers to are right that the prison system and institutions are a necessary evil to preserve the society as it is. That's the main difference between our prison work and that of many prison abolitionists — we know that we can't get rid of prisons in their current form unless we also get rid of capitalism.
This article brings up real challenges in our work. In ULK, we hope to host an ongoing conversation about ways we can be most effective in accomplishing the tasks this author calls out as most imperative: building consciousness, changing value systems, showing alternatives, etc. Send in your experiences and successes so we can continue learning from each other!