Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Beneath the Mountain

I'm at a Sound Alliance key leaders retreat today. While there isn't anything especially retreat-like about it, and as a member of an unaffiliated organization I'm hardly one of their key leaders, still, here I am. The only way homeless people will ultimately win more than a shit sandwich with extra mayo is in the context of a mass movement. We need economic justice for the bottom 85%.

So here I am, looking for allies.

Ever since I read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals in college, and then, as a young organizer, his biography, I've been an admirer of the mass-based model he inspired. The Industrial Areas Foundation that he helped build, with 57 affiliates across the US, Canada, Germany, and the UK, is bringing membership organizations together to reclaim democracy.

Sound Alliance is the IAF organizing effort in this area. While they've mostly focused on Thurston, Pierce, and South King County, over the past year they've been building for another run at Seattle. Two previous attempts have failed, leaving a certain amount of cynicism in their wake. Seattle is a turfy sort of town, and there's a half-assed coalition pretty much everywhere you look.

This time, they're taking it slow, building on their successes to the south. If it works, there will be a founding conference in June attended by around 4,000 people, all of whom are organizing for power.

And that's the sort of thing that makes my tired hopeful heart go pitter-fucking-patter. Seriously.

So we began today with an extended exercise in metaphor. A photo of Mount Rainier was projected on the wall. I happen to like the one above, which is the view from South Seattle.

"What do we notice about the mountain," asked organizer Joe Chrastil? He went on, but I'll summarize.

First of all, it's massive. Mountains are awe-inspiring. The base is unbelievably broad. Mountains create their own eco-systems. They are defining. People see them from everywhere. But here's the cool part. All of the energy in Rainier is below the surface. There are all these pools of hot magma that come together, and under the right circumstances, are forced up through fissures for some truly spectacular results.

Volcanic mountains, someone objected, are destructive. We are instead constructive and focused. This is where the metaphor breaks down. Or not. "Some things need to be destroyed," murmured someone nearby.

My own imagery of volcanoes and magma comes from watching Tarzan on TV when I was around seven. He's inside a volcano, crossing an orange lake of lava by stepping carefully from rock to rock, barefoot. Even at seven this struck me as ludicrous. But that's us, I think. Inside the mountain, coming together, building for power, playing with fire, trying to not get burned.


Bruce Triggs said...

The Puyallup Valley (under all the shipping containers and parking-lots) has some of the deepest top-soil in the country. That's all minerals pushed up by the Mountain.

So it's not just destructive; without volcanos (and glaciers) we'd all live in a desert like the Australian outback, one of the most geologically innert places on earth, and the most environmentally hostile to humans.

So, blow your top, it helps the plants grow.

David B. said...

Volcanoes are constructive from the viewpoint of nature, building new land by coughing up molten rock. (Cf. Hawaii.)

They're destructive of human habitation when humans ignore the fundamental forces of nature and build too close to the fire.

The metaphor works if you adopt a sufficiently broad context.

hylarious said...

I've heard that at the summit of Rainier, snow can't stick. The top is cold, subject to the erosive power of the weather and occasionally, unable to cohere, it submits to gravity (Rainier was several hundred meters higher before it sent all that topsoil to us lowlanders). But there's warmth there: heat coming up from below.