We are pleased to welcome brother Nathaniel
Turner as a member of the BlackCommentator.com
Editorial Board. His column ďThe GambitĒ will appear on a regular basis.
opening in chess in which a minor piece, or pieces, usually a pawn,
is offered in exchange for a favorable position 2. a remark intended to open a conversation.
come to realize that Iím just a pawn on the chess board of life.
Not complaining or anything, and I donít want you to feel sorry
for me. Pawns are not powerless. True, we can only move forward,
never backward, just one space at a time, and we donít have the
same mobility as the big fancy pieces. Still, the pawn has its strengths.
We can impede the flow of an adversary. Carry out guerrilla attacks
with other pawns. Best of all, if we stay on the board long enough,
we can develop into a coveted Queen and change the whole game!
you see, low self-esteem isnít my problem. My problem is: Iím trying
to figure out what my next move should be. Iím looking for a way
to get more engaged in The Movement, even while holding down a full-time
job, a wife, and three children. Here am I. Send me. There must
be something more I can do.
letís be honest, itís not like you donít need me. You need as many
as pawns as you can get. Because the numbers just ainít there. You
donít have enough chess pieces to effect any real social change.
maybe youíre wondering: whatís with all the allusions to an idle
game of chess when so much is on the line? Universal health care.
Economic justice. War and Peace. Corporate media dominance. Environmental
degradation. Xenophobia and on and on.
my answer to that is simple: ďThe game of Chess,Ē as Ben Franklin
wrote, ďis not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities
of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired
or strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.Ē
ancient Persian war game, Franklin argued, was a tool that could
inculcate four indispensable habits of mind:
which ďconsiders the consequences that may attend an action.Ē I
call it vision or grand strategy. On the left, you can find deep
insights but very little foresight. In fact, The Movement right
now has about as much vision as Stevie Wonder. Actually, Stevie
is one up on the left because heís figured out a way to sing to
the masses and not just perform for the choir. Itís not that thereís
a lack of clear values or goals being expressed. Itís precisely
that virtually no strategy is apparent, one that delineates a path
from here to there.
ďwhich surveys the whole chess board or scene of action.Ē To be
circumspect literally means to look around. It also means to carefully
consider all circumstances and possible consequences, or at least
as many as you can manage. In my travels on the margins of the U.S.
left community, itís hard not to be struck by how insulated groups
tend to be, often completely unaware of the initiatives of other
groups. Itís like every group organizing around an issue thinks
their issue is The Issue.
in terms of becoming more attractive to the disillusioned and disengaged,
progressives donít talk like ordinary people. They often donít look
like ordinary people, which violates a fundamental tenet of even
the most radical of radicals. Che Gueveraís writings on guerrilla
warfare noted the importance of blending in with the common people.
which is to ďnot make moves too hastily.Ē On this score, progressives
can be forgiven for being hastily reactive at times, given the urgency
of alleviating the suffering of people and the planet. But, when
the left does make a move, it is incautious to project a sense of
self-righteousness towards mainstream working people. Far too many
passionate agitators on the left give off a palpable vibe that
they despise ordinary folk - their religion, their entertainment,
their food and their unwillingness to fight in the absence of viable
and desirable alternative institutions, or at least a clear vision
of what that would look like. I once had an exchange with a leftist
blogger and asked him: If there was a magic button that could wipe
out corporate America and the government overnight, would you push
it? Without the slightest hesitation or caveat, he said: Yes! As
if it didnít matter that millions of ordinary folkís livelihoods
and sense of purpose would immediately evaporate without any means
or resources to survive. To say nothing of the historical fact that
revolution doesnít happen overnight. Social change, even if it culminates
in a radical break from the past, takes generations to unfold.
finally, the most important lesson chess offers is learning ďthe
habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the
state of our affairs; the habit of hoping for a favorable change,
and that of persevering in the search of resources.Ē
where I fall short - in the hope and perseverance department. But
being the stubborn, faithful pawn that I am, Iím not content sitting
on the back row or the edge of the board. I must move forward.
like I was saying: my problem is in figuring out what my next move
should be. Iím looking for a way to get more engaged in The Movement,
while holding down a full-time job, a wife, and three children.
And Iím here to tell ya: my problem is your problem.
the problem (mine and yours), more specifically: despite the valiant
efforts and determined commitment of many activists, as Michael
Alpert has pointed out, ďdissent has come to mean traveling long
distances, staying in difficult circumstances, taking to the streets
in militant actions that highlight civil disobedience and street
fighting, and even risking arrest and severe mistreatment. If we
just pause a minute and think about it, it is obvious that this
is a lot to ask of people at any time, much less as their first
entry into activism.Ē
youíre a college student, or single, or a tenured professor, or
independently wealthy, maybe this isnít your personal problem. But,
if you think about hose with serious family obligations, I ask with
Alpert: ďHow many such folks are likely to join a demonstration
that seems to demand as a prerequisite great mobility and to involve
high risks as their initial step in becoming active?Ē
thing to consider on the outreach front is the obsession progressives
seem to have with the Internet. The Internet is an amazing networking
tool and can play an important role in raising awareness. But, the
truth is: the only people reading progressive websites are other
these challenges are paramount because if our numbers donít grow,
The Movement will have reached what Alpert calls ďplateau-ed dissent,Ē
which poses no threat to elites. The threat comes only when elites
know that The Movement has the capacity to replenish and keep growing.
what does a married pawn who happens to be the father of two teenage
daughters and a five-year-old son do?
thereís one thing The Movement needs itís more strategic thinkers.
In fact, itís not clear to me how well progressives understand the
difference between strategy and tactics. For example, Saul Alinkyís
book Rules for Radicals has an entire chapter on tactics but nothing on strategy.
Randy Shawís insightful primer, The
Activistís Handbook, has a chapter titled ďDonít Respond, StrategizeĒ but then
goes on to discuss ďtactical activismĒ and strategy as if they were
one and the same. Writing letters, protest marches, vigils, sit-ins,
teach-ins, fasts - those are all tactics, the effectiveness of which
because Iím not a believer in re-inventing the wheel, Iíll continue
to employ the usual tactics - when time and space allow. Meanwhile,
Iím going to teach my kids how to play chess so they can learn how
to think strategically and get in the practice of developing a long-term
vision. Maybe Iíll even start a local chess club that can serve
as way to draw more pawns to The Movement, engaging the uninitiated
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Nathaniel
Turner is a pseudonym for a Gen X writer, newspaper editor and activist.
He is a news analyst who offers commentaries on contemporary issues
facing the progressive movements in the USA Click here to
contact brother Turner.