Andrew Cornell
Movement for a New Society and Contemporary Anarchism- Part two:
action, community and training
Article published on 27 April 2020
zuletzt geändert am 27 May 2020
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MNS demonstrated its approach to activism almost immediately. In July 1971, the newly minted group launched itself into the Baltimore harbor in a fleet of canoes and kayaks to blockade a Pakistani ship from docking to take on a shipment of military supplies. The confrontation grew out of a "study-action team" that began researching the impact of U.S. policies and business ties abroad. The team decided to focus on the Nixon administration’s financial and military support for the Pakistani military dictatorship, known for its brutal suppression of political opponents and the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Though its first attempt at blocking a weapons shipment was defeated by police and Coast Guard officers, who hauled the peace fleet out of the water and into jail cells, the action received wide coverage in national print, radio, and television reportage. (36)

Neither discouraged nor satisfied with their results, MNS expanded the campaign. The group joined forces with the Philadelphia Friends of East Bengal, whose members were more directly impacted by the crisis in the subcontinent, and appealed to the International Longshoremen’s Association, convincing the union to refuse to load military material bound for Pakistan. When MNS and its allies discovered another Pakistani ship was to take on supplies in Philadelphia in August, they again mobilized a sea blockade, but this time paired it with a picket on the docks. After an intense effort by the MNS fleet to evade police boats and place itself in the freighter’s path, the Al-Ahmadi managed to dock. Still, following the lead of their local union president, the longshoremen refused to cross a picket line that MNS maintained continuously until the ship sailed away empty twenty-eight hours later(37).

MNS deployed similar tactics in April 1972, when it allied with Vietnam Veterans against the War and local Quaker groups to block the USS Nitro from loading munitions bound for the Gulf of Tonkin. Though ultimately unsuccessful in blocking the ship, the skirmishes on land and sea proved so inspiring in the Nitro’s reluctant crew that five sailors literally jumped from the ship and attempted to join the war resisters in their canoes.(38)
These actions grew out of campaign models taught by MNS members with extensive experience in the civil rights and antiwar movements, including Bill Moyer and Richard Taylor, both of whom had held staff positions in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization led by King. The blockades reconfirmed the MNS strategists’ belief that direct action could yield tangible resuits and educate the public through media coverage, but needed to be rooted in organizing campaigns and coalition building to be effective. (39)

If the port blockades demonstrated the commitment of Philadelphia MNS members to well-planned action, other developments showcased MNS as a national organization that was able to mobilize in solidarity with radical struggles on a moment’s notice. When federal officials seemed poised to violently oust American Indian Movement members occupying the hamlet of Wounded Knee in March of 1973, MNS implemented a phone tree to contact participants throughout the network. Collectives in Madison, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Denver, Portland, and Philadelphia responded by organizing carloads of people to converge on Wounded Knee within two days. On arrival, MNS members organized "observer teams" to position themselves between the troops and occupiers. Although the members may have forestalled violence in the first days,the government eventually forced their withdrawal.(40) MNS later launched nationally coordinated protests less than twenty-four hours after news broke of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979 (41).

Beginning with its first collective statement, MNS emphasized that a major component of its program would be the creation of intentional communities of activists. As first conceived, the movement would be made up of six-to-twelve person Nonviolent Revolutionary Groups (NRGs, or "Energies") that would work on issues as teams and "share their lives as well as work, sometimes living communally." (42) In Strategy for a Living Revolution, published in 1973, Lakey explicitly described NRGs as a contemporary form of affinity group, though he did not cite the anarchist origins of that organizational form. (43) MNS’s founding document explained,
"Through NRGs, individuals can seek to live the revolution now by giving up the characteristic scatter of liberal activities which results in fragmented selves and soulless organizations, and substitute concentration and community"
MNS, then, was conceptualized as a "network of small groups rather than of individual members" that would coordinate their activities on the local, regional, and national levels. In areas where numerous groups were clustered, the movement would develop Life Centers: "more sizable, collective living arrangements for ongoing training and direct action campaigns“ (44).

Members organized collective living situations in cities such as Savannah and Seattle, and smaller towns like Ann Arbor and Madison. Participants typically lived in communal households, and participated in one or more collectives focused on an aspect of the work (such as direct actions, trainings, or macroanalysis seminars). Citywide meetings and informal social gatherings knit the collectives together. Members dispersed geographically and involved in an expanding array of campaigns shared their ideas and experiences with one another through a lively internal newsletter, variously titled Dandelion Wine, Wine, and Grapevine, published monthly by an internal communications collective that rotated between MNS groups in different cities each year. The entire network met for a week, once a year, at Whole Network Meetings to socialiize, strategize, and hash out policies affecting the entire organization. Whole Network Meetings in the mid-1970s brought together 100 to 120 people, usually about half of those participating in the organization in a given year.(45) The NRG terminology fell out of use after the first year, because rather than finding a primary political home in one specific affinity group, members tended in participate in multiple collectives as well as their households and the local MNS community; commitment to the network had trumped commitment to the individual NRG.

While many cities hoped to develop Life Centers, only Philadelphia was able to maintain a community Iarge and stable enough to offer the number of activities, collectives, and alternative institutions originally envisioned. In january 1976, when an internal census was completed, a ten-block area of West Philadelphia was home in nineteen collective households composed of four to eleven people each, with names such as "The Gathering“, "Kool Rock Amazons“ and "Sunflower." Members of these households worked in twenty-two different MNS collectives, including the Feminist Collective, the Training Organizing Collective, the Simple Living Group, and the Peace Conversion / B-1 Bomber Collective. (46) Households operated independentIy—choosing their own members, and establishing policies about what was purchased jointly and how much members were required to contribute to expenses. Household cultures varied: some collectives shared relgious practices, and others shared their entire incomes. (47) Until the mid-1980s, MNS did not pay anyone for movement work. Members were encouraged to work part-time jobs to earn the "bread money" they needed for monthly household expenses and personal items. Some members worked retail jobs, sometimes at cooperative enterprises, while others took on construction work, taught college courses, or staffed Quaker-related organizations.

MNS strategy prioritized the creation of alternative institutions that modeled egalitarian and anticapitalist values. Philadelphia members created a worker-owned print shop and a member-run food cooperative, while a Baltimore collective opened a toy store. Later, the MNS publications committee launched a commercial press, called New Society Publishers. These businesses provided jobs to MNS members along with services to the movement and others in the neighborhood. After a series of rapes, members also helped organize a block association that worked to prevent crime through community building. The block association rejected an increased police presence in favor of teams of neighbors that patrolled on foot, armed only with air horns. The association also offered victim counseling, which it believed was "helpful to prevent over-reaction in the longer run“ meaning the racism underlying the crime fears of white people living in racially mixed areas of West Philadelphia. (48) Alternative institutions were meant to demonstrate that radical activity could create immediate, concrete improvements in people’s daily lives—improvements, the founders believed, that would give organizers confidence, and were more likely than its seemingly remote utopian visions to attract neighbors and those not already radicalized to participate in MNS. (49)

Beyond serving as a base for alternative institutions, collective living was meant to allow members to live "simply" and inexpensively, permitting them to dedicate more time to movement work an reduce their environmental impact. Moreover, living in community was expected to promote the "personal growth" of MNS members. This commitment to individual transformation was perhaps the most ambiguous aspect of the MNS project, as it combined personal empowerment exercises with spirituality and the unlearning of oppressive behavior through a variety of radical therapy practices emergent at the time. Initially, members’ commitment to personal growth meant involvement in selfhelp and selfcare activities, such as yoga or learning to become "active listeners"- activities intended to aid them in becoming more effective in their daily lives and organizing work. Within the organization’s first year, MNS members in Philadelphia began an extended process of understanding and rooting out sexism - and later homophobia, classism, and racism - within the organization as well as in members’ personal lives.

As these discussions progressed, personal growth came to mean shedding the internalized structures of an unjust society - racist and ageist conditioning, patriarchal gender roles, and bourgeois "hang-ups. Though this process started with discussions internal in the group, it grew to take on other forms, including the development of "theory papers" and educational work. A Philadelphia men’s group, for instance, took steps in publicly challenge traditional gender roles by holding street meetings. Recounting an early experience, the group asked Dandelion readers to "imagine twenty men, speaking very personally about men’s liberation, holding hands and hugging, giving each other the needed support for such a scary situation, singing loudly and proudly about how we don’t want society’s ’John Wayne Image.’" (50) MNS understood that the personal was political, and therefore, saw the process of individuals developing aspects of their personality not sanctioned or encouraged by social expectations as a victory in itself. They also understood that unlearning oppressive assumptions and behavior was crucial to becoming better organizers.

Complicating each of these aspects of personal growth was the penchant most MNS members shared for "radical therapy" practices such as transactional analysis and especially reevaluation counseling (RC, also known as "cocounseling").(51) Invented by former Communist Party member Harvey Jackins, RC seeks to overcome oppression through reciprocal psychological counseling sessions arnong nonprofessional individuals trained in the process. The theory proposes that all people have been oppressed, and suggests that the path to overcoming that oppression is through emoting about individual painful and shameful experiences, including those from childhood, in order for the cocounselor to move past emotional "blockages" and think in a fully rational manner. Jackins believed that after dissolving all such blockages, practitioners could inhabit a childlike state of joy and innocence.

Despite the therapy movement’s hierarchical structure and revelations that Jackins had engaged in a pattern of sexual improprieties with fernale cocounselors, RC language and practice came to pervade MNS’s work. When deliberating about sensitive issues, for example, members might remind each other that it was alright to act "on our feelings," bot unhelpful to "act on our distress as it blurs good thinking." (52) In difficult meetings, facilitators often called for breaks to allow members to pair up for brief counseling sessions. In MNS, then, the Gandhian dictum that the revolutionaries must change as they change society merged with the growing interest in popular psychology, new age spirituality, and gurus that occupied many former radicals in the 1970s. (53) If the focus on personal development didn’t depoliticize MNS members, as it did to many of their contemporaries, it did shift MNS work in an individualistic direction that would have serious consequences for the organization in years to come.

Beyond developing personal skills, MNS communities were intended to shape movement culture by changing how participants interacted with each other. In an attempt to correct for the harsh style of many 1960s’ initiatives, MNS sought to model a form of radical politics that shunned aggressive and egoist behavior, and included emotional support for one’s comrades as central to the mission of social change organizations. ’This culture of support manifested itself in many ways: the practice of physical affection, both platonic and romantic, through hugging and snuggling (nonmonogamy was widespread among members); collective singing and other forms of self-entertainment in the collective homes; and the habit of engaging in "light and livelies"—seemingly childish games (similar to today’s icebreakers) to keep energy and spirits up during long meetings.

MNS, in summary, saw its form of collective living as an extension of the work undertaken in consciousness-raising groups and central to realizing the democratic ideal of individuals developing themselves to their greatest potential. A 1974 Dandelion article titled "MNS Support Communities" explained it this way:

"As members of the community gradually free them selves from oppressive roles and patterns of relating to each other (i.e., from sexist, ageist or racist conditioning), they provide an atmosphere of greater equality and openness for others. New members joining the community find themselves in an increasingly creative environment where they are being "asked"—simply by interacting with others —to be fully themselves, fully rational and loving human beings» (54)

The concentration of MNS members in West Philadelphia also made it .possible for the Life Center to serve as a training hub for organizers from around the world. MNS’s primary and most enduring contribution to 1970s’ social movements was the trainings that it provided to radicals in democratic group process, strategic campaign planning, and direct action tactics. Training collectives devised a series of learning experiences that varied in Iength from one day to two weeks to an entire year in residence at the Life Center. Other trainers traveled throughout the country, offering "4x4" workshops (two intensive four-day sessions with a break in the middle) to groups of nonviolent organizers working together on a specific campaign or simply living in the same town. (55) Beyond the specific content of these trainings, MNS’s model of movement education helped establish a culture of training within the antiauthoritarian Left that continues in the present day in the form of DJY skill shares, workshops at anarchist book fairs, and tactical trainings at convergence centers prior to large demonstrations.(56)

The antinuc!ear power movement came to national attention in the mid-1970s on the heels of a campaign of mass nonvio!ent direct action to resist the development of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. As the movement gained momentum, MNS was instrumental in both helping participants train for actions and encouraging the movement to structure itself on the basis of decentralized affinity groups coordinated through directty democratic spokescouncils. (57) Bookchin, who also played an important role in the Seabrook campaign, had discovered the tradition of organizing in affinity groups—small groups of people with commonalities—in his research into the Spanish Civil War. At nearly the same time, MNS began independenty promoting small group organizing, based on observations of how radicals had behaved in mass antiwar protests in the 1960s and the findings of group psychology studies that interested some members. Lakey recalIs that MNS first learned of the spokescouncil technique from a Swedish organizer attending a training at the Life Center who had used the method in actions to block highway construction in his own country. (58) MNS trainers traveled throughout New England in early 1977, facilitating workshops on nonviolent direct action with members and supporters of the largest antinuclear organization on the East Coast, the Clamshell Alliance, which was coordinating the action. On April 30, approximately fourteen hundred people—many of them self-identified anarchists—occupied the site of the proposed power plant, with a thousand or more doing support work. The occupiers were arrested en masse on May 1 and held at five armories nearby. (59)

The mass occupation, which occurred without violence or injury, was a stunning organizational feat in itself. Yet the MNS considered what happened next to be just as powerful and significant. In the armories, MNS members and other action coordinators worked to build jail solidarity—the practice of prisoners bargaining collectively for conditions of their release, rather than being treated individually—and an egalitarian communict in microcosm arose during the two weeks that the protesters were held. By facilitating collective decision making on legal strategy using spokescouncils, holding trainings, and encouraging dance parties and other celebrations amiong the hundreds of detainees, MNS helped turn the incarceration from.a repressive act meant to discourage resistance into one of excitement, empowerment, and networking (60)

The Seabrook occupation marked the first time that the three organizational components that have since become de rigueur for antiauthoritarian mass actions—affinity groups, spokescouncils, and consensus process—were used together in the United States. After Seabrook, MNS trainers traveled throughout the country training antinuke organizations in
consensus and encouraging them to adopt the spokesconccil model that had worked so well in New Hampshire.


36. Richard K. Taylor, Blockade! A Guide to Nonviolent Intervention (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1977); Richard Taylor, „Blockading for Bangladesh," Progressive, February 1972, 20-23. The Associated Press coverage of the blockade was picked up by newspapers across the country. See, for example. "Flotilla of Canoes Falls to Bar Ship,’ Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, TX), July 15, 1971, 50; "Union to Load Non-Military Cargo on Ship to Pakistan’ Cumberland News (Cumberland, MD).July 17, 1971,3..

37. Taylor, "Blockading for Bangladesh"; "East Pakistani Freighter ’Barred’ at Philadelphia," Cumberland News, August 13, 1971,3.

38. Chuck Fager, "22 Canoes vs. Navy“ pamphlet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Social Action vertical file, box 29, folder: Movement for a New Society; "7 Saiors jump Ship in N.J.“ Bucks County Courier Times (Bucks County, PA), April 24,1972,26; "Seven Sailors Leap Overboard in a Protest: Bridgeport Telegram (Bridgeport, CT), April 25, 1972, 31.

39. The fact that neither the Pakistani nor the Vietnam actions developed into longer-standing or extraregional campaigns may provide an early example of the limits of the
movement-building techniques that MNS promoted in the early 1970s.

40. Jim Schrag, "MNS at Wounded Knee: The Network Works," Dandelion, June 1973, 1.

41. MNS flind-raising appeal, Spring 1979, Labadie Collection, University of Michigan, vertical file, folder: Socialism-Movement for a New Society.

42 "MNS Structure" MNS Packet,’, Wisconsin Historical Society, Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1.

43. "Program for a New Society," in Lakey, Strategy for a Living Revolution, 72-78.

44. "Program for a New Society; A Statement by A Quaker Action Group“, leaflet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Social Action vertical file, box 1, A Quaker Action Group folder.

45. MNS membership numbers are difficult to calculate, since membership was loosely defined in the organisation’s first decade. Often small groups that expressed interest in MNS’s political vision were considered "part of the network" in internal publications, only to disappear from the record soon afterward. This characterization of the life of MNS members is primarily derived from Raasch-Gilman, "The Movement for a New Society." See also George Lakey, "Catching Up and Moving On: What Can We Learn for the Future from the Movement for a New Society ?" manuscript, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, MNS Collection, acc. 90A-55, box 9.

46. Jim Schrag, "Collectives of the Movement for a New Society and ’Friends of MNS’ in West Philadelphia," Swarthmore College Peace Collection, MNS Collection, acc. 90A-55, box 15.

47. „The Philadelphia Life Center“ Dandelion, Spring 1976, n.p.

48. "Neighborhood Block Group Fights Crime, Fear of it Dandelion, October 1973, n.p.

49. "Alternative Institutions," MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1; Lakey, interview.

50. Dion Lerman and Scott Burgwin, "Men’s Liberation", Dandelion, Fall 1975, 9.

51. Raasch-Gilman, "The Movement for a New Society," 64-74; Scott Burgwin, "Re-evaluation Counseling as a Tool for Social Change," Dandelion, Spring 1976,1-3. For a critical analysis of reevaluation counseling, see Mathew Lyons, "Sex, Lies, and
Co-counseling,"Activist Man’sJournal, August 1993, available at—reevaluation-counseling/sexlies.htm.

52. Bill Moyer, "MNS Historical Development Goal to Start the 1980’s: Move from the Spontaneous’ to the ’Empowerment’ Organizational Model," January 31, 1981, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, MNS Collection, PC 154, acc. 90A-55, box 10.

53. On former radicals turning to gurus and mysticism, see Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Left in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York; W. W. Norton and Company, 1979); Jerry Rubin, Growing Up at Thirty Seven, (New York: M. Evans, 1976).

54. "MNS Support Communities,"Dandelion, Winter 1974, n.p.

55. "Training“ MNS Packet, Wisconsin Historical Society, Movement for a New Society Records, 1974-77, box 1; Raasch-Gilman, "The Movement for a New Society," 4-15.

56. I thank Chris Dixon for this insight.

57. The spokescouncil, also known as the "small-to-large group decision-making process“ is a form of organization in which representatives of affinity groups meet to communicate their group’s ideas and deliberate on issues affecting the larger group, typically using consensus process.

58. Lakey, interview.

59. "MNS at Seabrook“ Dandelion, Spring 1977, 12-17. For an account of the antinuclear movement, see Barbara Epstein, Political Protest and Cultural Revolution: Nonviolent Direct Action in the 1970s and 1980s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

60. MNS was certainly not the first organization to transform incarceration into an opportunity for movement building. For the free speech fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, see Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (New York: Quadrangle, 1969),173-97. For a discussion of the black public sphere of incarceration" during the civil rights movement, see Houston Baker,
"Critical Memory and the Black Public Sphere," in The Black Public Sphere: A Public Culture Book, ed. Black Public Sphere Collective, 5-38 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995):

See also:

Clam Magic: The Birth of a National Anti-Nuclear Movement

About nonviolent resistance from Seabrook to Vermont Yankee

Legacy of Seabrook nuclear protest debated

P.S. :

See also: Andrew Cornell’s "Oppose and Propose", Lessons from Movement for a New Society
Review by Chris Rossdale, Peace news, May 2012 | Issue 2545

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