Transforming Power: From the Personal to the Political, by Judy Rebick, Penguin Canada, 277 pages, $24
Several years ago, I was invited to contribute to a podcast debating movies with Judy Rebick, activist, feminist and Canada's all-around heavyweight lefty.
Rebick was in the process of working on her new book, Transforming Power . She asked me to read it, and I did. I found myself surprised, scared and intrigued, but most of all intellectually stimulated by the wide variety of ideas tucked between the covers.
The book begins with the end of the anti-globalization movement. Many of us recall the demonstrations in Seattle and Quebec, gatherings of largely young people protesting against the policies of the World Trade Organization. The movement was gaining significant momentum, but then came the attack on the Twin Towers, and it was quashed by the politics of war and terror. While the mainstream media remained primarily focused on these developments, another global movement was growing: the World Social Forum.
Rebick's fascination with the WSF is largely rooted in her attraction to its basic ideology. Rather than a top-down approach, where noted political "celebrities" - such as Rebick herself - facilitate workshops or give lectures, the WSF's idea is that normal people are best suited to solve their own problems. While I remain somewhat doubtful about the degree of patience required for a consensual decision-making process, Rebick makes a convincing argument in favour of changing the top-down model with which we've lived for so long. The familiar refrain of, "I'm the boss and I'm going to tell you what to do" has been replaced with, "Let's talk, be respectful of one another and we can solve our problems together."
Idealistic? Probably. But the examples Rebick cites, such as the success of the open-source movement, and even Barack Obama's approach to organizing his campaign, give considerable credence to the horizontal model of power-sharing.
From the WSF, Rebick journeys to Venezuela and Bolivia. While far from perfect, Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales appear to be conducting experiments in socialism that are beneficial for all, with a particular emphasis on the planet. Morales asserts, "The model that concentrates capital in the hands of the few, this neo-liberal model, this capitalist model, is destroying the planet Earth. And is heading toward destroying humanity."
The advantage Latin American leaders have is a huge underclass of poor people determined to secure a better, fairer future for themselves and their children. Chavez and Morales envision 21st-century socialism as a movement that promises an even distribution of wealth with equal consideration for the environment. While I found it difficult to shake some of my preconceptions about Chavez, it was impossible not to be attracted to the significant changes that are occurring in parts of Latin America.
Compassion is another pervasive undercurrent that flows throughout the book, compassion for the planet and compassion for those at risk and in need. However the message isn't the usual "open your wallet or shame on you." Instead, Rebick argues that compassion makes good business sense. Rather than letting ghetto youth in the South Bronx end up in prison, American activist Van Jones helped to initiate Green Jobs for All. The idea is marvellously simple: If you have a community that requires sustainable construction, why not train unemployed youth to do the work? Green Jobs for All has moved beyond the South Bronx and is now part of a new cross-country movement that aims to train 250,000 young people, elevating them out of poverty and into green jobs.
One of the most appealing aspects of Transforming Power is its refusal to point fingers and blame. As Van Jones points out, Martin Luther King Jr. didn't say, "I have a complaint." Far too often, the left shakes its head, somberly pointing its finger at this person or that party for the ills of the world. This is not the case in Transforming Power . Rebick doesn't claim to have the answers, but she has travelled the world talking to the people who are asking the interesting questions and looking for new solutions. I have only touched on a few of the exciting places she has visited on her road to find out.
When I began this review, I said I was afraid, and I still am. While this book offers tremendous hope, it also presents daunting challenges. It won't be easy to change the way we've lived for the past 60-odd years. The way we've raced through the world's resources, the way we've consumed and discarded with the glee of a child chucking sand at the beach. I believe that we've done these things innocently, but now we are aware of the reality of our actions. And the price is very high indeed.
If you have niggling doubts about staying on the train we've been riding, you should read Transforming Power . It's exciting to travel to worlds where completely new realities seem possible.
Cathi Bond is a writer/broadcaster/podcaster working on a novel set in the mean streets of Toronto during the late 1970s.Report Typo/Error