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Over the past five years, Left Turn magazine has gained popularity among many organizers and activists for our in-depth news coverage of politics, media, and social movements in the US and globally. In all of our work, we have strived to project a non-sectarian, non-dogmatic, radical critique of corporate globalization and imperialism.
But perhaps what makes Left Turn unique from other alternative media is that at the core, Left Turn is a political project.
The magazine serves as a movement publication, working to reflect and support the grassroots. By playing this role, it has attempted to connect key pieces of the vibrant yet still very fractured anti-capitalist movement in here the US. Left Turn believes in the importance of giving voice and space to those who are active in struggles for justice and self-determination, rather than those who merely comment on them from afar. Therefore our writers are often those who have been shut out of mainstream printed political discussions—youth and those most affected by the systems of oppression against which they fight.
By encouraging these new authors to write and reflect on their experiences, Left Turn supports a new and diverse generation of activists. While unpaid, these writers are themselves invested in this political project, and have found the magazine a helpful resource in their own local organizing. Maintaining these mutually supportive relationships between our collective and writers and activists from multiple movements, is what makes us thrive.
Although we take inspiration and give extensive coverage to social movements all over the world, we take the words of the Zapatistas seriously when they ask us to “be a Zapatista in your community, be a rebel where you are.” Therefore, we place ourselves within the struggle for revolutionary change in the US, the heart of the global empire.
Working for radical social justice in the United States can seem like a cruel paradox. On the one hand, we live in the epicenter of power and privilege. As activists and organizers we are located in a place and period in time where our actions (or lack thereof) carry a huge amount of influence across the world. On the other hand, we have not been immune to the effects of neoliberalism and corporate globalization. We have been especially hit hard by the barrage of corporate media institutions that seek to impose a “philosophy of futility” on us—discouraging collective social action. We have witnessed the attacks on the social safety net over the past 25 years, part of a larger rollback of many of the gains won by the social movements in previous decades. It is important to remember that those social movements were systematically disrupted and crushed through a combination of COINTELPRO and mass incarceration of black and brown activists and communities. With this, we have experienced a serious break down in social relationships as families have been torn apart by the criminalization and incarceration of a generation.
The power and vision of organized labor has been at an all-time low, making it hard for the majority of working people to collectively press for even the most basic of human rights. Working people are putting in longer hours for less pay with fewer benefits. This has led to the creation of a large, flexible, and often timid “precarious workforce.” Youth seeking to work for progressive or radical change now often turn to NGOs and the larger ‘Non-Profit Industrial Complex’ for work. One of the key problems with the predominance of these types of organizations, even those with more radical visions, is that they make for a highly fractionalized movement with organizational goals often tied to the agenda of their liberal funders. This inevitably creates a barrier to building movement strategies that span multiple issues and have larger systemic analysis.
Cracks in the Empire
In 1999, we witnessed a crack in the empire. Inspired by the Zapatista uprising and other movements against neoliberalism, tens of thousands swarmed the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle and forever altered the discourse on free trade and corporate globalization. Suddenly the impossible seemed possible, ushering in a new generation of anti-capitalist activism in North America.
Following September 11, 2001, and the (reformulated) “war on terror,” many of these movements have fallen under serious attack, and activists have had to re-orient themselves. Fear mongering and repression in the post-9/11 environment has been used by the state not only to come down on Arabs and Muslims, but on all people of color, immigrants, and radicals. In the face of the “new imperialism,” showcased by the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, many activists in the US have seen the need to shift energies to building up a broad-based anti-war movement. This movement has been marked by an impressive series of large demonstrations over the past four years, including the historic Feb 15, 2003 protests around the world. Still, without having articulated a long-term strategy beyond the street protests, the anti-war movement has yet to attract many of today’s younger activists into its ranks—something that will continue to be a problem as the Bush administration steps up its aggressive rhetoric towards Iran.
Left Turn was born from the hopeful energy in the streets of Seattle, but matured in “the age of terrorism.” We have strived to preserve the spirit of the slogan “Another World is Possible,” while working tirelessly to combat the misinformation and racist logic of US empire. We have tried to give political and historical context to the Middle East, both to counter the distorted picture painted by the corporate media as well as the simplistic analyses within segments of the Left. To this end, we have highlighted progressive political forces within the Arab and Muslim world, and shown how US and Western intervention has consistently worked against those forces. It is crucial for activists in the US to understand the complexities of the region, specifically the fact that fundamentalist forces in the Middle East (Muslim, Jewish, Christian) are by no means “inherent to that place,” but have historically been nurtured and supported by Western governments.
The Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination, an issue that has historically divided the progressive movement here in the US, has been central to our analysis of the Middle East. The Israeli occupation of Palestine, supported and funded by the US, is key to understanding the role of the Western powers in maintaining hegemony over the region’s natural resources. An important aspect of Left Turn’s work has been to support grassroots activists in the Palestine Solidarity Movement—a movement under attack from both the white right wing and internal sectarianism.
There are many challenges facing the left in the US today. In order for us to move forward it is important to have a sober assessment of the political terrain. It is equally important however, that we do not fall into the trap of defeatism and demobilization. We do not need to put our hopes into the lesser of two evil political parties, and we do not need to compromise our larger vision for a series of short-term reforms. We know from history that the road of pragmatism and compromise leads only to dead ends. As Robin D.G. Kelley writes, “we still need freedom dreams.” We still need revolution.
What this revolution would look like is still far from clear. Like many of today’s social movements around the globe, we have rejected both the notion of the vanguard party structure as a means to liberate ourselves, as well as the path of social democracy and electoral politics. There is indeed no paved road to revolution, but many unbeaten trails that we have yet to walk.
Past attempts at revolution have shown us is that true freedom and liberation cannot be imposed nor granted from above. They must grow from grassroots organizations of people controlling and running their own communities, schools, workplaces, and lives. Therefore, we at Left Turn , like much of the global justice movements, commit ourselves to democratic and non-hierarchical organizing as a core building block for any truly radical change.
Hope in the Dark
Finally, we wish to project a politics of hope, inspiration, and solidarity based on both the rich history of social movements and the visionary work of everyday people coming together to radically transform society. We live in dark times, but it is important to remember that we have the power to chart another course. There is widespread resentment of the Bush administration and the larger political establishment that we can build on in the coming months. The governments criminal response to Hurricane Katrina domestically and the ongoing disastrous occupation of Iraq abroad has made ruling class’ priorities quite clear to millions of people.
The challenge for us is not simply to keep pointing out how bad everything is for people. We have to be capable of building movements that those people actually want to be a part of and feel like they can help shape. For our part, we will continue to provide a forum for cross-movement dialogue, debate, and analysis. We hope that over the years people will continue to identify with the politics and vision of Left Turn , finding ways to support our work as we support yours.
The Left Turn editorial collective