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Lauren Anzaldo
Date Published: 
September 01, 2006

POWER gets around. At the Poor People’s Summit to End Global Poverty, at the massive three-day march to Miami to protest the FTAA, and in its organizing campaigns among San Francisco’s low- and no-wage workers, POWER has honed its ability to connect local people and local issues to the global struggle against imperialism. Now the organization—the full name of which is People Organized to Win Employment Rights—has put forth a book that easily breaks down imperialism and neoliberalism and then presents a hopeful alternative to these oppressive systems.

Towards Land, Work & Power is authored by the four committee members of POWER’s Amandla Project. The Amandla Project began as a space for anti-imperialist POWER leaders to connect more deeply to the global justice movement. The book was born out of the committee members’ work to answer a series of questions about the global situation and the role of multi-racial community organizations, such as POWER, in toppling imperialism.

The first half of the book consists of a thorough assessment (and indictment) of the economic systems of capitalism, imperialism and neoliberalism. In more than 50 pages, the authors trace the emergence of capitalism in the early 15th century, the transition to imperialism brought on by the rise of new technologies in the late 1800’s, and the development of neoliberalism as a tool to stabilize the inevitable imbalances of imperialism.

Using colloquial phrases such as, “Just like a freezer can’t bake a cake, capitalism doesn’t produce equality” and easy-to-follow analogies and examples, the authors do their best to maintain the readability of this chapter covering otherwise dense topics. However, one gets the impression at times that the authors are unclear who their target audience is. They spend six pages explaining capitalism, yet they drop a term such as “gender binary” without so much as a definition. This first chapter may be too heady for some and not challenging enough for others.

Looking beyond the unevenness and sheer length and detail of the first chapter, one finds enough little-known facts to satisfy the knowledgeable, experienced activist. As history, this book is informative. As strategy, it is thought-provoking.

Suitable material

The last half of the book focuses on POWER’s work and vision. The second chapter features illustrations of how global imperialist capitalism has led, time and again, to the dispossession of working-class people of color in San Francisco. With these specific examples, the authors connect the dots between the local and the global.

Towards Land, Work & Power concludes with a platform for “land, work and power”; in other words, decent housing, financial stability, health care, environmental integrity and full social liberation for all people. The authors hearken back to the demand of Zapatista leader Subcommandante Marcos, introduced earlier in the book: “Para todos, todo” (For everyone, everything). The final pages contain a three-part plan for building a broad-based anti-imperialist movement to challenge the power structure and achieve these goals.

While the authors are obviously Communist-influenced (the book quotes Marx, Lenin and Ho Chi Minh throughout), their analysis is a refreshing elaboration on the usual singular-class-consciousness of Communism. They note that Queerness, race and native language—among other factors—play a part in how one is treated or mistreated by society, and they call for a movement led by members of historically oppressed communities. As historian/author Robin D.G. Kelley writes in his advance praise, the book offers “a sophisticated anti-imperialist strategy that pays attention to race, gender, culture, community, immigration and international solidarity.”

Missing from this resource “by conscious organizers for conscious organizers” are case studies and examples of how POWER organizers do what they do. The book alludes to Bay Area campaigns to raise the minimum wage and resist gentrification, but the authors do not detail how these campaigns were organized and executed. Organizers learn from and are inspired by other organizers. Real-life stories from the trenches would add so much to what the authors present in this book.

Towards Land, Work & Power is suitable material for a study group of up-and-coming community organizers. It serves as an in-depth introduction to the nefarious political and economic machinations of the ruling elite and outlines a well thought out vision for the future, but it will leave many wanting more.

Unite to Fight Press, 2005