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Preparing the Ground For Cadre Organizations, with Milena Velis and Jayanni Webster of LeftRoots

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Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Preparing the Ground For Cadre Organizations, with Milena Velis and Jayanni Webster of LeftRoots

This episode wraps up the current season of Hegemonicon with one more look at “What We’re Building.” William sits down with Milena Velis and Jayanni Webster, who were both deeply engaged with LeftRoots, an organization that operated for about 10 years before intentionally sunsetting at the end of 2023.

LeftRoots’s major mission was training and preparing people to become cadre. The organization’s sunset has now made way for one, maybe two, successor organizations that intend to be disciplined networks of cadre moving a coherent strategy from various corners of the US institutional landscape.

Terms like “cadre” might be initially confusing to some listeners. This episode explains how LeftRoots understood the nature and importance of cadre, and what it did in its 10 years of work. Milena Velis is the former cadre training director of LeftRoots, and a communicator and media maker from Philadelphia. Jayanni Webster is a labor and community organizer from Memphis, Tennessee, and is now a founding member of North Star, one of the cadre organizations growing out of the LeftRoots process. Milena is a member of the Convergence Editorial Board, and Jayanni worked on the weekly live show Frontline Dispatches that was produced under our previous name, Organizing Upgrade.

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Hegemonicon – LeftRoots [RFP]


[00:00:00] Milena Velis: We’re now at a place where we’re putting our demands into the mainstream. Things that were sort of previously kind of quote unquote fringe demands like Black Lives Matter, healthcare for all, Green New Deal, defund the police, right, are now things that the center has to contend with.

[00:00:18] William Lawrence: Hello, and welcome to the Hegemonicon, a podcast from Convergence magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology. The immediate present and the rapidly onrushing [00:00:30] future. I’m your host William Lawrence I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of Sunrise Movement, the youth organization that put the Green New Deal on the political map.

[00:00:44] Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left, exploring the guiding theme of power. What it is, how it’s [00:01:00] exercised, and how it’s distributed.

[00:01:06] Hello, listeners, and welcome back to the hegemonicon. Uh, we are reaching the end for now of our mini series on what we’re building, where we’ve been talking about the most current and interesting projects on the U. S. left. You know, there’s a lot more stuff I would love to cover. Please send me a message to Uh, pitch me episodes, let us know what we’ve missed.

[00:01:26] Um, we’re actually going to be taking a short season break after this episode, [00:01:30] uh, for the month of March and coming back in April with new content on a new, but related theme today. However, we’re talking about a very interesting project, uh, that people have been building the organization called left roots, which existed for approximately the last.

[00:01:47] 10 years before sunsetting intentionally at the end of 2023. Um, Left Roots major mission, now complete, was to be a quote unquote quadrification organization, [00:02:00] an organization that would train and prepare people to become cadre. Left Roots Sunset has now made way for one Maybe two successor organizations that intend to be disciplined networks of cadre moving a coherent strategy from within various corners of the U.

[00:02:18] S. Institutional and left progressive landscape. Now, if none of these words mean anything to you, you are in the perfect place. That’s why we’re here to talk about it with our esteemed guests. Um, our guests are [00:02:30] Milena Veles and Jionni Webster. Milena is the former cadre training director at Left Roots, and she was also previously a media maker and organizer in Philadelphia.

[00:02:42] Jionni is a labor and community organizer from Memphis, Tennessee, and both of our guests were members of Left Roots. Jionni is also a founding member of North Star, which is one of the successor cadre organizations. Milena and Jionni, please go ahead and introduce yourselves. Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:59] [00:03:00] Let’s start with Milena. 

[00:03:01] Milena Velis: Hey, Will. Hey, Jayani. I’m really happy to be here. So my name is Milena. Um, I’m, um, as well said, based in Philly. Yeah. So I think by way of introduction, I’d say, um, my, how I got here, right? Like how I got to do political work, um, first of all was, um, through my family. I was born in Chile.

[00:03:21] And, um, I’ve lived in the U. S. most of my life. I’ve been based in Philly for the last 20 years. Um, and most of my family members were members of the Communist [00:03:30] Party or the Socialist Party in Chile. And when I tell people that here, they assume that that means that they were kind of like big community organizers, but no, they were really just like regular people with other jobs who were part of this really mass movement, um, for socialism in that country.

[00:03:45] Um, And my family, like many others, was scattered after the dictatorship across the world. Um, that’s how I ended up in the U. S. And in my 20s, I had the good fortune of getting recruited into organizing work in Philadelphia by a really unique [00:04:00] collective of organizers and leftists and folks who, um, took cadre development and strategy really seriously, um, and worked in Philly with social movements here.

[00:04:10] And then in 2015, I joined Left Roots. I joined the staff of Left Roots in 2017. I’ve been coordinating, had been coordinating the organization’s cadre training work for that time. Thank 

[00:04:22] William Lawrence: you. 

[00:04:23] Jayanni Webster: Yeah. Hello. And thank you for having me, um, on this podcast. I’m excited to be here. [00:04:30] It’s a pleasure to be discussing this topic, um, with you all in the audience.

[00:04:36] Um, yeah, I, I have a lot of respect and love for Convergence for what you’re doing on the podcast of Hegemonicon and yeah, like Will was saying, uh, I am an organizer in Memphis, Tennessee or occupied Chickasaw territory. Um, I’m a black socialist and feminist. Uh, and I’ve been, uh, mostly in the labor [00:05:00] sector, um, and I’ve been organizing for almost 13 years.

[00:05:05] I was introduced to worker organizing through campaigns and initiatives such as Fight for 15. Um, and I cut my teeth on non collective bargaining union organizing through CWA, um, with a organization, a union called, uh, United Campus Workers in Tennessee. Um, and I’ve done everything from reproductive rights [00:05:30] organizing to anti death penalty movement work and, uh, currently, um, organizing in the housing and land justice.

[00:05:40] William Lawrence: Thank you. So let’s just start with some terms here. Um, cadre is one of those words that gets thrown around on the left, but I think a lot of people have no idea what it means. Lots of people have lots of different ideas of what it means. So maybe starting with Jayani, what does cadre mean to you and what is a cadre [00:06:00] organization?

[00:06:02] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, so cadres are members of cadre organizations. Um, they are individuals who align their lives and their work, um, with the task of carrying out liberatory strategy, uh, for the sake of creating the conditions for revolutionary change. Um, it’s a lifetime commitment. I think to be cadre means, uh, joining many revolutionaries before us, whether they were [00:06:30] members of the Vietnamese Communist Party or the PAIGC, um, you know, cadre, we apply ourselves in many different ways based on what is needed, um, and what is necessary.

[00:06:45] And that is, uh, a function of our time, place and conditions, what it is asking for us. To do what we need to fulfill is our revolutionary task, and we do that with rigor, with clarity, with discipline, and we do it [00:07:00] collectively. Um, a comrade of ours who recently passed away, who always kind of pushed the, uh, The kind of basic understanding of cadre used to say that, you know, cadre are the lifeblood of any revolutionary socialist organization.

[00:07:20] We need conscious and dedicated and caring cadre to carry out strategy and work. Um, they’re essentially the conduit in which we, [00:07:30] as an organization, implement strategy and build the political leadership of the working class. In terms of cadre organizations, you know, um, there are many types of organizations in the movement ecosystem that are important, um, that will need to actually win 21st century socialism.

[00:07:48] Um, and cadre organizations are, you know, they’re political instruments, um, that can unite movements across sectors and offer strategic [00:08:00] and political leadership to create a path to liberation. We believe that in a healthy movement ecosystem, right, we’re going to have a lot of different types of organizations.

[00:08:09] Like I said, however, cadre organizations are what we believe are essential, um, are the essential organizational form to advance socialism, given the historical role they’ve played in many revolutionary struggles and victories. Thanks, 

[00:08:26] William Lawrence: Johnny. Milena, anything you’d add to that? [00:08:30] 

[00:08:30] Milena Velis: Yeah, I mean, I think the, one of the things I think about when I think about what is a cadre organization is just having the experience of like, you’re at a movement convening and it’s like after the formal things have happened and Having the conversations with folks who are like in another part of the country doing maybe work in a different sector and having that that moment of being like, Oh, if we all moved in the same direction, are we all coordinated on this thing?

[00:08:57] This could be possible, right? [00:09:00] And having an organization that actually Its job is to facilitate that kind of, um, that kind of shared thinking, right? That shared, like, learning about, like, what’s happening around us, and what does it mean, and where should we all go, right? Even if we’re holding different functions in the movement, right?

[00:09:17] And a cadre organization needs to have clarity on what it thinks is the strategy that can advance us towards liberation, towards socialism, and what’s the main task that we have to be doing right now. So [00:09:30] I know I’ve definitely had that experience, right? Of, like, Being like, if only, right? Like, if only we could all get on the same page right now, like, this could be possible theoretically in this, in this political moment, right?

[00:09:42] Um, but it needs, it requires organization to do that. It doesn’t just happen because we have, you know, the idea of it could happen, right? Um, so to me, that’s like what’s exciting about the possibility of us being more organized together. Yeah, and I think also, you know, So we spent a lot of time in Left Roots talking about [00:10:00] being a cadre, and I try to think about it as something also aspirational, right?

[00:10:04] The idea that, you know, changing the world is really hard, and it requires a lot of skill. Um, it’s a way to remind ourselves that we should always be in a process of development and that we should aim for excellence and we should aim to be experts at the work we’re doing. Um, that we should have an answer, right?

[00:10:22] To like, why are we doing what we’re doing? What do we think about, um, what’s happening in the world around us and the tasks that we should be [00:10:30] trying to move forward? And Having an organization that helps you do that, um, is, is necessary, right? Like we don’t have, I’ll have time to study every single thing that’s happening in the news, like in depth and, um, have a position on every single thing, but.

[00:10:45] If, if we do it together, we can, right? And then we can make sense of things in a, in a way that makes it more possible for us to move together, make decisions, right? About how to take, take opportunities or overcome challenges or [00:11:00] respond to unexpected things that might happen.

[00:11:05] William Lawrence: So Milena, why did Leftroots take this path of acting as a Uh, codification organization, uh, rather than a cadre organization and then sun setting to now make way for successor organizations, which are describing themselves as cadre organizations. Why not just, you know, build the cadre organization, um, starting 10 years ago when, when left roots was established?[00:11:30] 

[00:11:31] Milena Velis: Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, and it’s definitely one that sometimes we ask ourselves too, where, you know, it’s like, are, is this what? What is what we should have been doing? Um, everyone asks themselves that at different points I think I mean the the simplest answer is that What we did was a response to the specific movement conditions that were around us.

[00:11:52] Right. And, um, in like our current time, place and conditions. And, um, we’ve, we’ve kind of referred to it sometimes internally [00:12:00] as like there was a divorce that happened between the party left and the social movement left. Most of us, um, who came up in social movement work, like we have not had an element of our work be being part of an organization that has its business being, um, moving forward revolutionary politics or, um, being explicitly a socialist or left organization.

[00:12:24] That’s changing, obviously, and has changed a lot in the last 10 years. There’s a whole [00:12:30] tradition of like over 100 years of folks around the world who have been figuring out how to fight capitalism, how to fight imperialism, how to build socialism, how to win a better world. And most of us have not had the opportunity to get connected to that or trained in that tradition or any of those traditions, right?

[00:12:46] And I, and I feel like most of us, you know, I’m 40, so I’m no longer considered young in any way. But, um, even for myself, right? Like, Um, I had the good fortune of being, um, [00:13:00] of being trained up by like a small group of folks who were kind of carrying the torch, but for a lot of folks, it’s like, can you get your friends together to do a reading group or a study group?

[00:13:10] And then that’s how you, you know, you learn. 

[00:13:13] William Lawrence: And even on the social movement left, if I may, like it’s because I feel like I was raised in. what I understood to be the social movement left and not the party left. And there’s, there’s technique, you know, there’s training, there’s reading, there’s study, but it’s, it’s so much about technique of like how to mobilize, [00:13:30] how to, how to effectively protest.

[00:13:33] And there’s the whole civil resistance tradition, which is really the sort of subset of the social movement left that I was specifically trained in. But all of that was like, some of them, the most esteemed people that I knew in that tradition who were, You know, and still are mentors to me, you know, they’re, they’re, they wouldn’t have red marks or they wouldn’t have red linen or they wouldn’t have really been versed in some of the accomplishments of the historical party left and not seeing themselves as part of that [00:14:00] tradition.

[00:14:00] Instead, they would see themselves in this, you know, uh, What could have been, you know, sort of idiosyncratic, like, sprinkling of different social movements and uprisings throughout history that then get brought forward, um, is, is that sort of what you’re, is that what you’re referring to when you talk about the divorce between the social movement left and the party left?

[00:14:20] Milena Velis: Yeah, that’s what I’m referring to. And um, Like one experience I had, you know, we did a lot of different rounds of talking to different folks in the movement and left roots for [00:14:30] different reasons. And, um, I remember talking to someone who was about, like, maybe 55, um, who came up in the, um, in the Communist Party of the U.

[00:14:40] S. And then the Young Communist League. And he told me the story of like, Basically, they had like a communist night school where it was like everyone in New York who was a union member, who was also a party member, um, they had like their own university and he was like, I was the last generation of people who really got the full experience of what that was [00:15:00] and that really stuck with me.

[00:15:02] I was like, Oh, I wish I had had that. You’re right. I wish we had that. So we became a codification organization kind of with the thinking that like we needed to kind of restart the engine and that required a set of Um, of work to do that and also because, you know, to be a cadre organization, you need to have unity on strategy, right?

[00:15:22] That’s kind of the role, the, the task that a cadre organization has. And, um, some of us have been part of like [00:15:30] experiments of trying to do that, like in one city or in one place, right. It was like a group of close comrades. I was part of some of that work in Philadelphia and what we need, right. Is something that’s national and that requires like bringing together folks who are, who don’t know each other, right.

[00:15:45] Like who aren’t, haven’t been working together for years and. Because of the way our movement is right that requires like overcoming some fragmentation and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it would have worked if like a small group of folks like from the Bay Area [00:16:00] or even just like a slightly bigger group of folks had been like, Hey, we have a strategy get on board.

[00:16:05] Right? Like some people would have, but not as much people as we needed. And, um, you know, a lot of the folks that Left Roots recruited, um, understood, like, we need a different approach, right? And want strategy, want coordination, but we’re less familiar with, like, what is a cadre organization? What is this all about?

[00:16:23] Right? So that required also some time for us to kind of make the case to people, right? And, like, also get clear about what we’re [00:16:30] trying to do. Um, and I think the last thing I’d say about it is, like, Um, that we needed to experiment, right? Like saying that we were a cadrefication organization. We did training and development of cadres.

[00:16:42] Like that can make it sound like there was a group of people who were like, okay, here’s the training program and like, let’s just run that with folks. And if it wasn’t that simple, right? Like we had to figure out like, how do you build left organization in today’s time, place and conditions? Like, what is the culture we need [00:17:00] to build?

[00:17:00] Um, we had to figure out like, how do you align people on strategy who. Work in different sectors in different parts of the country. How do, how do you bring them together in a way that’s effective to talk about strategy? Right. And that took a lot of trial and error and experimentation and development of the skills of like every single person.

[00:17:19] in the organization, like even the folks that we would think of as like, you know, super experienced and, um, prominent leaders in the movement, right? Like we all were in a process [00:17:30] of codrification. 

[00:17:33] William Lawrence: So Jayani, you were one of those people who came in and you were recruited as a part of this process and then engaged in the work of this codrification organization.

[00:17:45] What was that experience like? For you, you said that you started out as a labor organizer and in Memphis, and then you came to this organization and were in relationships with a lot of other leftists from around the country. What did you, what were some of the things [00:18:00] you personally learned, um, at, through the codification process?

[00:18:06] Milena Velis: Yeah, 

[00:18:06] Jayanni Webster: I came to Left Roots, I think around 2017, 2018. Um, and I have been organizing for many, many years. And I, in, in the South, in conditions that a lot of people say we can never win in, and I was very, very committed to figuring out [00:18:30] how we can build working class, especially Black working class power in the South.

[00:18:37] And I was coming up against, right, a lot of beautiful experimentation that I thought was important, um, in terms of how we organize workers. Um, in the face of expanding, um, repression and I was hitting roadblocks around how do we actually [00:19:00] build something to scale? How do we overcome some of the internal crises and internal, um, issues with our organizations that essentially suck up our capacity from doing the work.

[00:19:17] And so I. Had heard about, um, cadre organizations because I was inspired by revolutionaries. Um, like Angela Davis. [00:19:30] And I knew there was a thing that they were involved in that was not like what I was doing when I was, you know, signing up people for the union, but kind of like what I was doing when I was engaging the working class.

[00:19:47] I was like, I want to be a part of that. I want to be in something, um, that can help me connect my day to day organizing struggles. And work with [00:20:00] the future that we want to win with the vision. of a liberated society, and I want that in my lifetime. And so I came to Left Roots with a yearning, um, and also with the mistake of thinking that it was a cadre organization.

[00:20:18] And so, um, and so then when I learned, right, oh, this is the project, I was like, okay, this makes a lot of sense. Um, our movements have faced a lot of different, [00:20:30] both internal and external challenges. Um, every, all of the assessments that I was making or not making about the movement just became very clear in, in Left Roots.

[00:20:41] Um, and for me, some of the things that I’m walking away from after being, um, A member of the organization is just around my own development and capacities and also the role of, of, of culture and strategy at the same time, [00:21:00] building revolutionary culture and implementing liberatory strategy. And so I had insufficient.

[00:21:07] Um, capacities to engage in generative conflict and struggle and, um, you know, a lot of folks around me also felt the same way. And our organizations were beset by unnecessary conflict sometimes because we just did not have the skills. And so I learned how to practice principle struggle with my comrades, with those in [00:21:30] movement, um, loving and rigorous.

[00:21:32] It’s a non liberal principle struggle of giving feedback, of receiving criticism, right? Not because we want to be right, but for the sake of my own development, for the sake of our organization’s ability, um, to carry out our work. Um, in a unified way, and so coming face to face with my own underdevelopment and being a part of the Left Roots, [00:22:00] uh, project, you know, reoriented me in many ways to some of the really unhealthy and disorganizing behaviors that are not just like, oh, I am deficient.

[00:22:11] This is because we live, right, um, in a system and a culture that is actively underdeveloping us. Right. And so I think, you know, that part was really key. And I think the last thing for me as an organizer, like deep in my, in my heart, you know, [00:22:30] I, the, the concept of liberatory strategy. Was really transformational for me and uh, I had been trained on campaign strategy, right?

[00:22:41] This is how you identify what the issue is Find what is most widely felt most deeply felt with workers Then you bring them together you build an organizing committee. You start to campaign you do the timeline You organizer’s podcast and so I think [00:23:00] when I was introduced to, um, the concept of liberatory strategy.

[00:23:06] It was very awakening for me. So I was like, yeah, how do we get from, you know, winning 15 an hour, you know, in, in this city or this state to actually a society where workers are treated with dignity and there’s not exploitation. Um, yeah. And that workers control the means of production in their labor.

[00:23:28] That leap will sometimes [00:23:30] make a person pessimistic about change. But when you’re rooted in the practice and of liberatory strategy, You can start to figure out, right? How do we go from our current conditions to the vision that we want? And I had assumed right strategy was working really, really hard to win goal after goal after goal.

[00:23:57] And then as long as you worked really [00:24:00] hard. then you will win and then things will magically get better. Right? Um, and obviously that was wrong. And I was reoriented around that. And I think now having the tools to think about, um, how to align, right. Um, both. the local work, these mass projects to build the working class and also how to figure out how do we change the balance of forces.

[00:24:27] Like it’s much clearer now. Um, and I [00:24:30] think that’s such an advance, um, for our movements and for, um, folks who are doing work day after day in the trenches. 

[00:24:38] William Lawrence: Wow. There’s so much there. Thank you. Um, you know, I think there’s something really humble and, and, and grounded in retrospect in this notion of the codification organization.

[00:24:49] I mean, I was talking recently on the, with the DSA co chairs about how, you know, DSA aspires to be a mass party of the working class, but like that has to be earned. It can’t be [00:25:00] disclaimed to be the mass party of the working class. And that’s true of DSA. It would be true of any other organization that would want to, uh, You know, become that or, and similarly, like a nationwide cadre organization for the United States left something that also has to be, has to be earned and can’t just be asserted.

[00:25:26] And so it’s like you were saying, Milena, like had a group of [00:25:30] people out of the Bay Area 10 years ago. When really like the movement for black lives was, was just at its genesis, the climate movement was still like at a, at a much different level of development than it is now. Me too. And so many of these reckonings around, um, feminism had not yet happened.

[00:25:48] Uh, standing rock had not yet happened. I mean, it just, uh, uh, an exciting moment. a moment of movement, but a different level of development, I think, in terms of the overall analysis and the experience of this, you know, of this left, which [00:26:00] has had, you know, so much participation, you know, especially from the millennial generation, you know, it might not have worked.

[00:26:05] It’s like, okay, great. Congrats. You’ve got your, your cadre, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got a dozen people, um, but instead there is this process of saying, no, we are. In becoming, and there’s obviously an ambition to, to, to become some sort of cadre organization that was there from the beginning, but, um, very patient, very deliberate, and, uh, you know, as somebody who was [00:26:30] adjacent to, but, but never a, a, a Left Roots member.

[00:26:34] You know, there are times when I felt like, um, come on, folks. Like, let’s see it. Let’s see it. And then it’s like, no, we’re going to have another, uh, you know, two years of committees of like doing this strategic development process and this training process. And I’m like, yeah, I’m like, I’m, I’m both jealous and I’m also like very glad I’m not going through all of that.

[00:26:53] So it really has been a lot of, of, of spade work, um, of, uh, of the process of developing each [00:27:00] other that people in left roots have gone through, which, um, Has been has been just a huge lift and is not at all to be taken for granted. But I wonder if, um, for those who haven’t been, you know, in the know or been able to witness that process, if either of you could just give us a little sense for like, what is the scope now?

[00:27:21] of the people that Left Roots has engaged over that process, because you did some, um, a training series at the end of 2023, [00:27:30] um, on liberatory strategy that was, Like incredibly well attended with a lot of like really, really serious organizers and community organizations and unions and in, you know, various other very significant sectors of movement and society.

[00:27:47] And so, um, because it has been low key, I think people don’t necessarily see that. Um, uh, but maybe Milena, could you give us a sense of the scope of the people that, um, uh, left roots ended up engaging over the scope of its process? [00:28:00] Mm hmm. 

[00:28:02] Milena Velis: Yeah. I mean, I think the The approach we had, you know, we started building 10 years ago from the Bay Area and kind of started with the idea of like, there’s, there’s a whole movement out there.

[00:28:17] And there’s many places where there’s pockets of people who are, um, who want something, right? Like who wants something that can cohere us and who might be doing really advanced work in a particular place. [00:28:30] Right. And so there’s like, yeah. All of these base building organizations that are like innovating and how, how to do their work.

[00:28:37] There’s like pockets of leftists in different places. And we started with like a really broad approach of like, let’s Let’s find the people who want to do this, right? So that included, you know, some, um, some time where we sent people out as quote unquote vacuum salesman to kind of like, literally just like go to cities and talk to the people that they already knew there and [00:29:00] say like, Hey, we want to do this project.

[00:29:01] And I was part of one of those conversations. And I remember being like, What is this all about? And like, how did you get this group of Philadelphians in a, in a room together? Um, I was like super suspicious, right? But you know, folks won me over and won a lot of other people over. And, um, a lot of the people who worked in Lefferts, like, didn’t know each other until.

[00:29:23] Until they were like in this process together So it was a it was a pretty broad reach and the way we grew also was [00:29:30] like In a few different parts of the country like on the coasts in some major cities um starting with like the folks that Um, the Bay Area founders already knew, um, and asking them, okay, so who in this city and in your sectors, like, should be part of this process?

[00:29:46] Who should we invite, um, to consider becoming a member? So that, you know, reached like a broader set of folks, right? Like the different networks of the folks. And then for several years, right? Those people who are invited then [00:30:00] got a chance to invite other people. So we got, um, we got a broader reach than like any one Kind of nucleus of people in the organization could have done on their own by that by that approach.

[00:30:11] And that was, you know, both challenging, right? Like we grew really fast and that created some challenges, but it was also, um, what laid the foundation for then us being able to do something like have an S. O. S. Process and have, um, this is really well attended webinars like you’re talking about, right? And, um, our [00:30:30] membership Um, has, was, sorry, I’m still getting used to like all the, the past tense, um, as you can see, but, um, our, our membership was folks who primarily were like movement organizers.

[00:30:43] So as people were members of left roots, they were also. Leading organizations, right? Like active in the movement, leading in the movement and doing that independently. Like we didn’t have any kind of direction of people’s movement work. So folks kind of independently figured out how [00:31:00] am I taking like the ideas or the frameworks that were Okay.

[00:31:02] using and left roots and how am I applying those in the work I’m doing. So a lot of, um, a lot of things happened that were, you know, not formally quote unquote left roots that lots of people were doing in terms of just demonstrating their leadership folks in, um, in different sectors in the immigrant rights movement, in the black liberation movement and labor.

[00:31:26] environmental justice and housing, um, and [00:31:30] youth organizing. Yeah. So the, I think the scope is also, um, a lot more people were at some point members of Left Roots, um, then ended up like becoming members at the very end. Um, we, we did have folks who joined and then resigned for different reasons, a lot because of capacity.

[00:31:49] Um, it was a very demanding process, right? Yeah. So there’s like these different layers of folks that we’ve been able to reach. In these different ways, um, through folks, the members movement work [00:32:00] through the folks who, um, interacted with the organization and folks like, like you will, who are compass, right?

[00:32:05] Who kind of followed what we were doing were connected maybe to some folks who were. Part of the organization in some way and got kind of got that, um, that relationship 

[00:32:17] William Lawrence: and devouring the toolkits and the different strategic resources that you all were producing, which many of which were really incredible.

[00:32:24] Milena Velis: And, and I think, I think the last thing I’ll say about, about the scope too, is that like part of left [00:32:30] roots being a codification project was like, this is about rebuilding the left. And if we had just kind of proceeded with like, okay, this is a group of people. This is the strategy. Let’s move that strategy.

[00:32:43] We would have missed the chance to kind of popularize and start to put out some more ideas to more folks about maybe we need this. Like maybe, maybe we need strategy. Maybe we need cadres. What would that look like? Right. And, and we tried to really take seriously doing, doing that as [00:33:00] a responsibility of like.

[00:33:01] Maybe there’s going to be other projects that come out of this that weren’t as centrally coming out of left roots. But if we can kind of put some ideas out there and influence that in a way that it’s about, like, broadening the scope of, like, what we can imagine that we could do in terms of building the left, that’s, that’s a big win, right, for all of us.

[00:33:21] Jayanni Webster: And if I can add to that, um, just quickly around some of the, the processes and [00:33:30] left fruits, you know, we had a really strong framework around codification, um, about developing ourselves. Um, around four kind of key areas of social, emotional capacities, political capacities, ideological capacities and organizational capacities.

[00:33:49] And so the, we spent a lot of time figuring out and also practicing and developing ourselves, um, in these capacities. [00:34:00] But from, right, revolution, a revolutionary tradition, a revolutionary practice, um, and practicing dialectical materialism, right? It wasn’t just like, oh, we, we want to, you know, necessarily, you know, just feel better about ourselves.

[00:34:17] It was genuinely about, um, the process of becoming cadre and being able to fulfill, um, the task ahead of us. 

[00:34:29] William Lawrence: So I want to ask one [00:34:30] more high level question about like the cadre idea and then we’ll move more specifically into some of these successor organizations. So you know, I think people have felt like the, the last 15 years of, you know, first a real upsurge of social movement activity and then the, the electoral turn around 2016 with the Bernie moment, but then giving way to Trump and so on.

[00:34:52] One of the big lessons of that for a lot of people is that we need more cohesion and more strategic unity, uh, [00:35:00] behind some sort of liberatory strategy, not just a campaign strategy and not just a, a movement, um, uprising strategy, but a liberatory strategy that can cohere all of that into a revolutionary sort of agenda.

[00:35:14] Um, and as part of that, like, I think a lot of people are getting interested in, you know, what, what we can call the party form. the idea of a party. Um, and as I’ve talked about in recent weeks, you know, the DSA, the Working Families Party are, [00:35:30] in my opinion, the two organizations that are really at the forefront of, um, trying to build out something like a mass party in practice.

[00:35:38] Now, I think Left Roots is similarly ambitious and far seeing, uh, to those two groups. The cadre form is a different kind of idea than the party form for building greater unity and cohesion, um, across the, across the left. So why [00:36:00] cadre in particular? What is the value of having this cadre form where people can be Like, have their day to day work in other organizations, while being, uh, members of a cadre organization that helps anchor and guide their work.

[00:36:15] And then, how should we be thinking about the relationship, or how do you think about the relationship, between cadre and party. 

[00:36:28] Jayanni Webster: I think, you know, there’s, [00:36:30] there’s a symbiotic relationship. First, you know, I have a lot of respect for the organizations you named and I’m sure they have their own triumphs and lessons to share about their form and, um, and how they’re trying to carry out their work.

[00:36:46] Um, and when it, but when it comes to cadre organizations, um, You know, like you said, thinking about the relationship between cadre organizations and mass formations or parties or other, uh, left [00:37:00] organizations is key. Um, we need a functional movement ecosystem of many types of organizations. Um, and I think the party is, is one form that we certainly need.

[00:37:14] One of the assessments that Left Roots made. Very early on is that one of the key weaknesses of the U. S. Left is that we don’t have, um, cadre organizations that can meet [00:37:30] the needs of this moment. And we’ve we spoke with a lot of existing cadre organizations. And they all share this assessment too, that there needs to be, um, a focus on this form because of the pivotal role cadre organizations have played historically and throughout histories of revolutionary change, um, how they can make, help make sense of the moment.

[00:37:54] Um, so that we can act from a grounded, uh, place when engaging in theory and practice. And [00:38:00] so I think, um, The symbiotic relationship is going to be key, um, in how all of these organizations can align, pull in a common direction, and further consolidate and, and, and rebuild the left, um, in a way that we can really be on the path to 21st century socialism.

[00:38:26] William Lawrence: Thanks, Gianni. Milena? 

[00:38:28] Milena Velis: Yeah, um, [00:38:30] yeah, I agree with what Gianni said, and I just also want to really echo, like, I think that what WFP and DSA are doing and what Left Roots was doing are really complementary, um, to each other and like, kind of, I mean, in one way, like, there’s so many things that we need to build right now in terms of forms of organization.

[00:38:49] And I think just really generally speaking, also, I think one of the reasons why having cadre organization, like it plays a particular function in relation to other [00:39:00] organizations is that mass organizations, like something at the scale of DSA or WFP is going to have people who have different ideas about What should be happening politically?

[00:39:09] Like we know that, right? There’s been a lot of internal debate about things in DSA, right? There’s like, there’s, it’s just like a scale that like you, you’re not going to reach, um, perfect unity or anything like that. Not that that ever happens, but that’s, that’s actually the role, right? Like we need those [00:39:30] organizations that bring lots of people together into action.

[00:39:32] And, um, one thing that I think I’ve seen is In in mass organizations like without having something like a cadre organization is that then we try to have the have the mass organization just like become the most left because we know we need that too. Right. So having different functions where it’s like the cadre organization should be the place that really holds like a higher level of unity on a strategy.

[00:39:58] Um, [00:40:00] and then, you know, if that strategy is correct, it should be earned, right? Like, we should be able to earn leadership in broader organizations. Um, because the things we’re trying, the experiments we’re trying are getting results, right? Because we’re seeing that our approach is actually something that is moving the movement forward.

[00:40:19] And that’s how, that’s how you can, you know, unite a much, much larger, um, scale of organization is through, you know, the hard work of doing the movement [00:40:30] work and showing and proving, right? But those, those different functions are complementary to each other. And I think being able to have a space where you can really go into the questions and the big picture, then like gives you clarity then to say like, okay, so what should we be struggling around right now?

[00:40:47] Like what’s, what’s most important. Um, and when things change and unexpected things happen, it makes it easier to, um, make sense of it. And. Um, not feel like you have to start at square one all the time of [00:41:00] like does this new event totally change everything or does it change this one particular thing that we have to do, right?

[00:41:07] And having folks to really get clarity about that with. 

[00:41:09] Jayanni Webster: Hi,

[00:41:15] this is Kayden, the publisher of Convergence magazine. There are a lot of places that you can put your hard earned money in support of our movements, but if you’re enjoying this show, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Convergence on Patreon. We’re a small, independent operation and rely heavily on our [00:41:30] readers and listeners like you to support our work.

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[00:41:48] All our shows will be free for you to enjoy. You can also help by leaving us a positive review or sharing this episode with a comrade. Thank you so much for listening.[00:42:00] 

[00:42:01] William Lawrence: So now let’s move and talk about, um, uh, it’s been, um, left roots in the past tense. Let’s now talk in the present tense about, um, what is, uh, being born. Diana, you’re a member of North Star, which is one of the two successor cadre organizations. Um, why don’t you tell us a little bit about North Star? What are the strategic points of unity for the North Star cadre organization and how are you hoping to Guide, uh, the course of social and political struggle in the U.

[00:42:29] S. [00:42:30] 

[00:42:31] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, thanks. Um, so North Star is a new cadre organization, uh, that is born out of a strategy that is currently focused on the objective of defeating the fascist project. Um, you know, we believe to achieve a liberated society that there must be a socialist economy that is feminist and regenerative, and we need a decolonizing state.

[00:42:58] So, [00:43:00] um, our conditions are such right now, uh, that, you know, around the world and inside the U. S., right wing forces are rising to power and pushing forward an authoritarian, um, agenda, so that poses a threat, um, to the U. S. Any project to rebuild the left or to consolidate the left and or or any socialist projects and so you know it more [00:43:30] sharply threatens our work and We want to make sure that we can you know, have a decisive victory over fascist forces that are rising right now and We’re very clear about you know the fact that we need state power.

[00:43:47] We’re going to need to win state power to do that. And so some of our points of unity, we have a few, but I’ll just talk about, um, a couple of them, right. And [00:44:00] that is that, you know, we are anti imperialist inside of the belly of the beast, um, as we say. And so we Right. Our strategy of, of trying to win state power here, um, in this context is directly connected to the process of winning and pushing forth socialism around the world, that if we do not weaken, um, empire.

[00:44:27] here, then those [00:44:30] projects right are are threatened and don’t have the best chance for self determination. And so, you know, we are for human rights and against all forms of oppression. So part of our principles as a cadre organization is to also fight back against white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy.

[00:44:54] Um, if that is key to our practice. to our ways of being and relating to each other [00:45:00] and very key to the strategy. And then lastly, I’ll just talk about the pro participation and pro leadership, um, principle inside the organization. Um, in the same way that Milena talked about, right, the, the roles of cadre, how we’ve talked about, uh, that we, we feel that it’s really, really important, um, in these times.

[00:45:23] to really support people to participate and to not divest, you know, [00:45:30] from struggling for power. Like we, we actually need to do that and that we need to, you know, both be able to Uh, follow leadership and be leaders ourselves, um, within the, the movement. Um, and so, yeah, and, and leadership is earned as we already talked about.

[00:45:49] So that’s what I’ll say. 

[00:45:54] William Lawrence: I’d like to follow up on, on one point of that. Um, so you talked about, um, [00:46:00] being anti imperialist and in the belly of the imperialist beast, winning state power here for the sake of weakening and dismantling. The forces of us empire that project around the globe. And then you also talked about needing to win a decisive victory over fascist forces here in the U S in the near term.

[00:46:29] I think this [00:46:30] poses as a contradiction and for a lot of people, for our practice, because if you’re defining the fascist forces as the, you know, the MAGA forces that are, uh, uh, currently organized under the Republican party. To defeat them requires this tactical alignment with the Democrats who, who we know are also an imperialist party and are, are currently, you know, uh, enabling this genocide in Gaza is only the most acute instance, um, of, uh, you [00:47:00] know, uh, of, of really.

[00:47:02] Full frontal support for imperialism, um, by the leadership of the Democratic Party around the world. So, um, that’s one of the core contradictions that the left in the U. S. is navigating, no matter who you are, I think. How do you, um, think about, um, within North Star, um, navigating that contradiction? 

[00:47:20] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, thanks Will for the question.

[00:47:22] So, um, We’re very clear that the capitalist class is our strategic [00:47:30] opponent, um, is the enemy, and that includes both, um, you know, those who, uh, are aligned with, um, with the, the project to, um, oppress people around the world, um, that is both The Republican Party and the Democratic Party, right? Those, that’s the, that’s part of it.

[00:47:56] And, um, I think that in this, [00:48:00] in this moment, um, you know, we’re trying to make a sober assessment of what it’s going to take to actually position us. Um, so that we don’t have to, um, be. In a contradiction like this over the next decade. Um, and that part of the work of being in a, of trying to move forth a liberatory [00:48:30] strategy is recognizing the U.

[00:48:32] S. His role. Um, and, and, and, you know, shaping and, uh, directing capitalism across the world. Um, and so we, we feel like the objective right now is to, right, figure out how to beat back, um, the new confederate and neo fascist project because of [00:49:00] how it will dramatically shift. the terrain and the landscape, um, in which we’re able to struggle and, and fight for socialism.

[00:49:10] Um, there is a project called Project 2025. You all probably have talked about it here on this podcast, but essentially they’re trying to, um, restructure the constitution. I mean, some of the, some of the things that we’re witnessing across the world that are being supported, um, by the current US [00:49:30] government are fascist projects.

[00:49:32] Um, and if that is a part of the work that they’re wanting to do here, we’re looking at a future of minority rule. Um, and that has to be a place of struggle for us as a left as we also contend, um, with the neoliberal project at the same time. Um, but we do have a strategic aim, um, and so we, we have to balance those things.[00:50:00] 

[00:50:03] William Lawrence: I remember I, I did some climate work once with an organizer from, um, from Kenya, um, and before he was a climate, um, He had been a pro democracy, um, organizer when, uh, Kenya was under the leadership of a, of a, of a military government. Um, and you know, he was showing me pictures of him, you know, chained to the hospital bed where he got gotten beaten and [00:50:30] then was in prison, but also in the hospital.

[00:50:31] I mean, so he was, you know, he was about it. And, um, but he said that, you know, first we had to open up the democratic space. That was the phrase he used first. We had to open up the democratic space. And then everything from environmental justice to feminism to, uh, economic justice and every other form of struggle then, um, was placed on the table once the democratic space was open and the junta had been defeated.

[00:50:55] And that stuck with me, because I think that’s a lot of the logic I hear in, in [00:51:00] your, In your strategy is that if the democratic space, the right to free speech, the right to free association gets foreclosed under something like a project 2025 pushed by a second Trump administration and backed by the Heritage Foundation and all of their assorted ghouls, it doesn’t take us one step closer to, um, some deeper rupture that moves in an anti capitalist sort of direction.

[00:51:25] Actually, it takes us backwards in the sense that everything then will be just [00:51:30] around trying to open up the democratic space once again, that will become the proximal and immediate struggle and all of our dreams of greater liberation, um, you know, we’ll, we’ll, we’ll go farther onto the back burner. Now, I think some people have a different assessment.

[00:51:46] That perhaps if things have to get worse before they get better, and perhaps we’re moving into that illiberal or anti democratic zone, um, no matter what. And so we might as well sort of, uh, reconcile ourselves to that and start imagining our [00:52:00] strategies for the other side of it. But, um, I’d love to explore that further on the show.

[00:52:04] But, um, You know, maybe I’ll just ask as a follow up, then one more follow up for Gianni, like, how would we know when we’ve won a decisive victory over fascist forces, and then therefore the struggle moves on to the next phase where we can be more, um, directly and, you know, with our [00:52:30] full might, um, opposing, um, the, You know, even the liberal capitalists that organize under the Democratic Party and fighting for socialism in the U.

[00:52:40] S. Do we anticipate that the, there, there’s such a thing as the fever breaking, um, on the right and now like MAGA or Trumpism or the next version of that isn’t going to be a threat anymore? Because that’s the thing I kind of have a hard time imagining, frankly, because we know that this fascist move is global, [00:53:00] it’s responding to structural conditions, and so That’s I wonder what what conversation you have about that in North Star.

[00:53:08] How do we know when when we’ve won the decisive victory? What does that look like? 

[00:53:14] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think, you know, there are several, um, things we’ve talked about within the organization that are indicators, right? Um, and we’re still, uh, debating and discussing those indicators. [00:53:30] Um, but a decisive victory, right?

[00:53:32] What? We would see, um, a phase where we have consolidated movement victories, um, where we have been able to facilitate, um, some advances. That we don’t currently have a pathway or the power to, to advance, um, this is on multiple fronts that are critical, um, to this particular conjuncture just around, um, you know, [00:54:00] uh, protecting some, uh, some democratic processes, um, that, that are key.

[00:54:06] Um, to, for, for, for people to, to, to massively participate, um, that includes some things around the environment and climate that are critical right now and to, and that, and that we have successfully been able to mitigate some of the threat, um, of fascist forces in this country. Um, particularly the way in which, um, [00:54:30] the right wing forces in the Republican party have right, uh, trifectas.

[00:54:35] Across 23 states, um, in the U. S., that we can, you know, we can, um, and, and figure out how to break up. The consolidated power that they have across the South, across some of the Midwest states and in the Southwest. I think those are all indicators. Um, but we’re still working on the details of those things.

[00:54:58] But I [00:55:00] imagine, right, there will be several, I would say like several areas. of, right, the left expanding, um, and consolidating its power and influence, the ability, um, and capacities of the working class have been able to grow, and we’ve been able to mitigate, um, some of the, some of the power that the, that the far right has right now, both, uh, a governing level, but also at a cultural level.[00:55:30] 

[00:55:30] William Lawrence: So someone’s listening to this and they say, well, this sounds cool. I want to be part of North star. Um, are you at the stage yet where you’re recruiting membership or, uh, when does it get around to that stage of being able to expand the cadre? 

[00:55:45] Jayanni Webster: Yeah. Um, we’re getting close. I would say, you know, we encourage, um.

[00:55:51] Folks to, uh, yeah, get in touch with us. We can leave, you know, our contact information. [00:56:00] Um, but yeah, recruitment and membership will be opening up at some point, um, throughout the year, closer to the end of the year. And so, so yeah, it’s going to be possible for many people who are down and interested. Um, and we are excited.

[00:56:16] Um, that folks would want to to be a part of this project. 

[00:56:20] William Lawrence: That’s great. I mean, this is a big lift. And I mean, it’s clear by the way that you’re talking about it, just the extent to which the, the dialogue, the struggle, uh, in a [00:56:30] principled manner and the project of, as you said, you know, building each other’s capacities.

[00:56:36] Is very real. Um, that’s evident by the way you talk about it. And by the way, I’ve heard others talk about it. So, uh, I just want to say again, thanks for doing that work. I want to turn to Milena and ask, um, uh, if you could speak about the other, what I understand is, is a currently unnamed cadre organization information that isn’t quite public yet, but it is also [00:57:00] emerging from left roots.

[00:57:01] Um, And you’ve been in lots of conversations with members of that cadre. Um, what can you tell us about about that? Why are there two? What’s different about this one from from Left Root or from North Star? Um, and is there anything you can give us about this other exciting project in development? 

[00:57:20] Milena Velis: Yeah.

[00:57:21] Yeah. So, um, I think the place to start is just to say like Left Roots was always a multi tendency organization in the sense that [00:57:30] we always expected that our members would have different ideas about strategy and we didn’t have as a goal that like everyone would necessarily like unite around a common strategy.

[00:57:40] And, um, so part of our process of like making, um, caudal formations more possible, right. Included like us all getting clear on like, what do we think is, is the strategy that we want to test and identifying like kind of who’s aligned with who and. Um, so we’ve, we’ve held this [00:58:00] process with clarity for, for a while that there’s like two main tendencies that most of the members of Left Roots were aligned with, and that, that was like the basis to like start moving forward.

[00:58:10] And that’s part of just like our, the commitment that Left Roots had to rebuilding the left, and kind of taking seriously like, there’s, there’s a whole left to build, and The more, the more things we’re testing, the more strategies we’re testing, the more likely it is that, um, some of us are going to hit on, um, uh, an [00:58:30] approach that, you know, moves us forward in, uh, in the direction we want to go.

[00:58:34] Right? So Yeah. And I’m, I’m, I’m on that list of people who are waiting to join North star. So, um, but I’ve worked with this other organization, so I’m going to do my best to just kind of like represent, um, a few things about them. And also want to say like, this is both organizations are very much in the process of development.

[00:58:54] So like having a complete answer on like, what are the differences and similarities is like, it’s still a work in [00:59:00] progress. Um, but inside of letters where we landed was like, the hypotheses that folks are testing are different enough that like this actually needs two different organizations. Um, and there’s a lot of similarities too, in terms of like the politics.

[00:59:14] Um, and Yeah, so like this, this other process that’s information shares a lot of unity around like the ultimate aim is to fight for 21st century socialism, um, fighting capitalism, fighting imperialism, [00:59:30] patriarchy and empire. Um, and I think the key differences are that this other this other process information like Like at the end of the day, the capitalists are going to make do with like whoever is running the political system, whether that’s authoritarian forces or liberal forces.

[00:59:50] Um, and that since the main enemy is the capitalists, that that should be the kind of place where pointed to, [01:00:00] um, and then in terms of like how we, how they see the system as Um, as a global system, which I think North Star also, you know, it’s a it’s a globally integrated capitalist system that we’re that we’re in.

[01:00:13] I think we can all agree on that. Um, but see, is like the kind of strategy is to we need to cohere a global force of folks from the global South from the working class from oppressed sectors. Um, and its members are, [01:00:30] I think, going to orient to the 2024 US elections and the struggle against the far right.

[01:00:35] Um, But it sees its primary task that they’re going to be focusing on is working to build an anti imperialist, feminist, anti extractivist, anti militarist cadre formation by the spring of 2025. So it’s a different process, um, than North Star’s process. And, yeah, so the sort of types of struggles that, um, they would, they would kind of [01:01:00] share as like examples is like struggles against environmental racism in Hawaii.

[01:01:05] Or cooperatives that are developing in Puerto Rico, um, to help folks, whether the impacts of the climate crisis, um, strikes the wildcat strikes and logistics, domestic worker organizing fights against cop city. Um, and the goal is to build a left in the U. S. That’s like connected to a global left. Um, and do that from the jump.[01:01:30] 

[01:01:30] William Lawrence: So is it fair to say that the big difference in orientation or 11 difference in orientation is it’s Less about seeing a road through state power in the U. S., and more about building some kind of anti imperialist block from the bottom up through uniting them. Oppressed people in the U. S. Directly and immediately with struggles from below around the globe.[01:02:00] 

[01:02:02] I think 

[01:02:03] Milena Velis: so. I think it would be, you know, it’s again like this is sort of my best approximation of trying to clarify the main differences. But, um, I think it would be great to have folks from there, like on the show In the future, when folks are when the process is ready to do that. Um, and but yeah, I think the main the main differences are sort of how folks are orienting to the state and seeing kind of, you know, the [01:02:30] same assessments of like, okay, it’s a global system.

[01:02:33] There’s a US state. It’s it has the US has a role in the global system. Um, that is really key, right? Um, what do we do about all that? Right? Yeah. Great. 

[01:02:43] William Lawrence: Yeah, we’re moving towards our end here. Um, but I want to ask just a few questions about the landscape that you see when you look out at the U. S. Left now.

[01:02:53] Um, left roots, as you’ve both said, put a big emphasis on sober analysis, looking at the conditions such [01:03:00] as they are looking at the U. S. Left and global left, such as it is without them. romanticism or gassing ourselves up with false ideas about how effective we’re currently being. Um, so I’m interested in hearing your grounded critical analysis of the left and progressive sectors right now.

[01:03:19] So first, what would you say are the strong suits that we have to build on? And what are the positive trends happening on the U. S. left? Starting with [01:03:30] Milena. 

[01:03:31] Milena Velis: I think one thing that I feel really positive about is just the growing like assumption that all of our movements and issues and struggles are connected and need to be multi issue, multi sector, multi community.

[01:03:43] Um, that is something that is I think a pretty big deal and definitely was not the case, um, when I first came up in movement work. I think another strength is like we’re not a place where we’re putting our demands into the mainstream things that were sort of previously kind of quote unquote [01:04:00] fringe demands like black lives matter health care for all green new deal defund the police right are now things that the center has to contend with where we also have a growing bench of leaders right like we’ve had these moments of movement upsurges over the last decade.

[01:04:15] And there’s lots of people who have come up through those and kind of had the experience of leading some really exciting work and starting to ask the questions of like, how do we think about the long term, right? Like, how do we build and coordinate in the bigger [01:04:30] picture? And I think we just have a deeper bench of folks who have a lot of organizing experience under their belt and a lot of, um, hunger for something bigger.

[01:04:38] And that’s, I think, a strength to build on. And I think the last thing I’ll say is just like, because Because the, you know, the powers that be are, are not doing a great job at running the show right now. There’s a lot of people who are more open to, to change, right? And to seeing that, like, we need a big change in how things happen, more willing to go out into the [01:05:00] streets.

[01:05:00] And we’ve seen that in different, you know, moments of, um, of struggle and upsurge, um, in these last few years. Yeah. 

[01:05:08] William Lawrence: Thanks, Melina. Anything you’d add to that, Gianni? 

[01:05:12] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, I think, you know, the question is already packed with so much, you know, um, because we have, there’s the, there’s a broad spectrum left, and who we’re talking about will elicit, you know, kind of [01:05:30] different, uh, answers.

[01:05:32] But I would say in general, there are, I would say, you know, for folks. In my generation, right? We’ve never seen a successful revolution. Um, and I think there’s a way in which, um, our imaginations can really stop short of thinking about what it means to win. Um, and what it looks like to govern society, um, and [01:06:00] control it.

[01:06:00] resources and, um, having a different, um, relationship, uh, to work to land to each other. And so I think there is something that is developing around that, but also there’s a weakness to, um, amongst It’s the left around really being able to envision that, um, in a, in a way that doesn’t immediately, you know, lead to pessimism, um, [01:06:30] about our conditions and what’s possible.

[01:06:32] And the, the second thing I think is, you know, I agree with Milena about there’s growing, um, intersectionality in terms of how people are connecting struggles. There’s growing internationalism, um, people being able to really articulate how. You know, Congo, Sudan and Palestine connect to, um, our conditions here and our fights here, which I think is incredibly important.

[01:06:59] How [01:07:00] socialist projects or even fascist projects, um, are interconnected with our struggle, um, for a different type of society. Um, and how, you know, we have to take seriously the process of being able to, to, to decolonize. Um, and I think some of the, the growing edges. of the left is I think taking seriously, like I said, the, the, um, uh, particularly taking seriously, uh, the need [01:07:30] to unite the party left and the social movement left, like to that bifurcation, um, being able to, to really do something at the intersection there, um, is, is something I think is a growing edge of.

[01:07:48] Where many leftists are moving, um, that we need, right, the, the, the relationship, the marriage between the two, um, to be successful, um, in any type of [01:08:00] objective. 

[01:08:03] William Lawrence: Jayani, you were talking earlier about the practice of, um, Developing one’s capacities and developing each other’s capacities. You know, I know there’s a lot of just like hard skills that we need to learn.

[01:08:15] There’s a lot of soft skills that we need to learn in order to be able to move as revolutionaries who can transform this society. I wonder if there’s any, like, this is for both of you, [01:08:30] are there any just like negative tendencies that you want to call out and say, bro, your tendencies are backwards or they’re they’re, they’re misguided.

[01:08:37] You need to let that behind you. Um, anything in particular that you think is counterproductive to the kind of, uh, direction that, um, we need to be taking the left. 

[01:08:49] Milena Velis: I mean, I think pessimism, like Johnny was saying, is like just such a, it’s like, it’s like under the surface of so much. Um, and you know, there’s, there’s reasons to [01:09:00] be, um, to, to have doubts, you know, about like, can we do this?

[01:09:04] Like, it’s like, that’s something that we should name. Right. Um, but I think what, what pessimism does is like, sometimes I see folks getting stuck in sort of just like, We’re always going to be marginal. So we should start from that point and deciding to either just focus in on like some small scale of where control might be possible.

[01:09:26] Um, and kind of like let go of the, [01:09:30] the, the responsibility to kind of imagine what’s, what’s the world we want to build. Right. And, um, so pessimism is a, is a huge thing. And I say that with compassion, you know what I mean? Like it’s, it’s something that we have a responsibility to, to create experiences where that give people hope, right.

[01:09:48] That give people optimism. Um, I think a tendency that I could, I could do without is, is just opting for purism, um, and I think it’s sometimes related [01:10:00] to that pessimism of like. Just, you know, the way we’re going to do this is by like, what is the most left thing to say? What is the most left thing to do?

[01:10:08] What’s the most radical thing to do? And that’s, that’s the right answer. Yeah. And I mean, I think that’s also related to, to, um, to kind of what our movement ecosystem looks like and, um, to, to make hard decisions about what to do. It really helps to have Um, strong organization and comrades that you can, um, get [01:10:30] clear with about this is what we’re doing and this is why, right?

[01:10:33] If we’re all by ourselves on our phones, right? Like, it’s a, it feels different. It’s a different, Relationship to what’s happening in the movement. Um, so I think, yeah, we also have a responsibility to, um, to build the types of organizations that can foster optimism and also make it more possible for us to move with strategy and do hard things together.

[01:10:56] Um, with resilience and with clarity. [01:11:00] 

[01:11:00] Jayanni Webster: Yeah, I’ll pick up where Milena kind of left off. You mentioned purism. I would Uh, uplift moralism, you know, especially in this particular moment, um, which feels really hard because we’re dealing with multiple contradictions and, you know, we’re building a cadre organization that’s focusing on what we believe is a primary contradiction between, um, you know, left forces and, uh, and fascism.

[01:11:29] And I think [01:11:30] there’s a way in which, um, you know, moralism, like the, the, the, the most like moral, righteous, uh, action or issue or position is necessarily right. It’s, it’s, it’s supposed to be the correct, um, idea or position. And I think that just leads to bad strategy sometimes. And I think what we, we need, um, I think that can be a tendency amongst the left and we certainly need to contend with it.[01:12:00] 

[01:12:00] We need to sharpen and push each other to make grounded, sober assessments, um, to, uh, choose the, um, right? The correct direction. Um, that may not be the easiest direction to move in. Um, and I think moralism can sometimes be a very confusing way to understand, um, a world, um, and different, um, you know, different forces.

[01:12:25] And the, the, you know, just the balance of power that we’re dealing with right now, [01:12:30] um, and having a sober assessment of ourselves as a left, right, not downplaying us as like Milena said, or like making a scene, um, that we have more power influence that we currently have, you know, I’ve always said that, um, You know, I want to build a left that my mama would want to be a part of and my mama would see herself a part of that.

[01:12:52] She could, uh, that would help her make meaning of the world where also her experiences would be taken seriously. Um, and I do think [01:13:00] that there’s a way in which we need to practice actually thinking about, uh, You know, a left and a revolutionary movement and a social movement, um, that reflects our mamas and our, our siblings and our cousins and things that they can actually access and be a part of, and that they can determine, right, the history and the direction, um, of the world.

[01:13:26] versus people who would rather see us, you [01:13:30] know, um, oppressed and, and, and silent. So, so yeah, 

[01:13:37] William Lawrence: I think that’s a great note to close on for all the mamas and mamas, mamas and the grandbabies. Thank you, Gianni. Thank you, Milena. Uh, this has been a real pleasure. Thank you so much both for all of your, your serious work.

[01:13:52] Jayanni Webster: Thank you. Well,

[01:13:56] William Lawrence: Hey folks, thanks again for listening. As I mentioned at the top of the [01:14:00] episode, we’re going to take a month long season break for the month of March. We will be back in April with new episodes. In the meantime, please take the opportunity to get caught up on whatever episodes you’ve missed and send me a message.

[01:14:17] Pitch me episodes on things. You’d like to hear us talking about, uh, disagreements you have with things I’ve said, or the guests, things you want to hear us dig in deeper or particular guests you’d [01:14:30] love to hear on the show. That’s all great. We’re going to be coming back with lots of more episodes beginning in April.

[01:14:37] Thanks for listening.

[01:14:41] This podcast is written and hosted by me, William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh Elstro, and it is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. You can help support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of Convergence for as low as 2 per month at patreon. com slash convergence mag.[01:15:00] 

[01:15:00] You can find a direct link in the show notes. This has been the Hegemonicon. Let’s talk again soon.

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