“The creation of today’s market society was not the result of a sequence of spontaneous events but rather of state interference and violence.”
– Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine
Liberty! Human Rights! Choice! Prosperity! Freedom!
These seemingly familiar words are how neoliberals see their movement for the expansion of the “free market.”
Advocates see the “neoliberal agenda” (i.e. freeing the market from constraints such as regulations and tariffs) as going hand-in-hand with freedom, even when the results across the world tell a very different tale.
We barely have to look before finding new new waves of protest (e.g. Turkey, Brazil, and Slovenia) against the intimate connection between neoliberalism, corruption, authoritarianism, and austerity measures.
Those pushing for free market “reforms” will say these connections are “exceptions” and “not true expressions of neoliberalism.”
This neoliberal myth of a “liberating free market economy” is one we must dismantle and replace with the truth as the Naomi Klein quote illustrates above that neoliberalism is the result of “state interference and violence.”
This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of how we can prepare to organizing against neoliberalism including:
Key elements of ways neoliberalism becomes entrenched in our systems Core beliefs that frame how neoliberals envision their movement The main long-term efforts we can take to combat neoliberalism
With the collective wisdom of those who have dedicated their lives to diverting the oppressive framework of the “free market,” I’ve worked to make this guide represent current activist thoughts and strategies.
If as you’re reading this you find yourself saying “but what about…?” or “I know a great resource/example to share!” then I’d love for you to leave a comment at the end of this post or send me a message.
So here we go, “The Comprehensive Activist Guide to Dismantling Neoliberalism.”
So what is neoliberalism exactly?
At it’s core, neoliberalism is an economic system working on eliminating government regulations, trade barriers, and tariffs (and possibly government altogether) along with privatizing as many aspects of society as possible.
Naomi Klein, one of the most articulate and investigative-oriented activists against neoliberalism, illustrates the “3 trademark demands of neoliberalism” in practice as:
Privatization – e.g. turning the operation of education, roads, and health care over to companies Government deregulation – e.g. removing environmental protections, workers’ rights, and monitoring the financial industry Deep cuts to social spending – e.g. cutting food stamps, access to family planning services, and mental health programs
These demands are about shifting responsibility from the government to the private sector to handle improving peoples’ lives.
At a deeper level neoliberalism is really all about making, as Barnard Harcourt writes, “the ordered market as the model of social interaction… In other words, to extend the model of natural order beyond economic exchange to crime, divorce, punishment, illicit drugs, adoption, and so on.”
So what this means for a neoliberal is we need to structure our entire society, family, government, relationships, etc. around the idea of the “market”.
One reason neoliberalism is a confusing concept is that many people and institutions accept its starting points (e.g. growth is always a good thing and it will help everyone over time) without even digging into whether these “foundational precepts” are actually true.
Neoliberal economists promote these concepts as “common sense” and “necessary,” and by-and-large have entered our everyday language with little analysis of their underlying impact.
Along with “normalizing” our vocabulary under neoliberal precepts, Elizabeth Martinez and Arnoldo Garcia note neoliberals also aim to switch our values of the “public good” and “community” to a value-system based on the “rule of the market” and individual responsibility.
It’s a very black-and-white world for a neoliberal. One in which every person has sole responsibility for their success, and corporate expansion is good for all.
The photo above shows a photo of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former US President Ronald Reagon, both of whom were integral to implementing neoliberal policies and ideas.
For an in-depth analysis of the forms of neoliberalism in economic terms, check out this great resource.
So to recap in a sentence…neoliberalism seeks to privatize, deregulate government, cut social services, and shift values from the public good/community to values based on “rule of the market”/individual responsibility.
Neoliberal frames and views of their own ideology
Now that we’ve gone over some of the main aims of neoliberals, one important question remains…Why do neoliberals view a completely free market as the ideal system? How do neoliberals truly view their movement? What motivates or influences them to force their policies on the rest of the world?
These neoliberal worldviews are based in the unwavering belief in a “free market.” Even though many of these ideas lack any kind of scientific evidence in their favor.
Neoliberals will rarely call themselves “neoliberals” by name, so these frames below will help you identify narratives based in questionable logic.
Neoliberals believe the market economy is “natural” and “self-regulating” (i.e. “the invisible hand of the market”). Adam Smith, one of the founders of capitalist thought, saw the “natural laws of the economy” as exactly that…“natural.” He believed that a totally free market would tend toward balance on the whole.
Economists tend to use these assumptions that the market will “self-correct,” even lacking any scientific validity. People control the market, and those with the most power will often make sure the “invisible hand” benefits them.
There is a clear distinction between individual greed and corruption. The neoliberal model structures itself around individual vice and greed pushing forward economic growth. However, they believe corruption happens in only a few cases and is not related to a systemic problem within neoliberalism.
Consensus would seem to exhibit the highest form of collaboration, trust, and transparency.
But what if consensus was frequently used to uphold the interests of the powerful and their interests?
When I first heard about the idea that consensus decisionmaking was a growing tool for those strengthening injustice, I was very resistant to the idea.
“But consensus allows for everyone’s voice to be heard!” I remember saying in my head. That’s because I aimed to have consensus decisionmaking systems in any meeting I was a part of.
Thus, while having the people’s “voices heard” may be true in some cases, those with the most resources often can steer the decisions to the status quo or even more in their favor.
This squelching of “radical” efforts, despite people’s desires for significant change, has even become institutionalized in the culture that advocates for the “moderate.” This slide towards the “middle ground” nearly always supports those in positions of power.
So what are some specific issues with consensus? Below I’ll show some of the ideas that have profoundly shaped my thinking and then show how we can ensure consensus models actually fulfill the intent of active participation.
Problems with contemporary consensus
The seemingly “inclusive” consensus model can hide social power dynamics. The group needs to openly acknowledge the role of privilege and oppression, and seek to address them when they occur, otherwise some people may dominate the conversation.
Consensus systems can lend legitimacy to the powerful/elite. It can be very easy for a privileged group (e.g. a large or wealthy organization or an outspoken individual) to take shelter in the consensus system and cry out that their needs are not being met. This may lead to the group sacrificing the needs of many to placate needs of a single privileged entity.
Remember foundations and other organizations use asset-based planning and consensus models to divert changemakers. The authors of Contesting Community note that institutions invested in current systems focus on these models, as alternatives to social change models, because they avoid conflict/oppositional strategies and tactics that may actually impact wealthy funders.
Pushing decisions toward the middle or a small group, without resolving issues. In particular, those with social privilege (e.g. white, male) are often the biggest culprits of using consensus group processes to move decisions closer to their desired outcomes. Sometimes one or a few people can force the group to make a decision that goes against the desires of the majority.
Knowing the “tricks” of consensus-based processes. Just knowing how consensus works is a huge benefit since there are so many elements to it. So some people, whether intentional or not, can use this to their advantage in achieving their aims.
How to make positive consensus systems
Prioritizing quieter and less frequent voices. For example of two people have their hands raised, choose the one that has spoken less or is a bit more reserved. It’s important to develop this as a group practice so everyone understands why.
Use multiple meeting processes. Design breakout sessions, individual writing sections, and partner shares to bring out the ideas of the whole group and help inform a more robust consensus decision.
Have an “in-tune” facilitator that addresses injustice. As noted in the previous section, there are many ways “power” can appear even in a seemingly horizontal decisionmaking system. So having a facilitator who can spot these dynamics quickly and address them even faster is essential.
Recognize consensus models aren’t the most appropriate for every situation. There may be situations where a consensus system just gives too much voice to those perpetuating injustice, so you may need to use an alternative system of consensus or go with something different altogether.
Create norms that specifically address disruptions, power, and privilege. Intentionally layout expressions of oppressive dominant culture (e.g. one or a few people doing most of the talking, only following one meeting process/style [such as a strictly “logical” one without creativity or emotion], or listening more to certain thoughts/ideas at the expense of others).
How do you use consensus effectively without limiting anyone’s participation? Leave a comment below!
How many times have you heard that the U.S. is a place where people from every culture are welcome and can succeed?
When did you realize that this wasn’t true?
I can still remember the moment when I understood that joining the U.S. “melting pot” (i.e. the idea that everyone can be a part of the U.S., just as long as you follow the same cultural norms as the dominant group) meant losing your identity (and even health!).
The more “inclusive” view I’ve seen, beyond the “melting pot,” is the “salad bowl” (i.e. where distinct cultures can be celebrated and recognized, without having to be one whole culture).
However, “Both [the melting pot and salad bowl] liquidate issue of power and domination…Both are molded by a national identify firmly rooted in an Anglo-American culture and perspective” as Elizabeth Martinez writes in De Colores Means All Of Us.
This cultural pluralist model focuses its advocacy on tolerance and acceptance of others, and I know I want to see way more than simply tolerance.
While wanting people to help people and make them feel accepted in the group is not necessary a bad desire, I think we can push for everyone to be able to fully participate and succeed in society, regardless of their cultural expression.
So where do these beliefs stem from?
3 colonialist outputs: assimilation, appropriation, and “saving”
“It [Colonialism] is violence in its natural state.”
This quote from Franz Fanon, one of the 20th century’s most powerful voices for decolonization, captures the sentiment of colonization as one of the darkest institutions that not only shows up as violence through government/military, but in culture and language as well.
The three interrelated cultures of assimilation, appropriation, and “saving” serve as stark examples of how colonialism directly persists in the U.S.
1. Assimilation – “Join us [by force]”
This narrative of homogeneity, though frequently proclaimed as an idealistic outcome for the country, often expressed itself through forced assimilation (e.g. early 20th century policies that targeted Asian Americans to adopt structures based around the nuclear family).
The U.S.’s culture of assimilation forces one to either leave behind all traces of their former heritage or face constant fear and suspicion.
2. Appropriation – “Now that we’ve taken your land, let’s take your culture too”
The White Cultural value that people have a “right” to cultures, knowledge, and traditions and that they are free to “share/take” as they wish, has maintained its immovable presence (e.g. the practice of many New Agers to exploit indigenous beliefs).
Adrienne K. at Native Appropriations brilliantly highlights how entrenched the U.S.’s culture of appropriation remains in our systems of education, politics, sports, etc. In particular, there seems to be a growing trend in (mis)using Native designs in fashion and media.
3. “Saving” – “Our civilization is best, so let us help you”
One of the most insidious of colonialization’s impacts. The idea of “saving” a group by force/deceptive persuasion often comes from mistaken good intents that led to destructive results.
Groups that resist this “[Western] civilizing” often face the dominant culture’s antagonistic confusion for why they don’t want “our [white savior] help.” However, refuting this “civilizing help” is essential for ending our colonialist institutions.
Elizabeth Martinez writes that one of the most important ways to resist these impacts is by “rejecting the colonized mentality, that pernicious, destructive process of internalizing a belief in the master’s superiority and our inferiority.”
Developing a Culture of Complex Identities: Going beyond “inclusion” and tolerance
As many decolinizing activists note, it’s time to move beyond privileged norms and policies pushing for a “core culture,” while either trying to “include” or tolerate the “other.”
It’s time for a Culture of Complex Identities; a culture that not only accepts difference, but actively promotes a variety of cultures and simultaneously accepts indigenous groups’ right to cultural sovereignty and self-determination.
I can imagine that in a place that strongly promoted this type of society, it may be a bit more challenging to say something is a “core culture”, but it would help people to achieve their potential in whatever they choose to grow.
This would impact not only interpersonal relations, but also how we define leadership, collaboration, education, etc.
This world would certainly be much more dynamic and rely less on centralized or hierarchical systems that demand conformity and obedience.
Ways to push for a Culture of Complex Identities
So how do we get started with moving toward complexity?
Describe your personal and/or organizational culture and identity – not all culture needs to be changed, but we do need to know where we are currently at to understand what needs to be different
Identify how you currently encourage assimilation to your norms and/or mere acceptance of others’ norms – look at your actions, practices, or policies to get a sense of how you might be limiting the potential of others
Consider how you promote the achievements of others – look at how you select people for certain roles/positions, what actions you choose to recognize, whose ideas get turned into projects, etc. to determine whether you are focusing on one type of cultural expression
Continue the struggle for decolonization – which means listening to words of people who fought their entire lives (e.g. Frantz Fanon) along with those who are upholding those past traditions (e.g. Decolonize PDX).
Figure out your own conscientious culture and actions steps – now that you have thought a little about your current practices, now is most exciting step! Decide how you would like your personal or organizational culture to be an ideal scenario and the steps you will need to achieve it.
This struggle for […]
- Announcements (3)
- Campaigns (1)
- Campaigns and Planning (2)
- Confidence (2)
- Culture Changing (5)
- Culture of Confidence (2)
- Dominant Cultures (3)
- Leadership (4)
- Learning (2)
- Marketing (1)
- Movement Building (3)
- Organizational Development (3)
- Planning (2)
- Privilege and Oppression (7)
- Shifting Cultures (1)
- Strategic Nonviolent Conflict (1)
- Strategy Analysis (1)
- Strategy creation (6)
- Uncategorized (2)
- Vision (2)
Subscribe to Organizing ChangeHave an RSS reader?
Subscribe to our RSS feed