The Enlightened Retreat: U.S Social Movements from 2018-2025

*this is the second piece of speculation political fiction written with just a hint of satire written in the form of a Wikipedia article form the future. You can see the first piece here. The purpose is imagine what all this craziness from the white house might be building to while envision how peace might come out of chaos and tragedy. We should not take Trump’s idiocy or bluster lightly. When the autocrat says he is coming for you believe him! I believe we can prevent violence in the long run if we build for transformation and autonomy now*

Overview:

 

The Enlightened Retreat, often called the DAT Revolution, is name of the powerful social movement that led to the fall of U.S Empire in the period of beginning with the Unending March and the end of WW3.  The great retreat was a direct result of the mass arrests and political show trials against socialist, communist, feminist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist organizers and artist during the Trump-Ryan political crisis of 2017-2021. Unlike the repression of the 1950’s which marginalized American communism by making it un-American, the brutality of the wave of repression in the pre-war years, combined with the deep community building in the U.S oppositional organizing lead to a mainstreaming of autonomous and transformative local organizing.

Due to fact that most political speech ended in jail time after the inauguration of President Paul Ryan following the impeachment of President Trump and resignation of Vice President Mike Pence and the economic down turn following the student loan and rental housing bubble bursting in 2018, most political dissidents went from protesting the government to building small communities of care and support. This often took the form of soup-co-ops, group housing and rapid response medical and mental health care. As housing insecurity due to loan repayments became wide spread, “take back the land” campaigns become more and more common in major Urban Areas as displaced people started squats in their own rental units.

The cultural practices of Block Parties and “Free Markets” where people shared food, music and unneeded clothes and supplies with their neighbors slowly became the mainstream as overt political speech was heavily monitored and the economic crises deepened. Eventually, larger scale cooperatives and community sourced agriculture networks started to develop as the gas shortages from the Qatar crisis lead to increased prices on food imports.

Political organizers started printing off political pamphlets and convincing CSA vendors and block party organizers to distribute them in the food and clothing giveaways at their events. As these critical connections developed, organizers would ask residents of a neighborhood to turn off their lights from 8:30-9:00pm, a tactic latter called “rolling Black outs.” The Black outs were massive acts of political disobedience that were low risks to residents but sent a clear message to government. Though they were tolerated by the local police who were still reeling from the massive Black Bloc demonstrations in Oakland, Detriot and Portland and the Afrikan blocs in Jackson, M.S and Washington D.C in 2019, it was widely believed that these small acts of wide spread solidarity, gave everyday residents the courage to take back the streets years later. Despite the increase in protests from preceding the Enlightened Retreat, the number of overt street protests went from nearly 4,000 in 2018 to 7 in 2021.

The rapid decline in street protests and the shift from digital communication to old fashion newspaper printing combined with the a disarray in the FBI and homeland security following the haphazard management by the Trump administration created the allusion of a U.S populace shocked into compliance. This allowed for a remarkable amount of cultural and spiritual organizing to happen without much confrontation by the state.

The first general strike of the defense industry in 2021, was organized by the D.C speakeasy through pamphlets at regional block parties distributed by traveling DJ’s and hip hop groups on tour. The speakeasies, or underground social clubs, where organizers meet in secret to plan campaigns and write their political pamphlets, often became the chapter hubs for the leadership of the Party of Revolution and Evolution that would grow to power after WW3.

 

The Call for Retreat

 

Most historians mark the start of the Great Retreat with the distribution of the anonymous essay “the way out is in, together” in January 2018 after the mass arrests of protestors in Portland, OR. The essay, or memo as it was called at the time, called for a “deep collective grounding in our own desire for connection, loving touch, joy  and freedom that can fuel the fire we need to burn down the aspects of the system that no longer serve us.” The essay argued the personal was political and spiritual. It resonated with many by speaking to the deep alienation that neo-liberal capitalism instilled in advanced industrial societies while connecting that feeling and spiritual sense of loss to structures of oppression. Marvin Jeffries, who would later help organize the 2023 general strike famously posited that “the memo gave us language to discuss a problem we were too afraid to let ourselves feel, while showing us that we were not alone in feeling it and we were not feeling it because of our individual actions but rather a system that was producing specific conditions of pain.”

By the time President Paul Ryan began ordering the mass arrests of 2019, the essay was well known among U.S organizers. That year it was common for posters with graphic representations of the main ideas of the essay to be wheatpasted by young dissidents at the sites of disappearances of organizers or mass arrests after political demonstrations. As protests dwindled in winter of 2019 and beginning of 2020, the posters became popular decorations at church revivals, farmers markets and block parties across the country. After the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in May of 2020 made the distribution of the posters a felony, they often lost their overt political content and took on a more overly spiritual tone which ironically allowed them to resonate with aspects of the Christian community that should have been a natural base for Ryan regime.

In this same period, the new monostatic movement of young Christians was reaching its height as rising housing insecurity and gas prices mixed with erratic weather to force many people into communal living situations. As always, desperate times called for theologies of escape as well as theologies of liberation. This helped popularize a less formally religious but deeply socially engaged spirituality that spurred revivals of Judaism, mass conversions to the Baha’i faith and an increase in socially engaged practitioners of American Buddhism particularly the Order of Interbeing.

 

The Revolution Was [Partially] Funded

 

Perhaps the most surprising role of the Enlightened Retreat was the role the philanthropic community played in it. Throughout most of its history previously, philanthropic organization were heavily tied to interests of the ruling elite. Their role had traditionally been to stop capitalism from being too brutal by providing for some basic human services the state would not and channeling righteous anger of oppressed people to movements of reform from within current political and economic frameworks so that all social change rarely threatened the status quo of the ruling class.

Not surprisingly, the rise of “progressive” billionaire philanthropist like Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates who criticized government austerity programs and inequality actually fueled conservatives in government dismantling the welfare state by showing that they would donate in proportion to the increased need created by cuts in government spending. Their charity actually played well into the argument that it is “civil society’s” responsibility to care for the poor and not the government. Thus, when the housing bubble burst in 2018 and the Trump administration responded with tax cuts and corporate buy-outs, the top 20% of the wealthiest Americans saw an increase in wealth while the bottom 80% saw a substantial decrease. Therefore, the amount of money in Philanthropic communities increased dramatically while the class of middle class white people who managed the social service organizations that received most of that money now saw themselves eligible for the services they delivered.

While the privatizations of social services had tremendously devastating effects on services as workers lost wages and protections, it also significantly decentralized the how social services were provided. In perhaps one of the era’s deepest ironies, the privatization did in fact allow for more innovation but not more neo-liberal individualization.

The shrinking of the middle class ironically transformed social service delivery because they people who needed services were now mainstream and no longer just marginalized communities. This precipitated the rise of the community directed service model designed to empower formerly middle class white communities that quickly made its way into urban cores around the country. Like the embattled communist who entered unions in the 40’s and 50’s, the anti-racist, anti-authoritarians of the enlightened retreat who managed to avoid jail time entered direct service organizations in droves. These influx in former political activist radicalized the industry in unexpected ways. Perhaps the most profound change was the shift from top down, massively hierarchical organized to more self-managed teams doing hyper local service provision.

These hyper local teams of food trucks, health workers and small mental health clinics developed actual relationships with the community. While the overall racial, gender and class hierarchies and pay disparities remained [frontline staff being mostly underpaid women of color] the staff in the communities had much more autonomy than they had as government workers. Many of these front-line staffers were friends and relatives to members of the more overtly political and thus clandestine speakeasies of the era. They would end up playing a critical role in distributing the political pamphlets and often became block captains for the PRE during elections.

The Black communities who were the most devastated by social service cuts became the most invested in mutual aid programs. Due to America’s historic segregation, the Black middle class saw itself once again surrounded by poverty. However, due to the lack of overt discrimination in many industries, the Black upper class retained much of income despite losing much of its wealth in the housing bubble. This ironically put the Black middle class in position of having the income to donate to social improvement, while redlining and discrimination in housing loans meant that they were unable to leave and needed to find alternative ways to have economic security outside building family wealth.

These conditions, combined with the decentralization of social services meant that Black people’s economic situation and political cohesion started to look nearly identical to how it looked at the beginning of the civil right movement. However, six years of solid M4BL organizing and increase of overt anti-Black racism meant that institutions like the NAACP and the Urban League were open to a Black politics that centered cross class solidarity rather than respectability politics. Once again, the line between the elite assimilationist Black politics and more radical, often nationalist Black politics, was  blurred as it had been 50 years before. So while philanthropic communities still gave little to overtly political social groups [some of which had also become illegal with the re-authorization of the patriot act] the established Black groups they gave the majority of their money to were much more willing able to pass some of that money onto clandestine activities. With the elimination of the IRS and increase of allowances of political activity by religious groups passed through the Tax Revision Act of 2020, this funnel from rich philanthropist to clandestine organizing groups became even more prosperous.

Prominent contemporary scholar Jasmine Banks noted that “we often forget how absurd the old political and economic order was. It would be inaccurate to say that the progressive wealthy class acted against their monetary interests because of the moral evil of inequality. Rather, they worked towards their material interests by supporting an expanded safety net versus risking the inevitable attempts to address inequality through violence that had been the strategy of the disposed for centuries. The fact that the safety net led to the co-operative economy that would replace capitalism was not something they would have foreseen and, honestly, happened on a timeline that the crisis of liberal society did not allow them to think on.”

 

The Rise of the Political Speakeasies

 

Just as prohibition had given rise to organized crime so did the combination of laws prohibiting anti-government protesting but expanding the ability of religious institutions to do political work give rise to an underground political resistance movement. These speakeasies evolved from informal gatherings were people met in national parks, community swimming pools, YMCA’s or other places where people with little disposable income could gather and be social together. It just so happened that many of these gathering spaces were places where you could be relatively sure of little government surveillance to vent and complain about the government. As the economic crisis worsened low cost activities like reading groups, potlucks, and rent parties that Black and Latinx people would throw to raise money for their rent, became more and more common.

Organizers who managed to escape the purges would often find each other at these gatherings and form small little pods or affinity groups of closeted dissidents. Overtime, they began to have their own gatherings that were spread through word of mouth or embedded in geo-cashes by hackers. Participants would show up, dump their phones in cooper and lead lined box and hang out together. The vast majority of speakeasies were barely even politically but allowed for people to “thumb their noses” at the repressive government. In places like Miami, Houston and L.A. these speakeasies give rise to the Cabal movement of small dance clubs where people escaped the Puritanatical politics of the Ryan Regime through juking, grinding and twerking.

Most cities however, had two or three regular speakeasies, often differented by racial, class, and sexual expression of the participants, that were overtly political. While these identity differences often times caused conflicts, there was generally enough of a sense of a common enemy and pre-existing relationships across groups that they could work together. In larger urban cores like NYC, D.C, and Oakland, there were often dozens of such groups that were often coordinated through spokescouncils or steering committees. Out of fear of repression, these groups generally worked to find and support comrades who had been imprisoned or deported.

Inspired by political activity in Palestine during the first Intifada however, they began to use the emerging network of direct service provides, CSA’s and block parties to launch their “rolling black outs”  and other demonstrations of civil disobedience. The clandestine nature of their work and their prefigurative, anarchist influenced politics, meant that they had to developed new ways of self-governance across racial, gender and class differences that didn’t require 6 hour meetings which would have been suspicious.

Perhaps one of their most enduring developments was political hand dancing. Inspired by Black culture in D.C., Maryland and Virginia as well as the slaves who developed Capoeira in Brazil, political hand dancing allowed for communication of complex group decision to debated and accepted in real time without speaking. Originally developed as a warning system for police raids and as way to coordinate evacuating hideouts and delegating the destruction of materials on the fly, political hand dancing or the clapping game become a crucial tool for coordinating the silent Afrikan blocs during the general strikes.

By utilizing complexity theory, hip hop culture and musical theory the clapping game was used much like war drums of earlier eras yet the call and response, “remix” and beat dropping allowed for the “orders” to be decided by swarm intelligence. Affinity groups self-organized themselves into sensors, responders and facilitators. Each role has its sound: sensors clapped, responders drummed on whatever was available while facilitators hummed or sang well known songs to different rhythms.  Sensors role were to sense police presence and warn others of raids, kettling practices or general police movement. Responders developed responses to the sensors, often directing people to go to specific hideouts [each with their own beat] or to scatter. Facilitators had two roles one was to create noises that made it hard for the police to follow what was going one and two was communicate the meanings of the different codes that the responders were using.

The codes used were often determined by whatever songs were being played by speakeasy DJays or with new lyrics that often used inside jokes, movement slang and elaborate metaphors to refer to places that speakeasies met. The complex system allowed for groups to utilize swarm intelligence to evade the police even when leaders were arrested or not decided before had. Due to its relatively simple rules and communal nature, versions of the clap game become wide spread. The rules of the clap game were innovated on time and time again to be more effective. The decentralized network and self-referential nature of the code also made it secure as the police would have be incredible skilled at the game in addition to understanding the codes to counteract in real time.

While the clap game was the most famous innovation of self-governance it was hardly the only one. In many areas, CSA were coordinated into regional council for food distribution, women’s councils were created above ground to deal with street harassment and underground to provide clandestine reproductive health after the family values act was passed in 2020 severely limited reproductive choice. As the police force become more and more overtly political, the justice system lost more and more legitimacy. Eventually, speakeasies were created to do restorative circles for community violence ranging from theft, to domestic partner violence to arson.

In Detroit, the speakeasies spokes council partnered with the Malcolm X grassroots movement to create the Party of Revolution and Evolution [PRE] in 2021. In just three years, the PRE utilized a decentralized “movement DNA” system to create chapters around the country that began building larger networks of mutual aid and eventually taking over local governments across the country.

 

Aftermath

 

The beginning of the end of the Enlightened Retreat was the general strike of the defense industry in 2021. The strike was organized by collaboration between the East Coast chapters of the Black Lives Matter [BLM] Network who partnered with International Workers of the World [IWW] across the country. While most historians agree that the general strike only effected a handful of factories and did not significantly threaten the war it was a major symbolic victory. It showed the maturation of the fight for racial justice with one the first major multi-racial attacks against racialized capitalism and imperialism. It also gave an example of effective organizing to all the networks of mutual aid that had been building over the last 3 years.

The subsequent trial of the BLM leaders was meant to instill fear in any other dissidents. The leaders of the campaign were pulled from their houses at night and brutally detained. The police feared brutality against young white people would back fire against the state, especially considering that the IWW had their largest presence on elite college campuses that were doing Department of Defense research. Thus they rounded up the white IWW organizers gently and in secret. This tactic actually backfired as it showed blatant racism and racial disparities of policing as well as deep class differences.

The attorney general Rudolf Giuliani charged the organizers with treason, a tactic that was meant to scare off further organizing but seemed more like government overreach as the penalty for treason was death. The trial was the much watched television event of the century and rather than discouraged protests it inspired protest across the country.

 

 

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