Part I – Pre-History of Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism
In 2001 Barbara had her awakening to the disasters that capitalism caused. This started as part of the 9/11 events, beginning after the response to the supposed attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It became immediately clear the US would respond to the attacks with military action against whatever country seemed most vulnerable and had access or proximity to resources, in this case oil. The attacks were supposedly coordinated by al-Qaeda, a radical Islamic group founded by Osama bin Laden and headquartered in Afghanistan. We firmly believed, with documented evidence, that the US attacked Iraq instead even though Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks. The US wanted control of Iraq because of their large reserves of oil. In fact, they were the second largest oil exporting state at that time.
As soon as the news came of the World Trade Towers being hit, Bruce said that something was fishy. From that time forward Barbara’s political life began. Watching the news was surreal and terrifying. Over and over again, images of the towers collapsing were televised. Talk of war began almost immediately, with George “W” Bush putting the blame on Iraq – with absolutely no proof. What was even more alarming was watching how people reacted to it. So many of them jumped on the bandwagon of war.
Shortly after the attack Bruce – who had been a socialist for 30 years – talked Barbara into going to her first demonstration. Together we made signs to bring with us – “No War on Iraq”, “War is not the Answer”. Making the signs was so much fun. We got old cardboard cartons from the grocery stores along with some long lightweight sticks from lumber stores to hold them up. We brainstormed ideas for what to write. Bruce’s signs always had much more content than Barbara’s. Barbara went for the fewer words, the better.
The gathering, or demonstration, was held in Palo Alto, CA, just outside the Stanford University Campus. We had to park our car some distance from the crowd, and Barbara felt self-conscious carrying our signs. A radical political science faculty member, Joel Benin, who was pro-Palestinian, gave an impassioned speech. It was so sane, so true. People around us began chanting and we joined with them – NO WAR – NO WAR. This wasn’t a big demonstration, only a couple of hundred people, but everyone was in agreement that we could see where this drive to war was going, and we wanted to try to stop it. Barbara didn’t fully grasp the full implications of where the US was headed or what would be her involvement in the fight to stop it. Ultimately, that was the beginning of her journey to socialism.
Barbara has already written about much of this in My Journey to Socialism, some of which we’ve quoted here, which began after these attacks. Bruce was so happy to see her waking up.
Attending anti-war demonstrations
We went to anti-war demonstrations in San Francisco and Oakland, chanting “No Blood for Oil”. Many of the demonstrations and meetings were organized by San Francisco ANSWER, an anti-war group formed in San Francisco shortly after 9/11. On March 20, 2003, we marched with tens of thousands of people to protest the war on Iraq that Bush started that very day. We shut down the city. Aside from ANSWER, there seemed to be no large, unified movement to take action against the existing paradigm of US imperialism and capitalism. That is, there was no large movement until the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011 which was designed to protest income inequality and the use of influence of money in politics by occupying public spaces.
2004 – 2011 Looking for a Foothold
During this time period, we were searching for the best place for us to fit in and work towards changing the existing capitalist system. We had a book club together, just the two of us. We read and discussed The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Gregg Palast, Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, The powers That Be, and Who Rules America, both by G. William Domhoff. We met every other week on the weekends for 2 hours. This helped to develop Barbara’s understanding of capitalism.
In 2008 the economic crash hit almost everyone. We each lost ¼ of our savings in our IRA accounts, even though we had our money invested in socially responsible companies. Since this was money we hoped to use to supplement Social Security, this was a very personal wake-up call, not just for us, but for many. Were we witnessing the collapse of capitalism, and its effects on ordinary people?
In 2009 we attended a KPFA townhall meeting. KPFA was our local radio station, representing a mix of New Deal liberals and Social Democrats. They featured people like Amy Goodman, Sasha Lilly, C.S. Soong, and Bonnie Faulkner. At that meeting Bruce spoke about why KPFA is supporting the Democratic Party. When the meeting was over, he was approached by a labor organizer who wanted to start an organization to try to coordinate the public education unions. We stayed with this group for about a year, attending meetings about once a month, but nothing ever came of it, so we left.
Part II – 2011 – 2012 – Turning Point – Occupy
Excitement of General Assemblies:
We were happy to see Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland blossom in October of 2011 which lasted until the spring of 2012. We initially attended assemblies at the amphitheater in Frank Ogawa Plaza, right on the doorstep of Oakland City Hall. In San Francisco they were near the Ferry Building and at the bottom of the financial district.
The General Assembly (GA) meetings in both San Francisco and Oakland were electrifying. There were some extremely skilled facilitators. The GAs met every day and discussed how to regulate the public space that they had occupied and integrate the homeless community, which turned out to be a very difficult task. In San Francisco there were people who rode on a ferry that would stop by and watch the meetings. This was a good way to draw people in. Some of the members of the organizing committee of Occupy led tours around the Occupy camp to combat the propaganda against it.
Shutting Down the Port of Oakland
November 2, 2011, Occupy Oakland coordinated to shut down West Coast ports to make a statement that we would not go back to “business as usual”. The shutdown was a way of protesting the treatment of longshoremen and truck drivers, who were forced to work as independent contractors. They were then fired by port owners EGT and Goldman Sachs for wearing union t-shirts. We marched with 200,000 others from Oscar Grant Plaza to the ports. While the ILWU did not openly support the blockade, the rank and file and many former labor leaders did. Clarence Thomas, secretary/treasurer of the ILWU, was fully committed to this blockade, as he had been for many past blockades. We’ll never forget the power of the first speech we heard from him which began – “I’m Clarence Thomas – the REAL Clarence Thomas”. Jack Heyman, also with the ILWU, was another powerful and persuasive speaker.
The Challenges of the Working Committees
We joined some of the committees, but we noticed there was a real gap in ages in the members. The overwhelming majority of people were in their 20s, with the exception of the Committee for Solidarity with Labor. There were virtually no people in their 30s and 40s and only a handful of people like us in our 50s and 60s. We were both working full time and tried to join committees that would work with our schedules, but the organizers kept changing the days and times of the meetings. It seemed like, at best, most of the Occupy participants worked part-time or might have been upper middle-class people whose schedules were more flexible. The committees were not very solid.
People would float in and out. Any group could start a committee – even conservative committees like those who wanted to work with merchants were allowed. Committees were dissolved without letting the Occupy leadership know so you could join a committee and discover that it no longer existed. We found many of the meetings off-track and with members who didn’t have the basic social skills like asking a person “How are you? How are things going?” They lacked skills for building solidarity with strangers like tracking things a person may have told them and following up with a question like “what’s happening with that project you were working on?” They are skills like showing up to meetings on time and remembering to tell others if a meeting is cancelled. The Occupy movement was the best and the worst of anarchism.
Monday Night Occupy Meetings in the Women’s Building
When the police drove Occupy in SF and Oakland away from Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland and the area outside the Federal Reserve building in SF the Occupy organizers decided to meet indoors. Speakers were arranged every Monday night to talk on various political and economic topics. On average, 50-75 people attended. We noticed how the cliquishness of Occupy in the public are continued into the events in the Women’s Building in SF. Bruce told Barbara that when he was meeting with the organizers of an economic forum that Barbara was standing by herself. Nobody introduced themselves or tried to introduce themselves. These folks were calling themselves socialists and yet they lacked the most elementary friendliness to others who were on the same page. We decided it was then that we felt we needed to stop trying to join other organizations and start our own.
Part III – History of Socialist PBC
2012 – 2014 Building Political Documents and Our Website
We began to develop our own organizational documents, including a manifesto, mission statement, our attitude towards politics, and developed a political practice. At first that seemed like a lot of work to Barbara, and she also wondered how we would get people to join us. We had many meetings, just the two of us, to hash out the development of our perspective. Our main purpose was to provide a forum for exposing capitalism and spread the word to the public.
In spite of this challenging work, the creation of this site was so much fun. The first area we wanted to cover included telling people who we are and what we’re about. It included our mission statement – which was to become one of many eddies for:
- “Exposing the predatory, incompetent, and irrational practices of capitalists to direct human social life.
- Engage in collective political actions that throw a monkey-wrench into and slow down or disrupt the profit-making mechanisms of the system.
- Weave and expand the fabric of a growing body of workplaces under worker self-management.”
Barbara switched from full-time to part-time work, allowing her more time to work on developing our book clubs that were focused on educating people about the reality of capitalism and the havoc it’s wrecked in the world. From 2012-2014 we tried to do outreach by having in-person book groups.
In April 2014 our first step was to create a website, Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism. Through our Occupy contacts we found a wonderful tech guy named Jeremy who, with our input, created the website that we still have today. Our baby was gestating. It was scary for Barbara to learn how to manage a website. While she had considerable work experience using numerous platforms, managing a website is a whole other ballgame. At a ridiculously low cost, Jeremy built our WordPress site. He patiently showed Barbara the basics and was the best tech teacher we have been able to find since then. He never spoke to her in tech-speak. Sadly, he has disappeared from our lives, even though we’ve tried hard to reach him. Since then, we have struggled to find someone to help us with our site, as well as with social media.
In November 2014 we wrote our first post – titled The Collapse of Capitalism. In it you will see that our economic situation has only gotten worse since then. In addition to all the things we listed, we’re now dealing with the economic fallout of Covid, hyper-inflation, and a rush to war with Russia.
We added a slider at the top of our page that, in addition to The Collapse of Capitalism, included the Personal Impact of Crisis. In that section we asked the question “What caused the crisis?” We gave 4 reasons for this. We then proposed “Making adjustments within the system” asking 6 questions of readers. Finally, we asked the question “Are there alternatives”?
The next section was titled Alternatives to Capitalism. We gave examples of workers’ self-management, workers’ control, and worker cooperatives – all of which currently exist and often are more successful than capitalist businesses.
The next section was titled History of Workers’ Councils so readers could see this is not just an unrealistic pipe dream. There is a 150-year history of worker self-management.
Finally, we included a section titled Local Workplace Democracy that allowed readers to learn about some of the local cooperatives in the US.
On our site we included sections on Our Manifesto, Our Process Politics, Our Mission Statement, Calendar of Radical Events, Submission Guidelines, Films, Books, Our Mythological Story, Our Allies, and Getting Involved.
2014 – 2016 Richard Wolff – Democracy at Work
Around the same time, Richard Wolff, the Marxist political economist, began to give public talks about the crisis in capitalism and workplace democracy as an alternative. In one of our book clubs, we began reading his book, Capitalism Hits the Fan. We attended one of several talks by Wolff and met our soon-to-be comrade, K.J. Noh, who was petitioning for some local cause. We asked him to join our book group and he did, adding an international perspective from his own personal experience of growing up in South Korea. We also discovered he was an extraordinary writer. We cited some of his publications on our site. One of the best was “The Economic Myths of Santa Claus“, published in CounterPunch on Christmas day, 2014.
After a year in our book clubs, which drew between 4 and 6 people, K.J. said to us that the book clubs really were not the way to go in this day and age. He said we needed an electronic presence. He recommended 3 newsletters we could write for and said our focus must be international in order to keep his interest. We followed his suggestions, and our website and FB page likes grew.
We also became involved with Richard Wolff’s Democracy at Work project in 2014. This was an organization developed by Richard Wolff that had chapters in numerous cities and states to support and teach people about the theory and viability of worker cooperatives to combat capitalism by democratizing our workplaces. People were either encouraged to study cooperatives, provide educational forums for cooperatives, or even start a cooperative.
Why We Left Democracy at Work
We discovered that Democracy at Work was very loose in its structure. People like us who were long-time socialists were mixed in with people who neither cared nor knew nothing about socialism, and simply wanted to start a small business. Many of the groups throughout the country were uneven in terms of their commitments and we were disappointed that Rick did not take a firmer stand in directing what we were doing. In fact, the management of these groups was left to someone else, and Rick had very little engagement with the groups.
2016-2022 Coming into Our Own
Social Media Ups and Downs – FB and Twitter
Since Jeremy set up our website, we have had consistent problems finding someone to help us. Jeremy was so good at explaining things clearly, teaching us how to create posts and perspectives, add to our pages and change our images. Since that time – in 2014, Barbara has mostly figured stuff out on her own and has become our house techie. WordPress is not a user-friendly platform and learning how to manage it is not obvious or intuitive. We need a professional, who we’ve only recently found, who can help us navigate that.
Someone who earlier helped us enormously was Sameer, who lived close to us in Oakland. He was also great at explaining things in non-tech speak. However, he’s moved on to bigger and more lucrative projects. We’ve since discovered that it’s very hard for technical experts to be able to communicate to non-experts in an understandable way what they’re trying to do – or trying to teach us to do.
Sameer introduced us to Susan Tenby in 2016 – who was able to help us with our social media. She taught us how to make our Facebook and Twitter pages more visible and appealing. We are so lucky to have found Susan. We were a small, community organization trying to get our message out. When we started working with Susan our visibility was very low. Susan did a comprehensive audit of where our social media stood when we started working with her and helped us track its rapid change. We were not getting a whole lot of attention on our website or through our social media. She gave us a crash course on how to turn that around and in a very short period of time our visibility skyrocketed. Each session with her was packed with techniques and ideas we never would have known about. She’s also terrific at adapting to each individual’s learning style.
Susan also introduced us to Colleen Nagel, an SEO expert and digital marketing. These terms were completely unfamiliar to us. SEO means Search Engine Optimization and is the process used to optimize a website’s technical configuration, content relevance and link popularity so its pages can become easily searchable, more relevant, and popular, and as a consequence, search engines rank them better. In other words, it’s the process of making a website better for search engines, like Google. We began to understand how to make more sense of our analytics, although we’re still struggling to figure out WHY our followers like some of our posts and tweets better than others.
Where we needed help was in translating the analytics into verbal meaning. The deeper step, after understanding what these numbers mean, was to understand the causal dynamics which produce an increase or decrease in viewers and attention span. The next step was to develop a plan for increasing the number of followers after we were able to analyze what’s actually happened up to then. We never felt that we got that help
All of this cost money, of which we didn’t have a lot. We have never asked for donations or “supporters” for our site. Barbara’s income at that time consisted of a small retirement fund, Social Security, and a modest IRA. Bruce worked as an adjunct faculty member. As he’s written in his article “Capitalist Economic Violence Against Road Scholars: Now You’re Hired, Now You’re Not” his income was never completely stable and, of course, they paid adjuncts at a much lower rate than they paid faculty. In fact, today there are adjuncts who are living in their cars because they can’t afford to pay rent. We simply couldn’t afford to pay what Colleen was charging.
We then moved on to 2 more people whose entire focus was to install SEO optics. While we got some help from this, we found that both of them explained things in tech-speak and were not easy to communicate with.
Finally, we tried working with Liz and her sister. Liz was an editor of one of Bruce’s books and claimed to have some technical skills. But she didn’t have a Mac like we do and was not good at explaining things so that wasn’t much help. Her sister did have a Mac and was good at explaining things but worked full time, had small kids and was erratic in her response time.
Between 2014 and 2016 we worked hard on learning how to get our message out through Facebook and Twitter. We learned how to “boost” our articles, Facebook’s language for paying them to promote it. We were able to select what type of audience we were trying to reach and where they were likely to be geographically. As we started to boost articles either we or one of our comrades had written, we began getting a lot more attention on Facebook. Our Facebook boosted posts for our articles ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 readers. A couple of them reached 20,000. Between 2016 and 2019 we were getting about 1,000 page likes a year, reaching thousands of people each week. At that point we had gained a total of 3,400 page likes.
Twitter was much slower to get off the ground. We began to understand the importance of hashtags and which hashtags were more likely to get attention. We also came to see the importance of liking, commenting on and retweeting the tweets of people who were following us. Our followers have increased steadily since we’ve been doing this. However, we still lag behind the attention we were getting on Facebook, and we would like to understand why.
Facebook Attempts to Clip Our Wings
In early 2020 Facebook stopped allowing us to boost our articles. The reason they gave was that since we are posting “political content” we must be registered as a political organization with the IRS. As you can imagine, we did not want to do that. When Facebook first started doing this, we were able to mount arguments that not all of our articles were, in fact, political. Well, of course they were, but not “political” in the way they were framing it. After a while, they simply stopped allowing us to boost them at all, no matter what our argument was. About the same time, we noticed that our typical daily reach (how many people saw the article) was shrinking dramatically. Whereas our daily reach used to be in the thousands, they are now in the hundreds. The same thing has happened with our engagements (how many people actually look at our post or click on a link we’ve provided) Our total page likes have gone from an average of 30 a month to less than 10. That’s because the only people who see our posts are the ones who have already liked our page! Our reach now is about one third of what it used to be. We have read that the same dramatic drop happened to World Socialist Website, The Greanville Post, and many other socialist sites.
Our Work Schedules for PBC
Since the very beginning, we each put in a minimum of 15 hours a week, often more, including Saturdays and Sundays. We have 2-hour weekly meetings to discuss what we’ve done during the week and what we want to do for the coming week. We give ourselves “homework”, then report in on the results of that homework at our weekly meetings. We jokingly call these meetings, our “Central Committee” meetings.
We write almost all of our own articles. After editing them and finding images for them we publish them and then also send them to other websites for publication. We have tried to find other comrades to write articles for publication for us also. We wanted to be able to include authors on our site beyond just the two of us. While we did, in fact, get a few people to write for us, it often required a lot of work on our part to help them frame their work. Of course, we did all editing the articles. We publish an average of one article every three weeks.
For our daily posts, every morning Bruce searches for an article online from a number of trusted sources, that usually focuses on the decay of capitalism. We also want very much to spread the word of the success of worker-owned cooperatives to the public. This lets them see that there is a way to work other than for “the man” and create a new society. He writes a post about the article, finds an image to go with it, and then sends it to Barbara. Barbara edits his post, puts it up on our site and shares it to FB and Twitter. We then share that article to our Facebook groups.
We have been doing all of this every day, every week, every month since we began our electronic outreach. This is a joy for us. We call Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism “our baby”. She’s now almost 10 years old and stable. She will be thriving when we can get the technical and social media support we need. When people ask us if we’re retired, we start laughing. Barbara always says she’s working harder than she ever did, she just doesn’t get paid for it! There are few things we would rather spend our time on than Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism.
Thank you for reading our history, and please consider joining us by reading and sharing our articles and posts. Together we are strong. Together we can change the world.The post Bringing our Socialist Baby to Life: History of Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.