Convergence is happy to announce the launch of our new podcast, Hegemonicon. In this first episode, host William Lawrence introduces himself with his story of working to build a youth-led climate movement as co-founder of the Sunrise Movement and the Green New Deal it brought to the political forefront. Upon reminiscing the perceived successes and failures of that movement and the wilderness the past decade-plus has led Left organizers into, he lays out the foundation for the Hegemonicon’s exploration of power and how the show will go about investigating it through a series of interviews with organizers, activists, theorists, and more, in three parts:
- Part 1 – The Conjuncture and the Longue Durée
- Conjunctural analysis is a power-map of the present moment, the near past, and into the near future—of the system, in motion, as it is playing out through actual lives and events. It is a necessary skill for the organizer, the campaigner, anybody looking to do politics in the here and now.
- The Longue Durée, a phrase from French meaning long duration, is the vast historical trajectory of which we are only a small part, spanning many hundreds of years and heading forward into future centuries. The longue durée reveals trends, historical limitations as well as possible opportunities, that an exclusive focus on the conjuncture does not.
- Part 2 – Optionality
- A lens that analyzes the presence or absence of choices (options) within a given set of circumstances, and how we act in ways that either expand or constrain our options over time. Our present options are the result of our past investments, or bets that we made. Our present bets and investments are designed to give us options in the future. There are multiple possible futures on which we are all betting, but none of us can know which future will actually come to pass. We ought to ask ourselves which kinds of bets we are placing, and why.
- Part 3 – Power
- There are five aspects of power that will be explored on the show: force, finance, production, ideology, and law. We will call these the sinews of power, because they tend to intertwine and be mutually reinforcing. If you only control one of them, you don’t really control the full mechanism of power, and you will be exposed to risks via the other sinews. Whoever has the most command of the sinews of power, has the strongest grasp on the future. This gets us to the factor called hegemony, which is when a social force is able to assume a leadership position over society, backed by a multi-faceted command of power through the five sinews.
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Will Lawrence 00:15
Hi, my name is William Lawrence and I’m the host of the new convergence magazine podcast that hegemonic con, an investigation into the workings of power. I’m an organizer and political strategist based in Lansing, Michigan, and grassroots social movements have been the love of my life ever since I learned about the movement tradition around 15 years ago. I’m going to be interviewing activists, organizers and scholars on the left to talk about the present conjuncture and where we go from here. But first, let me tell you a bit about me and how I came to be asking the questions on this show. I’ll never forget the first time I realized that everything was going to change. It was late 2012, I was a senior in college spending all my time thinking about how to get my school to divest from fossil fuel companies, my friends, and I thought that if we could build a powerful movement for divestment, we could politically stigmatize the fossil fuel industry, one thing lead to another, and we could halt climate change in its tracks. And we were starting to have success. divestment was growing from an initial handful of campuses to dozens, and soon hundreds of campaigns across the country. We were making the news, our organizing even appeared in The New York Times, which seemed like a big deal. I figured that if I was going to be part of a prominent movement, I had better know my stuff. So my winter break Reading project that year, was to refresh my knowledge of the latest climate science. And what I read. Well, it terrified me. I read study after study from scientists detailing the increasing speed of global warming, the insane difficulty of eliminating carbon pollution on a rapid timeline, and the political barriers to coordinating this process on a global scale. I literally remember it dawning on me while I was in my kitchen chopping carrots, I thought, oh my god, this is so much bigger than me, we could do nearly everything right and still overshoot two degrees of warming, which means a world of utter chaos. And if, by some miracle, we do halt warming to a safer level, it means we’ve had like an outright political and economic revolution. So one way or another, everything is going to change. And I had a feeling of grief, standing there in my kitchen with my carrots. For the world I had grown up in, I realized that on some level, my organizing had been built on the hope that we could prevent change from happening, that I could grow old in a world more or less like the one I had been raised in. I understood now that this was impossible, that this ship had long since sailed. I digested my grief, and I took it with me. I worked to make my organizing more impactful, more systemic and its critique and more honest in the visions it posed of the future. Within a few years, I became a co founder of sunrise movement, a Youth Climate organization whose stated mission was to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. We knew that climate change wouldn’t be stopped without sweeping an immediate transformation of the whole economy. So sunrise wholeheartedly embraced Bernie Sanders campaigns for president and his call for a political revolution against the fossil fuel millionaires and billionaires. We invited our fellow young people to quote go all in to stop climate change and win a green New Deal. The implication was clear. This is our last best shot. We have to do everything within our power here in the years 2017 to 2021, or all could be lost. We will either initiate a comprehensive Green New Deal, or be doomed to runaway climate chaos. Being part of sunrise was honestly a life changing experience. We had some incredible peak moments like our sit in with Alexandria Ocasio Cortes at Nancy Pelosi ‘s office that went totally viral and led to a seismic sea change and climate politics. In 2019 and 2020. We were one of the most prominent grassroots groups in Bernie’s coalition, and we were poised to literally write his climate bill, should he become president, the energy and the movement was so vibrant, and people believed so deeply in the green New Deal that it felt like we could accomplish anything. For a student of social movements like me, it was an absolute dream come true. I said to myself, many times that I could die fulfilled, haven’t gotten the chance to be part of an honest to goodness, people powered grassroots social movement, a community of fighters and believers, like the ones I had read about in books. But with Bernie’s defeat in 2020, and the arrival of the pandemic, Sunrise lost our political Northstar and our methods of organizing in person The pathway to a radical Green New Deal suddenly looked a heck of a lot murkier. Deprived of our momentum, internal weaknesses reared up and conversations we had been putting off came to a head. Our strategy stalled and sunrise entered a stage of reinvention. Meanwhile, I turned 30 years old, and it seemed it was time to let the younger generation lead the next stage of the youth movement. So I resigned my post with sunrise in 2021. Although the green New Deal movement helped build a political tailwind, that inspired Biden’s build back better agenda, Joe Manchin killed that agenda in Congress, and left us with only the inflation Reduction Act, which one journalist aptly called a pale facsimile of the green New Deal. There are some things to feel good about in the inflation Reduction Act. But here in 2023, which is by far the hottest year on record, the trajectory of the climate crisis is as bleak as ever. So to sum it up, we lost Damn. We believed in something we fought hard, we accomplished things we had scarcely dreamed of, we actually even changed the world, like for real, but we still lost, at least for now, on the big prize, we were actually fighting for the ability for us and our kids to have a secure and stable future on a habitable planet. That future remains unsecured. After five years with Sunrise, I was out of good ideas for what to do about climate on the national level. And so in the last two years, my organizing has become more local. And my focus has turned to the issue of housing. Housing feels very close to home very personal, especially when I imagined myself and my loved ones needing to survive in a 21st century that is hotter, more expensive and possibly more violent as well. Quite literally, where am I going to live? Where are my friends going to live? Will that housing be secure? Or will we be vulnerable to eviction or foreclosure or fire or flood? Will we be able to live together in community with people we can rely on? Or will we be torn away from each other, constantly re isolated from each other as we move in search of opportunity, or away from threat, we all deserve green, secure, safe, pro social housing that we can count on. And that’s the thing that too few of us currently possess. So for now, this feels like a very righteous fight, and a meaningful one, it feels like a natural continuation of the work I was doing previously. But it doesn’t answer all the questions I have about where the struggle leads from here.
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Will Lawrence 08:33
Change is the only guarantee we can count on in the 21st century. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. But we know there’s going to be change and a lot of it. The climate crisis and the unpredictable reordering of the global political economy make absolutely certain of that. So how do we plan for a future that is unknown to us? How do we confidently build a life in this world when there are so many risks, both known and unknown? Just waiting around the corner? How do we organize to win the best possible future while also preparing for the worst? And everything in between? How do we keep the spirit of solidarity through all of these choices and the tasks of building our own lives rather than retreat to individualism, and an attitude of just trying to save ourselves? These are the questions that keep me up at night and led me to develop this podcast. I’ll be discussing three major themes with a series of guests. The first theme is the conjuncture and the long DeRay. It seems to me that we are trapped between the urgent needs of this conjuncture and the overwhelming uncertainty of the long Deray ahead of us. Now what do I mean by this conjunctural analysis is a Power Map of the present moment and the near past and into the near future. The system in motion as it is playing out through actual lives and events. That’s the conjuncture. conjunctural analysis is a necessary skill for the organizer to campaigner, and anybody looking to do politics in the here and now belong Deray on the other hand, is a phrase from the French meaning long duration. And it’s the vast historical trajectory of which we are only a small part, spanning many hundreds of years and heading forward into future centuries. On this scale, specific political machinations appear relatively insignificant. What really matters are ecological relations, monetary and legal regimes, and the long term formation and reformation of social classes and groups of various kinds. The long Deray reveals trends, historical limitations, as well as possible opportunities that an exclusive focus on the conjuncture does not. Of course, these two are one, the conjuncture is the long DeRay. Playing out in the present moment, it’s where we all find our personal agency in shaping the longer saga. However, it’s really difficult to try to hold all this in one’s mind at once, to place ourselves in this longer saga and decide what to do about it, especially when so much is changing, and so much is uncertain. But we’re going to try. Our second theme is optionality. optionality is a lens that analyzes the presence or absence of choices or options within a given set of circumstances, and how we act in ways that either constrain or expand our options over time. Our present options are the result of our past investments, or bets that we made, and our present bets and investments are designed to give us options in the future. I’m finding this to be a useful tool for glimpsing the long DeRay and the conjuncture at once. The image of the bet works in expanding our mental time horizons, because each bet contains information about the time it’s placed, and the later time at which it will mature. Thus, thinking in bets and options moves us beyond static conceptions of strategy. That is strategies that unconsciously assume that the future will be like the present. We already know that’s not the case. All of our strategies and life choices can be put through this lens. bets have stakes, something is wagered and that wager may be won or lost. Each bet puts us in opposition to someone who made the opposite bet, whether we realize it or not. And every bet critically, is based on assumptions about the future. There are multiple possible futures on which we are all betting but none of us can know which of them will actually come to pass. So we ought to ask ourselves, which kinds of bets are we placing and why we ought to ask ourselves, what assumptions about the future are revealed through our present actions? We ought to ask ourselves, what would it mean to possess options to hold a place and multiple possible futures? In case our most desired ones don’t pan out? And we ought to ask ourselves, what does it mean to go all in to bet everything on a single strategy on a single outcome? What are the risks of going all in? And under what circumstances? Is it worth it? Anyway? Let me give you an example of options based thinking. A generation of queer and trans youth over the last 20 plus years, were raised with the idea that it gets better. If you come into your own identity and become yourself, it will get better for you and there will be a place in this world in which you can find a home. And indeed, this has come true for many people. However, generation of queer and especially trans youth today are having to deal with the reality of a world in which it can also get worse. There’s the very real possibility, especially if you live in a red or purple state, that your personal rights and freedoms of bodily autonomy and gender self determination could be taken away. If it hasn’t happened already. Here in the purple state of Michigan, my trans friends have been forced to ask, although my first option is to build my life here on my own terms, what options do I possess if things get worse, if the transphobes actually take over? So they have bug out bags, they have plans to move? They have a detailed inventory of what other states are and are not safe and to what degree this is options based thinking, born of absolute pragmatic necessity, living in the real world. The third theme we’ll explore on this show is power. I was taught as an organizer that power is organized people and organized money, and I found this to be helpful practical advice, but lacking for some nuance when it comes to actually wielding power. or, let’s say we get some people and some money, what then how may this power be wielded in the here? And now? How may it be stored over time? How may it be reproduced over generations? What forms of power do we tend to end up with, and which forms of power tend to end up arrayed against us by our opponents. Each of these questions draws our attention to a distinct but interlinked aspect of power. There are five aspects of power that I intend to explore on this show, force, finance, production, ideology, and law. We’ll call these the sinews of power, because they tend to intertwine and be mutually reinforcing. If you only control one of them. You don’t really control the full mechanism of power, and you will be exposed to risks via the other sinews, whoever has the most overall command of the sinews of power has the strongest grasp on the future. And this gets us to that factor called hegemony, which is when a social force is able to assume a leadership position over society, backed by a multifaceted command of power through the five cent news. This is the hegemonic con. We aim to decipher and disentangle the workings of capitalist hegemony that has reigned dominant for centuries, and discern what forms of power those of us below ought to be building. In order to live well, in an uncertain future. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing as a podcaster. This is all super new to me. And I’m not sure how to approach these big questions, the ones you just heard me lay out, directly and head on. So I’m going to start instead indirectly, with the series on how we got to where we are now. These will be interviews with organizers about the last 15 years, what’s on their minds, and some strategic debates up in the air right now, among campaigners, and movement builders on the left, then we’re going to do some history, looking back with the help of scholars to try and figure out what our past says about the bets we ought to be placing on the future. Finally, we’ll bring the two together in creative and forward looking conversations about strategy and hopefully even generate some new ideas. Sound good? I’m really excited to go for this ride with all of you. This is the hegemonic con. We’ll talk again soon. This podcast is written and hosted by me William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh house Joe and it is published by convergence 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/convergence. Mac. You can find a direct link in the show notes.