Chris Dixon, Another Politics: Talking across Today's Transformative Movements

By Cairns, James | Labour/Le Travail, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Chris Dixon, Another Politics: Talking across Today's Transformative Movements


Cairns, James, Labour/Le Travail


Chris Dixon, Another Politics: Talking across Today's Transformative Movements (Berkeley: University of California Press 2014)

IN 2004, A GROUP of working-class Black and Latina women launched the "Sista's Liberated Ground" (SLG) project in Brooklyn, NY. In response to the dual problem of police and gendered interpersonal violence, organizers announced the creation of "a space where violence against sistas is not tolerated, and where women turn to each other instead of the police to address the violence in their lives. (149) Organizers provided workshops on how to create and hold the territory. They used murals and stickers to physically mark areas of the city that they would collectively self-govern.

Chris Dixon holds up the Sista II Sista project as an example of "another politics," the focus of his excellent book of the same name. Neither Sista II Sista's liberated ground nor the countless other political experiments Dixon examines are represented as blueprints for revolution. One of the recurring themes in Dixon's book is that there is no single model, tactic, or demand that fits every moment in all liberation struggles. The inspiration he draws from the Sista's Liberated Ground is in its ways of managing "to be 'in the world'--relating to everyday problems of violence--and yet 'not of it'--pointing beyond policing and prisons to a new society." (150) The grounded audaciousness of the experiment embodies the against and beyond dyad that Dixon places at the core of another politics.

Another politics is the label Dixon applies to the vision and techniques of the "anti-authoritarian current" that has developed within the Left in North America since the 1990s. The book aims to more precisely describe and analyze the core characteristics of this broad and unevenly affiliated constellation of ideas and practices. Anyone who studies or has been around the Left in the past twenty years will have already conjured an image of the anti-authoritarian current. Some will like what they see: principled, militant, community-grounded organizers, free from the Old Left, serving the needs of the most disadvantaged through truly democratic, autonomous projects. Others will bristle at the image they hold of self-righteous ultra-leftists, fixated on smashing Starbucks' windows, invested in the marginality of alternative lifestyles, not serious about building transformative mass movements. Few, however, will have attempted the theoretically challenging and politically delicate task of articulating precisely what holds this diverse current together, where its fault-lines run, what the current contributes, and where its weaknesses lie.

It's remarkable not only that Dixon's book accomplishes this complex task, but that he is clearly driven to do so by strategic inquisitiveness about how transformative power works. There is no score-settling in Dixon's account and he remains humbly open-ended about his conclusions. Thus, the book not only contributes to debates over an influential strain of Left politics, but it also models the kind of inquiry that helps cultivate what Alan Sears calls "a learning Left."

In addition to drawing effectively on his decades-long experience as a central activist in dozens of campaigns and organizations, the book is informed by interviews Dixon conducted with forty-seven activists in big cities across North America. The interviews provide experiential richness to broader debates; however, the book's unique contribution stems from Dixon's way of integrating what he hears and sees. The selective act of identifying the key elements of another politics means Dixon is not only describing but helping to conceptualize the strengths and ongoing challenges of this emergent political tradition.

Part One lays out the historical and theoretical orienting points guiding another politics. Dixon situates the current at the convergence of three main "movement strands" of theory and activism (34): anti-racist feminism, prison abolition, and reconfigured anarchism (Chapter 1). …

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