Strategic Planning and the Anti-War/Pro-Justice Movement in San Diego

by Rich Gibson for the Rouge Forum (

For at least six months, SDCPJ and other groups in San Diego have discussed the need to do strategic planning. This piece is a part of that process.

Strategic planning for those who seek a grassroots, effective, movement is a suitable process---I would hope that we find ways to like and respect each other, that we draw on the collective experience to learn more about concrete, specific, conditions in San Diego, as they relate to the whole of social relations, and from that I hope we can discover better ways to act more effectively, to build a mass base of people who themselves know how to do strategic planning, who see how they fit in the scheme of things in relation to other people, and who are willing to take risks to act on the plans.

I hope that we are then better able to judge, reflect back on, the things we do and avoid the bickering that inevitably comes from not fitting tactics into strategy.

I think strategic planning is vital for SDCPJ now as it is clear that, despite the hard work and courage of the members, the base of activists is not growing much, if at all, and we tend to lurch from one crisis to the next, leaving the initiative in the hands of those who appear to have power, but whose power is really based only on our compliance.

My own goal is to overcome capitalism, to build a mass base of class conscious people who grasp exactly what that means, and who judge their daily lives from a litmus test based on that issue.

To do that, I think we need to trace the connections that capitalism makes, that is, to connect the current international war of the rich on the poor (exploitation of labor and raw material), with inter-imperialist rivalry, to increased racism, nationalism, racism, irrationalism, sexism and the inevitable wars---to the eradication of civil liberties, the intensification of surveillance and the use of spectacles, to the attacks on income and health of working people, to the elimination of freedom and reason in schools and out---and the use of government, not as a neutral democratic body, but a weapon of the rich.

From that, I think we need to forge a mass base of people willing to take direct action to make social change, to take direct responsibility for our own lives in relation to other people.

I don't expect others to agree with that, but I want people to know, clearly, where I am coming from.

All strategic planning has to rise from an analysis of concrete conditions. Here are some questions that might be helpful in doing that.

Critical Questions:

What is the broad social and economic context of our present day that sets up power relations in San Diego?

What is the local social and economic context?

What are the major employers in San Diego? How do they fit into the national, and local, picture?

What atmosphere do these specific employers produce?

For example, the culture of secrecy that is widely criticized in San Diego has, I think, an economic base in that many of the key employers have a true need for secrecy, as in :

*Casinos (you lose),

*The High Tech Industry (proprietary copyright secrecy and the secrecy attached to their work for the military-as well as their connections to intelligence/mercenary agencies).

*The Military (always steeped in secrecy) and the many, many police agencies here,

*The Universities (which declare openness but are tied to the military and the local corporations and their cultures reflect policies and programs promoting opportunism and racism),

*Tourism (don't tell about the polluted sea water or the pay of the staff),

*Developers (secret payoffs to officials, etc),

*Sports Teams (no explanation necessary),

*The food industry, particularly agriculture, dependent on unseen labor,

*the Press (the UT et al cooperated in every secret that city hall produced due to their dependant relationship with advertisers, etc),  The Reader is owned by a religious fanatic, the City Beat is suffering adolescent growing pains, the electronic media is predictably unconscionable, news programs merely filler between ads, local PBS and NPR are firmly in corporate hands, and, of course,

*Drugs (the complicity of police agencies is required for the traffic via San Diego, but never stated).

How do these powerful groups exercise power, other than their real threat of violence? For example, what impact do they have on public bodies like the school board, or city council?

How do questions of class, race, and sex/gender play out, specifically, in San Diego?

What does the socio-geography of San Diego tell us (as in the wall at the border, or the wall at I-8, etc.) and what do we need to learn from that?

What issues are prominent in San Diego? What issues are silenced?

What is the role of government, in the context noted above? Who appears to hold governmental power? Who really holds power?

With the city council fully exposed as little more than an organized crime gang, working in secret at the behest of the rich, why is there so little outcry, especially when city government is clearly about to accelerate a full scale attack on poor and working people, ready to sell the common lands to developers before a bankruptcy is admitted?

What of the media? Who runs the local media? How? (For example, SDSU's Foundation has a lot, lot, of influence on KPBS programming, as does SDSU president Stephen Weber who, I believe, still lives in a house owned by John Moores, and hence there is not a lot of criticism of Moores and the Padres on KPBS. )

What reform groups exist?

Who do they represent?

What are their goals?

Who holds power in these groups? How do they hold it?

What have they done that did, or did not work, and why do we think it did or did not work?

What media do they use that is, or not successful, and might serve as a model?

How can reform groups create and control our own media, as the bosses' media is never reliable?

What are the social choke points in San Diego? That is, for example, there is one road to and from the airport, a key to the tourist industry. What should that mean to us?

Or, what of the schools, where the regimentation of the curricula and racist anti-working class high-stakes testing already serves as ground for mass student/educator dissatisfaction-and direct action?

How can we reach out to the military's rank and file, who are ordered to fight and die for the enemies of their real enemies--a fact growing more apparent every day? How can we best encourage and support not only individual troop refusals, but organized refusals?

Elites everywhere like to strut their stuff, hold fashionable balls, parties, ceremonies, etc., and the often announce them beforehand, as in the Debutante's Ball in the Del Coronado each May. What can we consider about that?

Or, as the city council is pretty thoroughly exposed as little more than an organized crime gang, they still have to hold regular, open, announced meetings with room for citizen-speakers. What should we do to take advantage of that last vestige of official democracy?

Who, then, is our audience. What do we want them to learn, and how do we hope they will learn it, in order for them to conduct activity on their own, without us?

What are our goals? (I do not think strategic and tactical goals can be created without, first, an analysis of concrete conditions, nor do I believe that an identity or mission statement makes sense without that analysis).

Who will gain from our goals? Who will be hurt?

What tactics can we then employ, with our analysis of the above, that best meet our goals and allow us to create a community where people can take risks, be creative, friendly yet critical of one another, take responsibility for the creation of their own histories, building a caring community but understanding that we have organized and ruthless enemies?

How will we know if our tactics and our strategic goals are meshing?

How can we operate informally, using a more or less consensus form of meeting, yet not create an in-group that makes it difficult for newcomers to see how they may fit in and contribute?

So that is my two bits. I don't think this kind of work can be done in one SDCPJ meeting, but should be done, perhaps in a weekend retreat, with small groups working on these and other questions, reporting to a plenary, where collective wisdom can play back on the small group work, etc. There are, I am told, quite a few expert facilitators available.

I do think the preparation of this group, us, will set up the potential success of the process.

As the promise of perpetual war is quite true, since the apex of capitalism can offer nothing else, it seems that standing down to do an analysis of this kind is appropriate and necessary, as soon as possible, in order to transcend the incoherence of a movement that rolls from one event to the next, actually trailing behind events and rank and file action (kids are already doing massive school walkouts on their own, for example).

In sum, we need a strategic view. Nobody is going to save us but us, our own critical consciousness, and direct action.

For those who are interested in further reading:

January 2007