Rob Kall: And yet! You say near the end of your book, that people are going to question you, that "This is too little," and, oh, I've got to find where you have it, because it's a great line; and I have a website that I started a couple years ago, called Smallacts.org . Because I believe that it doesn't take giant actions to do something, that some of the most important things that happen, happened with small steps, period.
Staughton Lynd: We should know this is true from our own national experience in the last fifty, sixty [50-60] years. Rosa Parks, all by herself, refused to go the back of the bus. I think it's, what's is it, the anniversary of her birthday about now, and (laughs) she had the guts to do that as a single person. Four young men sat down at the lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and you know, they got ketchup poured on them and all the rest of it, but, wow! Before you knew it, similar groups were springing up all over the South. And then they had a conference in Raleigh and put together the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee, and did wonders.
Rob Kall: There 's a number of great examples. And I think it's really a part of the philosophy you have to enter into activism with, almost. You're not going to go and attend a rally, and all of a sudden the sky is going to open up, and massive change is going to happen. It seems to me that what I'm getting as a message from your book is, "You need to walk the talk; you've got to stay connected to the people who are going to benefit from the change in the Justice System, or in fairness, or whatever; and you're looking for small, steady changes, because one of those changes could be the lever that does open the door, and does open the sky, and it does make massive changes happen.
Staughton Lynd: You and I are on the same page, brother, and I would just add to what you've said one other thing about the Worker's Solidarity Club, which is: somebody will say "Well, on my way over I saw that the such and such workers have a picket line, and I stopped and I asked them what help they needed. They said they were running out of firewood, so I'm thinking of taking some in the morning." Now, many organizations at that point would say "Well! Do we want to pass a resolution or make a decision to the effect that we authorize so and so to carry wood to the picket line?" We didn't do that in the Solidarity Club; instead, the guy would finish his remarks with, "Anyone want to come with me?"
In other words, if you have a potential division of opinion, unless it's something really fundamental, why not let people try out what they feel inclined to experiment with? See how it works, and then they can come back and they can say, "I had the crap beat out of me," or they can say, "You know, I think we can could do this elsewhere!" We used to call it "Exemplary Action," and I really favor it as a decision making process over endless discussions with amendments, motions, and parliamentary procedure, and "I appeal the ruling of the chair," and all the rest of it.
Rob Kall: Exemplary Action. Sounds beautiful. I just want to go on a little bit, because we only have a couple minutes left. You talk about Occupy - the Occupy movement - and you say, "Accompanying and Occupying are first cousins, or perhaps, to speak more precisely, blood brothers. That is, when people set out to walk together as equals, to make the road by walking, they're as likely to grow from the horizontal companionship as the shared desire for more enduring arrangements."
Staughton Lynd: Correct.
Rob Kall: What do you have to say about Occupy? Where it's been, where it's going?
Staughton Lynd: Thank you for asking. Along with the rest of the world to the Left of Center, I thought it was terrific. I was the keynote speaker at Youngstown Occupy's first meeting, and after they threw us off the downtown square, I was the lot lawyer who tried and lost to win the right to stay there. But I think the whole point is: everybody had to be aware that you weren't going to spend the rest of your life in a tent on the downtown public square. I mean, come on. But, it's been very difficult, and we have to concede this. It's been very difficult to make the transition from physically occupying the downtown public square, to developing specific projects, working groups.
Now here in Youngstown, we have the problem of fracking. We are the earthquake center of the United States at the moment, because these companies dump their waste in holes that they drill in our valley. Last New Years Eve, I went across the kitchen reacting to an earthquake that was caused by that, so, 1) I would say our largest ongoing activity is opposition to so-called fracking, but as well, 2) we've begun to set off a program for teaching in local prisons. When the steel mills went down, somebody in the One Percent [1%] got the bright idea of having prisons, so we have them all over the place here.
Alice and I have been lawyers for prisoners, but we're now also teachers of prisoners, so that I would be surprised if it were not the case that in most local Occupy movements, there were a couple of working groups that were beginning to take hold and to build in a continuing manner. I think it's a shame that that's such a (laughs) painful and sometimes confusing process, but I think it is happening, and it is a great new beginning, and it's changed the conversation of the whole country.
Rob Kall: OK. Now, we've just got two or three minutes left. I want to read something you've written to close out your book, and then you can close it. You say, "Yes, we should support 'this' bill and oppose 'that' one; yes we should give President Obama some pressure from what Subcommandante Marcos..." He's from the Zapatistas, right?
Staughton Lynd: Right.
Rob Kall: "...Calls 'Below and to the Left', and thereby give the President some excuse to do what, in his heart of hearts, he no doubt often would really like to do; but this is not our highest priority. Our most urgent objective is not to give someone else the authority to act on our behalf, our greatest need is not to hand over to somebody other than ourselves the responsibility to remake the world. No! We need to remake the world ourselves, right now, from Below and to the Left. I am appalled at the poverty of imagination that has been shown in the last thirty years." I'm going to leave with that. What do you mean by "Right now, from Below and to the left"?
Staughton Lynd: Well, what I mean is that, if you think of the early 1960s when John Kennedy was elected President, there was a Civil Rights movement, Below and to the Left. To the Left in the sense that neither one of the Kennedy brothers did much about Civil Rights for the first couple of years. But there was a movement in the South, and people would call the Justice Department collect from some local jail in the middle of the night. You know, They had John Doar's number, or Burke Marshall's number (laughs), and they harassed those guys!
I think it is the greatest failing of what I might describe as "Our new movement" that we don't have that kind of presence that brings pressure. Now, I think it's developing somewhat. It's better in Obama's second term than in his first; but no President can get very far with [it]. It's like the trade union leader who wants to be able to look out the window and say, "Well, personally I might agree with you, but if I took that out there they'd tear me to pieces,and therefore (laughs), you know, we're standing firm, we're demanding so and so." I think we need to recreate that dynamic where the Obama's of this world are subject to constant pressure from the rest of us.