By Damon Krane and Aaron Carter
(With additional contributions, feedback and final approval from InterAct’s general body membership.)
August 15, 2004
(Editor’s note, 6/8/2015 — From the time the Ohio University student activist group InterAct emerged from it’s predecessor, Students Against the War, in the spring of 2003 until the fall of 2005, I consistently was a core member and organizer of the group. At its peak, InterAct consisted of 10-20 active members and 200 subscribers to the group’s email listserv. In early 2006 readers of Athens, Ohio’s main newspaper, The Athens News, voted InterAct the town’s Best Student Organization. InterAct still exists today, more than twelve years after its founding — as does The InterActivist, the magazine InterAct founded, and which I worked at both at InterAct and, from 2005 through 2008, at the now defunct center for progressive activist development People Might, where I served as executive director and editor of The InterActivist.)
You are… passionate, outspoken, dedicated, fearless. That’s why you picked up this brochure. And if you’re looking for people that work to make a difference, InterAct might just be for you.
Who We Are
InterAct is a group of campus and community activists united by two basic beliefs:
l) The powerful people and major institutions in our society are failing to make the world a more just and equitable place.
2) It is our responsibility to help make the world a more just and equitable place.
We don’t all have identical ideas about what is wrong, or what it will take to fix things. But our ideas are similar enough that they fall into a range of opinion usually referred to as “liberal,” “left,” or “progressive.” At one end of this range are liberal Democrats; at the other leftist radicals. InterAct has both, as well as some folks floating in between.
What’s the difference between liberals and radicals, you ask? Liberals seek to reform existing institutions in order to produce a more just and equitable society. Radicals often support liberal reforms, but in the long-run believe that social justice can only be achieved by replacing many of our society’s dominant institutions. For example, liberals want to soften the inequality of capitalism with social welfare programs, whereas radicals want to replace capitalism with a different economic system altogether. Yet we liberals and radicals often find ourselves working for the same immediate goals. So-in the short-term, at least-it makes sense for us to work together.
InterAct members have much larger differences when it comes to our prior experience with activism. Some have been active in electoral campaigns, direct action, and campus/ community organizing for years. Others are just beginning to think about politics and becoming politically active. Whatever our individual levels of experience, we are all dedicated to sharing our knowledge and skills with one another, and are constantly taking on new challenges.
An InterAct member is not just someone who shows up at meetings. She or he brings ideas to the group, creates projects around her or his passions, and inspires more people to act.
Our Multi-lssue Agenda
InterAct was founded by members of Students Against the War (SAW). From February to May 2003, SAW argued against a US invasion of Iraq and increased the visibility of the anti-war movement in Athens through panel discussions, letter-writing campaigns, a survey of student opinion on the war, the production of antiwar T-shirts, a public performance of a classic Greek anti-war play, a counter-demonstration at a pro-war rally and a debate with pro-war students. SAW joined with other groups to organize local anti-war demonstrations, and several of SAW’s members traveled to join demonstrations in Kent, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Dover, Maryland; San Francisco, California; New York, New York and Washington D.C. Some members were arrested for engaging in acts of civil disobedience. One of them, Roger Hill, went on to produce a documentary film on the antiwar movement called Voices from the Movement. [Editor’s note, 3/28/13 — Hill renamed later cuts of the film Witness a Peace Movement. The 2013 edition can be viewed while Hill’s other films can be found at the website of MentalRev Productions.]
All of SAW’s attention focused on a single issue: the war on Iraq. Similarly, other groups focus on specific areas of concern such as minority issues, LGBT issues, environmental issues, or feminist issues.
Recognizing, however, that all of these issues have causes and effects in common, SAW’s members decided to establish a new group with a broader, multi-issue agenda. That group – lnterAct – confronts the intersecting political, economic, and cultural factors which allow for this war and a wide range of other injustices to occur. Through creating educational events that explore intersecting social justice issues and promoting cooperation between existing progressive groups, InterAct raises public awareness and develops a growing pool of highly skilled activists with the ability to participate in specific campaigns for change.
How We Work for Change
Our strategies for achieving positive change include:
DirectAction: Political action is not just about voting, campaigning for politicians and lobbying those in power. While InterAct does this kind of work, we also realize its limitations. For instance, what happens when you don’t like any of the politicians on the ballot? What about people like the leaders of corporations and universities, who aren’t popularly elected? What about when our lobbying fails to persuade politicians to act the way we want? In situations like these, we turn to direct action.
With direct action, it’s not who we vote for; it’s what choices we give them. Direct action attempts to change the cost benefit analysis of the elite decision-makers within our society to the point where it is less costly for them to do what we want and more costly for them to do what they want.
Suppose a corporation’s board of directors leaves a dangerous product on the market and plans to quietly settle any medical lawsuits, because this would be cheaper than recalling the whole product line. Then a group of committed activists organize a boycott, shut down business operations with sit-ins and prevent distribution by blocking loading docks. These direct actions could very quickly change the corporate executives’ minds about which option is most affordable. (Note: Forms of direct action can be either legal or illegal; it’s the activist’s choice as to what he/she is willing to risk.)
Organizing: Before direct action can effectively occur, activists need to organize; even the most informed, motivated citizen can’t shut down a loading dock single-handedly. InterAct recognizes the need for organization. Thus, we’re always actively recruiting new people. We build coalitions by helping other local progressive groups with promotion and recruitment. What’s more, many InterAct members serve as liaisons to these groups-attending their meetings, keeping lines of communication open, and exploring new ways to work together.
Education: InterAct members seek out the facts and perspectives most of us aren’t getting at school or from the corporate media and then share that information with each other via our e-mail listserv, informal study groups, etc. To inform the general public, we bring speakers to campus, show documentaries, hold rallies, host workshops, and produce The InterActivist – a monthly publication featuring commentary from local progressives. Through “Project Soapbox,” some of us are preparing to take it to the streets: facilitating lively interactive talks in outdoor public spaces. InterAct members see education, organizing, and direct action as inseparable and interdependent pieces of our strategy for change. Education provides people with a reason to take direct action, and organizing provides them a way to act powerfully together.
A Little Reality Check…
“So InterAct members protested the war on lraq, right?”
“And the war happened anyway.”
“And you’ve written articles about the lack of student power on campus…”
“But student senate resolutions are still just suggestions to the administration.”
So here’s how it is: Change takes time. It takes intelligent reflection and planning, lots of hard work, and lots of people. And then more time. The institutions we find objectionable didn’t spring up over night, and neither will the solutions to their problems. That doesn’t mean we should just settle for making moral statements so we can feel good about ourselves before calling it a day. It doesn’t mean we should just keep busy doing “activist stuff” without asking if it’s the stuff that’s most likely to accomplish our goals. And it doesn’t mean we should give up on struggles for short-term progress because the revolution isn’t coming tomorrow.
But it does mean that without this struggle there can be no progress. Because there’s no question that ordinary people can – and have – made positive change happen.
Two years ago, hundreds of OU students walked out of their classes to protest a rash of violence on campus against female and LGBT students. Despite OU administrators’ claims that they were doing everything possible to prevent such attacks, student activists discovered that for a decade these same administrators had been violating the basic federal guidelines (the Clery Act) for making students and employees aware of campus assaults, as well as prevention and survivor support programs. When students pointed this out, administrators repeatedly denied that the law applied to them, and added it would be a real hassle to follow anyway.
Concluding that administrators cared more about the university’s public image than they did about students’ safety, student activists succeeded in drawing public attention to the issue and proving administrators were indeed violating the law. When this became more embarrassing to the university than informing students and employees of on campus assaults, OU complied with the Clery Act.
Forty years ago, most African Americans in the South were still denied the right to vote by the violence of local authorities and paramilitary terrorist groups, coupled with discriminatory literacy exams and poll taxes. Civil rights activists knew a racist federal government would not provide southern Blacks with the protection they needed unless a greater number of Americans pressured it to do so. Young African American activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) realized that so long as it was Black Americans who were suffering, the media, the government and a lot of white Americans really didn’t care. But what if northern, white, upper-middle class college students who were dedicated to the civil rights struggle were taking risks and suffering alongside Black activists? A racist media would pay more attention, and that might bring about enough public pressure to force the federal government to intervene against southern state governments and guarantee Blacks’ voting rights. Within a few months SNCC’s plan had worked in Mississippi, and had rejuvenated a Civil Rights Movement that went on to win many additional victories.
No, lnterAct’s members weren’t able to stop Bush from invading lraq. But the demonstrations in Athens – in which over 1,000 people participated – were part of the global anti-war movement that succeeded in preventing the US invasion from gaining UN approval.
No, InterAct has not brought about meaningful student power over university governance. But we’re working on it…
How We Decide to Act
InterAct makes decisions through direct democracy. InterAct’s weekly meetings are open to all progressive students and local community members. Anyone present at a meeting can list an agenda item and participate in discussion. Discussion is managed by an InterAct member who has volunteered to facilitate the meeting. The facilitator calls on those who raise their hands to speak, keeps track of time, and helps keep discussion focused on the current topic.
Upon attending your second meeting, you are automatically considered a member of InterAct. During their first meeting, nonmembers are encouraged to participate in discussion and may list items on the agenda. However, only members can make formal proposals for action and vote on those proposals.
Over the past year, InterAct has developed decision-making guidelines to reduce misunderstandings and to function both democratically and efficiently. For a full explanation of InterAct’s structure and decision-making process, visit http://www.ohio.edu/~interact or pick up an InterAct “how-to manual” at one of our meetings.
InterAct is a multi-issue progressive group of campus and community activists. We are committed to grassroots organizing that offsets the illegitimate power of ruling institutions, and to creating change outside those institutions. InterAct works to build successful campaigns and movements for change, l) by facilitating cooperation between existing groups and 2) by undertaking its own education, organizing and direct action projects. We strive for an increasingly diverse and ever growing membership, recognizing that we cannot expect to have identical opinions or levels of awareness on all issues at all times. In order to develop skills essential for activism and organizing, all members participate in determining InterAct’s course through direct democracy.
Keeping Up with InterAct
InterAct Online: We tried to get http://www.burnthestate.com, but it was already taken. So instead we’ve got http://www.ohio.edu/~interact. The web site has info on our projects, photos, newspaper coverage, a directory, a local events calendar, PDF versions of The InterActivist. You know, the usual electronic resources associated with a progressive-left-liberal-radical group. Maybe later we can get some fun stuff. Like that Banner Drop: Rappelling for Radicals handbook I’ve had my eye on.
InterAct listserv: Keep up with the meeting minutes! Check out reading suggestions! Find out about local events! Nearly 100 people already connected! To join, e-mail shared firstname.lastname@example.org
InterAct Digest: Listserv light. For people who don’t like a constant stream of email updates, this listserv sends out a once a week summary of the main InterAct listserv action. To join, e-mail email@example.com
(Printed by unionized workers on 30% post-consumer recycled paper with soy-based ink.)