Symbiosis is a network of community organizations across North America, building a democratic and ecological society from the ground up. We are fighting for a better world by creating institutions of participatory democracy and the solidarity economy through community organizing, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city.
Our political strategy is to build dual power through these institutions of grassroots democracy. “Dual power” is an approach to revolutionary politics in which ordinary people organize themselves to govern society in parallel and in opposition to the governing institutions of capitalist society.
This dual power strategy can help sustain our communities under capitalism, channel our collective action to fight back more effectively, and eventually supplant the institutions of capitalism to become the governing structures of the liberated society. As an organization, we aim to develop neighborhood councils in our communities and network them into a confederation that can transform the structures of municipal governance, remaking our cities as true democracies. Through the creation of local cooperative economies and mutual aid systems, we can meet people’s basic needs and allow them to become more fully engaged in political struggle, all the while developing community and pushing back against our social atomization.
Elements of this approach to community organizing are present across many movements in North America: tenant organizing, municipalism, the solidarity economy, and much more. The primary goal of Symbiosis is to help gather these diverse forces into a movement capable of transforming society. We, along with many partner organizations who share our core values and strategic aims, are hosting a congress in the summer of 2019, at which we hope to launch a confederation of local movement organizations building dual power across North America.
We are also working to grow this movement through seeding new initiatives of radical democracy, by connecting Symbiosis members to one another locally and assisting them through the process of organizing their community. Our Research Collective is actively developing new resources for organizers and educators who are pursuing popular education projects and reading groups. We are in the process of authoring a comprehensive, accessible introduction to this approach to politics: part theoretical text, part history textbook, part organizing manual, for readers of all levels. Abridged sections of this Symbiosis primer handbook have been published as columns in The Ecologist. You can become a member and check out some of our educational materials on our Resources page.
We welcome everyone—organizers and neighbors, small community projects and municipal coalitions, experienced activists and unaffiliated novices—to join us in these efforts. Our mission as Symbiosis is not only to organize such initiatives ourselves, but also to network with existing groups whose work can be the foundation of this broader political strategy. We hope to assist in the shared creation of a powerful movement capable of affecting the entire political landscape, as trickles gathering into a flow.
Symbiosis is organized as a loose network of grassroots organizations building dual power in our communities. These local groups are the member organizations of Symbiosis.
Beyond the local, we have many different working groups, dedicated to organizational outreach, congress logistics, research and resource development, and other tasks. Any interested Symbiosis member can join any working group.
Partner organizations are any organization or initiative that is committed to our goals who wishes to co-host our movement congress and be represented at it through delegates. If your organization is not a local organizing initiative, but some form of support organization, a national/non-local group, etc, you should consider instead becoming a partner organization to participate in the congress.
Our organizations are bringing elements of this vision to life in our own communities, but we did not simply invent this strategy for ourselves. It has been present, in whole or in part, in revolutionary movements across history, from the sectional democracy of the Paris Commune to the popular committees of the First Intifada. It is increasingly a feature—even the common sense—of many radical movements worldwide. Since the Zapatistas marched out of the jungle in 1994, to demand a world where all worlds fit, we have seen a convergent evolution towards this kind of politics, from across a diverse array of progressive political traditions. From the Black liberation movement to the Kurdish freedom struggle, from housing justice initiatives to worker cooperatives, from immigrant organizers to indigenous revolutionaries, from base-building socialists to social ecology, from people’s movement assemblies to Occupy, from the block clubs to the shop floor, the conditions of our time are shifting radical politics towards an embrace of dual power, towards assembling real democracy in the here and now.
It is our intention to assemble these diverse forces as best we can in North America, to create the political space for us to define this movement and to grow it far beyond what we are individually capable of.
Beyond the Local
Each of our organizations have come together because we recognize that the changes required to secure our future are more than what each of us can do at the local level. We need to escalate our strategy towards a strong network, or confederation.
By organizing locally, we are pushed to embrace experimentation, but the lessons of experimentation should circulate between us so that we can dedicate our energies to pushing ahead into new territories of radical possibility rather than forever reinventing the wheel.
Of great importance is our ability to spread and seed new local projects. The future of our movement will depend on the rapid cultivation of radical democracy in all sorts of communities across the continent. For this, we need the visibility of a common platform, with the capacity to support people through developing their own initiatives or connect them to those that already exist. We must develop an institutional nucleus and base of resources for this movement.
Ultimately, we will need such a confederation to carry our struggle beyond the local level. Ruling-class power is organized globally, and if democracy is to win, we must be organized at that scale as well.
As this project advances, the possibilities are endless. We could implement exchange programs between community organizations in different municipalities, to learn more about organizing in a different context and to cement strong relationships that bind our movement together. We could create an organizer training program that rotates around North America. We could establish institutional relationships with existing cooperative funds to directly channel resources to the grassroots. We could forge ties with forming confederations elsewhere around the world and move forward a truly global movement.
As the branches of the tree grow outwards, its roots dig deeper.
Toward that end, we plan to host an in-person gathering in the summer of 2019—a congress of the movement.
The goals of this congress are to:
- Connect organizers, activists, and thinkers who share this vision of a pathway to a free society, to learn from one another and knit together our movement with new and strengthened relationships;
- Deliberate as a gathering of movements through a participatory and democratic process, to determine the vision and structure of the organization we create together; and
- Launch a continental confederation of local movements building dual power through radical democracy.
This congress and the movement organization we hope it will result in are to be collaborative co-creations among many individuals and partner organizations who will jointly shape its vision and aims.
Being driven by the intentions of its participants, the outcome of this meeting cannot be predetermined. We are excited about where it could take us.
To individuals, we invite you to join as members of Symbiosis, organizing in your own community and contributing to our wider project of movement-building as you are able.
To organizations, we invite you to join as member organizations of Symbiosis or as partners to co-host our congress.
Together, we can transform the conditions of our time, and build our world anew.
All power to the people.
We have assembled some core reading materials that serve as an introduction to the Symbiosis strategy, as well as a broader collection of important readings on organizing for a cooperative, democratic, and ecological future. We have many more materials in the People’s Library, Symbiosis’s bank of ebooks curated by the Political Education Working Group.
For reading groups, we have designed a syllabus around Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi, edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya. This is a very important book, laying out clearly this movement’s political vision and documenting the origins of Cooperation Jackson, a member organization of Symbiosis. It is broken up into twelve weeks of readings, with each group of chapters accompanied by related short pieces. Our Political Education Working Group will be putting together other reading group lists in the future.
Community, Democracy, and Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond, by the Symbiosis Research Collective, 2017. In this essay, we lay out an overview of our revolutionary strategy and utopian vision. It received first place in the Next System Project’s 2017 essay contest and was excerpted in the journal Perspectives on Anarchist Theory as “Reimagining Revolutionary Organizing: A Vision for Dual Power.”
Radical Municipalism: The Future We Deserve, by Debbie Bookchin. 2017.
Ready to Fight: Developing a 21st Century Community Syndicalism, by Shane Burley
The New Municipal Movements, by Eleanor Finley
How to Be an Anticapitalist Today, by Erik Olin Wright
Thoughts on Libertarian Municipalism, by Murray Bookchin
Some Practical Guides
“How to Win Back the City” a guide for integrating social movements into a coordinated municipalist movement in a major city. Written by the citizen’s platform Barcelona En Comú based in Barcelona, Catalonia.
“People’s Movement Assembly Handbook”. People’s movement assembly organizing handbook from the Southern People’s Movement, associated with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and community-based organizations in the US South.
“So You Want to Build a Solidarity Network” by Seattle Solidarity Network. This guide is about how to organize a workers’ and tenants’ mutual support organization.
Neighborhood Sharing Economy toolkit by Shareable.
Have some suggestions about a new reading group syllabus we should make? Want to organize a local reading group? Interested in joining the Political Education Working Group? Hit us up on our contact form (bottom of Home page) or sign up to become a member!
Black Socialists of America – United States
Chicago Community Councils – Chicago, IL
Cooperation Jackson – Jackson, MS
Degrow US – United States
Demand Utopia – United States and Canada
Democratic Socialists of America Libertarian Socialist Caucus – United States
Eugene Assembly – Eugene, OR
Institute for Social Ecology – Vermont
James and Grace Lee Boggs Center – Detroit, MI
Kola Nut Collaborative – Chicago, IL
Olympia Assembly – Olympia, WA
Solidarity Research Center – Los Angeles, CA
Symbiosis PDX – Portland, OR
Woodbine – Queens, NY