When you’re running a project, it’s good to re-think its purpose from time to time. The Slingshot collective spends a ton of time, energy and money to publish this paper every two months — there are already tons of folks publishing papers everywhere and lots of stuff to read on the internet — what is special about Slingshot that justifies all this work?
One big purpose of Slingshot is to go beyond just providing information and analysis about social issues and provide some inspiration. Every day the mainstream press is full of articles about problems. The alternative press is at its best when it goes beyond just talking about problems and instead points to solutions — areas available for struggle, the development of new and creative tactics, hopeful stories about people who are changing things. Lets face it — a lot of people know we’re facing problems, but usually, this awareness just makes people feel hopeless and trapped — paralyzed. “Well, if the world situation is fucked, I may as well forget about it and enjoy myself while I still can.” The most important thing alternative press can do is figure out how to move people from disempowerment and resignation to action!
In figuring out how to inspire and motivate, the alternative media needs to figure out who to talk to, how to talk to them, what to say and how to say it — what is the audience? Slingshot has no formal “party line” on these questions or any others, but generally, the most important audience is not people who are already inspired and motivated to act — it’s folks who could potentially be sympathetic and active, but haven’t yet made the step from critique to action. Folks who were active at one point, but who’ve become discouraged or withdrawn is another important audience. Politically, the most crucial audience are folks who are concerned about single issues or skeptical about the social direction, but who haven’t developed ideas about answers — what could be done, what would a new society look like, how can people organize to create change? Radical media can point out connections between seemingly distinct issues and social problems — a lot of problems and solutions come down to a critique of authority, hierarchy, power, dehumanizing structures, economic and technological systems. Folks who were raised as liberals — with some faith in the government and the system — but who are realizing the flaws in these systems should be a key audience for radical alternative media.
How to address an audience, what to say, and how to say it are crucial questions. For me, an ideal radical article contains four parts. First, it ought to contain an analysis of a particular aspect of social reality that looks at the problem or phenomenon from a new angle or in a way that goes beyond “common wisdom” about the issue. Second, the article should suggest solutions, not just point out how fucked up things are. Third, the article should inspire folks to actually do something. Just understanding an issue and knowing a theoretical solution is not enough. Each of us has numerous opportunities during our lives to change, grow and struggle. A great article will connect solutions to these opportunities. Finally, the best articles have heart and are personal. Increasingly, this society is functioning like a huge computer in which each of our lives is harnessed to perform limited operations within the machine — going to work, consuming, reproducing, playing by the rules. We need media that goes beyond an academic, cold discourse and touches what is really human, precious and unique about each of our lives.
It is so disappointing when alternative media attempts to use the master’s tools of rhetoric and style. We can never smash an inhuman system by conforming our lives, ideas, or language to its standards. The society we seek is one in which people do it ourselves — full of art and chaos. Media that is so computerized that you have to read it carefully to see that it is talking about revolution doesn’t feel very revolutionary. Some activists want our media to look professional, clean and orderly, but a professional, clean orderly world is what we seek to smash. People feel inspired when they see a fully human, messy, chaotic world represented on paper. Alternative media at its best, and hopefully Slingshot, help provide such inspiration in these scary times.