Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Hampton Institute

The following is a transcript of a recent email interview I had with Colin Jenkins, the founder of the newly created and soon-to-be-launched Hampton Institute about the think tank’s creation.

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in Saratoga Springs, NY, a small city of about 25,000 people located roughly 30 miles north of Albany.   Saratoga is an intense contrast of affluence and poverty, with multi-million dollar summer mansions located within a few miles of sprawling (yet hidden) mobile home parks.  I was raised in a family of four (parents and older brother), and we resided in one half of a home owned by my grandmother.  My parents, neither of whom had college degrees, both worked long hours to support us.   

I attended college after serving four years in the Army, and eventually earned my BA and MA.  I played Division III football in college.  I was a competitive powerlifter from 2000-2006, during which time I earned multiple amateur records in the bench press.  I still enjoy strength training and playing recreational sports (particularly softball, basketball and flag football).  I have worked in the social services field, at both the County and State levels, for the past 9 years.  I am a proud member of the IWW and currently reside in Albany, NY.

2. What are your political views and how did you come to them?

Though I try to avoid “labels” as much as possible (due to ambiguous and conflicting perceptions of such), I am considered a Leftist by most accounts.  At my core, I am anti-authoritarian.  My quest for knowledge has led me to become anti-capitalist.  Essentially, I believe in individual liberty, free association and autonomy, and have come to the realization that these things are not possible without a firm societal foundation of mutual aid, solidarity, cooperation and common good.   I challenge the notion that “collectivism” and “individualism” are mutually exclusive ideals.  In fact, I believe their pairing is not only compatible, but necessary.  I am fascinated with the intellectual roots of Anarchism, and have accepted much of Marx’s analysis of capitalism as being accurate.  I am anti-sectarian and opposed to all forms of “identity politics,” which I view as self-serving and egotistical.  I recognize the existence of class war and, though its complexities are obvious, do not shy away from this basic premise.  When analyzing matters of importance, I believe the only useful criteria are race, class, gender and privilege.  All other considerations (nationalism, for example) are nothing more than smokescreens.  Regarding the current political landscape in the United States, I view both parties (Democrats and Republicans) as (like Noam Chomsky once put it) “two wings of the same (corporate) business party.”  Both represent moneyed interest, and not the interests of the large majority.

I developed strong anti-racist views due to some traumatic experiences as a child.  I was also lucky enough to learn compassion from my mother.  Other than those particulars, I was relatively apolitical through my teenage and young adult years.  My “politicization” really began in the Army, where I first became conscious of the class structure that dominates our society.  This occurred to me over time after recognizing a common trait with “enlisted” soldiers – all of whom had poor and working class backgrounds; and with officers – all of whom had middle class to semi-affluent backgrounds.   Not to mention, the realization that most of those who make decisions on where and who we “fight” have never served and typically have interests beyond their bullshit patriotic rhetoric (namely monetary). This led me to examine power structures beyond race.  The rest is history.

3. How did the Hampton Institute come to be created?

The Hampton Institute has roots almost a decade old.  During my time in graduate school, I became intensely politicized and “obsessed” with reading, learning and acquiring knowledge.  During this time, I developed aspirations of writing.   Eventually, this personal aspiration evolved into a desire to create a collective outlet of radical inquiry.  As with such ambitions, this embryo was constantly overridden by the demands of life.  Now, some ten years later, I am ready to give it a go.

4. How’d you go about creating the current team that you have now?

The current team was gathered through roughly three years of networking, mostly on social media.  Facebook, for all of its potential downfalls and criticism, was an incredibly valuable tool in this process.  It allowed me to meet a diverse group of intelligent, inquisitive and passionate folks – the very folks who are now the Hampton Institute.

5. What do you think makes the Hampton unique and different from other think tanks?

In terms of organization, its operational structure is collective, cooperative, non-hierarchical/horizontal.  Essentially, I wish for it to be run as a microcosm of the society we strive for.  It is also strictly independent and without ties to special interests.

In terms of approach, the HI attempts to begin to fill the historical void of which Gramsci once termed, “Organic Intellectualism” – the collective politicization and critical analysis of the working-class itself.  The HI is indifferent to traditional structures dominated by the pedigreed and privileged “intelligentsia.”  Our members are passionate and probing members of the common.  If there is one thing I have learned over the course of my life, it is that intelligent analysis exists throughout the socioeconomic spectrum, and the only thing that separates those who own a public voice and those who do not is varying degrees of privilege.  “Credentials” essentially mean nothing because they are typically nothing more than products of privilege; and for that reason alone, perspectives and analyses coming from those credentials/privilege are often presented in a way that opposes the public-at-large (the working class).  The HI seeks to challenge this embedded, highly-controlled and top-down mode of inquiry by offering an alternative, organic and bottom-up viewpoint.

6. What are your goals for The HI?

First and foremost, as a think tank, we want to generate ideas and cultivate dialogue.  We want to do this in a way that relates to the interests of the public-at-large by providing class analyses which run contrary to the talking heads of corporate-dominated media.  We want to help contribute to the shaping of a new paradigm of collective and critical thinking - one that is based on foundational issues of class, race, gender and privilege.  There is an ongoing battle for consciousness - particularly that which deals with our position in a class-based world - and the other side (1% of the global population) is winning handily.  During the age of neoliberalism, private corporate interests have gained complete control of governments around the world, including here in the United States.  The result: A global economic system that has enriched a handful of people while leaving most behind.  We have working class folks killing other working class folks, whether here in the U.S. or abroad, at a pace and frequency previously untouched.  Racism and bigotry still rule the day, and corporate propaganda has us blaming the victims of this global structure while pointing the accusatory finger at the most vulnerable of our class - the poor and impoverished.  It’s time to put an end to that.  

Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales, while addressing the famed Mayan calendar recently, described the 2012 Winter Solstice as marking “the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and the beginning of truth - the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality.”  This transition is long overdue and welcome, but it will not happen without a tremendous amount of work (generating ideas, cultivating dialogue, promoting class consciousness, activism, direct action, etc..) Our orientation is “radical” and “revolutionary.” We are here to challenge the entrenched and mostly-reactionary culture that has become pervasive and acutely dangerous for a large majority.  We believe this battle is won through knowledge and consciousness.  We hope to assist in this transition. 

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