In San Francisco, from April 25-28, 400 people from across the country and around the world gathered to discuss an awkward problem – land reform in America. Land reform is a loaded term, one that reeled conference participants’ imaginations toward the antics of Third World dictators and communist zealots. It’s hard to conceive a more un-American activity than thinking about an alternative to private property. Yet here were the Friends of the Earth next to the NAACP west coast region, alongside the Archdiocese of Kansas doing exactly that.
That was in 1973.
Forty-one years later to the day, a similar group is gathering in San Francisco, to discuss Our Land. I wish I were able to be there, but here’s a little of what I’d have liked to have said.
If the efforts of the conference planners are successful, then the majority of 2014 conference attendees won’t have been born when the last one happened. It’s a good thing that there’s a great deal of youthful energy around messing with private property. The young are less enamoured of capitalism than the old, and less horrified by socialism. It might even be that the participants at the Our Land summit identify as more politically radical than the summit before them. After all, the Archdiocese of Kansas isn’t famed for its scorn of capital.
But the 1973 summit has much to teach the young contrarian. Have a look at the documents produced through the conference. They’ve been tended by Peter Barnes formerly of The New Republic and are available here and in the excellent The People’s Land. Reading them, the historical continuities are striking.
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