Forgotten pioneers in degrowth: John Africa and the MOVE Organization



Decades before the term 'degrowth' had gained currency as a rallying cry against the ideology of economic expansionism, John Africa founded The MOVE Organization in Philadelphia based on sanctity of life and dismantling institutions of state and capital (including economic growth). Members eschewed many forms of technology, lived collectively, harbored stray animals, and strove toward an entirely raw food diet in a communal lifestyle that many today would label 'simple living' or 'primivitist.' They rejected fashion and cosmetics, demonstrated for animal liberation as well as against police brutality, militarism, prisons, and pollution of land, water, and air. Notably, John Africa and MOVE emphasized the need to maintain sobriety and break with personal addictions in order to achieve personal and societal balance. Yet, rather than a set of 'single issues' strung together, John Africa formulated an all-encompassing paradigm. This article presents John Africa's paradigm as well as his grassroots decolonial semiotics that critically deconstructed, qualified, repurposed, and reframed conventional English language terms toward emancipatory and radically egalitarian ends. This paradigm, based on 'Mother Nature' and oneness, aligned with (without overtly borrowing from) many Indigenous and Aboriginal paradigms that similarly locate human life as interwoven with habitats and nonhuman animals. Whether or not one agrees with his ideas or approach, John Africa and the organization he co-founded seem to clearly qualify as early pioneers of degrowth. This article brings their hitherto unrecognized contributions into conversation with degrowth literature both to fill out the historical record and provide potentially useful insights for degrowth researchers and organizers alike.

Keywords: degrowth, John Africa's MOVE, black ecology, environmental justice, animal liberation, anarchism, semiotics

How to Cite: Fiscella, A. T. (2022) “Forgotten pioneers in degrowth: John Africa and the MOVE Organization”, Journal of Political Ecology. 29(1). doi: