I Is for Inoculate

[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations. Check out the intro post here to see an overview of the whole framework.]


It’s often said that union campaigns are won or lost on the strength of their inoculation. Like rough-housing children, organizing is all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and then shit gets serious real fast. 

When organizing workers are attacked by the boss and haven’t been prepared for it, the threat of the loss of a job can make even the most courageous worker fall into line. This should be expected and is why inoculation is so important.

As discussed briefly in my introduction to organizing conversations post, the inoculate part of AEIOU is about anticipating and preparing for the boss’s next move and dealing with people’s fears. In high-profile and more traditional unionization drives, professional union-busters are often used to supplement the boss’s aggression and to intimidate workers into voting no on union representation. For those who find yourselves facing union-busting consultants, knowing what to expect from them and how to fight them is critically important and has been discussed widely elsewhere

But the organizing approach advocated on this blog often takes other forms, such as organizing in a workplace already formally represented by a union or organizing in a non-unionized workplace without the goal of union representation. In these and other cases, boss aggression against workers often looks different than having big union-busters show up at work. In this post I’ll go deeper into inoculation as it occurs at the level of workers taking direct action themselves, irrespective of if it’s connected to a formal unionization drive.

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Tools for Political Conversations in Organizing

[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations.]

Political conversations are often the most difficult kind of conversations and those least likely to succeed. We naturally want other people to see things our way, but there’s no easy way to do this and trying really hard to make people see things our way usually has the opposite effect.

In a companion blog post I sketch out some important contextual considerations for thinking about political conversations, but here I aim to simply sketch out some observations on best practices and a general method of political dialogue. These ideas are best applied when people are in a position of relative equality, a relation of mutual respect, and a setting in which both people have the emotional energy to engage across lines of political disagreement. Some adaptation may be required to apply these principles across individual communication styles and different cultural patterns of communication, but I believe the same basic principles admit to wide application.

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How Social Conditions and Personal Experience Shape Political Conversation

[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations.]

There’s a hard pill to swallow for people who first get interested in radical politics: No one cares what you think. “Oh, so you don’t like white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy?” For the most part, nobody cares.

I’ve heard countless instances of someone expressing a radical belief to others with the hope of being agreed with or at least sparking an engaging discussion. But most commonly we are met with blank stares and utter disinterest, and we falsely take this as evidence that nobody cares about social issues or that there’s nothing we can do to change people’s minds.

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The Unbearable Emptiness of Voting

[This essay of mine was originally published at The Hampton Institute.]

Election season makes me feel like the kid who doesn’t have a stuffed animal on “bring your teddy bear to school” day. Everyone else has a favorite who they can tell good stories about and cuddle with, but I don’t so I feel left out. But then I remember that there are good reasons to resist getting pulled down by the undertow of elections.

Like cute stuffed animals, politicians make people feel good while having a marginal effect on positive social change. The main differences between stuffed animals and politicians are that 1) stuffed animals are actually cuddly, and 2) people don’t invest vast amounts of political hope and agency in stuffed animals. I recognize that arguing against what many people hold dear makes me kind of a grump, but I at least aspire to be one who is not stuck in idle criticism but is offering alternative ideas. The particular variety of grumpiness that I espouse is one grounded in grassroots social movements that focus on direct action independent of party politics.

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Building Relationships with Coworkers Is the Precondition to All Good Organizing

[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations.]

There’s one main mistake people make when they start out organizing their workplace that’s responsible for more stumbles, setbacks, and losses than any other: they don’t really get to know people before they try to take direct action with them.

If people don’t know each other, how can they be expected to take risks together, especially when breaches of trust can put everyone in danger? Some coworkers get cold feet, those who are on the fence never really get involved, and those who appear most committed fall off or burn out.

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