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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Democracy as the Grounding Value of Radical Grassroots Politics

(Featured image: “File:Murmure d’étourneaux.jpg” by Anne Jea. is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The US isn’t a democracy, but it plays one on TV. When election year comes around, a lot of video cameras point at politicians making speeches about how they’re gonna fight for you and your grandma. A paradise is promised and all you have to do is vote for them as a show of your belief in democracy and freedom. Then after the election is over, politicians go back to playing golf with CEOs.

In a world like ours, one with so many horrors and so much duplicity, it’s not hard to see why some people tire of hearing about democracy. But is there any other way to dream of a better world and move toward it than to get with others and decide collectively what is needed and how to get it?

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Manipulation and Trust in Organizing

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

Introduction

For people new to organizing it can feel like it’s about tricking people or manipulating them or guiding them to the correct place. People who shy away from organizing because of this have a healthy response to perceived manipulation. However, I think organizing that is sincere and empowering isn’t about manipulation at all and is just the opposite. Learning this distinction between empowerment and manipulation is of essential importance in organizing, both to be able to detect it in others and in your own efforts.

The reason people often say that organizing feels manipulative is that you have a goal in your interactions with other people. This is a key tension, and how you navigate this tension determines whether you respect someone’s agency and explore it with them or whether you try to use them as a pawn in your own desire to advance your activism. In short, empowerment vs. manipulation.

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