Has it Come to This?  “Free” Organizing Advice!

Doha       One corollary of constant long-distance road work is the magazine subscriptions pile up.  I usually take an inch-high stack with me, and on an endless flight to Katmandu that includes an unscheduled seven-hour delay in Doha, Qatar, mining the mags can produce some interesting discoveries.  One is that the mainstream media now believes it is perfectly positioned to give advice and critique basic organizing and protests.  We’ll have to consider whether that is a recognition of our skill or a slap at our lack of production and a critique of our weakness.  Maybe both, I’m not sure?  Regardless, it’s interesting to read their take on the work.

In a New York Times Sunday magazine piece, there was a story entitled “How to Organize a Walkout,” which of course caught my eye.  It turned out to be an interview of sorts with Meredith Whitaker, who they identified as the “lead organizer” of the 20,000-worker walkout at Google almost a year ago.  The summary of Whitaker’s remarks indicated she was solid on the basics, so this squib was almost a nuts-and-bolts “to do” list.  Sort of a
Walkout for Dummies” thing.  Among the nuggets were these:

“Know your colleagues; build trust; get together to articulate common concerns and a vision for change.  Avoid detection…Often a walkout is most effective as a response to ‘symptomatic flare-up.’ Decide on a nearby public space that can accommodate a crowd.  A morning start time is best, if you want to get media coverage; alert news outlets in advance.  Carry signs…Someone should be prepared to voice your demands, which is best done with a large megaphone….”

Got that?  The message from the Times seems to be “go do likewise,” but they also mention that Whitaker was pushed out by Google harassment, although they don’t mention that the NLRB fined Google for unfair labor practices in curtailing concerned activity and speech.

A weird, somewhat left-handed critique ran in a recent edition of The Economist where for the life of me they seemed to be waxing nostalgic for the good old days of violent miner strikes in “Bloody Harlan,” the famous county where so many of them occurred.  This was all prompted by a widely reported, though small effort, where some dozen to twenty miners and their families had blocked a coal train while trying to get Blackjewel to pay them their back wages as it hid behind bankruptcy.  This columnist couldn’t contain his glee in arguing that the original action had been greatly assisted by a bunch of anarchists who had come to help, and then in his argument the protest collapsed once there was a falling out with the anarchists over one of the miner’s support for Trump.  Who knows “who shot John” on this one, but it was much more widely reported that the miners had succeeded in getting the revenue from the coal train they had blocked promised towards their back wages?

My point remains the same.  What’s up with all this advice?  Is this a call to arms or just another catcall from the cheap seats?



Capacity in Organizing Counts – Props to Those Who Get It!

Lake Buckhorn, Ontario     In the annual HO/LO meeting of ACORN Canada several hours north of Toronto in the urban-centric area called “cottage country” near the defining geological formation known as the Canadian Shield, the head organizers and lead organizers throughout the Canadian organization were taking the measure of their work thus far during the year.  They were also working out ways that they could move forward on an array of campaigns on predatory lending, affordable housing, childcare payments, internet access, and welfare systems.

In one exercise designed by head organizer Judy Duncan, they broke into smaller groups to hash out ideas for direct actions that might jump the campaigns up a notch.  Listening to the reports from the groups was fascinating.  The suggestions were dramatic and imaginative.  It’s tough to devise creative tactics that walk the knife edge between what exerts pressure, captures attention, and, most importantly, feels comfortable for the membership to do.  A couple of videos later in the day of actions against the pending eviction of more than one-hundred families in a giant Ottawa complex called Herongate, long a campaign and action, target for ACORN there, allowed the HO/LOs to see how that office had faced the task and how local television commentators had reported and responded, very sympathetically in one case.  Those clips and another from the bi-annual ACORN Canada convention held in Hamilton, Ontario also displayed the members’ humor, anger, and handiwork in making the protest signs.  I had some trouble watching the last because my eye always goes to the signs that fail to say ACORN somewhere since the slogans are aimed at the target, but the word “ACORN” is a hardwire signal to supporters and potential recruits that it’s time to join in and act now.

All of this is about building capacity.  In ACORN we know its lifeblood, but its amazing how often people outside the work miss the details that make the work effective because they are lost in the last tweet or the most recent white paper or the hope that some bright new star will point the way to the future.  This makes it more remarkable when it turns out somewhere, somehow, people so often blinded by the glitter, finally recognize the grit, and that leads me to give some props in a surprising direction to some of the rich that “get it” about putting some oil on the gears and flywheels that make it happen and increase the capacity.

I don’t know how it all really works, but the Climate Emergency Fund seems to have stumbled onto something that I would love to see commonplace, and that’s an understanding of funding the things that make stuff happen, even if smaller and harder to suss out behind the headlines.  Props to Trevor Nelson, Rory Kennedy, and Aileen Getty who have been among the primary funders of the Climate Emergency Fund supporting Extinction Rebellion and similar actions.  Its not Gates, Buffet or Bloomberg money, but it’s pennies from heaven that are paying for buses, plane tickets, signs and the grist at the mill of social action and organization building.

Their thing is climate.  Our thing is climate too, with a different constituency and a day-to-day grind on that issue and scores of others.  There’s more than enough money to go around, but we need more “emergency funds” that grease all the wheels that make action and organizing happen, so let’s hope more of the one-percent start to get it and follow their lead.