Daaaang, kids of America! What a day, right?! You did it! You have awakened a sleeping giant that’s been lurking beneath the surface of humankind for the last 300 years. Chances are you have *officially* been radicalized, and there’s no going back to the life you had before. Now you’re practically addicted to devouring as much information as you can. Where do we go next? When’s the next action? You’re tired of having your lives decided for you by crusty old career politicians who only occasionally offer encouraging words and are happy to use you in their social media, but from whom you’ve seen no real action. Boy oh, boy – I’ve been there! It’s because I’ve been there that I want to share with you what I’ve seen, so you know what NOT to do. That’s who I am. I can’t teach you how to manifest your highest earning potential or build your retirement fund, but I am the guru of failed political organizing. I’ve had a few victories of course, but really we mostly lose. That’s how it is with organizing unfortunately, but that’s because we did it all wrong. Don’t do it like us!
Like many of you – I’d never been involved in politics before getting activated. I thought history was boring and politics were for nerds, and I had better things to do… like spill beer in mosh pits, I guess. I saw a lot of bands! Yeah.
But then I got radicalized at this giant protest in my hometown of Seattle against the World Trade Organization… a benign-sounding name, but one of the many entities responsible for getting us in the global mess we’re in today. (We shut their stupid meetings down for that week, but they’re still going strong.)
After the WTO left town, I got together with a few of the folks I’d exchanged numbers with in the streets. We met up at the Seaman’s Union Hall downtown – a rag-tag group of about 100 who’d been moved enough by what we saw, we wanted to do more. It was my first political organizing meeting, and we looked amongst ourselves to find longshoremen, steelworkers, anarchists, environmentalists, Socialists, fishermen, teachers, farmers, students, aging hippies from who-knows-where, whatever the hell I was, and we all had to figure out how we were going to work together.
Like me, you might not be associated with any of these groups right now, but chances are they will come filtering in to your meetings, like raccoons searching for shiny things. (I hope you’re having meetings by now. I’ll cover those later!) What I need to do first is caution you about these newcomers, because I was right where are you are couple of decades or so ago, surrounded by People Who Seem To Know How To Organize. I wanted to absorb it all… How do y’all things get done? How do we make decisions?
Now I don’t want you to get paranoid, but I am dead-serious when I say this: expect infiltration. I know, I know! I didn’t believe it at first, either – but I’ve seen it first hand enough times to say this with absolute confidence: trust sparingly. You know you were marching against gun-violence, but the sleeping giant saw something else. You are officially an uprising, and the powers that be (along with all of their wealth) now see you as a potential threat to their security. They will target your leaders, gather information, sabotage your actions (if they get a chance), and disrupt your unity. I discovered it’s an extremely easy thing to do… this sabotaging. I’ve been able to pinpoint some red flags from my experience, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel on security culture. Everything else about organizing you will need to reinvent the wheel on, because obviously how we’ve been doing it is all wrong. Perhaps you can tell by the current state of our nation?
Here’s some tried-and-true tips from me to you for your early stages of organizing:
- Work with those you already know as much as possible. Vet newcomers carefully! How can you tell when someone’s suspicious? They will come to every meeting, talk a LOT, but never actually do anything. They won’t make copies, post flyers… nothing. Maybe the narcs have upped their game by now, but the ones we had were loud but useless. What they will have is ideas and contacts. The ideas part is obvious (“Let’s do something really, really illegal!”), but the loading you down with contacts is designed to get you associated with some unsavory people – people you might never even meet. The next time something goes down, however – guess who gets called before a Grand Jury? BAM! And now they know everything about you. You do NOT want to get caught up in that, so keep that in mind the next time some charismatic do-nothing appears.
- You will have little in common with your like-minded peers, at least at first. Break the ice! My favorite story about making friends with the newly aligned comes from my kick-ass friend Kim Marks. Back in ’98, Kim was doing some tree-sits in southern Oregon with EarthFirst! when they got approached by some locked-out Steelworkers from Kaiser Aluminum, who said, “Say – we noticed that we both have a common enemy (Charles Hurwitz), and wondered if maybe we could work together?” The tree-sit kids didn’t see why not, so they made a plan and threw a big picnic to meet-and-greet. The tree-sitters told the workers how Charlie was liquidating our last remaining stands of redwoods; flooding the market with lumber that wasn’t even being milled here in the states. No one in America was benefiting from it. All the money from selling our thousands-year old trees (mostly to Japan, who sunk them in lakes, and will sell them back to us at a considerable mark-up when we run out of forests) went right into paying Charles Hurwitz’s debt from his junk-bond failures. The workers told the tree-sitters about how Charlie took over Kaiser, and locked them out of their jobs for two years rather than negotiate a new contract. They maintained a picket line that whole time – which resulted in many lost homes, divorces, and misery. By the end of the picnic, the Steelworkers tried the tree-sitter’s tofu dogs, and the tree-sitters ate the steelworker’s meat links. After that, they did many successful actions together, and many of us are still friends to this day.
- Make a List! This is another story from Kim: her loose coalition realized that although they had a common enemy, they had some glaring differences which could easily kill the fragile alliance. So they decided to make a list with three columns – things we can absolutely agree on, things we might agree on if we get to know each other a little better, and things we should never speak of under any circumstances! It looked something like this:
Agree!: Bring down Hurwitz, teach steelworkers how to climb trees, do banner-drops at the port in support of locked-out workers
Maybe Later: build stronger unions, call on labor to end to clear-cutting
NOOOOOO!: religion, smashing capitalism, bear-hunting
Having these agreements from the start will save you from a lot of hard conversations and disagreements in the future.
Next time, I’ll be tackling: “How to Avoid Sucky, Life-Draining Meetings”. In the meantime, bask in your victory! You earned it! You deserved it. Keep up the struggle! You should not have inherited a world such as this, and I apologize for not doing enough to stop it. Nevertheless, I am happy to help in whatever way I can now, having been around the proverbial block a few thousand times. Drop me a line if you have questions! It may take a minute to get back to you, but I will. Congratulations, y’all! The future is YOURS.