Saturday, September 29, 2012

Organizer Pedagogy

In the past year I have been involved in the Occupy movement in Kansas. Right now we're working on a local police problem, but one which seems to have analogues across the United States. It's more serious than I initially thought I'd be involved in, and I know that without my fellow activists/organizers and the experience of organizing over the past year I'd be in over my head. Heck, I feel that I'm in over my head now, but that positive things are coming out of our work.

I've been a community organizer for awhile, now. I've always started groups and interacted with my local bureaucracies. I learned some on my own, but the previous year has gotten me in contact with activist/organizers of many stripes and depths of experience.

Being of a scientific bent, a thought that's been with me during this time of learning is: There needs to be more theory on this stuff!

Sure, there's some. But it's treated with too much respect. And, on the converse side of things, pomo philosophy has inundated activist culture to a point where a number of organizers are hesitant to make generalized statements. Its understandable why, I think this is a healthy attitude -- especially in addressing problems of race, gender, and class which largely depend upon personal experience and social institutions, which aren't as amenable to generalized statements or scientific inquiry. (I'm far from anti-pomo).  But I feel that there needs to also be *some* kind of generalized statements so that we can pass on what we've learned from organizing to other potential activist/organizers that aren't around us.

That's basically the whole point of theory: to pass on refined and useful beliefs to others, so that they aren't stuck re-inventing the wheel.

While I don't think that I'm "top notch" in community organizing, I feel that I've learned a thing or two which is worth sharing with those who may be interested in doing some of the same, even if on a different issue. I think that community organizing is important for addressing many social problems, regardless of our particular situation in regards to work/class/politics/whatever, and that its the sort of thing that isn't taught because it has no economic benefit or classical basis.

But it needs to be taught.

I can understand the hesitancy to make generalized statements about community organizing. A lot of the decisions made at the ground level are dependent upon the circumstances one finds oneself in as well as the people you're working with, and you don't want to be paternalistic towards other localities or at fault for screwing up a campaign you're not actually involved in. The best way to teach an organizer is "on the job". The best way to learn how to make decisions is with people who have made more heuristically driven decisions.

But I can't help but think that I would have been better off starting with some kind of advice. I didn't even know, when I started organizing, that what I was doing was called "organizing". I just did what I could to effect change in the world on things I cared about. Had I known what I now know, even if the circumstances were different and the model of organizing had to be changed to meet those circumstances, I would have been much more effective.

There needs to be some kind of balance, I think. We can emphasize the need to pay attention to local circumstances and having to make judgment calls on the basis of a crazy network of heuristics that have little to do with whether something is true or the best solution to a given situation, while simultaneously passing on knowledge we've gleaned to help others in their organizing efforts.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Organize, organize, organize...

I think I'm going to reboot this blog. The title is still appropriate, though I'm no longer really in the science field. I'm currently unemployed, looking for work, after an attempt at unionizing went wrong. It was a great learning experience in terms of labor organizing, but being inexperienced I made mistakes and lost legal protection. Cest la vie.

I've remained active in the Occupy movement/organization/whateveritis. That's an ongoing debate that I don't participate in as much, because we're still working on stuff in our particular chapter. I've seen other occupations in small and similar locations who are likewise working on stuff in their localities. Some are totally disorganized, some are moving into specific areas, some are kicking ass.

I hope to keep the movement rolling. That's part of why I'm rebooting this blog. Economic justice is an issue dear to me, which is why I became involved in labor organizing, and no movement/organization/whateveritis has so clearly addressed income inequality than the Occupy movement/organization/whateveritis has.

Practically speaking, we're currently trying to build coalitions in our community to find allies and bring people in. I think Kansas organizing can benefit from the Occupy movement's principles as a way of shifting policy and culture because it provides a perfect umbrella within which these small, disparate, outnumbered groups can work under. To do that, we've started going to other people's meetings and also picked up issues that are effecting our community.

Long-term-wise, I've been preaching a three part plan: 1. Build Worker Coops so we can have resources, 2. Build unions to restart the labor movement in the US, which is practically inexistent and directly addresses the problem of economic inequality, 3. Create live-in collectives to keep activists in contact, working together, and bills down so our resources go further.

I'm always open to more ideas, though. And, since this *is* a reboot post, I think I'll try to keep it at that. You can also follow me on twitter @HuxleyDick, where I'll prolly post more. But I'll try to get back onto my 1/week schedule here.

I know this started as a science blog, but now I'm experimenting elsewhere. And, if you've organized within Occupy, you know we've made mistakes along the way. So, it kind of fits in a funny way. And, heck, I still think science is important, so maybe this'll be a way of getting some of those old posts read by people who don't know science as well. ;)