02 February 2011

More Organizing Thoughts

I was thinking today about the previous post placed here. About how dysfunctional working within the industry of non-profit organizing has become. I worry about this avenue, now being the main (and most recognized) artery to organizing and addressing social issues, becoming a dead-end or a roadblock to real progress being made (grassroots has taken on a whole new meaning these days with the (re)emergence of seemingly fanatical right thinking groups and their maniacal rhetoric, such as the tea party, Alliance for America’s Future, and American Action Network—thanks to my current reading of Mother Jones—and I’m not sure how appropriate it is to use the term in conjunction with social justice organizing from a non-profit level). An elephant, twice the size of any other, is in the room, but no one really wants to acknowledge it exists even when it is taking up more space than necessary or safe.
It’s not only rallies. The non-profit world really tries to take activism away from the community and institutionalize it. So now we think a protest is the only thing we can do to show our activism evolving. Today the notion is if you’re not getting paid for it, we don’t see any reason to do it. ~ Leroy Moore

For so much talk about transparency, for all the conversations I’ve been privy to about sustainable organizing and activism, in the end it has just been that, talk. Few attempts (that I'm aware of) have been made to work toward changing the way things have worked poorly, but no real substantial progress has been made. It seems that few employers, charged with leading social justice movement, are willing to work, really work at making these workspaces more pleasant for staff and even themselves. At least not any effort that is completely genuine. Usually if one is bold enough to speak out against ever-growing, ever existing problems that ultimately disrupt or do damage to the work and working relations, the consequences may not be favorable. Speaking up may get you out. This of course may be just my own concern, some may find that I am being paranoid, unreasonable, unintelligible, or even selfish in my assessment, and I take full responsibility for any missteps that I make in bringing my thoughts forward into the light of this seemingly unfiltered realm of operation. It has not been my intention to belabor on areas of abnormality being talked about until one is blue in the face, but because I have not seen or heard any (widespread) significant and sustainable changes that would otherwise disprove it exists, I feel somewhat compelled to keep the conversation going if only with myself and a few others out there needing to find a better way of alternatively restoring, rethinking and reevaluating the functionality of working in the social justice arena. Have I said enough about this subject already? Dunno, it’s too soon to tell, but if you’re reading this, maybe you haven’t heard the last from me. I believe I am still recovering from the PTSD working in non-profit has caused me (and I’m sure it has snagged other unwilling victims/survivors) and need a lot of writing therapy. So I rant on, giving myself permission to speak freely…

In my humble opinion (and let me just state for the record, that I am well aware my voice is coming from a somewhat subjective point of view, although my reasoning is not without some merit and extends from the expressions of former colleagues and current friends—however, these are my thoughts and perspectives, my understanding of what I’ve learned from numerous conversations, and my blog, therefore, I take great artistic liberty here, which to some readers may seem a bit biased, but oh well; feel free to start your own blog if it floats your boat), organizing labor has come eerily close to sweatshop labor. It has been clever in its deployment using terms such as “dedicated/committed to social justice,” or, “must be willing to work long hours,” and using ubiquitous industry jargon, like, “non-exempt” to create policies and practices that would prevent employees from taking advantage of overtime pay for overtime work. It has worked well to cover the abuses of our “at will” employers, who mistreat workers in ways that have become deplorable, questionable and even unethical. Oh yes, I am going to go there, so if you don’t want to take this ride, I suggest you get off now…

One such unacceptable (and very unprofessional—lacking an essential employer/employee etiquette) behavior would be the employer who calls and/or emails a staff person who is either off sick or on vacation, expecting that she or he will respond. Failing to do so might bring repercussions like being reprimanded or in worse-case scenarios, expelled from your post. Now you might think, “hold on, Rochelle, you are taking this to the extreme,” but it has been that extreme and you know it. I have heard personal accounts of these stories and have, myself, been the receiver of such actions. Some of our organizers and non-organizing staff have been treated like shit by their employers or immediate supervisors. This knowledge is not uncommon. Neither are these practices. We know all too well that boundaries are crossed continuously. Right? We receive calls or emails late into the night after we’ve left our offices or other job posts for things that could easily be addressed during regular office hours. But, wait, regular office hours really don’t apply to organizers, at least not in practice. On paper, your job description or contract (many organizers and non-profit staff are hired as consultants) may include the hours of work you get paid for and are expected to put in, but there is an ‘above and beyond’ clause that is not in the fine print, not even spoken, and if you don’t intuitively pick up on it, it will become clear as you carry out your numerous duties and tasks. To be sure, if you are getting into this arena, you better have some stamina, be able to go the 12-13 rounds and beyond, stay off the ropes or take too long trying to catch your breath. The latter would be seen as a sign of weakness and comes with its own amount of flack. Be prepared. Be warned. But by no means should you be cocky enough to go against your trainer’s instruction. Thou shalt not bear witness against thy opponent or first in command. 

To be among the rank and file and advocating for oneself is not the same as advocating for those historically marginalized and muted voices, those persons we are hired to protect and serve. Now tell me, who is protecting and serving us? Are we not allowed the same rights and privileges? Why must we self-censor our own cries for justice in those spaces where justice is suppose to prevail, those spaces where we should feel safe and encouraged to speak our minds.

I think I’ll end on this note. Give y’all some food for thought, something to chew on and see if the taste suits you or if you feel that it’s not right for your organizing (or organizing-friendly) palette. Either way, I’ll be back with more. Seems I’m just getting started. This story ain’t over yet. Peace (or chaos if that’s what turns you on).

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