"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Deep Organizing’

Our Invisible Revolution

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Oldspeak: “As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden… Revolution usually erupts over events that would, in normal circumstances, be considered meaningless or minor acts of injustice by the state. But once the tinder of revolt has piled up, as it has in the United States, an insignificant spark easily ignites popular rebellion. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression, the chronic unemployment and underemployment, the massive debt peonage that is crippling more than half of Americans, and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable… By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”…. The corporate state seeks to maintain the fiction of our personal agency in the political and economic process. As long as we believe we are participants, a lie sustained through massive propaganda campaigns, endless and absurd election cycles and the pageantry of empty political theater, our corporate oligarchs rest easy in their private jets, boardrooms, penthouses and mansions. As the bankruptcy of corporate capitalism and globalization is exposed, the ruling elite are increasingly nervous. They know that if the ideas that justify their power die, they are finished. This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement—are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.” -Chris Hedges

“The prescient words of Elder Gil Scott-Heron rings true today “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. Nevertheless its underway worldwide. The elites are scrambling to expand their means to watch, manipulate and control the people. Their efforts will fail, as more and more people get it and awaken from the “world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth”. The matrix is only as powerful as its energy source. People are that energy source. Their efforts make the elites possible. As more and more people disconnect their energy from toxic, obsolete, inequitable, and unsustainable systems, the Matrix will collapse. “Extend and Pretend” can only persist for so much longer.” -OSJ

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

“Did you ever ask yourself how it happens that government and capitalism continue to exist in spite of all the evil and trouble they are causing in the world?” the anarchist Alexander Berkman wrote in his essay “The Idea Is the Thing.” “If you did, then your answer must have been that it is because the people support those institutions, and that they support them because they believe in them.”

Berkman was right. As long as most citizens believe in the ideas that justify global capitalism, the private and state institutions that serve our corporate masters are unassailable. When these ideas are shattered, the institutions that buttress the ruling class deflate and collapse. The battle of ideas is percolating below the surface. It is a battle the corporate state is steadily losing. An increasing number of Americans are getting it. They know that we have been stripped of political power. They recognize that we have been shorn of our most basic and cherished civil liberties, and live under the gaze of the most intrusive security and surveillance apparatus in human history. Half the country lives in poverty. Many of the rest of us, if the corporate state is not overthrown, will join them. These truths are no longer hidden.

It appears that political ferment is dormant in the United States. This is incorrect. The ideas that sustain the corporate state are swiftly losing their efficacy across the political spectrum. The ideas that are rising to take their place, however, are inchoate. The right has retreated into Christian fascism and a celebration of the gun culture. The left, knocked off balance by decades of fierce state repression in the name of anti-communism, is struggling to rebuild and define itself. Popular revulsion for the ruling elite, however, is nearly universal. It is a question of which ideas will capture the public’s imagination.

Revolution usually erupts over events that would, in normal circumstances, be considered meaningless or minor acts of injustice by the state. But once the tinder of revolt has piled up, as it has in the United States, an insignificant spark easily ignites popular rebellion. No person or movement can ignite this tinder. No one knows where or when the eruption will take place. No one knows the form it will take. But it is certain now that a popular revolt is coming. The refusal by the corporate state to address even the minimal grievances of the citizenry, along with the abject failure to remedy the mounting state repression, the chronic unemployment and underemployment, the massive debt peonage that is crippling more than half of Americans, and the loss of hope and widespread despair, means that blowback is inevitable.

“Because revolution is evolution at its boiling point you cannot ‘make’ a real revolution any more than you can hasten the boiling of a tea kettle,” Berkman wrote. “It is the fire underneath that makes it boil: how quickly it will come to the boiling point will depend on how strong the fire is.”

Revolutions, when they erupt, appear to the elites and the establishment to be sudden and unexpected. This is because the real work of revolutionary ferment and consciousness is unseen by the mainstream society, noticed only after it has largely been completed. Throughout history, those who have sought radical change have always had to first discredit the ideas used to prop up ruling elites and construct alternative ideas for society, ideas often embodied in a utopian revolutionary myth. The articulation of a viable socialism as an alternative to corporate tyranny—as attempted by the book “Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA” and the website Popular Resistance—is, for me, paramount. Once ideas shift for a large portion of a population, once the vision of a new society grips the popular imagination, the old regime is finished.

An uprising that is devoid of ideas and vision is never a threat to ruling elites. Social upheaval without clear definition and direction, without ideas behind it, descends into nihilism, random violence and chaos. It consumes itself. This, at its core, is why I disagree with some elements of the Black Bloc anarchists. I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including Berkman, Emma Goldman, Pyotr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin.

By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”

This is where we are headed. I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

Violent revolutions are always tragic. I, and many other activists, seek to keep our uprising nonviolent. We seek to spare the country the savagery of domestic violence by both the state and its opponents. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, especially with the corporate state controlling a vast internal security apparatus and militarized police forces. But we must try.

Corporations, freed from all laws, government regulations and internal constraints, are stealing as much as they can, as fast as they can, on the way down. The managers of corporations no longer care about the effects of their pillage. Many expect the systems they are looting to fall apart. They are blinded by personal greed and hubris. They believe their obscene wealth can buy them security and protection. They should have spent a little less time studying management in business school and a little more time studying human nature and human history. They are digging their own graves.

Our shift to corporate totalitarianism, like the shift to all forms of totalitarianism, is incremental. Totalitarian systems ebb and flow, sometimes taking one step back before taking two steps forward, as they erode democratic liberalism. This process is now complete. The “consent of the governed” is a cruel joke. Barack Obama cannot defy corporate power any more than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton could. Unlike his two immediate predecessors, Bush, who is intellectually and probably emotionally impaired, did not understand the totalitarian process abetted by the presidency. Because Clinton and Obama, and their Democratic Party, understand the destructive roles they played and are playing, they must be seen as far more cynical and far more complicit in the ruination of the country. Democratic politicians speak in the familiar “I-feel-your-pain” language of the liberal class while allowing corporations to strip us of personal wealth and power. They are effective masks for corporate power.

The corporate state seeks to maintain the fiction of our personal agency in the political and economic process. As long as we believe we are participants, a lie sustained through massive propaganda campaigns, endless and absurd election cycles and the pageantry of empty political theater, our corporate oligarchs rest easy in their private jets, boardrooms, penthouses and mansions. As the bankruptcy of corporate capitalism and globalization is exposed, the ruling elite are increasingly nervous. They know that if the ideas that justify their power die, they are finished. This is why voices of dissent—as well as spontaneous uprisings such as the Occupy movement—are ruthlessly crushed by the corporate state.

“… [M]any ideas, once held to be true, have come to be regarded as wrong and evil,” Berkman wrote in his essay. “Thus the ideas of the divine right of kings, of slavery and serfdom. There was a time when the whole world believed those institutions to be right, just, and unchangeable. In the measure that those superstitions and false beliefs were fought by advanced thinkers, they became discredited and lost their hold upon the people, and finally the institutions that incorporated those ideas were abolished. Highbrows will tell you that they had ‘outlived’ their ‘usefulness’ and therefore they ‘died.’ But how did they ‘outlive’ their ‘usefulness’? To whom were they useful, and how did they ‘die’? We know already that they were useful only to the master class, and they were done away with by popular uprisings and revolutions.”

198 Methods Of Nonviolent Action

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2013 at 1:26 pm

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/martin-luther-king-jr-march.jpgOldspeak: Today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world – wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools. We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress. One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually… The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

”On this anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I thought I’d commemorate it with Gene Sharp’s brilliant list of methods of creative maladjustment for positive change from his 1973 book “The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action.” If you’re reading this blog, you’re part of the nonconforming minority. I encourage you to engage in non-violent action to change this profoundly unjust, destructive, morally & spiritually bankrupt civilization.

By Dr. Gene Sharp @ The Albert Einstein Institution:

198 Methods of Nonviolent Action

These methods were compiled by Dr. Gene Sharp and first published in his 1973 book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action. (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973). The book outlines each method and gives information about its historical use.

You may also download this list of methods.

THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT PROTEST AND PERSUASION

Formal Statements
1. Public Speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations
13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals
31. “Haunting” officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils

Drama and Music
35. Humorous skits and pranks
36. Performances of plays and music
37. Singing

Processions
38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades

Honoring the Dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest
50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation
51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honors
54. Turning one’s back

THE METHODS OF SOCIAL NONCOOPERATION

Ostracism of Persons
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict

Noncooperation with Social Events, Customs, and Institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the Social System
65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. “Flight” of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)

THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOPERATION: (1) ECONOMIC BOYCOTTS

Actions by Consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers’ boycott
77. International consumers’ boycott

Action by Workers and Producers
78. Workmen’s boycott
79. Producers’ boycott

Action by Middlemen
80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by Owners and Management
81. Traders’ boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by Holders of Financial Resources
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government’s money

Action by Governments
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers’ embargo
95. International buyers’ embargo
96. International trade embargo

THE METHODS OF ECONOMIC NONCOOPERATION: (2)THE STRIKE

Symbolic Strikes
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural Strikes
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm Workers’ strike

Strikes by Special Groups
101. Refusal of impressed labor
102. Prisoners’ strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike

Ordinary Industrial Strikes
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathetic strike

Restricted Strikes
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike

Multi-Industry Strikes
116. Generalized strike
117. General strike

Combination of Strikes and Economic Closures
118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown

THE METHODS OF POLITICAL NONCOOPERATION

Rejection of Authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ Noncooperation with Government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government depts., agencies, and other bodies
127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. Refusal to accept appointed officials
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ Alternatives to Obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape, and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by Government Personnel
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents
148. Mutiny

Domestic Governmental Action
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International Governmental Action
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representations
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organizations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organizations

THE METHODS OF NONVIOLENT INTERVENTION

Psychological Intervention
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
a) Fast of moral pressure
b) Hunger strike
c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment

Physical Intervention
162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation

Social Intervention
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theater
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system

Economic Intervention
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Defiance of blockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions

Political Intervention
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

Source: Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973).

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A Question Of Labor: How Do We Help Workers Connect The Dots To This Larger System Of Oppression?

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.addictinginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/labor.jpgOldspeak:”There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.” –Jane McAlevey
The death of the American Middle class is directly correlated to the death of the American Labor Unions as community organizing/educating powerful bulwarks against corporate hegemony. The  Labor unions has largely been co-opted, adopting the practices of the interests they were created to balance against.  Owners.  Top-down management, disconnection of rank and file workers from decision-making.  Mobilizing instead of organizing. Integration into the hopelessly corrupt “Pay-To-Play” system of governance, that has crippled representative government. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Laura Flanders @ Truthout:

You could choke on the irony in Charlotte this Labor Day. The United States’ faux labor holiday falls on day one of the Democratic National Convention. While the Democrats will no doubt tip their hat to working people and imbibe a beer or two on labor’s campaign tab, the ragged edge of organized labor’s relationship with the Democratic Party will be on painful display. After all, it’s supposed to be a holiday.

Will Barack Obama win this November? Probably. In 2008, the unions spent at least $300 million to elect him president. As will be obvious in Charlotte, they’re likely to spend even more this year. The Democrats are up against far bigger spenders – men like Sheldon Adelson and the brothers Koch – but it’s hard to believe the GOP bankrollers will ultimately hoodwink enough of the American electorate to win, while Republican extremism, on everything from women to wages, gives moderate voters every reason to be rattled by Romney and Ryan. What’s harder to see is how working Americans actually benefit from the situation that will likely squeak Obama back into the White House.

Which brings us back to Labor Day. President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation declaring the first Monday in September a national holiday just days before he sent 12,000 troops to brutally break the Pullman Strike of 1894. The concession wasn’t what international socialists (who observed May 1) wanted in the way of a labor holiday. In fact, it was the opposite, but Cleveland and his successors excelled at dusting repression with just enough reform to defuse industrial workers’ organizing.

Fast-forward to the most bitterly split era since those Robber Baron days of the industrial age and we find ourselves in a rerun. Having free traded our manufacturing jobs to other countries and deregulated our economy to labor death, more than half of all jobs in the US today pay less than $34,000/year, a quarter pay less than $22,000 (the poverty line for a family of four.) Six million people exist on food stamps as their only income – and American labor unions are the weakest they’ve ever been. Gloating from the stage of the RNC in Tampa, we saw Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Scott Walker from the formerly labor-dominated states of New Jersey and Wisconsin, trumpet their success in scapegoating public-sector unions.

As organizer/author Jane McAlevey points out, “We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day [that] drums into people … a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does.”

What will turn this around? Not another four years of an Obama in office with only the radical right on the offensive. Labor has failed to win any of the legislation it was promised by the Democrats four years ago, yet the rightward rush of the Republican Party has kept unions in quiescent lockstep behind the Democratic Party.

The great, loud, Labor Day party we need is not at the Democratic National Convention.

Jane McAlevey has a book coming out this fall from Verso called “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement.” I started by asking her to introduce herself, and then to talk about hell-raising in Wisconsin and the lessons the labor movement might draw from that experience, with relevance to the elections that loom just ahead of us.

Jane McAlevey; I’m Jane McAlevey and I am an organizer. I worked in the non-union part of the social justice movement for many years and made a transition into the labor movement on the heels of [John] Sweeney’s election [to be president of the AFL-CIO.] At the AFL-CIO in 1995 – when we had the first contested election in the history of the merged institutions (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations) – there was a lot of promise in the labor movement, and people like me signed up in droves.

Laura Flanders: You wrote a piece in the June 26 issue of The Nation magazine with Bill Fletcher about the lessons from Wisconsin. Talk about hopes and disappointments, the top lessons, in your view?

JM: I think the top lesson in our view is that there is not enough internal radical, political education taking place inside of America’s unions. If there was one thing we had to do differently, it’s actually trust that our rank and file can handle a lot of the information and that the rank and file will know what to do with real facts, real information, and what’s really happening.

I should back up and say in terms of the introduction, I worked at a place called the Highlander Center for three years when I was young, and I’m quite sure that my bias as an organizer towards intense levels of education with the rank and file comes from being in my mid-20s and working at the most prestigious adult education center in this country. It was the heart of the civil rights movement, and (most people don’t even know) Highlander was the CIO’s official labor education school in the 30s and 40s. With that background to my early years of work, by the time I hit the labor movement, I had a very strong philosophy that I trusted the workers. If you trust the workers, and you actually present a framework for education that helps workers begin to understand that this isn’t just about the boss on the third shift, by the way, it’s the corporation you’re working for, and then … you help workers connect the dots to this larger system of oppression that’s taking place in this country dressed up as free enterprise and freedom.

I was trained by someone named Jerry Brown who is now retired, formerly the head of 1199 [the New England Health Care Employees Union – SEIU] in New England which was a communist-based union by origin that continued (even though they broke with Stalin, etc.) the organizing tradition that came out of the Communist Party in the ’30s – which is deep organizing. It starts with trusting the workers. So when I became a union organizer and I had been organizing already, I thought, what do I need to know? Jerry Brown, who I credit enormously for a lot of brilliant labor work in his time, said to me “trust the workers McAlevey, treat them like grown-ups and teach the workers to run the unions.”

LF: But still, going back to the June election in Wisconsin, one-third of all union members voted for Scott Walker –

JM: That’s right.

LF: … The anti-union governor, to stay in office.

JM: Yes, but I think that’s symbolic of what happens when you don’t trust the workers to be able to make wise decisions once we’ve provided the educational settings that enable radical, participatory, education. I’ve seen some arguments in Wisconsin where people said, “Well, one-third of union members are Republican and always vote Republican,” and I think that’s a bad analysis. The question is what’s the relationship between the leadership of the union and the rank and file members? The 38% that voted for Scott Walker is reflective of a lack of real, consistent, ongoing relationship-building with the rank and file of the union.

When we don’t engage the workers and treat them like grown-ups and say we have to have some really hard conversations – things are looking really bad right now and here’s why – and then explain how Scott Walker connects to what’s happening to the second shift manager or whatever it is; if we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to have 38% of union members voting against their self interests even though – I think Bill Fletcher and I say in our piece – in our own experience, we’ve both done a ton of radical, political education with thousands and thousands of workers, when we do our work right as labor leaders – when we really share what’s happening to these workers around them, give them the space to learn it on their own – to explore the system called capitalism in a way that’s not coming “to” them in some doctrinaire one-way messaging – I think that you would find that they’re not going to vote against their self interests. We’re not helping people connect the dots anymore – and we desperately need to.

LF: The dots in Wisconsin … when I was out there covering the uprising a year ago, were pretty broadly laid out. We interviewed grassroots activists from the world of farming, education, teaching assistants, young people of color fighting against cuts in social services, and more. It wasn’t just about “workers.” What has happened since when it comes to capitalizing (for the lack of a better word) on all those dots that are not in the “work place”?

JM: There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.

It’s through our rank and file in the labor movement that the relationship to the so-called external allies needs to be built. It should not be a professional staff operation. And by the way, it’s not just unions, it’s in all of our movements – whether it’s the feminist movement, the environmental movement, or the labor movement. (I don’t like to just blame labor here – I have organized in all these movements and the same tendency has been taking place.) From the time [Saul] Alinsky published “Rules for Radicals” in 1972, there has been a fairly fast transition away from the deep organizing that characterized American left movements in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. In the ’70s we take a turn from what we would call deep organizing and into what I call shallow mobilizing where you replace staff for leadership engagement and radical rank and file, participatory education (and I mean rank and file whether it’s environmental, conservation, women, etc. The rank and file meaning the grassroots, the people, ordinary Americans …)

We’ve replaced doing real leadership development and empowering people and trusting that they can figure out what’s going wrong in this country with communications, messaging, pollsters, lawyers, lawsuits and a bunch of staff and a bunch of advocacy organizations that sort of do the work for people. All staff do nowadays is “turn out,” turning out people for a rally. Our movement has become “go turn out bodies for a rally” and that’s why 38% of union household voted for Walker.

LF: You have a book soon coming out in the fall from Verso and we’ll go into this in more depth then, but to give us a taste right now, what happened in the 1970s to make the shift?

JM: So, we had tremendous success in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and that success came from brutally hard work. Brutally hard work: people were shot, killed, etc. I think we got to the height of power, the environmental movement passed all of its biggest legislation in ’71 and ’72 under Nixon. We had won Medicaid, we had won the Civil Rights Act, the National Labor Relations Act; we won a series of very structurally powerful changes that happened from the 30s, 40s and 50s culminating in the early 1970s. So people in the movement thought, HA! We’ve won. We now need to set up highly professionalized, very bureaucratized, nationalized organizations in Washington D.C. Let’s just hire a bunch of lawyers to implement our laws.

By the way, most of those laws have never even been fully implemented because there was a failure to understand that the reason that we passed the laws was because from the 1930s through the late 1950s, there was extraordinary movement in this country, grassroots everywhere. Every movement understood that the odds were against them, we had to build to majorities in the field to win. So they did incredible work, sacrificed so much, built huge majorities, built movements, and passed legislation not from professional staff and lawyers in Washington but from activism at the base, and then we made the fundamental mistake of thinking all we had to do was move to Washington and implement the agenda. We fail the minute we forget that the power is outside of the capitol, outside of every state capitol, certainly outside of the nation’s capitol. We have let our base whither and at the exact same time the right-wing in America begins to realize, ah, it’s the base, stupid, and [with Phyllis Schlafly, the Business Round Table et al] the right begins to build this hugely powerful base.

LF: What would you have done in the last 12 months of Wisconsin or in any other struggle you want to focus on? Concrete steps of how you do this differently.

JM: Step 1: Start having an extraordinary number of meetings. (I’m going to talk about this from a union perspective.) Have one-on-one conversations with every rank and file member there is. People say, well how do you do that? People think that would take a lot of staff. No, I’m not talking about staff, that’s the thing. I’m talking about trusting workers, bringing them in, going to trainings, talk to everyone. Then they begin to systematically map every single relationship they have. What church are they in? What farmers do they know? So that the strategy of the work is not professional staff to other constituencies, it’s rank and file members, doing inventory with them, really tapping what all the union members themselves have in their own community. And instead we sort of drop these layers of artificial coalition building on top as the best source we have.

LF: What about what their lives are like? How much does the workplace organizer know about what their member’s life is like outside?

JM: Exactly, very little. So one of the models of work that I have had the pleasure of using in the labor movement is – we start with these basic discussions. We get through the initial election victory in the union (a hard fought-fight) now we’re heading into our big first contract fight and we know it’s time to build serious allies. We’re looking effectively to build and win what labor folks call “neutrality.” What the labor movement wants is fair rules (which they can boil down to the Employee Free-Choice Act or EFCA, which sounded like some kind of social disease), but what we are trying to get to is, how do we blunt the instrument of the employer? That’s what all the tactical warfare of labor is engaged with.

The model that I worked on and worked with for the last fifteen years in the labor movement was that we said screw labor law, forget thinking we’re changing labor law, forget it, it’s not happening in our lifetime; the odds aren’t there. So instead, how do we create neutrality on the ground? We create neutrality on the ground by having the workers tap their own existing relationships to their own community. To go out themselves, not as I’m the union coming in to have a conversation about why we’re so good, but it’s Sally who goes to Reverend George’s church, and Sally, very nervously by the way (it takes about four rounds of work with Sally because workers aren’t just going to go talk with their religious leader, they are scared of them. Note to Labor movement – the workers are more scared of the house of faith and God than they are of the union or the boss). You have to do training work, you have to get the workers in role plays, they actually have to practice, but once they go and have that conversation you can see their shoulders relax, when they go in and get support from their religious leader it’s like, well, God’s on my side now.

LF: It’s kind of like the reverse of Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Take Your Worker Back Home.

JM: [Laughs] Yes, exactly.

LF: Where do you see it happening? Are there any models right now that are exciting to you?

JM: The places I see it happening most consistently are on what we would call the margins of the former labor movement. Which is in a lot of the immigrant organizing, whether it’s domestic workers … guest workers, the fight we are seeing now in Louisiana around the shrimp house, so there are places where it’s happening, but the big problem of it is – going back to the piece Bill Fletcher and I wrote on it is – these strategies (they’re not tactics, not games), these strategies are not being embraced by main line labor.

LF: What’s your advice to union organizers heading into the 2012 elections?

JM: I think we are in that customary, awful situation we normally are in this country, which is of course we’ve got to get Obama elected. It’s not funny. I find it actually not funny to think about what the alternative is. However, (pause,) if we do anything during the election period from now to November, it’s got to be that everything we are doing is additive, it’s building towards getting ready to launch serious fights the minute the election is over and I don’t care if it’s Obama, and with Romney it’s going to be a different kind of fight, but either way we have to be doing additive work. When we’re out building a base for an election too much of it is tactical, we want one vote out of them, we want to drive them out on Election Day. For organizers it [should be] how are we building for the long haul? How can we not make the same mistake in December of 2012 that we made in December of 2008, which was to be gloves off, access is cool, “We’re back in the White House!” That didn’t get us very much in four years. So, Democrat or Republican, we need to get Obama in, then we need to fight like hell to get an agenda through that’s not two-tiering any benefits that exist in this country, but fighting the next administration, whoever they are, that’s what we have to be building towards in this election period.

Jane McAlevey is, among other things, the author of the forthcoming “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement” that we’ll talk to her about when it comes out from Verso.