Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lessons of the patriarch

Older men, on the other hand, often serve as a reminder of what we are left with when we choose patriarchy instead of working towards a solidarity with women. Just to look at them is to break my heart. I usually get a good dose of this around the holidays.

One of the elder patriarchs in my extended family could be a very impressive person, all the more so in the twilight of his life. Why don't men understand that they will grow old, get sick, and die? This bastard hasn't lifted a finger in preparation. But his advancing years won't accommodate him like his partner always has. Now he feels cheated, having done everything he was "supposed" to do as a man; namely, to assert himself as such, and reap the benefits thereof!

I'm desperate for any male mentor who speaks from the advantage of a life lived in close proximity to death. What do I need to be doing now, while I can still choose? But most of these older men are stuck as if they still want to be boys. They can't even acknowledge where they are, except to complain.

It saddens me to say that many male elders exist for me as brilliant examples of what I must avoid at all costs! Of course, this is helpful in its own way; tragedies often are. Where some men bicker with others over petty, prideful things, I will have to practice simple humility. Where they are self-consumed, I'll have to be outwardly-engaged. And where they are estranged from their partners and loved ones, to say nothing of women in general, I know that I will want closeness.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Private lives

Many of the most interesting women I know are in their 80s and 90s, and I'm often comforted by the idea that in spite of all that was put on them as younger women they managed to keep what was necessary for themselves while discarding much of the rest. I hope this option will remain available for younger women today, who can seem profoundly insecure in comparison, no thanks I am sure to the degree of scrutiny attached to them at all times.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Diversity Is Power

When Diversity Is Power

I've been writing about workplace organizing, arguing that not all workplace organizing is not always a feminist and anti-racist activity but that it can be. So far I've been talking about this from the perspective of feminist and anti-racist values, talking about some things that we as feminists and anti-racists can and should think about with regard to workplace organizing. I have sometimes heard people say basically “if we don’t have a clear anti-racist and feminist agenda, we will not be able to organize!” I don’t think that’s actually true. There are racist and sexist organizations in the world and some of them are flourishing. We don’t hold our values primarily because they help us win campaigns. We’re committed to our feminist and anti-racist values because they are our values, because they’re right. In some cases, these values are in tension with building our organizations – sometimes it might be easier to pander to existing racism and sexism among people, not that we are willing to do that.

All of that said, I want to think about this in another direction. Some of the time, a feminist and anti-racist agenda really is a pressing need in order to win an organizing drive. Even if some people we're working with are not feminists or anti-racists, they still have short term interests that fit with an anti-racist and feminist agenda. This allows us greater opportunities to move that agenda. I’ve talked a bit about this before in relation to my experiences with a multi-racial group of hospital janitors. The janitors moved from being divided along racial and gender lines to having relationships of solidarity across those lines.

Those ties between people are a good thing, as I argued. They were also immediately important in that organizing - they weren't just morally good, if we hadn't prioritized building those relationships the boss would have stomped all over us.

What I mean is, in workplaces with diverse workplaces, we have only two options: find ways to build solidarity across divisions and be stronger, or be divided and weaker. In concrete terms, this means that in workplace organizing we need to have representative committees of workers. Whatever the demographics of the workplace, the committee has to represent that. If the committee doesn’t look like the workplace, the boss will use this.

Bosses tend to be very aware of divisions among workers, and often help maintain those divides. The boss will say – or get spies to say - “the union is just for white people” or some other group. If the organization is not representative – that is, if there’s some element of truth to what the boss says – then we will have a hard time countering this.

The need to build a representative committee can sometimes conflict with two impulses we might have. For one thing, people sometimes feel like white people can’t organize people of color, or men can’t organize women, and so on. I’ve talked about this before in earlier columns. There are important dynamics that we do want to be aware of, but we also have to organize our co-workers. Some of the time people hang back because of ideas about who can organize whom. That’s a problem and can lead to less representative committee. Aside from that, we often have an impulse to trust workers. Of course we should do that, but at the same time we have push them and we can’t just take what they say at face value. As we all know, the working class is divided. People often don’t have strong relationships beyond their social circles. People may not realize this clearly, but once organizing starts many people are hesitant to reach beyond their immediate social circles. We have to push people to do this, and we have to be systematic about it. Otherwise, the committee risks looking like (or worse, actually being) a clique.

The more diverse a workplace is, the more pressing it is that we build organizations that bridge the various groups in that workplace. In these instances, feminist and anti-racist values are often build directly into workplace organizing. We have to overcome divisions or the organizing is doomed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Countering sexism in the workplace

There are several women at my job who are regularly subjected to what I would call sexual harassment; one of whom has complained to me in the same terms. In none of these cases do the women involved appear prepared to pursue any legal, or even administrative recourse (e.g. physical separation from offending individuals, which could be accomplished routinely), and maintain their working relationships as normal.

I don't want to tolerate sexual harassment or sexism in general in my workplace, so I've spent a lot of time thinking about how to call my coworkers on it without precipitating administrative action that my female colleagues aren't prepared for; but even this means intervening in relationships that aren't strictly mine to address. There's certainly justification in addressing that portion of the behavior which affects me now, but a long-term strategy might be better served by a coordinated approach between mutually concerned colleagues.

Anyone with any insights or advice into these kinds of problems is encouraged to share them below.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Speak Gently, Speak Firmly, Speak to be Heard

It's Not Enough to be Right: Speak Gently, Speak Firmly, Speak to be Heard

I've been writing a pieces on workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity. It's not always this kind of activity, but it can be. Feminists and anti-racists should think about ways in which organizing on the job is a part of struggling against oppression. All of these pieces are rough drafts; this piece is even less finished than the others. Comments are definitely welcome, especially comments that help me extend and flesh out the main points. In this piece I talk about another way that workplace organizing speaks to the feminist and anti-racist values that many of us hold. This in particular is connected with dealing with problematic behaviors among people we are organizing with -- the working class is full of contradictions and working class people often have problematic behavior. In our organizing we have to be ready to deal with these problems in ways that are constructive. Otherwise we don't actually address those contradictions.

As I’ve discussed before, one of the formative experiences I had early on was involvement in Take Back The Night. The group I was part of had many women and queer leaders. Growing up where, when, and how I did I had some baggage – some attitudes and behaviors and some ignorance – that I’m not proud of. Through my involvement in Take Back The Night I met some amazing people who impressed me very much. I’m lucky that these people responded to my baggage the way they did. They didn’t let me off the hook for anything, but they also didn’t attack me. I don’t know what they thought but I’d like to think that they called me out while also keeping me involved, because they saw me as having some potential.

The reason I raise all this is that I want to talk about calling people out. I’ve often heard people say things like “We have no tolerance for this sort of thing!” and so on when it comes to problem behavior. In my experience this kind of thing comes up a lot in particular with feminist men and anti-racist white people. I’m for this – people should be called out for their problematic behavior, we should not find racist and sexist behavior acceptable. At the same time, I think the way we call people out and the reason why we do so matters very much.
Sometimes people call others out for problem behavior in a self-righteous way. Some of the time we call people out in front of others in a way that embarrasses them, and/or provokes a fairly public confrontation. That can be important sometimes – particularly if a person has repeatedly done something and a group needs to communicate its disapproval to a person, or if one person is encouraging problematic behavior in others. In my opinion, we should have a series of escalating steps in how we talk with people about problem behaviors, just as we have escalation steps in the actions we take in organizing. In any case, when we act in response to problematic behavior, we should be deliberate – at least ideally so, sometimes we just can’t take it and have to say something.

Along with that, there are conditions that are more conducive to being effective in calling people out. People listen better to people they trust and respect and who trust and respect them. In my view, unless we’re already a leader in some environment (and even if we are), we build this respect and trust over time by organizing with people. My point here is that some of the time we can be right about an issue but communicate our rightness in ineffective or even counter-productive ways. It’s not enough to just say something, to absolve ourselves of responsibility for a messy situation by raising our voices. We should try to say something in a way that people will actually hear and respond to.

I am in part arguing for a level of patience here. I mentioned earlier that sometimes people take an attitude of “we don’t tolerate this behavior!” It is important that problematic behaviors are unacceptable, but we should also make decisions about certain behaviors. We can let some things slide temporarily in some circumstances if doing so sets us to more effectively address these things later. That said, with some behaviors we have to respond quickly and our responses stop being about the good of person doing the behavior (or that becomes a much lower priority compared to all our other priorities). In all of this again it’s key to be deliberate and to be clear: are we trying to move someone? Are we trying/willing to remove someone from our networks? There’s a place for both. If we’ve tried to talk to someone – really tried, by trying to say things in away that they can actually hear – and their behavior persists and become destructive, then sometimes a person just has to go. That should always and only be a last resort. Short of that, and in order to be sure that our stronger actions are warranted, we have to always work so that when we talk to someone a problem we talk in a way that they have the best chance to really hear us.

Confidence for feminist men

S.R., an Iraqi living in the United States; Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology:

[M]y yearning for freedom is my own instinct. I do not need to be rescued by anyone, whether their underlying motive is driven by oil or feminism. As such, I have only one unequivocal demand of all "liberators": Leave me alone. The only solidarity I am interested in seeing is the kind that throws a wrench in the war machine which occupies my homeland. That is the most I expect of an American or British citizen. Otherwise, please spare me your lectures on how oppressive you think my hijab is, or how I should follow your lead in fighting patriarchy, or how I should work for achieving democracy in my country. And for your own horizon's sake, do read the history of Iraqi women's contributions to civilization. You may end up finding yourself inspired to follow our example.

What men understand best about patriarchy is what comes out of their own experience of it. That's not the same thing as what comes out of women's experience of it. These are two different things, and we have to focus on the one that we experience directly if we want to be effective as feminists.

Feminism isn't about having any special insight into women's experiences, or knowing lots of theory as it has been articulated by women. Men have their own experiences, and so need their own theory, and their own language to communicate it. Men and women have to do their own work, in some ways independently, at the same time that they are trying to work together.

If there is one criticism women have about male feminists, it is probably that they busy themselves too much with women's affairs, while busying themselves too little with their own. We need to busy ourselves with our own affairs, referencing the ways in which they relate to the struggles of others.

As the solidarity principle shows, the struggles of others can be our struggles, too. As a modality of power, patriarchy affords men a very narrow script by which they are permitted to dominate and subordinate women. But to accept that script is to be immediately confined by it. Even if you are "into" domination and subordination, a consensual model would offer a lot more possibilities!

My experience of patriarchy feels like something imposed on me in exchange for a predictable set of relations, ostensibly for my benefit. Culturally, women seem to be in a perpetual state of undress, for example. Patriarchy presumes I want this, or tells me I should. But does patriarchy let me set the terms by which this occurs? No: it beats me over the head with it constantly, to the point where I can't watch TV or have much commercial exposure to anything. It doesn't respect my relationships with my partner, my friends, or my family. As a man, I want the freedom to determine what my relations with women will be, but patriarchy doesn't allow this.

It is the stupidity of the patriarchal mindset not to see that what patriarchy can't permit, free individuals can. Whatever men think they get out of patriarchy, they are blind to how much more they could get out of feminism. This is one of the reasons why I have confidence in my efforts to promote feminism as a man.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Membership drive

Hey, dude!

Wouldn't you like to:

a) become a Wobbly


b) contribute to this blog?

Just think: you'll be able to talk all you want about girls. OMG!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Notes on movement

bell hooks, via Anarcho-feminist:

A collective door-to-door effort to spread the message of feminism is needed for the movement to begin anew, to start again with the basic premise that feminist politics is necessarily radical. And since that which is radical is often pushed underground in our setting then we must do everything we can to bring feminism above ground to spread the word. Because feminism is a movement to end sexism and sexist domination and oppression, a struggle that includes efforts to end gender discrimination and create equality, it is fundamentally a radical movement.

If feminism as a movement is going to advance in step with all women, whatever exclusionary tendencies exist shouldn't be accepted as feminist. A solidarity with women will embrace the concerns of women, whatever they may be. Middle-class concerns aren't illegitimate insofar as they can be reconciled with the needs of poor people, for example. Only in the event of an irreconcilable conflict should we ever have to "choose" between competing advocacies for women, and justification for it should be shown.

Because I believe it is important to articulate what is persuasive about feminism with as little a priori baggage as possible, I don't take from hooks the idea that feminists should present themselves to society as radicals. "Radicalism" usually begins with limited appeal amongst parts of the left, and too often concludes by becoming more insulated from society than engaged with it. I believe she is saying: the content will be radical, as compared with that content which presently prevails. But the point is, we have to engage society, and to do that effectively we have to communicate in ways that announce our similarities, not catalog our differences.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Courtship for Wobblies

New York Times:

France crystallizes the paradox facing many women across the developed world in the early 21st century: They have more say over their sexuality (in France birth control and abortion are legal and subsidized), they have overtaken men in education and are catching up in the labor market, but few make it to the top of business or politics.

We have to ask the same thing about those organizations we call our own. There should be a meaningful difference between what "business and politics" has to offer women and what a practice of solidarity does. If what women experience as patriarchy is more or less the same everywhere they go, this is a terrible indictment of what we are doing -- or not doing -- within nominally "progressive" organizations. Unless working women want to associate with us, we aren't doing nearly enough.

One of the reasons I feel so adamant about this is because social advocacy inevitably fails without women. In fact, nothing "social" succeeds without them, for the simple reason that they comprise the majority of the world's peoples. To the degree that our organizations are marginal or ineffective, I believe a large part of this owes to a failure to make them at all attractive to women. Without women, social advocacy too often turns into some dudes arguing over dumb stuff nobody but those particular dudes care about.

Making our organizations attractive to women doesn't necessarily mean trying to impress them with dudely accomplishments or dudely intelligence. The whole point is to tone down all these dudely impulses -- big time. Even if men have the technical know-how and women are newcomers, as men we really need to make things about how we can welcome people into an unfamiliar setting, not broadcast the fact that we have the advantage.

Most of us at some point learned how to engage the women who interest us, if only on an interpersonal level. And yet somehow this is completely lost on us at an organizational level. It must be one of the identifying traits of patriarchy that we learn to extend a level of consideration to certain women, but not to every woman. By the standards of patriarchy, this amounts to showing a modicum of decency to the women we really like, and not much to anyone else.

So let us review some of the basics of going on a first date, and consider how they can be applied within our organizations. First, don't talk about yourself all the time, or only the things you care about all the time; in fact, try not to talk so much. Let other people speak, and actually take an interest in what they are telling you. Just because they haven't read Marx or Proudhon doesn't mean they can't communicate the fact that they don't want to talk about Marx or Proudhon. If all we take from somebody is that they haven't read Marx or Proudhon, we may miss out on the fact that they don't particularly care that they haven't. If we want to appeal to people, we have to respect their preferences, not immediately insist on our own.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Liberal feminism vs. independence for women

bell hooks, via caring labor:

Masses of women feel angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce. Mostly they have found that they work long hours at home and long hours at the job. Even before feminist movement encouraged women to feel positive about working outside the home, the needs of a depressed economy were already sanctioning this shift. If contemporary feminist movement had never taken place masses of women would still have entered the workforce, but it is unlikely that we would have the rights we have, had feminists not challenged gender discrimination. Women are wrong to “blame” feminism for making it so they have to work, which is what many women think. The truth remains that consumer capitalism was the force leading more women into the workforce. Given the depressed economy white middle-class families would be unable to sustain their class status and their lifestyles if women who had once dreamed solely of working as housewives had not chosen to work outside the home.

Here hooks offers an account of liberal feminism, in which women's rights are pronounced to be "equal" to men's.

Two problems arise from the liberal formula. One is that women aren't the same as men; for example, men don't require any "rights" relating to pregnancy. For a woman to have the same rights as a man, in this regard, is not to have any rights at all: such rights aren't relevant for men. Women are subsequently penalized in the workplace for being people who carry and deliver children, because men are the employees that don't.

The second problem in asserting "equal rights" with men is that men themselves don't enjoy equal rights! If being dependent on a husband for her economic security was the plight of the domestic housewife, being dependent on an employer for his economic security has been the plight of most men. As hooks suggests, liberal values are those values arising out of the direct subordination of human beings to capital, taking for granted its "progressive" effects. It is little wonder that US women are angry about its feminist pretensions.

Feminism might be better defined simply as "independence for women," not "equality with men." Independence for women implies a personal right to economic security as the basis for free association with others, rather than limiting itself only to that which is deemed suitable for men.

See also ladypoverty

Friday, November 5, 2010

Organizing to Break Down Divisions and Build Up Leaders

Organizing to Break Down Divisions and Build Up Leaders

I've been discussing workplace organizing in relationship to feminism and
anti-racism, laying out some ways that we can see workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity.

One of my first organizing experiences was with a group of janitors at a hospital. This was a diverse group of workers, and they were divided every which way. The black janitors didn't like or trust the Latino janitors, they often had racist views about them and many the Latinos had the same about the blacks. Many of the black janitors also had bad ideas about immigration. They also all thought the Latinos were too scared to organize. Here too the Latinos had the same views about the black janitors. The men tended to be sexist and they all thought the women were too scared to stand up.

Ultimately we built a strong committee of janitors who became a leading force in the hospital organizing, we broke down the divisions between racial groups. The janitors became the most militant unit in the hospital, driving out abusive supervisors, gathering information on other units, and beginning to talk to other low-waged hospital workers (like the cafeteria workers, the transporter,s and the CNAs) who they knew because the janitors worked all over the hospital and so had contact across hospital floors and job classes. I don't know that we eliminated racist views, I can't say either way. It's not like everyone became best friends but we definitely eroded them enough that people worked together and started to build relationships of solidarity. When people fight alongside each other, they often develop bonds of trust and respect. When workers organize beyond divisions in the working class, those divisions are weakened.

From there we had to deal with how to help the janitor unit work with the more highly paid and whiter units - the nurses are the key to hospitals and to hospital organizing. That also meant getting the nurses to treat the janitors with more respect and set aside some baggage. None of this was easy but I think we were successful in easing those divisions among the workers. I think this offers examples of another way we can see workplace organizing as a feminist and anti-racist activity.

We also helped build up some women and people of color into serious, capable leaders who men and white people took seriously (as in, the white workers were led by them). Leadership development is another way that workplace organizing can be very powerful as a feminist and anti-racist activity, in two wagys. First, women and people of color who become skilled leaders and organizers have the potential to organize to further put sexism and racism away, so activating people like this has important possibilities. Second, building up women and people of color as leaders in multi-racial and mixed gender environments is good for making more feminist men and anti-racist white people. It's good for white people and men to have people of color and women as their leaders. I mean their real leaders, leadership in a social sense, people who are respected and capable who set the agenda. I can say for myself, at a young age I was part of a Take Back The Night group for several years, led by some smart, serious, capable women. Having women leaders and mentors at a young age really forced me to deal with some major baggage. Those women's skillled leadership made me a more capable radical, a feminist, and a better person.

As I argued before, workplace organizing is a feminist and anti-racist activity when women and people of color organize at work against the power structures they face. Two other ways organizing can be a feminist and anti-racist activity is by breaking down gender and racial divisions among workers and through leadership development. Developing and mentoring women and people of colors as leaders and organizers creates a larger pool of people to organize. Having women and people of color as leaders also helps men and white people to unlearn baggage from our sexist and racist society.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Class consciousness

Noel Ignatiev, A New Notion:

The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves -- to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction.

In his excellent discussion, Nate has a specific conception of "organizing" which is common to all Wobs. I believe the spirit of it is captured above.

Of course, if somebody starts with the idea that "organizing" means presuming some authority to tell others what to do, then arriving at the conclusion that "men shouldn't organize women" is very appropriate! I imagine many people unfamiliar with the mission of the Industrial Workers of the World could reasonably take this view.

For me, organizers are people who are able to plug the daily concerns of the people they know into a bigger picture, helping to bring clarity to their choices. Many of us feel overwhelmed with obligations, particularly at work, but don't know what to do. IWW organizers bring with them a sympathetic perspective -- you shouldn't feel overwhelmed, or under compensated, at work -- and a commitment to support worker preferences that are tied to shared goals.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who can organize?

Who can organize?

I wrote before about workplace organizing as a way to oppose sexism and racism (not the only way, but one important way which should not be discounted). I want to talk about something related to this. I’ve often been in or overheard conversations about organizing where people start to talk about who can organize whom, or who can organize with whom. This doesn’t just apply to organizing waged workplaces. (Just so we’re clear, I don’t think all workplaces are waged, but I use “workplace” as a shorthand for “waged workplace.)

Many times I’ve heard people say things like “white people can’t organize people of color” and “men can’t organize women.” This is false. White people can and do organize people of color, and men can and do organize women. Paid organizers for various unions and other organizations regularly demonstrate this. In a sense, the growth of churches demonstrates this. We could also look to the role of white organizers in the civil rights movement in the United States.

Someone might respond, “sure, but the point is not really that white people can’t organize people of color and men can’t organize women. The point is that they shouldn’t, at least not if the goal is to oppose racism and sexism.” That’s also false. Consider John Brown, the famous abolitionist. He and his compatriots organized a group of white people and people of color in a blow against white supremacy. John Brown being white does not mean that the actions of his group did not undermine racism.

I’ll use medicine as an example to put this another way. A white man who needs medical care would have an interest in seeing a female doctor of color. Similarly, a woman of color may well have a genuine interest in seeing a white male doctor. As a parallel, a woman could organize a group of male workers. A person of color could organize a
group of white workers. In both cases, there may be difficulties that arise due to sexist and racist attitudes on the part of the workers. On the other hand, if the organizer is successful these workers would recognize why it was in their interests to listen to the organizer. Likewise, a group of women workers might recognize that they have an interest in listening to a male organizer. Workers of color might recognize that they have an interest in listening to a white organizer.
My point is that we should not assume that a male organizer interacting with women workers will always and only replicate male dominance, or that a white organizer interacting with workers of color will always and only replicate white supremacy. To say otherwise means that the women and people of color who interact with male and white organizers are dupes or fools who don’t know their own interests. As long as the white or male organizer is playing a useful role in women workers and workers of color coming together to have more control over their lives, the organizer is doing the right thing.

All of that said, there’s an important element to the view that white people and men can’t organize people of color and women. I imagine (I hope!) that the parallel I drew to doctors a moment ago set off some alarm bells in some people’s heads. If men and white people are calling the shots, then there’s an aspect of liberation which is not being accomplished. This does not mean that whatever a woman or a person of color thinks is right. To say that would be patronizing. Often the most experienced organizer is likely to have the best sense of how to proceed. (Often, but not always.) Imagine a white male organizer who helped a group of women workers of color get fired because he wanted to listen to everyone’s views and did not push the workers to organize in the best way he could think of. That is not at all a useful example of feminist and anti-racist activity. My point here is that in our organizing we have to prioritize turning workers into organizers. The organizer’s role is to make him- or herself unnecessary. (On this point, let me recommend the column “Replace Yourself” by J. Pierce, which appeared in the Workers Power column of the Industrial Worker newspaper.)

The need for organizers to replace themselves by turning workers into organizers is a key piece of organizing in a feminist and anti-racist fashion, not only in terms of the role of men and white people in relation to women and of people of color, but also among women organizers and organizers of color. History is full of examples of people from oppressed groups who rise to a leadership position then use that position in a way which benefits the leaders more than everyone else. (This is part of how colonialism works: a local elite helps the outside power maintain dominance, in exchange for privileges and benefits.)

A man who organizes women workers in such a way that develops as many of those workers as possible into organizers is not a problem. The same goes for a white person who does the same with workers of color. I’m not saying that there can’t be any problems. Problems may well arise due to our socialization in a sexist and racist society. My point is that a man organizing women workers or a white person organizing workers of color does not always have to be a problem or to only be a problem.

There is one other important element to this issue of who can or should organize whom. As I said before, the key point is that the organizing is about the workers coming together to improve their lives. This means having more control on the job. It also means having more control in the organization. They need to be developed as full participants and leaders within a democratic union. Organizers should primarily focus on winning fights against the boss and cultivating workers into becoming organizers. At the same time, organizers need to cultivate workers into having full ownership of the larger organization, to the degree that all members should have that.

After the initial fights are won on the job, the workers need to be oriented and trained into the larger organization so they can understand and navigate its formal structures and procedures. The organizer should be deliberate about helping the workers build more relationships with people around the organization, so the workers can understand and navigate the informal structures and networks of relationships which are a key part of the organization. All organizers should do this with all workers but this is especially important with women workers and workers of color when they are not already in the majority within the larger organization.

In my opinion, people with organizing skills and experience have a moral duty to organize with others to help them improve their lives collectively. Even more so, experienced and skilled organizers have a duty to cultivate other organizers and pass on their skills and experiences so that more organizing and struggle takes place. With that in mind, the idea that whites should only organize whites or men should only organize men could boil down to the suggestion that white organizers and male organizers should keep the skills their organizing skills and experiences to themselves. That is clearly a bad idea.

The idea that white people and men can’t or shouldn’t organize people of color and women is false. The anti-racist and feminist values behind it as well as are values everyone should take seriously and the suspicions it expresses are healthy ones. These values and suspicions should make us organize more and make us careful to organize well.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boys chasing girls

If only you were a male-identified Wobbly, you could write admiringly about women in these pages, too!

Where else do men have the opportunity to speak honestly about their relationships with women; and, moreover, to do so in revolutionary terms?

Consider my topic for today: Older men chasing younger women.

You see, the older man knows very well one way to relate to women, but has never taken the time to develop others. If he is retired and meets a college student, he wants to relate to her as when he was a college student. While his body has advanced with time, the rest remains stationary.

Our friend the older man has accepted certain social norms without ever asking himself if he deserves more.

Whatever his money, the richest man will have more than one thing to give another person, and more roles to play than the expected. The patriarchal ideal is bankrupt to him: the perennial skirt-chaser is cliché for a reason.

Any of us can end up like this older man if we don't build on our relations with women right now. We already know how to be one way; the way that is endorsed by power -- to take women seriously insofar as the social benefits accrue to us, as with status through sex. Within an organization, this is sometimes seen in the pairing of individuals romantically until the relationship ends -- and with it a woman's connection to both. How many women do we know who are no longer active in our work because they broke up with a boyfriend? We should be talking to them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Down with dudes

I've always avoided large groups of dudes. One of the problems with entering into a state of divine dudely isolation, however, is that you never really pick up the art of talking to dudes. This is great when you don't want to talk to them; for example, I never felt bad about not talking to a dude. I've gone years without talking to them, in fact, even within my own family. But it's bad when you need to talk to them; when you want to appeal to their better dude. I don't know how to do this -- certainly not with some random dude.

For most of my life this was ideal: I could bypass the problem of dudes. Now it kind of sucks, because I bear responsibility for that which is "dude." I really don't want to learn the language of sports if I don't have to. But dudes are too fast and loose with the things they say about women; they ambush you in the middle of an aboveboard chat. If I could draw a sports analogy right quick maybe I could make some salient point about the ladies to an audience of dudes.

The only role model I have when it comes to negotiating with dudes is As'ad AbuKhalil -- the Angry Arab. His solution is to yell at dudes whenever they act unbecoming of a dude. I'll be honest: I don't know if I am that brave of a dude. It turns out that dudes can be your colleagues; a dude can be your boss. A dude could be just some swivel-headed dude on the street, slack-jawed after every passing non-dude. Yelling doesn't really work for me; I'd rather not announce myself, and prefer to plot and scheme.

The best thing about confronting patriarchy is the hope that someday you'll know how to be just one dude, not a different dude suited to each occasion. I know someone who must be literally 15 different dudes; whether he says something to your face or behind your back, or remembers from one day to the next are among the deciding criteria. What he says about women while flirting with every one he sees is a wonder to behold. Don't be this dude.