Four rich years in organizing
I came back to British Columbia in 2014 after living abroad, and jumped into political organizing. Now I feel myself being drawn back towards teaching. Books I have read lately – and one in particular – affirm this old/new direction.
In these last four years, I’ve had the privilege of working for Dogwood, Organize BC, the BC NDP, Salmon Beyond Borders, and the municipal party OneCity. Volunteering and getting to know people has introduced me to other institutions. Through these roles and networks I have learned about social structures, motivation, tactics, databases, and more. Along the way I have naturally been drawn to books related to organizing. I recently read Jonathan Smucker’s Hegemony How To: A Roadmap for Radicals (a reference to Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals).
“A Roadmap for Radicals”
I read Smucker’s book at a time when I was feeling unsatisfied as an organizer. Perhaps that is why I found myself nodding so much with his thesis: to have an impact in the world, we need to invite lots of people into action, and to do that, we need to live in contact with lots of people.
Smucker observes that, “a lot of people may hold beliefs compatible with an organization’s or movement’s goals, but only a small percentage are likely to act on those beliefs. And a primary factor for why some people do take action is simply that they encounter opportunities provided by people close to them who are already active.”
To drive it home, he quotes social movements scholars Debra Friedman and Doug McAdam, who write that “Structural proximity to a movement, rather than any individual disposition, produces activism.” In other words, to produce activism, political people need to be close to all the people who are not yet.
The irony of organizing work, then – in my experience – is that it means working all day with other politically active people, and leaves little time and inclination to be deeply involved in other circles – artistic, cultural, social, etc. Political work can actually isolate a person from social fabric.
Teaching as a way of being in the social fabric
I compare the recent years to times when I was teaching English to adults and young adults. In those times, I was in relation to at least one classroom of students and often their families, plus other teachers and administrators. I was also more connected to my own friends, family, and “activity acquaintances” for lack of a better term – people I knew through an evening class or rock climbing or going to the same café.
Some people surely do a great job of maintaining those kinds of connections while doing political organizing. I don’t think I have. I feel a craving to show up every day to the same group of people, and to talk about a range of topics. Discussions will naturally be political, because life is political, but I won’t have to carry a particular agenda into the conversation with me.
There are many other reasons I feel pulled back to teaching – including the fact that I love it – but this reason has a certain gravity: I want to be more part of different social fabrics.