Why I Support the 99%: An Open Letter to My Family

Well its been another long stretch since I posted.  This open letter to my family seems so related to the topic of this blog, that I decided to make an internet home for it here.  Feel free to post and forward this link to anyone and everyone.  If however you want to reprint it on your own site, please e-mail me at honestlivingproject (at) gmail.com to ask for permission, which I will most likely give you!  I just want to know where its going up if its getting passed around.  I also really welcome respectful comments and feedback!

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October 7, 2011

Dear [Paternal, Maternal & In-Law] Extended Families,

As many of you may know (or may have noticed on Facebook!) I’ve been getting really super excited about all this “We Are the 99%” and “Occupy Wall Street” stuff.  Coincidentally as these protests have been spreading, it’s been at the same time that we’re covering the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution and all of the incomplete uprisings before and after each one in the community college history classes I teach.  Its making me remember that no one knew the Storming of the Bastille was going to happen a week or even a day before it did.  Of course during the French Rev, few people were talking about slavery in French colonies, the French role in taking Native lands and women were written out of the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  And the French Revolution began and ended in terrible violence, which is something I don’t want to see again.

March of Parisian women during the French Revolution.But none-the-less, examining past revolutions has inspired me to remember that the “arc of history is long” as Dr. Martin Luther King said, and that things can and have changed rapidly and even recently.  The time of agriculture (rather than the hunter-gatherer way of life) is a small blip on the radar screen of human history.  The time the US has existed is an even tinier miniscule speck.  Things can and do change.  Things will change.  The main question is how they will change.

A lot of the mainstream US media has been painting the protesters on Wall St. as misguided wing-nuts (though it seems lately there are more and more favorable stories).  But if you look at international media, independent media and social media, you can get a different picture.  I’m so inspired by most of what they’ve been doing (even while I have some concerns and issues with some of it), that I’ve joined a local “Occupy Greensboro” group and we’re planning for an action here on Saturday October 15th.  We’re hoping to draw on the inspiration of what’s been happening in NY, but also do it in a way connected to our local issues, and with more attention to diversity and inclusion from the get go.

So since I love you all and care about you all, I wanted to share why I’m supporting and joining this movement, and how I think it connects to our experiences as a family.  (As you may remember in 2000, after I was arrested at the Republican National Convention protests in Philly, I wrote a similar open letter, so you can think of this as “Volume 2”  ).

Why I’m Supporting the 99% Movement:

pie chart showing wealth distribution

My extended families are all over this pie chart. Where do you think your family would fall? Most of us are crowded into the red slice, while a few of us are all spread out in the grey slices.

•    Because I truly deeply love you all.  Some of you have second (even third) homes, and some of you are struggling to keep the lights on and food on the table.  Some of you have had to come out of retirement and go back to work to make ends meet.  Some of you don’t have health insurance.  Some of you are in massive debt.  Some of you have millions in the bank and investments.  But ALL of you are hard workers and good people.  I don’t think its fair that some of you in my extended family have so much, and others have so little.  I want to see a more fair global and national system where we can be unified, not divided into haves and have-nots, even in one extended family.** (see below for more info on where you may fall)
•    Because I’m working two part-time teaching jobs and don’t have sight of a full-time teaching job any time soon.  My boss recently told me that five years ago I would have had a full time job by now but because of budget cuts, there’s very few positions and hundreds of people competing for each one.  Nego (my partner) and I struggle to make ends meet at the end of very month.  Last week we had no money for groceries for several days but luckily had cans and stuff in the freezer to eat until I got paid.  We budget really carefully.  And we’re having an easier time that many.
•    Because I only have health insurance for the first time since graduating college through Nego’s nursing job.  But if the NC Marriage Amendment to the state constitution passes, I might not have health insurance again.  After a major health scare at the beginning of the summer (that thankfully amounted to nothing), I realize how important this is.
•    Because I have over $40,000 in student loan debt.  I’m the oldest of all of my cousins on both sides of my family.  Some of you will have no debt when you graduate and will even have a trust fund and major inheritance.  Some of you will have even more massive debt than me.  And some of you haven’t even been able to consider college because of the cost.  I think it’s not right or fair because you are all wonderful people.
•    Because last month Nego (my partner) had to choose between paying for a doctor’s visit for her ongoing digestive issues and making her student loan payment.  And she’s a nurse who is supposed to be “middle class.”  But we’re still having to make these kind of hard choices.  And we’re not even having to choose between food for a child and the water bill, like some of our friends and neighbors.
•    Because I have been thinking and talking with a lot of friends about how the stresses of our everyday lives — money, health, bills, debt, etc — seem so personal and individual, but when you really start talking to folks its clear its a major pattern and we are not alone.  We are the 99%, we are the majority.

protester holding sign "the system isn't broken, it was built that way"•    Because poverty didn’t start in 2008.  Many of my close friends, people who I consider to be family type of friends, have been struggling and struggling since long before 2008.  Because just because more white and formerly middle class people are feeling the crunch now doesn’t mean poverty started with the financial crisis.  Because even though I’m struggling, too I know I’m also privileged.
•    Because most of my amazing inspiring students are struggling more than any human being should have to struggle.  Two semesters ago, a straight-A student dropped off the map, stopped turning work in, and missed a bunch of class.  She finally came to me and told me that she and her adorable 3-year-old were living in their car and struggling to eat each meal.  And that’s just one story.  Many many students are carrying so much stress in their bodies because they can barely put food on the table.  They are hard workers and sweet people.  It is a moral outrage that we allow people to go hungry, to live with that kind of stress.  I am part of the 99%, but I am also very lucky compared to many of my students, who have been struggling since long before 2008.
•    Because I want one of my best friend’s four-year old daughter to grow up in a world where her spirit can blossom.  She is an African American girl who is one of the people I most enjoy spending time with in the world.  She makes me laugh.  She’s so kind.  And I am so afraid of what this world may do to her.  I don’t want to be scared.  I want everything for her.
•    Because many of the most inspiring leaders of our human race have already warned us. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.  A nation can flounder as readily in the face of moral and spiritual bankruptcy as it can through financial bankruptcy.” It’s high time that we answer this call.  We all have so much to gain!
•    Because I believe this financial crisis is not our faults.  But I do I believe actual people, banks and corporations, the 1%, made it happen because of their obsession with a “thing-oriented society,” as said by Dr. King. They have gotten richer during this whole thing while most of the rest of us have gotten poorer.  This is the way capitalism works and I don’t like it one bit.  We will all benefit from a shift to a “person-oriented society.”
•    Because it’s been a long time since I could say “Another World Is Possible” and actually mean it.  But right now I really mean it and I really believe it and I don’t want to let go of that.
•    Because I believe our country has not dealt with its legacy of slavery and racism and Native land theft and genocide.  To feel spiritually whole, I believe those of us whose ancestors were not the targets need to deal with that history.  I believe we can heal.
•    Because I believe the lives of my younger cousins, my four-year-old friend, my nieces and nephew and all of my family are just as valuable as the lives of people in Afghanistan, prison, Iraq, death row, Mexico, immigrant detention centers, Sudan, Guatemala and everywhere around the world.  I believe we are all human and I want a system that treats us all that way, that doesn’t kill us either quickly or slowly.
•    Because I believe those of us/you with more privilege (white, middle and owning class, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, able-bodied, citizenship etc) have so much to gain from this movement, so much to gain from change.  Even in the 1%, we worry about money, about security, about the future.  Wealth and privilege are not actually reducing our anxiety. Its possible to have fulfilled, secure, joyful life with out all the stuff.run-away train speeding forward
•    Because the situation we’re in is both new and not new.  There have been haves and have-nots for a long time – bit the wealth divide is greater now than it has been for a very long time (if not ever) in the history of the US.  This economic direction is not sustainable.  My mom and I were talking about this the other days.  She said, “It’s like we’re all sitting on a runaway train.  Some of us may be sitting in first class and some of us are in coach (and some are squeezed in to the baggage compartment).  But regardless of where we’re seated the train is on a collision course unless we make some major changes soon.”  I think we ALL have an interest in making a change!
•    Because we either already have or soon will have reached peak oil.  We are experiencing climate change.  And we are killing this earth.  The earth is the runaway train.  Unless we make a big change now, it doesn’t matter how much stuff we have.  Eventually this planet will not be able to sustain our children and their children.
•    Because what could be worth more than our humanity?  Our spirits?  We have the chance to come out of the places where we feel isolated and alone.  We now have a chance to join with the 99%.  We have the opportunity to ignore the 1% voices in our head – the fear, the doubt, the scarcity, the idea that there’s not enough to go around, the idea that we have to do it alone and have to get ours and just take care of our the people we know.  We will be better for it.
•    Because I yearn for a spiritually whole life, and I feel like standing up now is key to that being possible.  By recognizing each others’ full humanity, we step in to our full humanity.
•    Because I have a feeling that all of you smart thoughtful people have your own ideas about how this world could be better for all of us, your own reasons to get involved.  What do you have to gain?  How could this movement lead to a better and more fulfilling life for you and your family?  I think this magical moment gives us a chance to hear each other, to dialog.  I want to know what you think!
•    “Because it’s not right,” in the words of the young African American law student in the video linked below.  Its just not right how things are set up right now.

These are just some of the reasons why I’m passionate about this movement.  Capitalism, and particularly the latest form that’s been accelerating since 2008, reminds me of a cruel game of musical chairs — the people at the top keep taking away more and more chairs, so there’s more and more of us fighting to sit down in fewer and fewer chairs — but we just end up mad at each other because that’s who we see in front of our faces.   We have a chance now to join together, for the good of us all.

I woke up the other morning with a feeling in my heart.  A light feeling of hope.  Do you remember that scene at the end of the last Harry Potter movie?  When they are all grown up and standing on the platform, helping their kids get on the train for the first time?  And you realize that it’s a new day.  That Voldemort is gone.  And even some of Voldemort’s former supporters are there with their kids, and they’re all smiling at each other.  And that terrible time of fear, division, chaos and violence is in the past.  That’s the feeling I had when I woke up the other morning.  I am filled with a desire for the day when all of us in my mixed-class extended family can stand together with all the other families around the world and look back at these terrible hundreds of years of human history, roll our eyes, breathe a sigh of relief and say “I sure am glad that’s over.  What were we all fighting about any way?”  And like children after a playground scuffle, move on and get back to the work of building relationships and connections and a positive future for us all.

Sign carried by Jessie Spector at Occupy Wall St. She’s a friend of a friend who has also worked with Resource Generation.

Yes, I’m idealistic.  If you look at any positive change that has happened in the past, it was usually led by idealists with big imaginations.  It was fierce hope that gave people the bravery to take the risks that brought about change.  The people a few years younger than me who kicked this movement off have reignited my hope and I’m so thankful for it.  I don’t know what comes next or what the solution is, but I have a deep faith that dialogue and democratic process can help us figure it out.  And that not knowing all the answers is not a good reason to not start trying to shift things.  As the Zapatistas in Mexico say “We walk while questioning.”

This open letter is an explanation so you’ll know what your daughter/cousin/niece/grand-daughter/aunt/sister-in-law is up to.

This letter is also an invitation to join us, the 99% – whether you’re already a member and just need to take the step of joining the movement and standing up for yourself and this world, or whether you’re in the 1% and see that you have much to gain from joining everyone else.

sillouttes of people holding hands standing on a beach while the sun sets in the background
Here’s some things you can do, if you feel moved to support the movement or get involved:

•    Sign the MoveOn.org petition in support of the protesters: http://www.civic.moveon.org/joinvirtualwallstreet/?rc=%2Fc4%2Fjoinvirtualwallstreet.fb.v1.g0
•    Donate money or your talents to “Occupy Greensboro.”  We’re in the process of forming working-groups (Logistics, Media, Fundraising, Alliance Building, Research, Legal) so feel free to donate, time money or supplies in any of these areas.  We know we’re marching then occupying on Oct 15 and will need support after then!  Let me know what you can offer.
•    If you’re particularly upset about the anti-gay marriage amendment in North Carolina, donate to Southerners on New Ground, an LGBTQ organization that is active in NC and that I’m a member of: http://www.southernersonnewground.org/become-a-member/
•    If you’re a struggling member of the 99%, tell your story on the blog: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/archive
•    If you think you might be part of the 1% (or even 5%): Check out:

•    Look for “Occupy” movements springing up in your town or area and support them.
•    Talk to people you know about other perspectives besides the idea that the protesters are ridiculous and misguided.  Look at alternative, independent, international and social media to get more info, then share with friends and family, repost on Facebook, etc.

I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this!  I am more than open for dialogue, critique, questions about my ideas, anything!

Much Love to ALL of you,
Isabell

**If your annual income (or your parents) is $150,000 or more, you’re in the top 5% for income.  If your net worth is $2,453,000 or more, you’re in the top 5% for wealth.
See http://www.classmatters.org/reality_check.php or do your own internet research.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the 99% Movement, check out these videos and links:

We are the 99% (people’s stories of financial struggle):
http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/archive

Law Student Protests Parent’s Foreclosed Home (5 mins)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZZ710w6GXI

Video Overview, positive news story (3 mins):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cG_TKAJyV6k&feature=share

Democracy Now has great and extensive coverage:
http://www.democracynow.org/

Prof. Cornel West’s Inverview & Speech at the occupation (9 mins):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEoDXN4mRmM&feature=share

The Declaration of the Occupation of New York:
http://nycga.cc/2011/09/30/declaration-of-the-occupation-of-new-york-city/

If you want more info on class and wealth distribution:

http://www.classmatters.org/reality_check.php

http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

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Isabell Moore is an adjunct professor in Greensboro, NC who teaches history part-time at the local community college and Women and Gender Studies part-time at a local university.  She is a member of Southerners On New Ground and Project South, serves on the National Committee of the War Resisters’ League, and has worked with Resource Generation.  She is honored to be a part of the recently formed Occupy Greensboro group.  For more on Occupy Greensboro, see our newly started website and/or our Facbeook page and group:
http://www.occupygreensboro.org
http://www.facebook.com/OccupyNCGBORO

Feel free to post and forward this link to anyone and everyone.  If, however, you want to reprint it on your own site, please e-mail me at honestlivingproject (at) gmail.com

Re-emerging: Academia & Public Workers

Well my “couple week break” in May 2009 turned into almost two years!  During the last few years I finished my master’s in Women And Gender Studies, taught Western Civ (!!) for a year at GTCC (the local community college).  Last semester I taught Intro to Women and Gender Studies at UNCG and two sections of World Civ II at GTCC.  This semester I’m doing the same except World Civ I, plus a UNCG first-year seminar called “Shaking Things Up: Southern Movements for Social Justice.”  I love my students!  Though I hate grading.  But as busy at it keeps me, I’m gradually finding balance and Fall will be my first semester when ‘ll be teaching all classes I’ve taught before.  I’m really looking forward to that!

Whew!  Its been a super busy crazy couple of years with lots of life transitions, and exciting and painful learning and growth.  Even though I’m not sure I want to adjunct forever, I’m feeling more settled about issues of vocation than I was when I started the blog.  I feel more comfortable letting things unfold  and letting go of finding some “perfect” thing to do.

That said, issues of honest living are on my mind right now because of all the intense pressure on public employees, particularly teachers.  As an adjunct employed part-time at two state-funded institutions, its sometimes easy to feel like I’m not really part of those institutions, not really a public employee.  But I (we) am (are)!  And while the 9.5% reduction just announced for the UNC system means my situation is even more precarious, it also may mean that under-paid part-time adjuncts like myself are used to “plug the holes” when they cut full-time positions.

This has all made me think about the position of adjuncts as public employees.  We are (I believe) exploited by the institution.  But are we also in a way scabs?  In a lot of ways I enjoy the autonomy and lack of accountability required of me by part-time work, though not the pay and lack of benefits.  But as budgets get worse and worse, the lack of accountability of the institution to me as an adjunct – and increasingly to all public emplyees – really worries me.

Here’s an interesting link to the Union of Part-Time Faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit.  I first heard about them because they did a workshop at the US Social Forum in Detroit (I wasn’t able to go but looked them up later).

There’s also an amazing new NC “Labor, Faith and Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector” (picture of them in the HKonJ march above) dealing with issues impacting public workers.  They’re having a day of action in Raleigh on April 4th.

It seems to me that as adjunct public employees, we somehow need to figure out where we fit – both in our particular position as part-time, semester-to-semester employees, and as public workers – and figure out how we are being used and treated in all the cuts and shifts going on currently.

What do other folks think about all this?

Break for a Couple Weeks

Hey folks,

Well I’m done with the semester (and almost with my degree–one more independent study to go) so I’m transitioning this blog from a school project to a project project! I plan to write more about the survey results, do some interviews, and above all get other people involved in writing things for this blog.

Next week I’m moving into a collective house where my partner and several friends already live, so I’ll be taking a hiatus for a couple weeks, but then I’ll be back and will try to get on a schedule of posting new content every week or two (perhaps including writing by you!??!?!)

Thanks for reading and contributing your ideas!

Take Care,
Isabell

Survey Results #2: How Folks Are Making A Living

Well as I suspected, there are lots and lots of ways to make an “honest living.” At this point 83 folks have taken the survey and you can still respond, too if you want to!  If you want to see more on the demographics of who responded, check out my previous post.

I roughly categorized people into nine different kinds of jobs/survival situations: day job, self-employed, students, social justice non-profit, union/labor organizing, unemployed, non-political helping profession, non-job income, academia, plus people who mentioned reducing their expenses through living collectively or something else. There was alot of overlap, so this is approximate.  About 5 people didn’t give me enough information to really tell what kind of work they were doing.  Somehow my numbers aren’t adding up to 83 – - perhaps a few people skipped the questions on current employment.

For each category (below) I put a couple quotes.  All the quotes are listed anonymously and I tried to check in with everyone who asked to be checked in with before using quotes, but if you see a quote of yours up here that you want removed (or edited to make it more anonymous) please e-mail honestlivingproject@gmail.com and I’ll take it down or change it right away.

It was really interesting that not a single person who responded said they were organizing their fellow workers in a workplace.  This is probably partly because of who was responding, based on the networks the survey got out to, but I also think its because particularly these days, and in the generation of folks who mostly responded (24-35), that’s not a common practice.  Check out my earlier post on “factory invasions” and organizing from within, which was a lot more common in the 1970s and early 1980s.  I’m definitely going to try to do an interview and find out how folks feel about having done that, and why they think less folks are doing that now.

So here it goes…

Day Jobs (Or Night Jobs) (5 folks)
These are folks who work a job that doesn’t have anything to do with the community issues they care about, then do the work they really care about “on the side” as a volunteer.  The responses from folks who were doing this brought up a lot about class and about what meaning jobs have for our identities and lives.  Several folks talked about doing work they don’t care about because they haven’t had access to education or job networks that would allow them to do other kinds of work they might prefer.  Other folks (including some of the same people) had a strong belief that they wanted their money-making life to be separate from their life as an activist.

(From someone waiting tables) It’s not satisfying, but it’s purpose to me isn’t to satisfy any of these things [personal satisfaction, income, and making a difference in the world]. Its role is merely to financially sustain me. The wages are unsatisfying/unjust, the work is personally unsatisfying/alienating, and I don’t think it makes a difference in changing power relations. But it pays the bills and has a good deal of flexibility in time so it works well to subsidize my movement work. My financial stability has never been connected to satisfying work. Full-time employment has always been unsatisfying and disconnected from movement work. So I don’t look for satisfaction through paid work. If movement work and employment happen to coincide I see that as temporary. The mvt work I’ve been paid for has been part-time and supplemental income for me, not about financial stability.

I type legal depositions from 6-9 a.m. every morning, and then watch the baby all day. My partner watches the baby every morning while I work. He works doing odd home improvement jobs from 9am to 6:00pm every day. Then we try to have family/friend time in the evenings. I supplement my income with food stamps and Medicaid for the children. I’m physically unable to type for more than three hours a day. It’s extremely strenuous upper body work. It pays enough to cover my monthly expenses, and also frees up my days to raise my children. It’s flexible on time since I’m able to work from home, and I can turn work down or accept more as-needed. Being able to meet my financial obligations without having to work 40 hours a week frees my time up to build relationships and engage in different community efforts.  [In past jobs,] I was consistently exhausted, unhealthy, angry, and resentful that I was working so hard and had nothing left over, had no time for my family, and felt as if I was being taken advantage of by employers. I didn’t have the time or energy to make a difference.

Self-employed/Freelance (10 folks)

A lot of folks found a way to piece together income from various freelance work like consulting, interpreting, and journalism or other media projects.  In general folks enjoyed having more flexibility, control over their time, and autonomy, but worried about having less of a safety net, and sometimes struggling to make ends meet.  Several folks doing freelance work also had another part-time job, support from a partner, some kind of inherited income, or were living in a group or collective situation that made expenses lower.

I’ve been working as a tattoo artist for ten years. For the last few years I’ve been able to work part-time or for chunks of time and live off the savings. I also inherited some money that gives me a cushion/insurance policy in case something goes wrong. Working with [a collective arts project], I’ve had some of my food and housing covered through the collective or else I’ve had cheap or free rent from folks sympathetic to our work. Otherwise I’m covering my costs by working part time or out of my savings.

My money comes from a range of sources. Basically, I do work I believe in, and sometimes I get paid. I get paid some when my articles are published, some for speaking engagements, and some for producing video news segments. I also survive because I have worked as a union organizer, got paid a ton for that, and saved that money.

Social Justice Non-Profit Work (13 folks)
Some of the things that came up for folks working for social justice non-profits was often feeling politically really good about what they are doing, but also dealing with stress on the job, dynamics between board and staff, and burn out.  A couple worried that if they have kids later on, or have to take care of older relatives, they might not be making enough.  Several folks talked about having partners or other means of support that allow them to make it on a fairly modest salary.

I feel like I’m very lucky to be able to be a “professional activist.” I’ve been able to make a living doing jobs that are making a difference since 2001. it’s a huge change from working in the for-profit world, where I made more money, but didn’t feel like my work made a contribution to anything larger than the company.  My class has definitely made a difference in how I feel about these issues. If I was struggling financially, I wouldn’t be able to afford to take lower-paying nonprofit jobs. I have a partner with an income that could support both of us, and that has given me the financial “safety net” to pursue fulfilling work. Additionally, I’m able to do extra volunteer work rather than having a second job, and I can afford to attend conferences and that type of thing.

I am a paid staff member at a left social justice organization that organizes low-income Latino and Black women around practical issues with a counter-hegemonic lens focused on fighting racism, capitalism, and gender oppression. I don’t get paid enough for the amount of work I do and am expected to do, yet this is the most money I have ever made. Working for and as a part of an organization I do have less personal freedom. Doing construction I could just take off for a few weeks (unpaid) when I wanted, that was the nature of the work. Now, that is not possible. I do feel like I am having a greater impact in the world because I am working on social change full time and developing skills that can advance the fight for social justice. But I am tired.

Union/Labor/Worker Organizing (6 folks)
Most people doing union organizing reported feeling less worried about their salaries than folks who worked for non-profits.  Some felt really politically good about the work they were doing, others questioned if they were making the kind of difference they wanted to be making.  A lot of folks talked about long hours, burnout and job stress.

my job as a union organizer supports me. I make good money. The job is very satisfying. Although it’s very stressful. I feel that I am making a major impact in the world by taking on hard fights that challenge the core values of our society. Fighting against poverty, fighting to value workers and community. Fighting privatization and the corporatization of public institutions. All this is important work. The only thing I worry about is having the strength to stick with the movement. I want to make sure I don’t burn out. I find myself getting cynical and frustrated with people who are lazy. But I feel that this is my calling and I don’t really worry about my future direction. Labor organizing is different from community organizing in that there is stable jobs so I don’t worry about making enough money to live on. I think the labor movement is a difficult place for organizers of color. It’s difficult to be taken seriously and treated with respect unless you learn how to communicate within white dominated institutions. I feel that my union is different in a lot of ways, but still the same. Being a man gives me a lot of advantage in the labor movement – I see how women are not treated with the same respect and don’t get front and center positions usually. Class is a double edged sword. I see that people who came out of the rank and file tend to last a lot longer than college-educated yuppy organizers like myself. I think the struggle is something that one can’t escape when you are working poor. Those with upward mobility can usually more easily choose another path that causes less stress. But I have also seen working class organizers burn out because the work is too personal. I can distance myself from the work and create mental boundaries. Others may not be able to do that.

I work as a union representative (internal organizer). Personal satisfaction- I love my work. I work too much. I am learning a lot from amazing mentors who have been doing this for years. Income- The union pays me very well. It is nice to not be poor and to be able to help out my family. Making a difference- I feel I train many workers the skills to fight back, at work and in their lives. I bring up the living situations of many people and protect public services. There are unions where I could work with more exploited workers doing more. But I picked a union where I could be sane, the hours weren’t too crazy (40-55 a week) I could be near home and get support while doing good work.

Reducing Expenses/Collective Living (4 folks)

I think partly because of how I phrased the questions, not as many people talked about how they make ends meet through reducing expenses, so they’ll have more time for social justice work.  I know I see a lot of folks doing that here in Greensboro. Of the folks who did mention it a couple talked about living with roommates to share expenses, a couple talked about intentional collective living, and one person talked about squatting/rent striking.   I definitely want to do some interviews with folks who are finding innovative ways to share resources and reduce expenses.

I am self-employed and make money in lots of different ways. I live in a collective household of four adults, two young people, cat, dog and gecko. We share most costs.

i live in a collective house with 5 other young folx (i’m the oldest by almost 10 years).  i love it!!! my homies are all wonderful, the house is beautiful, and my rent is cheap!

Non-Politicized Helping Profession (13 folks)
As the librarian points out below and several folks also echoed, it’s hard to be the lone radical in a job that’s not meant to be radical.  This relates to the little bit I wrote about radical teachers in LA at the end of my post on factory invasions and organizing from within. [Added 5/7: A friend wrote a comment about this on Facebook and pointed out that this is a pretty simplistic way to divide jobs (social justice vs. non-politicized).  I think its much more of a continuum and much more complicated than that.  See the comments below!]

My job is in tobacco awareness in priority populations. I make okay money but honestly I hate it cause really…there are so many other health issues that I care more about (HIV primarily which is still killing queers off by the bushels…lets not even talk about how race and class play into this too cause whoa we’d be talking all night). I think in terms of why I feel this way, tobacco work is important, but there are farmers and factory workers that aren’t even factored into the work about anti-tobacco issues. Plus, most of the work is done by white folks, most of whom have lots of money (Dr’s mostly), which is so not how I’m used to working. Plus we operate in a way that is very appealing to mainstream gay and lesbian work that doesn’t often make space for folks who are always left out.

employed part-time by the New York Public Library @ a small branch as a Librarian Trainee. NYPL is funding my MLS; when I finish I will be a Senior Librarian (will probably have to be full-time, but don’t want to be). I am supporting my partner on $1000/month. We have no children yet. I really enjoy being a radical librarian, but, as with any profession, it can be exhausting to be the lone radical in an institution of very nice, but very by-the-books folks. Librarians tend to be the liberal-hardcore-freedom-of-speech types, which is tiresome. I definitely don’t make enough money to live comfortably in NYC, but am financially better off than some because I share an apartment with five other people. Reconciling my heady, theoretical grad school work with the concrete, action-oriented change I want to see can be difficult. I would probably not do this work if I didn’t have to work to make a living; but, at the same time, I do enjoy this better than any other type of formal work environment I’ve experienced. I do not ever wish to work full-time, though I know that I will be pressured by administration to do so after I get my MLS.

Having Non-Work Income (4 folks)
A couple folks (including some quoted above) mentioned getting partial support from partners, in at least one case to raise kids.  A few people mentioned partly have some inherited or trust fund money from their families.  Almost all of these spoke about their conflicted and guilty feelings about having class privilege, trying to figure out what if any to use for themselves and what to give away, yet how when they chose to partly live on the money, it enabled them to do what they really wanted to do without worrying about money so much.  Resource Generation is a great group that works with radical/progressive young people with wealth, and the Enough blog frequently talks about inherited wealth, too.

freelance writing and editing, plus some inheritance income (living expenses paid out of earned income; inherited income is divided into giving and savings – redistributed mostly as donations to grassroots groups, saved in community banks, and occasionally used as a buffer when earned income is short of expenses or for emergencies)

Academia (10 folks)
I decided to include grad students here since most were on their ways to academic job, and sense most grad students do labor for the university.  There were also a couple folks with PhDs who were teaching or doing research. Like people working in non-politicized “helping” professions, several folks mentioned how hard it is to be the lone person trying to do the work in a radical way.  A couple grad students on their way to becoming professors talked about how they are half way in between being students and workers, a situation some universities exploit.

I feel very lucky to have access to almost all of my time and to use it service of my community and my creative vision. However I feel that the university structure, which supports me, is not accountable to my vision. I love what I am able to do but I crave a source of income that is not so treacherous.

I work at a state university as a researcher. I am an out queer. I volunteer doing scientific outreach for K-12. I am serious about my research with the hope of starting a lab of my own back in XX or XX. I love the science. I do not like living in XX, I want to move home. I am not making a significant difference in the world through this job. Apart from mentoring summer high school students and undergrads in the lab (how I spend a small percentage of my time), my work will only benefit society if the government puts tighter regulations on the chemicals that I study. This is unlikely but I do sincerely hope that this job will enable me to make a difference when I have a lab of my own.   I have spent a long time in school. It is really important to my parents and larger family that I graduated- I am the first family member to get a doctorate degree. To my parents, who sacrificed so, so much for the three of us, my “success” supports their sacrifices. Because of this, I feel a whole lot of pressure to use my degree. I am extremely worried about what to do after this training period ends. I will most likely take another postdoc somewhere closer to one of my homes and then take stock of my life and decide what to do next. I am scared that in order to have a lab, do good research and mentor kids, I will have to sacrifice the majority of my time and energy. When it comes right down to it, I know that if I were doing organizing full time, I would bring about change in a more real way. I spend a lot of time thinking about this.

Students (5 folks)
Several folks had decided to attend undergraduate school (in some cases going back after a break, in some cases for the first time) and were currently supporting themselves off some combination of college loans, scholarships, campus jobs and help from family.  Many people were going back to get a job for a specific career, like nursing or social work, in many cases after having been disappointed by the financial insecurity and emotional toll of non-profit work.

I decided last year that I must transition back to school in order to have more stability. I am currently a student preparing for nursing school. My parents have supported me for this year until I am accepted into a nursing program. I have worked on a project as an interpreter and other temp jobs, but mostly I volunteer to help with campaigns or to interpret. I don’t feel too great about my situation. I understood that my decision to work in the community would be hard to sustain for myself and my family. The strain is more palpable and real with my parents getting older and needing my help. I also am not sure that working in non-profit has been the change that I want to work for. The change in leadership is constant. I felt I was always maintaining our programs through transitions of leadership, on a tight budget. A lot of work is funded by government so the work is sometimes too focused on meeting service goals rather than education and organizing.

Unemployed (4 folks)
Some folks were making a job transition and were unemployed by choice though slightly worried, other folks were unemployed not by choice and really stressed out and worried.  A couple folks talked about how their upbringing, particularly class, effects how they feel about being unemployed.

currently unemployed and seeking full-time, part-time or contract work. i’m going through my savings and may need to borrow until i can get a job. i’m positive about my life, but i’m in a depressing situation. i’m running out of money and i don’t have a job. the only thing keeping me happy and stable is the support from my family and friends. i get down on myself and feel guilty about my lack of activism, especially when so many people and places need more help than i do. i know my beliefs have reached many people, but i wish that i could make a bigger difference.

until later this week as a FT staff of a non-profit SJ org. i have not secured anything permanent yet so will be hustling from freelance work (training and consulting). my hopes are to hopefully have something secure by fall at the latest. i have a complicated relationship with money as someone who grew up without it but whose experience was shaped by immigrant parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles who all moved to this country to “make it” and “better ourselves”. two dynamics in particular: – everything was about work. the biggest sin you could commit in my family (even more than being queer) was being “lazy.” everyone in my family on my mom’s side has and have always had two jobs. a FT and a PT minimum (tho many of the men have two FT). i have always had a FT and PT. – our generation was expected to move beyond factory and housekeeping work. we were to do well in school and get jobs as attys, bankers, teachers, etc. because of this i am in constant conversation with my family about the work that i do. “you’re so smart – why are doing this kind of work” “you should go back to school and become a professional” “these people you work ‘for’ don’t care about you and your good work. you need to look out for yourself.” “let me tell you about another asshole that wanted to help people – they nailed his ass to the cross” partly bcz of this socialization around work (and people’s values vis-a-vis work) i am getting ready to have a major freak out about not having steady income. i have been working since i was 12 and have been employed since i was 15. i have never transitioned from a job without having another one to go to. so the questions for me now are – how can i continue to do this work and pay my bills? take a part time at some corporate job to pay the bills and do this on my own time? i have familial economic responsibilities that inform my income level. i accept and resent these responsibilities. without them, i could have more personal options as to work and how much i have to make.

You read the whole thing!  Now how about you write a comment, below?

Survey Results #1: Who Has Responded So Far

As of the time of this post there have been almost 850 views of the blog, and almost 80 responses to the survey!  But hardly anyone has posted comments yet… How about you check out this post then write a comment below?  Pretty please?

This is my first post reporting back on the results of the survey – there’s just so much here it’s been a little hard figuring out how to share it.  I ended up editing and updating the survey several times as people gave me suggestions, so I’m looking at four slightly different versions.  In this post I’m going to talk about who has responded so far.

In future posts I’ll share stuff on:

• What kinds of jobs people are doing and have had, and what models there are out there for making an honest living
• How people make decisions about how to support themselves
• How folks think their race, class gender, education, parental situation, and age have impacted their experiences
• How people have support around this stuff and what processes people have used for figuring it out

Who Has Responded
I’ve been really pleased with how many people have responded as of today (almost 80) and what a wide range of folks have responded, though more responses are always welcome!  Its all been interesting but I think folks’ responses to the question “Describe your class background” was probably the most interesting to me (that part is at the bottom).

worldmapPlaces, Races, Genders, Ages

People have responded from: North Carolina, Vancouver, Palestine, Minneapolis, Ohio, Boston, China, The Bay Area, New York City, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Denmark, France, New Orleans, Olympia, Ohio and Cuba!!!  About two thirds of folks responding have identified as white, European or caucasian, and about one third as people of color, including African American/Black/African, Latino (Chicano, Mexican, mestizo, Puerto Rican) Asian (Chinese, Chinese-American, Korean, Eurasian), and Asian Indian.  A little over half of folks identified as female/woman, a little over a third as male/man, and the rest (about 11%) as gender queer, androgynous, ambiguous or transgendered.   Responders range in age from 21 to 65 with most folks being between 24 and 35.

Education
About 10% of folks had a high school or two-year college degree; about 65% had a four-year degree, some of whom had taken a few graduate classes; and about 25% had an MA or PhD.  Among folks’ parents or those who raised them, about 8% had completed less than middle school; about 30% had a high school or two-year college degree; about 20% had a four-year college degree and some of those had taken some graduate classes; about 40% had an MA or PhD.  A friend of mine who looked this over pointed out that its interesting that while most of the folks who responded had four year degrees, many more of their parents or those who raised them either had two-year or college degrees or graduate degrees.  Why could that be?

radicalbabyParental Status and Dependents

Unfortunately as a person without kids (at least yet) myself, and not responsible for supporting any other friends or family, I didn’t think to put a particular question about children or other dependents until a later version, which only twelve people responded to.  Two of those had dependents, plus five other people in a previous version mentioned having kids or older relatives they were responsible for.  But there may be more than seven folks if some people didn’t bring it up in the earlier version.

Class
The question “Describe your class background” was the most interesting for me to look over.  People wrote more here than in any other question of the “A Little Background on You” section and people’s responses varied wildly and were super creative, most were several sentences long.

Here are a few examples of some of the things folks said about their class background (in most cases excerpted from something longer):

• Lower than middle class: po’
• Wealthy, owning class
• FoOd stamps aNd goVernMent cHeesE
• Grew up in a comfortable middle class home
• Born poor white trash but over the years have shifted greatly
• UpPer mIddLE
• Middle middle class
• Low income
• Raised managerial class under the guise we were “middle class”
• Educated Working Class
• Middle

Using Betsy Leonard Wright’s definitions and trying to combine how folks described their class background with the jobs and education their parents had, I would say about 30% of folks could be identified as working class/poor/low income, about 60% of folks could be called middle class, and about 10% as owning class/wealthy/upper class, though of course this is based on my analysis of people’s own reporting, so could be pretty skewed.

classsvgIt was really interesting to me to see how little common language we have around class, probably because we don’t tend to talk about it that much in this country or in progressive/radical activist circles.  I think it also speaks to how complex class is, and how confused a lot of us feel about class and our own class identities, which often gets tied in with our confusions about honest living issues. In her book Class Matters: Cross-Class Alliance Building for Middle-Class Activists, Betsy Leonard Wright says “class in the US is a confusing and slippery topic” and explains that most people are unsure about where they fit in the overall wealth and income distribution. On her wonderful website, she provides a “reality check” on wealth and income in the US that I found super interesting. Her book and website are really worth checking out!

Thoughts
Clearly its kind of awkward and doesn’t reflect people’s lived experiences to split up these categories as if they don’t relate to each other.  For example, being a white 40 year old single dad with a five year old and a two-year college degree has a certain effect on someone’s honest living process, while being a single Black woman with a PhD whose parents didn’t get more than a high school degree is something else, not to mention any number of other factors.  What I’m trying to say is that all these different categories interact in complex shifting ways that aren’t easy to analyze or pin down.  What I got was a snapshot of how folks answered questions based on how I wrote them, and whatever was going on for them that day.  Looking at the rest of the answers to survey questions, there were some places that it was really clear people’s race, class, gender and other pieces of identity had really shaped their experience, while in other places it wasn’t so easy to tell what was going on.  I’ll be posting more about the other questions and how they connect with all these demographics in future posts in the next few days!

Factory Invasions & Organizing from Within

I’m still going through the fabulous 68 survey responses I’ve gotten so far and will find some way to put up some of the amazing things folks are saying probably by Sunday 5/3.  In the meantime, here’s some thoughts on “factory invasions” and organizing from within.

redtidencThere are a lot of older activists still around Greensboro, NC, where I live, who came out of the vibrant civil rights and black power movements, and turned to communism in the 1970s. Many of them (former college students and even sometimes doctors) went to work in textile mills and tobacco factories so they could organize workers towards challenging capitalism. I’ve heard this affectionately called “factory invasions” and “factory colonization.” Pretty intense language, but it seems to be what the folks who did it called it.  They had some success bringing together multi-racial coalitions of workers to fight for change, until the KKK and Naziis attacked a 1979 demonstration and killed five organizers.  Greensboro had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission process about that horrific incident, and you can read some about it in Through Survivor’s Eyes and Love and Revolution, both by survivors of the attacks.

Of the folks I can think of in Greensboro who went to work in factories as communist organizers and survived the massacre, these days one is a pastor, one is the director of a grassroots non-profit, one recently retired from a tobacco factory, one used to be an organic farmer, one works for a housing advocacy group.  Interestingly, most of the white  folks seem to have left Greensboro and many went on to university jobs.   I’m hoping to interview some of these various folks about what it was like working and organizing in the factories, why they did it, what they think about it in retrospect, and what kinds of work they did after that. Stay tuned for an interview like that in the next month or so.

revairMax Elbaum’s book Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che talks a bit about how members of the New Communist Movement came to work in factories, but spends more time talking about their work transitions after the “collapse of communism” in the US. He describes how former cadre members “readjusted to civilian life,” saying that they both struggled with finding a way to pay the bills, and looked for ways to continue with progressive activism. Those with race and class privilege tended to attempt to move back into the middle-class life they had turned away from, while those with working class backgrounds were more likely to continue in working class jobs, though some used skills developed in the movement to move in to professional jobs (307-313). Part of it is posted at google books.

I don’t know of anyone actively pursuing “factory invasions” today, do you? It does come across as somewhat paternalistic to me….but I’ll be curious to hear more from the perspective of someone who actually did it. And not all the folks who did it were middle class students, some were working class radicals who chose to stay in working class jobs and organize, instead of try to claw their ways in to the university. I know at the time, they all felt like revolution was right around the corner, so it made sense.  How effective was it?  How did the “invaders” relate with the folks previously working there? Do the folks who did it then think it was effective when they look back? Hopefully I’ll have more ideas after I do some interviews.

saltshakerEven though factory invasions don’t seem to be an option folks today think of much, there are some current ways that people try to organize from within. Though usually not attempting to challenge capitalism, unions use “salting” sometimes to get organizers on the inside. In a section of their website on the practice, the IWW says: “”Salting” is the deliberate act of getting a job at a specific workplace with the intent to organize a union.” A friend of mine went to a training for potential “salts” with a mainstream union in Philly, but ended up deciding it wasn’t for him (too much heterosexism, among other things). Has anyone out there worked as a “salt”? How did you like it?

lt29smallAnother example of organizing from within comes from a group of teachers in LA who wrote an article for Left Turn magazine about their efforts to push their union towards more progressive politics. They put together a platform and elected a full slate of candidates, working in coalition with parents and communities to challenge racism, classism, standardization of curriculum, and worsening school conditions. The first paragraph of the article, titled “Transforming Our Union,” is on the Left Turn website. Its worth buying a copy of the magazine to read that article if you’re interested – Left Turn is great!

Of course, some people end up organizing their workplaces without having applied for the job intending to do so – most union campaigns are only won because workers who weren’t previously organizers believed in the struggle and began organizing their fellow workers – so its not just (or even mostly) college educated people, like most of the older folks I know in Greensboro, who end up playing that role.

What do you think of the “factory invasion” phenomenon of the new communists of the 1970s and 1980s? What about salting, teacher organizing or other examples of organizing from within that happen today? Have you had a job where you organized from within formally or informally? How did it go?  How does this option appeal to you as you think about your own “honest living” dilemmas?

Almost 60 Survey Responses, Almost 600 views!

Wow, I really just sent this out by e-mail and Facebook to folks on Monday…and have already had 58 survey responses and 556 views!  I’m guessing that means that these issues feel important to lots of folks, not just me.

I’ve been looking through the survey responses and there’s so much interesting and insightful stuff!  I’ll be going through them in the next few days and picking out some gems to share with you folks…Any ideas for how to present some of what folks are saying in a way that won’t be totally overwhelming?  Please comment below.

Also, note that you can now subscribe to the blog, by clicking the link at the top right of the page!