Many of the activists I know, including myself, struggle with how to make our livings given that we can never get completely outside the systems we seek to challenge. We want to figure out how to build personally meaningful, sustainable lives for ourselves, and we want to make some larger difference in the world. But many of us are not sure how to go about making decisions about work and jobs and feel pretty stuck.
Do we work for a grassroots non-profit? Work a job that pays the bills then do unpaid activism in our free time? Be self-employed and piece things together? Work for a union? Go into academia? Reduce our expenses through collective living and work less? Be a teacher, social worker, or counselor and try to bring in our politics? Work in a place where we can organize those we work with? Participate in developing alternative economies? Some combo? What are the political and personal implications of these various options?
Some of my friends describe this search as trying to “discern a life vocation.” Others call this looking for “right livelihood.” I think of it as striving towards an “honest” living in a “dishonest” world.
Of course there is no magic bullet, or one-size-fits all solution. I’ve come to think that the best we can do is try to be thoughtful and intentional about this stuff. If more of us struggling with these issues could support each other and be in dialogue, so that more of us could feel better about how we’re answering these questions in our own lives, then I can only believe our movements would be stronger and our resistance more effective.
I’ started this as my culminating project in the UNCG Women and Gender Studies Master’s program at UNCG, where I graduated from in Summer 2009. Since I “officially” finished the project in early May 2009, I’ve been sporadically posting relevant stuff. I may end up converting it to a blog about my involvement in Occupy Greensboro and the 99% movement.
The project involved a few pieces:
- Reading & Research: I read a bunch of historical and sociological stuff about work; about capitalism and neoliberalism; about self-help books on vocation; activist articles about labor and work that touch on this subject; studies of the societal messages around work in the US
- Conversations: I had several informal conversations/interviews with folks about the topic to hear what people are struggling with, how they’ve dealt with their conflicts, what they think helps people work through these issues.
- Blog: I made several posts on what I learned as I read and talked to people. I hope that others will also post their thoughts here and even e-mail me longer articles to post, so that we can start some discussion about this, and so I’m getting some feedback and other perspectives on these issues as I’m exploring them. Please participate by posting comments! And if you have something longer to say that you want me to post, send it to email@example.com
My name is Isabell Moore and I live in Greensboro, NC, which is also where I grew up (though I lived in new York City for about six years until 2003). In Summer 2009, I graduated with an MA from the Women and Gender Studies Program at UNCG, where I also worked as a graduate assistant for the African American Studies Program. Since August 2009, I’ve been teaching history at the local community college and Women and Gender Studies at UNCG. I have worked as an ice cream slinger, theater usher, receptionist, day care teacher’s assistant, sociology researcher, union organizer, non-profit worker, lawn mower, nanny, graduate assistant, workstudy student, ESOL teacher, and a few other things I won’t mention here :). I’m white and class privileged and hope that as I do this project I’ll be able to think through how those pieces of my identity in particular structure the way I look at this stuff, and how work issues in general are shaped by race, class and gender.
I’m involved in various activists issues related to racial and economic justice and queer-based multi-issue organizing. I’m proud to be a member of Southerners On New Ground, and Project South and to serve on the National Committee of the War Resisters’ League.