This is a hard organizing truth that took me the better part of four years to truly internalize: if the majority of what you think about and talk about is Left politics, you will not be an effective organizer for the Left.
Why is this?
1. While if thinking about and talking about Left politics the majority of your waking hours might make you a leader among the Left — there is already an abundance of leaders among the Left, whom Lefties follow. What is needed, now more than ever, is moving and activating the vast majority of people who are somewhere in the middle, angry about the world, alienated by their jobs, but who can’t articulate exactly why, and who don’t know what to do or even that they should be doing anything about those bad feelings in the first place. A revolution needs people; those are the people.
2. These people — the vast majority of the ‘normals’ (if you are involved with Left politics, you are by definition weird) — don’t give a shit about your jargon or your complex theories (“who’s Foucault?”), and organizing is about meeting people where they are.
Here’s another truth: there is so much more to life than politics. That’s powerful, so let me repeat that: there is so much more to life than politics. The deep universal things — the cliché things like love, loyalty, betrayal, and all the relationship-building fundamentals of open-ended questions, listening, story-telling, value-bonding, all that, yes! But even the minutia of things like how Bob is a mean manager and have you had a mean manager before too? — that’s the kind of stuff that connects people.
Honestly, the more Left organizers want to talk with me about anything but politics and organizing, the more I trust them. They care about me as a person; naturally, that makes me care about them too.
Yes, rapport building is important for organizing. But importantly, rapport building not for the sake of organizing. That’s the wrong frame. You give a shit about other people, period. Also then organic relationships help politics and organizing.
The world is too dark for anything else.
And it was a hard thing for me to learn. I came to Left politics out of a profound sense of alienation, and so when I started with it, I drowned myself in those politics. And hey, there are all these alienated people too who get me and who I can talk about Marx and intersectionality and colonialism with! A potential for deep friendships! Ironically, the True way out of my alienation was, while keeping my politics and values in tact, to learn how to connect with people in every other way: that’s what Left politics has ultimately taught me.
In order to be healthy and effective, I had to be able to learn how not to spend the majority of my time thinking about and talking about Left politics; I had to learn to just connect with people, period. Universal human values and relationships.