A month ago, I posted this: An Exposition on Organizing & Mental Health, Part 1: My Story.
There’s a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff in that post to unpack, but for now, I want to expand on this central idea: if you are using Left organizing to bolster your sense of self-worth, you will necessarily create a co-dependent relationship with Left organizing, since there will always be more campaigns to win, it will never be enough, and you will always still feel perpetually incomplete (as I’d found through many years of personal experience). Instead, if you learn to love yourself and derive self-worth from within — and if you truly get to a place where instead of ‘needing’ to organize, you simply ‘choose’ to organize — your organizing will become even more powerful.
At the time, this was all pretty abstract and theoretical. But what I’ve noticed in the month since writing that post is that my union organizing has — actually, indeed, for real — gotten better: my worker leaders are doing more work to build their union, worker contacts/supporters are more consistently returning my phone calls and showing up to the meetings they say they will be at, I’m able to move more ‘undecided’ workers to being supporters, and the statistical breakdown of my turf in general (union organizers refer to all this dryly as “numbers”) is improving much faster than it ever has.
And yet, my actual technique — the boring technical stuff of ‘getting the story,’ ‘issue agitation,’ ‘plan to win/vision,’ ‘workplace charting,’ ‘mapping,’ ‘recruiting and developing leaders,’ etc. — has basically remained the same.
So how have I been able to improve my union organizing so substantially while basically keeping my same technique? I think the answer lies in the difference between: technique and soul.
‘Technique’ is all that boring stuff I mentioned above — the very tedious process of learning ‘what’ to say and ‘what’ to do on the outside. If you’re interested in learning about technique, I’ve written in dizzying breadth all about surface technique on my feed. Here are some of my better posts about technique:
- From Activism to Organizing: The Difference
- On the Importance of Having Thoughts & a Life Outside the Left
- On Mastering All Organizing Styles
- Build a Base First, Build Coalitions Later
- Donald Trump’s Election
- The Organizing Conversation
What I’ve learned in the last month is that ‘soul’ is just as important as technique, if not even more so: a violinist or singer may have the best technique in the world, and while that’s great, all technique does is more perfectly and impactfully express what’s going on in the violinist or singer’s innermost experience. The inner experience is what really counts and makes an emotional impact on others. I think the same goes with organizing. And while the ‘soul’ is just that — very abstract and hard to define — I will attempt to point a direction and outline what I mean.
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed internally — by attempting not to define my self-worth through organizing — is that I’m a lot more carefree when talking with workers. The reason I am a lot more carefree is that, while before there was a selfish internal ‘need’ for a worker conversation to go well (‘I need you to build your union so that I can see the tangible results of the growth of my organizing skills and therefore my self-worth’), now my organizing has become more selfless (‘my sense of self will remain totally the same regardless if you decide to build your union or not and here’s why you will benefit if you build your union’). What this internal shift does is, in subtle emotional ways, take pressure off the worker I’m talking to (‘as the essence of non-needy, you will not hurt me no matter what you decide’). And yet, while I am more carefree (since I’m no longer taking the worker’s energy), my ‘soul’ shines through more, and workers can more deeply feel my authentic joy I feel about organizing when I go into the ‘plan to win/vision’ parts of the organizing conversation. Thus, an emotional paradox is presented to the worker: a feeling of both carefree and passion. Although very subtle, then, the worker feels no extra pressure and is able to make a decision all on their own, and so it is a *firm and committed* decision without pressure.
Another thing I’ve noticed in my inner experience of organizing is that I’m having a lot more fun. The reason I’m having more fun is that, while before organizing felt like emotional labor (‘I’m doing this to feel self-worth and to cope with not feeling socially full’), now I’m doing it not out of ‘need’ but of ‘choice.’ And why do I make the choice? Because human interaction is beautiful, complex, and amazing, and building solidarity and community is gorgeous. Importantly — my inner experience should already be beautiful, complex, amazing, and gorgeous, and I would feel so without organizing, but organizing just makes it even more so. Thus, through this inner shift, I am not ‘taking’ emotional energy from workers but ‘giving.’ The worker feels this on an abstract level, and so — on top of the worker feeling less pressured to make a firm committed decision that isn’t 100% *theirs* — the worker actually feels good when talking with me. Or more abstractly: the worker no longer subtly feels like they are giving emotional energy to me, but rather, the worker actually *gains* emotional energy talking with me and feeling my sense of fun.
A fun extra too is that — as a byproduct of feeling more carefree and fun — I’m realizing that I’m able to break more organizing/conversation rules, and still maintain a great, impactful conversation and sometimes even make it better and even more impactful than if I had stayed within the standard organizing/conversation rules.
Lastly, I’ve noticed that my inner experience of organizing is more authentic. Why? As I slowly move from an inner experience of ‘coping’ to ‘thriving,’ I’m realizing that some of my outer technique has served to protect my ego. The act of protecting my ego isn’t who I am but rather an inhibition of myself. And so when I get to worry less about ‘being a great organizer’ and I get to shed the technique which I unknowingly learned from coping, workers subtly sense more so that I genuinely believe the things I’m saying during an organizing conversation (because I do), and my words have more impact.
The important caveat to all of this is that I’m not trying to derive self-worth from within *in order to* be a better organizer. That would still be deriving self-worth externally. Rather, I’m attempting to derive self-worth from within. Period. Also, then, my organizing is getting better.
This is all quite abstract, as I said it would be. Sketching out why I believe inner ‘soul’ work is just as important, if not more important than, the techniques of organizing is going to be just that: abstract. But hopefully I have pointed a direction and presented my case.
The best way I can put it is this: it matters not just what you say and do, but also where all your words and actions come from deep within — which in the subtle ways it changes how you say and do things, makes all the difference in huge and profound ways.
I’ve always wondered why some organizers with little formal training and technique can still produce great numbers. I think this is the answer: they have beautiful souls which shine through.
More than ever, I’m realizing that capitalism alienates us both materially *and* spiritually.
My suspicion, then, is that the marriage of technique and soul is the true answer to liberation and revolution, unto the stars.