Simpler times. I vividly remember this.
The context was that I had finished working 28 straight 14-hour days organizing Vibra Kentfield, a small rehab hospital in North Bay. (On top of the grueling all-day schedule, I was regularly waking up at 3am to phonebank through swing shift — or otherwise sleeping in my car at a park adjacent the hospital.) I was, at that point in the campaign, a one-man organizing team, assisted only by a lead organizer and Andee Johanna Sunderland, who was “outside team” (driving around and visiting workers at their houses). I’d never worked so hard in my life. A week prior, I had crashed my car in pure exhaustion, falling drowzy at the wheel.
I was 22 at the time, and my dedication to organizing could only accurately be described as “manic”… in a deeply, deeply unhealthy way. But in the fanaticism of a dude in his early-twenties totalizingly enraged at the world, I not-so-secretly enjoyed the toll the campaign was taking on my mental and physical health.
After 28 days, I finally got a weekend off.
I hadn’t seen my then-girlfriend for a few months at that point. She was also living the hotel life for her career as a photographer. She was doing some shoots in Reno, Nevada. Naturally, through Friday night and Saturday morning, I drove to Reno to see her — canvassing for Bernie in the morning, then hanging out with her in the evening. I was beyond fumes, but I felt so aligned with Meaning that it did not matter. I remember lying in bed with her Saturday night — in a relatively clean Motel 8 room — telling her how I was going to change the world one day, telling her this in the sincere albeit arrogant way certain 22-year-old dudes say that sort of thing.
I don’t know if I have a point to this post. But I look back extremely fondly at those early years of my organizing career — mad though those years may have been, the world just seemed so much simpler back then. I feel that I don’t understand much of the world nowadays, and I think my confusion at today’s world is just as much the complexity of me getting older as it is that the world has just gotten way more crazy.
After a few months of organizing, I secured more than a majority of union cards. Enough to file for a union election. But we ultimately made the decision not to take it to a vote because the boss fight had gotten viscious, and the workers were getting too scared off. The workers didn’t stand a chance.
It was my first real Fight as a union organizer, and I remember being so devastated. The “what if I had just been a more effective organizer” question shook me to my core. I felt I had let my worker leaders down. Maribel — an old Filipino nurse assistant who led a significant chunk of the afternoon shift, and who had postponed her retirement specifically to fight for a Union — cursed me out, and when I got back to my car I cried my eyes out. After I transitioned to my next campaign, a coworker of mine grew concerned about me because I was making suicidal jokes. I wasn’t suicidal, but I certainly was depressed. Eventually I snapped out of it.
I learned a few months ago that the workers at Vibra Kentfield successfully voted in the Union — largely in response to their management not properly protecting them during this pandemic. When I heard they won, I smiled real wide.
If I do have a point to this point — I’m not sure I do, but as I type this I’m realizing… I’m learning that organizing really is the long-haul. A long-haul that only becomes personally meaningful with a sincere and ruthless engagement with the work. I look back at that campaign, I look back more broadly at my life then, and I do not regret it. They are some of my warmest memories.
Eh, I hope you enjoyed my rant.