Writing, Teaching, and Organizing

Union organizing and negotiating have similar goals to writing and teaching. In writing we ask: who is the character and what do they want? We look at how challenges bring out the character's true nature. What does the character do when angry? How does the character behave when flustered? Do they have a habitual tic when worried or afraid? Every challenge to the character opens up a new possibility for depth and understanding.

As I have watched members of two bargaining teams and how our SEIU lead negotiator operated, I also became aware of each individual's character: what happened when they were pushed; what they did when they were holding back; how the language they used represented a philosophy. In essence, to read them.

In working with our members, I learned how to phrase something to appeal to someone else's sensibility and viewpoint, to be inclusive, to question status quo, and offer hope. By empathizing with and understanding both sides, by listening and by compromising, you may eventually achieve a collective, unified goal.

Our SEIU lead organizer used to be an adjunct professor. It makes sense that a good organizer and advocate would also be a good teacher. The best teachers can figure out where a person is, what is important to them, what they believe in, and help them find the right path for them, to make their vision even stronger. As a guide. 

Some books I've found helpful in understanding organizing, negotiating, teaching and writing and today's world in general.

Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky (1971). Start from where the world is. Learn how to move people and make change.

The Haggler's Handbook: One Hour to Negotiating Power by Leonard Koren and Peter Goodman (1991, 1992). Know what are the most important things to you and when you are willing to fight. Recognize the style of the other side.

Poor Workers' Unions: Rebuilding Labor from Below by Vanessa Tait (2005, 2016). A movement with a compelling vision can become a force for social, economic, and political transformation.

Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin compiled by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr (2015). "As long as the oppressed tell their true story it will carry the edge of protest" (23). Amiri Baraka.

The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling (2012). "Use your own language. Only use ideas you believe in" (43). And do it in a positive way. How the two political parties use the same terms and mean different things.

If you are curious about my journey, please see my guest post on union organizer and friend Jessica Lawless's blog