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Invisible Labor and Climate Change: How to Define 'Organizing' in SCNCC Discussions -- Anywhere

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
How to Define Organizing in SCNCC Discussions--Anywhere
Posted by Sandra Lindberg on 12/12/18


organize
(British organise)

VERB [WITH OBJECT]
  • 1Arrange systematically; order.
  • ‘organize lessons in a planned way’
  • Synonyms
    1. 1.1 Coordinate the activities of (a person or group) efficiently.
    2. ‘she was unsuited to anything where she had to organize herself’
    3. Synonyms
    4. 1.2 Form (a number of people) into a trade union or other political group.
    5. ‘we all believed in the need to organize women’
    6. 1.3archaic Arrange or form into a living being or tissue.
    7. ‘the soul doth organize the body’
  • 2Make arrangements or preparations for (an event or activity)
  • ‘social programmes are organized by the school’
  • Synonyms
    1. 2.1 Take responsibility for providing or arranging.
    2. ‘Julie organized food and drink for the band’
Origin

Late Middle English: from medieval Latin organizare, from Latin organum ‘instrument, tool’ (see organ).

ecology
NOUN
mass noun

  • The branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.
Origin
Late 19th century (originally as oecology): from Greek oikos ‘house’ + -logy.



eco-socialism
NOUN
  • Socialism concerned specifically with ecological issues, based on the belief that capitalism is harmful to both society and the environment. (Originally in the context of German politics.).
Origin
1980s; earliest use found in The Times. From eco- + socialism, after German Ökosozialismus.

* * *

So, this post flows from my dismay at recent posts on the SCNCC Organize listserve. A few of us have been debating what an organizing list should explore. What has emerged are a set of quasi-invisible assumptions by some on this list and by some of SCNCC’s founders about how this group should define and limit its discussions. As you may gather from my need to write this, I do not share some of these assumptions. And I am hoping with this post to broaden both the scope and the understanding of some SCNCC members when it comes to organizing.

Above, I’ve provided Oxford English Dictionary definitions for three words: ecology, eco-socialism and organize. I hope you’ll take the time to read them. The noun ecology has only been with us for a couple hundred years, eco-socialism for about forty years, while the verb to organize has been with us for quite some time. Certainly organizing includes activities such as building trade unions, planning political actions and protests, or acts of civil disobedience. These are perhaps the actions some SCNCC members have in mind when they use the term. But to organize includes a far broader set of human activities, some of which tend to be taken for granted by a capitalist society. All those who make it possible for activists and organizers to remain fed, clothed and housed even as they take to the streets are more or less organized in the work they do.

What a handful of SCNCC’ers and I are concerned about is the very particular danger posed by climate change to all of our abilities to organize life-sustaining work. Often unpaid and taken-for-granted work. Work that is seldom understood to be powerfully threatened by climate change. And I will state here that no world will ever be changed if its activists and organizers are without shelter, clothing and food. Climate change already threatens these aspects of life in many places on earth. If we can’t include discussions about efforts to safeguard these essential parts of our lives on the SCNCC listserve, where exactly are ideas about this crucial aspect of organizing supposed to happen? The teams of eco-socialists and activists who hope to bring an end to capitalism need to be sustained. Efforts to understand and cope with dangers posed by climate change need to be discussed and, yes, organized, which is exactly what some of us in SCNCC are attempting to do.

Those who suggest that the planet is dying and we can’t take time to discuss how to sustain ourselves--that we musn’t focus on saving our own skins--confuse me utterly. It’s capitalism’s brainwashing that asks us to separate our ideas and our goals from our bodies. It’s capitalism that asks women, mothers, low-paid and unpaid workers in a host of support jobs to labor with little or no recognition or compensation in service to a cruel and unsustainable political and socio-economic system. Our ‘skins’ make everything for humans possible. Our ideas, if they are truly powerful, emerge from the experiences we have in our bodies. If we are to tear down the current mess of a system and replace it with something better--eco-socialism, I hope--we must resist and abandon approaches to life that separate minds from bodies, physical labor from theory, organizing from essential human needs and humans from the planet. If we don’t bring such a perspective to our work as eco-socialists at this critical time, the invisible, inherent and insane assumptions presently forcing humans into warring camps will remain in place through and after the revolution.

What I am not advocating is a survivalist mindset where one person, one family or one small enclave sets itself up to last through upheaval. I am calling for the balanced integration of essential human needs into revolutionary activity. I am asking eco-socialists to admit that some of us are attempting to bring on revolution from places that may soon be under water, without water, without functional infrastructure, and/or prone to frequent and incredibly violent storms. It is only wisdom to strategize about where to wage our battles, to establish our bases and to best protect our people from harm even as we bring our message to existing power structures and even as we plan for future, better societies.

I do not question SCNCC’ers who choose to write about theory, political organizing strategy or other work of that kind. But if some of our strengths lie in organizing strategies around food and shelter, I’ll be damned if I accept a narrow definition of the term organizing because our very revolutionary group seems unable to grasp how capitalistic attitudes toward the necessities of life have tainted even our own theory.
 

Shanelle

Member
Very interesting post, Sandra. Thank you. The future looks so bleak, and I think a lot of people just don't want to think about these things because it brings up a lot of very strong emotions. You're very good at talking about these issues (you're certainly much better than I am at talking about them!) and that's really important because more people will organize around this if they connect to what you're saying.

I recently read that the suicides of about 60,000 Indian farmers have been linked to climate change. You made a very important point that I hope activists everywhere really do think about:

"Certainly organizing includes activities such as building trade unions, planning political actions and protests, or acts of civil disobedience. These are perhaps the actions some SCNCC members have in mind when they use the term. But to organize includes a far broader set of human activities, some of which tend to be taken for granted by a capitalist society. All those who make it possible for activists and organizers to remain fed, clothed and housed even as they take to the streets are more or less organized in the work they do."
 

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
Very interesting post, Sandra. Thank you. The future looks so bleak, and I think a lot of people just don't want to think about these things because it brings up a lot of very strong emotions. You're very good at talking about these issues (you're certainly much better than I am at talking about them!) and that's really important because more people will organize around this if they connect to what you're saying.

I recently read that the suicides of about 60,000 Indian farmers have been linked to climate change. You made a very important point that I hope activists everywhere really do think about:

"Certainly organizing includes activities such as building trade unions, planning political actions and protests, or acts of civil disobedience. These are perhaps the actions some SCNCC members have in mind when they use the term. But to organize includes a far broader set of human activities, some of which tend to be taken for granted by a capitalist society. All those who make it possible for activists and organizers to remain fed, clothed and housed even as they take to the streets are more or less organized in the work they do."
Thanks for reading and commenting, Shanelle. Regardless of the political labels you and I use for ourselves, I know from reading your posts that you and I share an understanding of the importance of activities in human lives designed to sustain us.

The Indian farmers you describe have been reported to kill themselves by drinking the herbicides and insecticides that western agricultural experts require them to use--though the farmers cannot afford the chemicals and are forced to set aside old and useful ways of saving and cultivating seed better suited for their lands. Drinking the poison becomes a very public way to protest the untenable situation western methods have brought to them.

Capitalism ignores people and the land.

When I worked full time as an academic professor and then had a baby at the age of 42, I used to comment to colleagues that we were being asked to raise our children in the corners of our lives. That's what it felt like. US capitalism created that reality. One professor joked he was setting aside money to pay for the therapy he was sure his son would need after the strains of family life he had known. Nasty joke, I always thought.

Another example: in conversations with workers who are building the wind and solar installations in central Illinois, I've learned that they are precarious workers. They have no union. They work 12-14 hour days for several days in a row and then, exhausted, sleep in motels nearby until the next shift. They describe the incredible strain that this way of working puts on their families. So here again is an example of new ways--renewable energy--coming into existence using old capitalist labor methods. That's wrong, too.

I am determined that even as we work for a new world, we make sure that pieces of the old reality don't sneak in with the new.
 

Shanelle

Member
I agree with you that many activities that are designed to sustain us are taken for granted in a capitalist society. I'll just add here that it's not at all clear what eco-socialism really is. Many eco-socialists have opposing views.

From my anarchist perspective, the natural world is a fundamental source of liberty and I think eco-socialists should consider promoting a set of living arrangements that would allow people to thrive and not merely survive. Many of us live in completely man-made environments and we have lost our previously held skills and have become accustomed to going to the drug store and the grocery store to go buy all of our basic necessities of life. No thought is given to where these things come from, how these items get to the city, how they're produced and under what conditions.
 

Sandra Lindberg

Moderator
I think current systems create a kind of fantasy world in which people come to believe they truly are different than other living beings and can pursue human desires without considering their effect on the environment. As Meszaros and Bellamy-Foster have analyzed, the capitalist system has pushed beyond what the planet can provide. The current system, squeezed by goals of endless expansion, must now exploit ever-growing numbers of humans in order to maintain its growth. What capitalism has been doing to natural areas for hundreds of years it is now bringing home to those capitalist countries and their populations that once thought they would forever be immune from such exploitation. Working people always knew the squeeze, but now even the middle class knows what capitalism is willing to enforce in order to keep an unsustainable system going. As systems experience increasing failure more and more people will be unable to believe in the fantasy world they once took for granted. When capitalism hits the wall, we all the hit the wall, too.

I agree that knowing as much as possible about natural areas, plants, food production, water sequestration and human health will give people advantages in coming years. But this knowledge is not just about survival. As I think your latest post suggests, we need to relearn these perspectives in order to usher in a major shift in how we choose to live and the values we choose to embrace.
 
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