It's that time of year again. Its nine days until the New Year – a time when lots of people are making New Year's Resolutions!
December is a perfect time to ask the question, "What will it take to win a new world?" While it will take a lot of things, the main thing we need, is more organizing. We need lots and lots (and lots and lots) of people. A hundred million people fully desiring social transformation – longing for it, working for it, telling others about it, actively participating in it – wouldn't be an exaggeration.
It's obvious this is a big task. So what is our role? Well, one job of organizers is to help facilitate the type of personal and social transformation that comes from working together and deciding things together. So first, as organizers, we need to be committed to getting work done – to following through with tasks we commit to doing; picking up slack when others become temporarily unable to do so (stress, work, etc…); being honest about what our skills are and what we are capable and willing to do.
The second thing I wanted to mention is about personal transformation. Paulo Freire, writing in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed said: "Liberation is thus a childbirth, and a painful one. The person who emerges is a new person, viable only as the oppressor-oppressed contradiction is superseded by the humanization of all people… No longer oppressor nor longer oppressed, but human in the process of achieving freedom." It is important to remember that each of us aren't "there yet", but rather still must go through that difficult transformation.
So here comes the point of my letter!
With New Years Day just nine days away, I am asking that each of us consider writing a list of commitments about organizing and personal transformation. Write them down, perhaps laminate them, and keep them in your pocket. If you are a student organizer (like me), they may be about how you will start knocking on some dorm doors everyday and having those hard political conversations with new people or people who you know you disagree with. It might be committing to doing canvassing on your campus or in your neighborhood a few days a week. It might mean tabling, or flyering, or holding political parties (which appeal to a wide audience and not some particular subculture that might alienate everyone else). It might be something about working with new movement organizers to develop their ability to be great organizers and self-sufficient leaders. There are so many things we can commit to doing that will help build and strengthen and make our movements more supportive. (Organizing commitments are probably best made into concrete goals!).
Or in regards to personal transformation it might be something like "I will always assume good intentions in those I work with", or "I will trust my political friends and allies", or "I will look for the invisible work that people are doing around me and thank then for it and do things that respect their hard work". Or, for a lot of people, it might be something as simple (though profound) as "I will have humility and respect others". Or maybe the "golden rule" of "do unto others, as you would have others, do unto you." Or better yet, commit to a bunch of these things, since we should be doing all of them anyway!
All of these are really powerful commitments that have the possibility to transform your work and institutionalize the good behaviors and values that aren't often found in society. It helps us to humanize ourselves and each other in the face of a society which seeks to dehumanize everything and everyone. It is a commitment to not let the juggernaut of chaos have control over the one thing we can control – our souls.
Better yet, find a buddy to make your commitments with. Have an active listening session once or twice a month with them. Sit down with a friend who made their own commitments, and each spend 5 or 10 minutes just listening to each other about the progress you are making on your resolutions. While the other person is talking – don't talk, don't offer advice, don't judge them. Just really try to listen. Then switch. At the end, I suspect, both of you will feel better about your work and be able to see how difficult it really is to build a movement.
We often like to feel that we are these unbeatable agents of social change. These all-powerful organizers who are untouched by the ills of society. We try, as best as possible, to create spaces that make us feel safe. But we all know the truth. We know that we are as dehumanized and torn by this world as the next person.
How we are somewhat unique is that we have all actively committed to changing the world.
In 2008, let us each renew that commitment. Let us state our willingness to take our struggle to the gates of hell and back if it is necessary to build our new world.
But let us start with ourselves.
May we all continue to work for peace and justice in 2008 – in a world that so desperately needs healing, hope, and reconciliation.