This is the third article of a 7-part series that will focus on the issues in our radical movements that I think need our immediate and ongoing attention. I am using the ancient eastern concept of chakras for the body as a parallel to our movement’s energy wheel. Healers believe sickness occurs when the body’s chakras are blocked or out of alignment. Likewise, the U.S. Left and our social justice movements need our collective introspection, analysis and adjustments that lead to unblocking our energy/chi points. A weakened Left, and especially the Black Left, have been unable to provide this critical guidance over the last twenty years. I do not have the space to go too deep into my thinking although I have been pondering and talking about this very subject for a few years now. I am looking to stimulate a higher level of principled discussion about how to energize and organize the social forces coming into play at this pivotal juncture in history and how we can rebuild a formidable radical movement in this country.
“Nothing will work unless you do.” – Maya Angelou
Our movement for freedom, justice and equality needs to raise the bar of our excellence. Clearly, there are people in the social movements who develop and practice good—even exemplary– workstyles. However, our struggle against the empire has not been optimized because of our attitude and approach towards the work. What is a radical workstyle and what does it look like in our movement spaces? We must unblock this chakra so that it leads to the full intensity of the collective chi.
Work is how we carry out the plans emanating from our strategy and tactics. The way in which we carry out that work is connecting to an ideological worldview; it is a vivid reflection of our belief that our struggle is both worthy and winnable.
In most of our organizations and hence our movements, individualism runs rampant. When there are no accountability mechanisms, the individualistic behavior undermines the effectiveness of the collective. Individualism and mediocrity are toxins; they often destroys the unity of the group in achieving its goals.
There are people who don’t read, acknowledge or respond to emails, texts or calls in a timely and considerate way. They take on assignments but don’t follow through with them or complete them in a half-ass way. People are late to gatherings (or are no-shows) even when they have assignments germane to the event’s success. They don’t study because they already have the answers. These people are incapable of engaging in genuine self-criticism and do not respond well to constructive criticism.
In the 1990’s, Kalimu Endesha coined a phrase for the above set of behaviors. Endesha is one of the founding members of the Organization for Black Struggle and is a veteran organizer. He called it “ghetto volunteerism” because we’ve internalized the oppressor’s belief that since we are not important, nothing we do is either. Endesha was also reminded us that we all know these behaviors would never be tolerated in the corporate or business workplace. Try being late at the Ford Motor Company. If people have a sloppy and irresponsible workstyle on their paying gigs, there’s a price to pay. So why bring these practices into the righteous work of liberation?
Endesha further elaborated on ghetto volunteerism in a piece he wrote.
“Our movement has abandoned high standards regarding a revolutionary work ethic. There is little accountability to one another or to the collective. People agree to do a task and it’s a throw of the dice if they will follow through on their commitment. If they don’t, can’t or won’t do what they gave their word to do, there’s usually no advanced warning, no explanation and rarely any self-criticism. The “whateva” attitude has infected our liberation efforts in a serious way and threatens any meaningful progress and genuine unity.”
A radical workstyle takes into consideration the value of time and relationships. We can never recoup time and so we must always proceed in the most efficient and effective manner possible. When we breach trust in our relationships, rebuilding broken trust takes time and effort.
A radical workstyle reflects a conscious understanding that our actions are important and connected to the work of others. When we don’t show up or follow through, there are negative organizational and psychological impacts on the collective.
A radical workstyle advances the group’s goals and influence. It can take the best of our individual knowledge, experiences, skills and talents to another level. Adversely, it can squander human resources and energies as well as impede the forward motion of our struggle.
A radical workstyle promotes a model of what we think are necessary and appropriate practices in collective spaces. Think of it as a projection of what new people to the movement should see when they step up to make a commitment to work on transformational change. They are presented with the expectations for their participation.
A radical workstyle lifts and celebrates the positive attributes of quality, discipline, collaboration, integrity, innovation, study and accountability.
Our political analysis, strategy and tactics provide the direction to meet our goals. In some cases, we have principles of unity that give us additional guidance as to how people will work together on achieving the mission, strategy and tactics. Rarely do we give people the elements of a radical workstyle and how to perfect it. A radical workstyle is a collective workstyle.
Our enemies and detractors absolutely count on the fact that individualism will have sabotaging effects on our strategy and unity. It is imperative that we embrace a radical work style in this era of neo-fascism as part of advancing a radical vision and strategy.
Combat individualism and liberalism!
Next article: Unblocking the chakra of organizing.