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Reading List June 09, 2019

Get Organized

“Organizing is the strategy on which the success of all others depend. Yet it is the strategy that most progressives talk about the least.”

The 2020 election is still over 500 days away, but the media buzz makes it feel a lot closer. Instead of focusing on “the ritual of pushing buttons in the quadrennial extravaganzas,” we should be paying attention to what Noam Chomsky recently called the “regular political engagement that is the foundation of functioning democracy.”

It is the same advice we heard from Rev. William Barber, who was just convicted for protesting peacefully at the North Carolina statehouse: “We put too much of our actions into electoral campaigns. And when the campaign is over, and we lose, we go home until the next campaign. Even extremists don’t do that. Even when they’re in the minority, even when they lose a vote, they continue to organize.”

So this week we took a trip into our archive and have come back organized. From the potential for solidarity in Silicon Valley, to how to organize immigrant workers, to the role that faith-based activists can play, today’s essays are the perfect reads to help you get prepping for 2020.

—Rosie Gillies

Why the Labor Movement Has Failed—And How to Fix It
a forum with Sarita Gupta, Stephen Lerner, Joseph A. McCartin

This essay is now a forum! The lead essay argues that we must make “the future of workers, not the future of work, our central concern,” and the responses leave no stone unturned when it comes to this call for action.

• • •

Solidarity in Silicon Valley
by Brishen Rogers

While white-collar tech workers may have it better than most, their workplaces are still not democratic in any reasonable sense of the word. But unionizing Google and Facebook seems highly unlikely. So how else can tech workers demand dignity and respect?

• • •

Big, Glitzy Marches Are Not Movements
by Robin D. G. Kelley

“For better or worse, marches often concentrate a range of related issues into easily digestible soundbites. These kinds of events, historic as they may be, are always in danger of abandoning a broad, complex, social justice agenda in favor of passing a law or mobilizing support for a single issue.”

• • •

“Every Crucifixion Needs a Witness”
an interview with William J. Barber II

“We’re doing deep work in the South because it holds the key to the transformation of this country. . . . Progressives have given those states away, for the most part, but the South can be changed. They’re not so much red states as they are unorganized and unmotivated states.”

• • •

Organizing the Unorganizable
by Ruth Milkman

“Immigrants have long been considered ‘unorganizable.’ But unions have not always been so pessimistic about them—a foreign-born work force has played a key role in revitalizing unioninsm in southern California. It has enormous potential to do even more.”

• • •

The Right to Strike
a forum with James Gray Pope, Ed Bruno, and Peter Kellman

Organized labor is being strangled by laws that block workers from organizing, striking, and acting in solidarity. Unions should respond by building a rights movement, placing the struggle for those rights front and center in all movement activity, including protest, civil disobedience, and litigation.”

• • •

What Can Faith-Based Activism Do For Labor?
by Nancy MacLean

“Progressive prophetic evangelism has a powerful history in America: think of the abolitionists, Knights of Labor, and the mass strikes of the Depression era. King was himself a Baptist, and the most faithful African Americans remain among the likeliest Democratic voters.”

• • •

American Sweatshops
by Jennifer Gordon

“Because sweatshop workers have so little economic power, worker centers such as the Workplace Project rely heavily on legally established rights—rather than on the power of organized numbers—as leverage points to raise wages. This is both a source of strength and a potential weakness.”

• • •

Preaching and Politics
by Peter Dreier

“The unions that have made the most headway in recent years have drawn on the tactics and themes of civil rights crusades and grassroots organizing campaigns—emphasizing dignity and justice and forging alliances with community and church groups.”

• • •

What About Organizing?
by Ernesto Cortes

Organizing is the strategy on which the success of all the other strategies depend. Yet organizing is the strategy that most progressives talk about the least.”


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