Baby If I Could Change the World...
Becoming an Organizer
“This song reminds you of (person x whose name shall not be disclosed), doesn’t it?” my then-boyfriend asked me. It was 1996 and we were driving down to South Beach from West Palm Beach when Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” came on. I had just finished my Organizing Institute Internship. He was on staff with the union I had interned for. It didn’t last, but an old colleague of mine once said that it is the law that you must hook up with someone on your first campaign. I am a law abiding citizen.
Yes, the song did remind me of (person x whose name shall not be disclosed.) But I had moved far away from person x to pursue a career as an organizer, and even if I cried in parking lots in my rental car because I was half dead from exhaustion and the union staff were mean to me and I had no money and I was madly in 22 year old love with a guy who was far far away and unavailable, I was going to make it as an organizer!
Of the things I love about organizing is that you start with the assumption that you are going to change the world. An organizer is the opposite of complacent. Some people look at injustice and say, “This is how it always has been, so this is how it always will be.” Some people say, “The enemy is too strong, we are too weak.” Some people ask, “When is lunch?” An organizer makes a plan to DO something about it.
I have always been a person of action, and this can have its pitfalls. Ask anyone… or on second thought, don’t ask around. If I had been born a man this would have been a less controversial trait. Sometimes it is best not to act, and one must always act strategically. I used to tell my young organizers, who wanted to respond to everything that the boss put out, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”
While one might strategically stand still for a bit, an organizer, like a cat who has ever caught a mouse, is always waiting. Always sensing the moment, reading the room, planning fifty steps ahead and still able to completely change course in a second if the situation calls for it.
I love that I grew up as a labor organizer. Some of the best people I know are people I met through the movement. Having been a part of really changing the world, helping workers change their lives for the better in real, concrete, visible ways, changes you. You can’t live through that for years without coming to believe that you have both power and responsibility.
It sometimes feels like we are up against so much, no matter who “we” are. I have cried a lot this year. I’ve been angry. I’ve grieved deeply over my young friend who died just over a year ago. As winter sets in, this first year after her death, I feel the grief in my bones. It never goes away.
Being an organizer means never giving up. You may change plans, change course, shift gears, switch it up, change your tune, shake it off, but you don’t give up.
I am so grateful to my mentors in the labor movement. What fun we have had.
What I miss most is being a part of a close knit team, joined in purpose. I’ll always miss that except in the times when I have it again. I am an extreme team player. I get my energy from the group, no matter what role I’m playing. I used to say, though I do not mean it, that I don’t care what I’m doing as long as I’m doing it with people I care about. Of course I do care what I’m doing, I’m not going to rob a bank with my best buddies, but you get the idea.
Speaking of robbing banks, do you want to hear a funny?
During the strike at Temple University Hospital in 2010, when 1550 nurses and other healthcare workers went on strike for 28 days, there was a huge concentration of Philadelphia police and Civil Affairs officers at the picket lines. We had explained to everyone that no matter how they were provoked they had to remain non-violent and professional or else we would get it with an injunction and not be able to picket. Our nurses and other healthcare workers were extremely professional so this wasn’t an issue at all, and the picket line was often a summer day party, with singing and dancing and pizza, even tough the stakes were staggeringly high.
One day while maybe a hundred police officers were hanging out around the hospital watching the nurses and others picket, the bank one block down Broad Street was robbed.
In broad daylight.
Eventually they caught the culprit, but he got away pretty easily at the time, in spite of the huge police presence less than a block away, watching peaceful picketers eat pizza and win the biggest victory in Philadelphia union nurses’ history.
Never doubt that you can change the world. But think seriously before robbing a bank. Being a law abiding citizen has its advantages.
This is Sunny, the farm dog on the farm where my mom and I lived outside Reading for several years. May she rest in peace. She lived to be about 17, always free on her 42 acres of Christmas trees. She rescued the farm cat, Miss Kitty, who wandered onto the farm in a terrible snow storm. Sunny found her mommy, Jean the farm owner, and Jean took Miss Kitty in. Miss Kitty turned out to be adopted mommy to Georgia, the many years later farm kitten, who was found in a box on 422 with her sister. Georgia is now my mom’s happy grown fluffy cat about an hour west of Philly. Sunny was a great sister to Georgia. We have pictures of the 94 pound golden retriever and little fluffy Georgia kitten lying paws to paws asleep. Sunny changed the world in her own small realm. We all can too.
Still, don’t rob a bank. And now the Eric Clapton song is stuck in your head. You’re welcome.
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