It’s easy, when we’re pressed up against each other, dealing with one crisis after another, scrambling to get done what needs to get done from one moment to the next, to sniff out differences in one another. In close quarters, the whiff of small difference can seem overwhelming.
It’s important to take opportunities to think about the big picture, and why we’re all together in DSA in the first place. Most of us met and got to know each other because we were moved by an existential crisis to take action to build something that could protect our communities and fight for a better future. None of us were paid or induced to it. We all decided to give freely of our time, lives, and livelihood to be a part of building up an organization. We walked into rooms full of strangers and decided to trust one another. All packed together, it is easy to forget the wider world and how we all ended up here, but now as we start a new year together it’s a perfect chance to think about the remarkable fact that, most of us strangers just a year ago, we ended up here together with a common purpose.
To that end, I’m making some resolutions for my work.
Speak Plain. Argot is fun—learning the codes and slangs of an in-group can create a sense of belonging like little else. There’s nothing wrong with building and enjoying a subculture. But we need to try to remember how it can feel to step into a place where everybody is speaking a language you don’t understand. It can be a huge barrier, often a subconscious one, to involvement. In 2018 I’m going to remember a rule I always try to stick to when writing and bring it into my organizing life: when a plain English word will do, avoid a technical or academic word. Avoid Latin or Greek-rooted words. If it ends in -ize (theorize, systematize, legitimize) look for a simpler word. And for goodness’s sake—curve that jargon hard. Related to that, leave on-line on-line, and don’t bring it onto the street where nobody is going to know what the hell you’re talking about.
Be in the World. For the last year, a huge amount of our time has been devoted to getting to know each other and building up the space for each other to do work, and learn the ins and outs of organization and leadership. Our work is hardly done, but we’ve come a long way, and in the new year, I want to endeavor to take our mission and our message out into the world, and build the kinds of relationships and contacts that will help us ensure our continued growth. If we want to build socialism in the world, we have to be a part of the world around us, and learn through trial and error what works and what doesn’t when we engage with folks unfamiliar with us and our vision.
Remember People Want to Work. One of the first lessons I learned in organizing was to not put your limitations on others, either out of manners or fear. This played out when I was afraid to ask people to pitch in weekly dues for a campaign, because I assumed they wouldn’t want to spend it given their incomes. A wild thing happened when I started to ask: almost nobody refused. People wanted to contribute what they could because they believed in the work and wanted to be a part of it. The same goes for us, and we need to be persistent in asking one another to take on work and chip in—and not just the usual suspects, whom we know to be reliable. In fact, to the contrary, we need to be committed to asking all of our comrades to step up and take on work. It’s why we’re here together.
Learn How to Win and Lose. As our organization grows, there are going to be competing ideas, strategies, and tactics. We all have to learn not to be afraid to advocate for the best ways forward, and not to confuse an excess of manners with solidarity. The mature reality is that there are going to be moments of open competition and in fact where only open competition—with winners and losers—can resolve a matter. Prolonging a dispute in the name of accommodation isn’t doing anyone any favors; to the contrary it prevents progress. Losing is rough but it isn’t the end. We shouldn’t hold grudges or treat each difference of opinion as matter of existential threat. Losing on one issue doesn’t doom you forever. We’re going to face a lot of losses in the future and we need to learn how to take a loss and get back up. Just as important, we need to learn how to win with our hands out to pick up our temporary adversaries, dust them off, and prepare to march together. Let’s not forget: we chose to be here together, to learn together, and to fight together. We’re going to need one another more and more, because the world won’t be nearly as forgiving as we can be to each other.
Be the Listmaker I Want to See in the World. A lot of what we need to get done is going to require keeping good lists—lists of names, contact information, dates, documents, whatever. These don’t come out of thin air. All of our ideas—all of them—require administrative work to go from the meeting to the world. I think many of us suffer from “someone else’ll do it,” and that won’t fly as we strive to massively increase our organization not only in size but in fighting posture. Be the administrator, and be ready to share the duties with others.