Coordinators, facilitators, and leaders have a tendency to coordinate, facilitate and lead. Well, therein lies a problem. What do we do when we begin to depend on others to ensure that the difficult work of organizing society gets done? Well, do we depend on others? Please note that I'm playing around with self-evident, rhetorical ideas. That is because I'm curious about the quiet manner in which we slip into roles as we organize for a future where we hope to be more relevant. As a Wobbly, I was attracted to the Industrial Workers of the World because I hoped it would give me more power over my own life. In many ways it did, but it hasn't be given to me by the IWW. In the end, I realize I had to become more self-aware, take risks and I had to get the work done instead of waiting for others to do it for me.
My experience with leadership within grassroots organizations has shown me that a tendency in our society is to be "party" but rarely "participant." The "party" version usually comes in the form of donations. That is because members of grassroots groups often assume the work is going to get done by someone. That is because visible leaders, coordinators, and facilitators emerge to reassure us that someone out there is taking care of business. Perhaps a lack of powerful, identifiable leadership helps explain why the Industrial Workers of the World may seem disorganized. However, the IWW intentionally avoids a monolithic directorate...that is because it's up to us to educate ourselves, organize ourselves, and most importantly, to act for ourselves.
So what do we do to address the lack of historical agency prevalent in our society? Someone's got to bring the ideas forward, right? Or do we wait until people can no longer tolerate the way things are to spring forward with an alternative? It would seem to me that waiting would run a massive risk of inviting reactionary ideas to come to the aid of desperate people. But getting motivated, staying motivated despite constant setbacks and disillusionment, and taking a role doesn't have to be someone else's reality. Can't it be our reality too?
Of course, this doesn't mean acting in an individualistic, self-centered manner, but one that honors and respects one's own interest while appreciating that an injury to one is an injury to all. Therefore, collective harmony will more often than not result in individual harmony. How could it not when one appreciates the inter-dependent nature of life?
Another fear that often prevents us from acting, speaking out, etc. is the fear that we don't know what the best course of action is and we fear the judgments of others. The IWW is often dismissed as an irrelevant response to the problems we face, yet something draws us to it. But it is massively important that we move beyond an intuitive sense that the IWW is offering something unique, or something that sounds ideal, and actually study it. We should know what the IWW is trying to do. We should know what the historical basis for its plan is. And, we should agree that, while not perfect, this plan for organizing society is worth our best efforts and continued sacrifice.
Finally, we need to be reassured that the people with whom we are struggling--and taking risks--are people we know and can trust. So working on our personal relationships within our organization becomes tantamount to a genuine, cohesive and solidaritous struggle.
All of that said, we are brought back to the original point of this discussion: what about leaders? I do believe some people sometimes emerge as something we have termed "natural leaders." But why is this? Does this imply that the rest of us are "natural followers"? I'm curious about human history and our limited understanding of human nature. Is it natural for some to lead and others to follow? Or is this the result of thousands of years of human evolution based on the idea that hierarchy is natural? Is there a natural necessity for some to lead and some to follow? Can we imagine and reflect on this concept outside our intuitive reactions to this idea?
I'm not convinced that leadership is natural. And even if it were, is it desirable? Either way, the tasks at hand affect us all and I would think that one would relish the reality that their life is not pre-determined and that one has the opportunity to make their own history and shape their own life and construct their own knowledge. But developing such agency requires taking some risks and realizing that saying we need to work together to accomplish our hopes of a brighter future is much easier than actually picking up the tools and getting to work.
Edward Gibbon, the author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, once wrote "Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his expectation, that the Senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
I believe one of our amazing unions most fundamental roles is to smash hierarchy! Perhaps even before we talk of tackling capitalism. Of course, we should work on both concomitantly. But I honestly believe capitalism is born from the historical role of domination that springs forth from hierarchy. We must look at our social relationships. We must look at our dominion over nonhuman nature. We must look at our social interactions. We must look at the ease with which we slip into roles that we rarely determine are necessary and ethical.
So let us begin a discussion of the need for each of us to accept our ontological vocation of becoming subjects not subjugated. Let us enjoy the fruits of mutual aid as we become agents in the shaping of our own lives and no longer be the slave objects of the powerful forces to whom we've relinquished our agency. In other words, pick up a machete and start clearing your own path.
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