Let’s start as I travel to work in East Oakland, which I have done most mornings for the past five years.
And as I travel to work, I see people working and not working.
As I travel to work, I see people walking to and from the corner and the market, their homes, the bus, sometimes school, sometimes walking a dog.
As I travel to and from work, I can’t always tell who is working and who is on their day off, who has work tomorrow or who can’t work.
Sometimes I can tell who has set up their own employment, who is working the corner and selling their labor on the market, for cash, for credit, for some food, housing, for security.
As my travel to and from work changes, I can’t always tell what I’m doing for work and what I’m doing as volunteer. Not in this transition. Or rather, the ‘work for cash, for food, housing, for security’ issue is becoming both more clear and less significant. Or rather, I am re-jigging the containers that hold the motivations.
As I write this, there are a few lines streaming through my head. Security by Etta James :
“want security, yeah// Without it I'm at a great loss// Yes I am, now// Security, yeah, yeah// And I want it any cost, yes I do now// Oh, don't want no money now// Don't want no pay// But with security, yeah, yeah// I'll have all these things…As I write this, also floating is the mission of a certain political organization: “We believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure. As such, our work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness.”
I am thinking about the changes that I am making in my life this year. I am thinking about my relative security, the stability I’ve had in the last five years from part-time, part-time, part-time, intern, part-time, volunteer, part-time, full-time, volunteer, full-time work. The variations of hourly wage, project-based pay, free labor, salary.
I’m thinking about security and what working towards community stability means in this neoliberal moment in capitalism. I am thinking about context and structures. I am thinking about my own relationship to security, “individual” and shared. What comes with pay and what comes with labor, whether paid work is how we meet our security needs or whether we labor in unpaid ways to build security. I am thinking about how we actually can't always get paid in pursuit of it or how precarious security is for some, historically and in this moment. How society is unwilling to pay particular groupings for work at all and how society is unwilling to allow particular groupings of people to survive― let alone thrive― at all. How society and the state prioritizes keeping certain people unemployable, expendable, at risk. How the capitalist state shapes these priorities. How the state is antagonistic to self-determination. I am thinking about basic necessities that we fight and build for, on a personal and on local-state-and-national levels. This expands ever outwards.
And, as I write this, I am thinking of Ashley Hunt projects that map political, social and economic landscapes, particularly What is the context for today’s prison industrial complex?
I am thinking about the changes I am making and what is still consistent. I am thinking about all the work that I have done for free, that I was happy to do knowing that it was generally “impossible” to get paid for it. Or that it is the kind of work that would never be paid or valued as a career; it produced no surplus value for the market. Producing propaganda, coordinating mobilizations, updating websites, drafting talking points, reading, monitoring news and government, outreaching to people to build momentum for political struggle. It is anti-work, as such: work for anti-capitalist, anti-state movements, these movements being about making visible and powerful the people displaced, disappeared, silenced, expended and killed under neo-liberalism, these movements being about reflecting and prioritizing those made unemployable and socially dead; these movements being about building our people-power capacity to fight cages and the violence of policing. I know this might sound didactic, but sometimes I want to be clear. Sometimes I say things in loops. These movements being about liberation, which has always been antagonistic to the expansion and imposition of capitalism and the state. Sometimes loops in dialectics. Towards understanding where we are and what is around us. Sometimes ways of understanding and conversing. Towards a goal.
I am thinking about how I have stolen pockets of time from my job at a college for the past 5 years to do this work. But I am also thinking about how I have spent almost every Monday and definitely every Wednesday from 6:30-9:30pm at a certain political organization for the last 3 years. How I often spend two Saturdays a month doing workshops, how I spend every other Tuesday evening and one Sunday morning a month on a conference call, afternoons doing outreach, every other Saturday morning since last summer working on a campaign to abolish solitary confinement, soon Thursday evenings instead, and then all the work in between and all that I am forgetting. Which is to say, it is impossible to pretend that the minutes that I bilked at a desk amount to anything near a pittance of the time I’ve worked as a volunteer. Which is to say to say that I have been doing some kind of work or “anti-work” in my “8 hours for what we will.”
And how I can say that I love it.
So? What about this now?
Over the last six years I’ve done all sorts of work. Eventually the split hours and multiple paychecks clustered into one salary, a relatively low-stress and cyclical administrative job at a college. Fine by me; I’m not a careerist. “How lucky,” a comrade recently said to me.1 I sought fulfillment outside of “work” or “job,” I poured my love into the 8 hours for what you will and shrug off the 8 hours for work as less reflective of my personhood, my goals.2 I developed anti-work politics to the extent that I knew it was impossible to get paid for what I loved or for political struggle. And yet, I recently left the cyclical administrative job to join the small staff at the political organization I've spent countless hours at. It's both admin and political organizing. It's a job with a lot of administrative work: office tasks, emails, raising funds, stabilizing the financial health and well-being of the organization, and supporting our 100+ members and volunteers, our campaigns, projects, and coalitions. It is towards an end that I love and find meaningful, challenging and worthy.
I get ahead of myself. Or, that is one way of saying what now is. How did this happen? At the same time I was getting fucked over by the college last fall as they retroactively and suddenly monetized a previously free fringe benefit, there happened a job opening at a political organization that I am a member of. My aggression towards my employer was increasing and I was refreshed by the cold deluge that reminded me that the college job was just a job. I jumped. Applied. Interviewed. Etc. Accepted the offer. So now, here I go, towards being a organizer in my paid work. What I thought was impossible. What is not a career. Except in the Bay Area. Except maybe in New York. Except in a handful of other places. Except it's not a career per se and it is subject to precarity of funding, to the political assessment and vision of campaigns, membership and our needs, which is to say that it will not last forever, but it is needed right now. Self-aware obsolescence. A job position to take care of resource stability. What is political leadership, however. What is a transition, a new step.
People keep asking me, “Are you excited?” I answer, “Yea, I am.” or “Yea, I feel incredibly lucky that this work gets to move front and center for me.” And yet the anti-work politics I developed at my administrative job are in question. I used to clock out of work at 6pm on weekdays and didn’t think about work on the weekends. Instead, I regularly did political organizing-related things―presentations, workshops, calls, preparation, etc.―on Saturdays and Sundays. Now I have no idea what will happen when I don’t have a “week” as organized by paid work. What then is the week-end? What will be my work politic as the containers shift?
What will be my “8 hours for what we will”? If I’ll continue working everyday (“8 hours for work”) and I am lucky enough that the new job is not a totally soul-sucking one or a physically hazardous one or a socially hazardous one, then will I, in addition, continue to devote time from “8 hours for what we will”? Or will I become a worker as my contribution? I doubt it will be that clean. Political organizing never is. What one loves never is. Is it a matter of bandwidth? Of focus?
I’m going to have to re-orient myself in relation to work politics. What will it mean to be salaried by the thing that I have done for free for so many years? What is the worker ethic towards anti-capitalist work? What is the worker ethic towards self-aware obsolescence? Doing it well? To be willing to put out as needed, when needed for the movement? Wary of applying a workerist ethic to any work, yet driven by obligations, to do things well, and to be selfless, I am left wondering― is it militancy? Is it love? Is it another kind of work? Aren't these all infused with each other? (As Kathi Weeks argues in the Problem with Work, it's not as if all the things that we labor towards are going to disappear after capitalism. Someone is going to have to make the food, plant the seeds, turn the dirt, take out the trash, care for our bodies, write our stories, maintain our community centers.) The problem with work is a problem with capitalism. What is the thing to call the work that builds capacity for security, for our wants and needs? What is the thing to call effort and discomfort? Even if with love?
And what about the other containers? Whatever it takes to take care of my personal needs that can be extracted from the political projects. Alongside the 8 hours for what we will, there is also "8 hours for rest," and then entire remaining 24/7/52 that I love generously losing track of. All the other things I rely on to thrive and to be able to to show up. Being generous with myself and others, comrades and friends, is central in my life. What of this residue?
In my last week at the college, I took an inventory of the post-its stuck to my computer monitor, which remind me of the things I don't want to forget:
"8 hours for what you will...for what you will"
"confronting genocide// CA Prisoner Hunger Strikes. In a moment when an extra civil society that must issue demands, we must be suspicious of [occupy] movements that refuse to issue demands."
"winner winner chicken dinner"
"call: NAME NAME. (510) ###-#### website, email"
the minutes and seconds from video archiving a reading. phone number for a doctor. EKG details. my log-in and password for my bank account. "No on [Don] Link" anti-campaign stickers. someone's graduation year and program. LOG AND READY FOR BA. lists of people to email and what I have to say.
I think about what I am leaving, these piles of post-its, these inane details of life and what I think about, and I realize that where I work has also been a site in which I have organized my life. If we spend 40 hours a week somewhere, that’s inevitable, or at least highly likely. How work shapes us. Or, “the work you do does work on you.”
This also is part of the 8/8/8 split, or infused in the 24/7/52. I realize how obsessive this counting and containing is. How work makes us do it. How it becomes a site. I am thinking about this in relation to all kinds of work, so perhaps this particular piece is more about me processing transition. How will the containers shift? What will the next site hold? I am excited and curious. Perhaps also stressed. The feelings of anticipation when one has less control. Self-lessness. Good work and tiring work.
So, I see this new work as not about me (yet not absent of me). It is a site. It’s where I show up to and where I apply my effort, my analysis, my companionship. And I think this is what militancy, or love, or certain kinds of work, or political work, allows you― to be part of struggle and to be moving with others towards a concrete dream that’s about survival and liberation. It creates ties that could run deep or at least familiarly. Ties that rely on communication and collaboration and compromise across and through and despite difference. It’s hard. Hard work. Effort. It tires. It is tiring. It also rejuvenates. Which is why it’s not about where I am necessarily, but about where I am particularly and where [you] are particularly and where we want to go together. I’m stepping into transition, and trying not to be precious about it. There will be more admin work. There will also be more political questions, more informed decisions, broader thinking, more trying things out. Knowing transitions can last lifetimes, and time, place and conditions are always changing. And that there is work to do, now, here, towards a political goal that we envision. This new job is explicitly about that.
A dear friend and political partner is moving away. We talk about generosity and understanding. It is sad. And yet, we hold space for a future to move onward towards. That night, he talks about Cabral and political reality, how it “only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices.”3 I talk about Fred Moten and Frantz Fanon, how to understand the relationship between living and struggling, to understand how we are doing both for how beautiful we are. Here's to detailed knowledge and how to understand: thru practice, thru efforts, thru sacrifices, through willingness.
1 Loving and sarcastic cruel irony from an anti-capitalist. She’s over 40 and is looking at the next couple decades of her life, and she’s not downplaying the importance of stable food, housing and resources.
2 Which isn’t to say that I didn’t love people at that job, or that it didn’t build me. Further I do admit how this writing project demonstrates the luxurious contradictions of landing a job in a field that would get me going as a writer, set up some social relationships, position me to see poetry as a form of expression that matched my habits of reading, continual analysis and critical thinking, with desire for art.
3 Cabral, Amilcar. "The Weapon of Theory"