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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Mar 29, 2003

Freedom for our People

A great wall separates us, in our current reality where the powerful pee - figuratively - on us, from the emerging new era with its limitless possibilities. It's not a physical wall, but rather a wall built of our own fears - fears about changing the current reality, fears about looking at conventional wisdom and saying "oh piss on this" and fears about moving forward on our own steam to our own future.

There are all kinds of fears within our wall: Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of having old friends and colleagues look at us as though we've got two heads. Who we are, where we are and what we fear most, determine the height and imperviousness of our own piece of the wall. Many of those around us are still on the current reality side, oblivious to the evolution that's happening all around. Those who are really into the current reality spend their time seeking status, racing with rats, absorbing the pulp fiction that the mainstream sells them, believing that work makes free and, just in case it doesn't, buying lottery tickets.

A growing number however are sitting on the wall. Many have learned through some bone jarring experience or just a persistent gnawing in the backs of their minds that the current reality really sucks and is passing into history and that better things are possible. They've scaled the wall and stand precariously looking at what lies on the other side.

What they see is confusing - it has no real form, but is sort of dazzling just the same. The absence of the structures of the current reality makes it so. What we see is the future, so there's nothing there right now, just limitless possibilities. What we see is our freedom. There are no structures to keep us locked up and muzzled.

Those of us who are on the wall are in a quandary - on the one hand we know that things must change, that they are changing and that change (for better or worse) is inevitable, unstoppable. That's not a bad thing. We realize that much of what we have believed in and held dear is just a lot of smoke and mirrors.It's good to be done with it. On the other hand, going forward is scary. You don't know what it's going to be like out there. Nobody knows because it hasn't happened yet. We know that if we go forward we can help create it and it could be a wonderful era, something we've been dreaming of for several millennia. But we hesitate because going forward means - potentially - giving up so much of what is known. We've been taught to look before we leap. Better the devil you know than the one you don't know. That's a big piece of the conventional wisdom of the current reality.

A few of us have gone over the wall or at least go over it frequently to explore and we'll make no bones about it: It's pretty cool. Well, it's not without its challenges but we haven't looked back yet, not with any longing for the current reality anyways.

For those of you whose asses are getting sore from sitting on the wall, here are some pointers to get you moving forward. Going over the wall requires - firstly - that you abandon any notions you have about the "rightness" of conventional wisdom. You must not rely on conventional wisdom (what is understood as right, proper, acceptable by the mainstream of society). If you do, you'll sit on the wall forever or fall backwards.

The conventional wisdom of the powerful dictates that things are pretty rotten for us because we deserve it. There's only so much good to go around and those who are deserving have got their share and some will have to do without. If you're one of them, the sooner you get used to it the better. It's pointless to try to change things. Lower your expectations and you're less likely to be disappointed. That's bullshit.

It doesn't have to be this way. Repeat this to yourself over and over again. It's important and empowering to do things that matter. It's important that you decide for yourself what matters to you and to seek out like minded others.

Do things that matter. The past few days, months, years have seen millions of people getting involved in things that matter. Whether they are protesting war, helping their communities, reaching out to others or just wrestling with an odd sense of having a mission, they are doing things that go beyond just looking after their own immediate interests. Those of us who have become involved in union reform or the broader concept of workplace democracy are examples of people who are doing things that matter.

Where you work is not who you are. "I can't get involved with these new era ideas or freaky radicals. I've got a good job and it just wouldn't go over well." Those of you who are employed by the structures of the current reality (those who have good jobs in unions, government or maybe even in the business community) have to watch out for this cop out. If you allow how you earn your living to define who you are, you'll be in the toilet the day the boss walks you out the door. We're not suggesting that you go out and get yourself fired to help facilitate the evolution of unions or of workplace democracy but recognize that there are things you can do inside and outside your workplace that may further the cause. Recognize also that your current reality impacts on your thinking more than it might on someone living on the margins of mainstream society. There's a lot you can do and the level and intensity of your activities can range from simply observing what's going on around you and sharing your insights with interested others to tabling bargaining demands about things that matter to your coworkers to engaging in more direct action. The important thing is that you've gotta do something.

Judge not. Conventional measures don't work in the new era. Do not judge others based on conventional assessments or measures. It doesn't matter what we do for a living, where we've come from or even what we've done - what's most important is what we think, what we're doing and what we can contribute.

Seek out opportunities to facilitate evolution or - in other words - to get things moving. Conventional wisdom tells us that opportunities where we can make things happen occur in conventional places, like conventions or other shmoozefests of the powerful. Don't buy it. Where you can make your biggest impact is day to day with those around you.

Work time is not dead time. Just because you're at work doesn't mean your brain has to stop functioning. Even if you're in a mind-numbing job, look around you at your work environment. What do you see happening? How do people behave? How do they relate to each other? What boneheaded practices, policies and strategies are holding people back? What can you learn about the organization you work for? Write down your thoughts and impressions. What does it mean, to you?

Be way out there. Assume the absolute rightness of nothing. You may have to rely on conventional processes (like collective bargaining, arbitration, LRB complaints) to deal with specific issues. Don't assume that these are the be all and end all of workers' freedom. When you're in "the system", win or lose, think about what's not right with it, what is needed for workers' to have meaningful justice and then tell others what you think. The structures and processes are only about 50 years old. They came for a specific purpose - to prop up a certain order. They're relevant only as long as we give them relevance. They'll go when they become irrelevant. The same goes for conventional thinking about organizing, union membership, organizational structures, management rights and all the other stuff that has workers mired down. When dealing with an issue, don't limit yourself to looking for solutions that fit with conventional thinking.

Expect only the best from yourself and the like minded others who you will meet along the way. Everyone has something to contribute. It's those contributions that will create forward motion. Be wary of the conventional thinking about relationships and about leadership. You can't be seeking to uproot a system built on bosses if you're carrying on like one. Talking loudly, spewing rhetoric, badgering people is not always the most effective way to move forward. Polarizing people is part of the conventional set up. It's easy to get people scurrying back to their trenches. You want to make them think not follow you like new era bugs.

Do what makes sense to you. You don't have to give up everything you own and go live in a hole in the ground to go over the wall. You do not need to give up your current job, circle of friends, or family to go over the wall. Going over the wall can be a lot of fun for those around you. A lot of what you think or want to do may interest people around you. If it doesn't, no harm done, you can still broaden their thinking even though they may find you a little hard to take. Depending on what you do or how far you go, some of your current circle of acquaintances may distance themselves from you. But that's life isn't it? Don't go out of your way to alienate others - be a beacon, whatever that means to you.

Do things that matter to you. Going over the wall means following your dreams, doing things that matter to you, doing things that give your life meaning and that will answer the question "what did I do with my life". What should you do? When, how, with whom? Whatever makes sense to you. Whatever will help in some way to move things forward. If you're one of those people who has an easier time understanding things in relation to what something is not: It's not doing stuff that makes you feel bored, lethargic, stressed, disempowered, futile or stuff to that effect.

Do it. It doesn't really matter where you start or how you start, as long as you start. The new era is a blank page. There are no guarantees of success (as conventionally understood) but there are limitless possibilities. One thing leads to another. Think of ripples or the patterns you see in nature. It's like that.

Watch out for traps: As you go forward, watch out for these pitfalls of conventional thinking:

  • I have to have a plan with lots of details.
  • I need a lot of people behind me to do this.
  • I need a lot of money. You have pretty much everything you need.
  • I need recognition from important "others".
  • I need to have some large important organization behind me.
  • I need somebody's approval.
  • I need to give up my current lifestyle, friends, job, in order to pursue this.
  • I don't have the right education/connections/credentials to do this.
  • I don't think I can go head to head with very important people on this.
  • Someone will oppose me.
  • I'm not smart enough.

A lot of people have worked very hard to make you think this way. Most of them are way better off materially than you are because of it. But remember, conventional measures (like income, occupation, even formal education) are not necessarily relevant in the new era. The people who work hard to keep you meek are no better than you, no more creative, no more insightful, no more capable than you are. Breaking away from a lifetime of conditioning is a most important step to getting over your own wall of fear. It's not that hard to do and once you do it you'll wonder what took you so long.

If you're having a hard time picturing this figurative wall of fear, think about this well-known wall. Residents from the oppressed side would come to the wall to look at what was on the other side. Some would even go over the wall at great personal risk. For many years the wall seemed impenetrable. Then it came down pretty much overnight. How'd that happen? What lay on the other side was more desirable and more important than bigger cars, nicer homes and more money: It was Freedom.

Beyond the wall: Walk softly and carry a big idea.

The Last Rant?

This will conclude our weekly commentary series (sometimes known among MFD'ers as the "weekly rant"). The Weekly has been running since the summer of 2001. We've covered a lot of ground and said a lot of things that needed saying. We want now to move forward, beyond simply commenting on how things are, to helping people move forward. To this end, we will be introducing a bi-weekly "how to" series aimed at providing more practical advice on topics that may be of interest to the union and workplace reformers. These will be more along the lines of our Toolkit articles.

For fans of the weekly rant, don't sweat it. We'll continue to comment in depth and with no holds barred on issues of high interest at least once per month and maybe more if the urge hits us.

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