Thursday, March 28, 2013

Towards More Better Problems

Okay, well, here we go, welcome to my new blog! I used to write over at Thoughts on the Struggle, but have pretty much abandoned that blog by now. It's got some things that I'm still quite interested in, but it also serves now for me mostly as a way of watching my politics develop through the period I was in college through transitioning to being a full-time worker and organizer. It's got some stuff on there that I'm proud of and also some that I'm sort of embarrassed by now. The toughest stuff for me now is reading my attempts to basically try to argue for better politics within the ridiculous "anarchist milieu" that I was more active in during that period, and which I've tried, mostly successfully, to completely break with over the past few years.

So what are Better Problems? My recent political trajectory has been away from classical red anarchism and towards a mismash of anarchist, Marxist, syndicalist and other influences. I've also moved from being a student activist (thank god!) towards being a union organizer with occasional participation in mass/community struggles. As I've made these moves, I've found myself coming up against better problems all the time. No longer am I engaged in pitched debates about the value of consensus vs parliamentary procedure, or in hand-wringing apologia for the most absurd of academic-y anarchist privilege politics. It's not that these debates have ended, but I've moved my attention away from these debates, which frankly don't matter because of both their content and their participants, towards issues which arise from the concrete work that I'm doing and observing from a close distance. In some ways it makes sense that people who are involved in work that doesn't really matter in a broader political level would have debates about things that don't matter either. Since leaving that milieu, I've been focused on thinking about Better Problems.

The place where I do 95%+ of my organizing work is in the Industrial Workers of the World and that's the specific place where the name of this blog springs from. Having developed as a militant within the organization and having done a small amount of work to develop others within it, I have found that we continually encounter Better Problems in our internal culture and in our organizing work, which I pray means that we are moving in the right direction. It's worth mentioning that I learned of the existence of such problems from my friend and mentor in the IWW, Nate Hawthorne, who blogs over here and is wicked smart. When I became active in 2007 in the organization outside of the Twin Cities, where I live, the organization was in the final stages of a transition towards focusing on point-of-production organizing work and theoretical innovation of unionist practice, away from being the "Joe Hill society" that it had primarily functioned as for many years. I did not do much to help that political transition along, but was there for it when it was (mostly) completed and have been incredibly inspired by the idea that an organization need not be a necessary evil where you tolerate the vast majority of people, which had been my experience in student organizing, but could actually be a member-run, mostly positive, exciting thing to be part of. Coming from the world of student activism and anarchist scene hipsterism, I think it's actually taken me years to realize exactly how lucky I am to be able to be part of an organization that I actually believe in. Not just believing in the goals that the organization espouses, which is so much of what passes for membership in a radical organization these days, but actually in the viability and life of the organization through the great people involved. And while the work to push the IWW back from the fringes of the union movement is far from over and has indeed barely begun, it's a clear sign to me that every time I engage with union members about our work and with workers about organizing against their bosses, I see more and more Better Problems all the time. These problems would not be visible if we hadn't been able to deal with worse problems, so I'm hopeful that we're on the right track.

I won't promise to be regular or coherent in my postings here, but I am hoping that it serves as a place to push me to write more. I'm super undisciplined about writing and having the attendant distractions that late capitalism provides me makes it a challenge to sit down and bang out a piece. I'm also way more verbal than I am a writer, but talking to people is useful only if you're able to do so frequently and there are far more people involved in the movement that I want to engage with than whose phone numbers I have, so there we go. And since I'm just throwing out excuses for my forthcoming uselessness, my final one is that I'm terrible at responding to even the most well thought-out and argued comments, as I've learned when comrades respond to pieces I've published. I promise to read everything and will do my best to respond but, as I said, I often lack the discipline to sit down and respond to someone's really effective and good ideas. Doesn't mean I don't learn from them and that others won't as well.

Okay, enough of that, welcome to anyone who checks this out, hope to be posting soon.