Forget the Great Resignation, Let’s Call it the Great Organization
May Day reflections from the Rev. Molly Housh Gordon
At the end of March I attended one of the first large community meetings I had been to in two years. The Daniel Boone Regional Library Workers United solidarity meeting was being hosted at the church I serve, and I walked in to a buzz of energy that had me grinning and verklempt. People were filling our space with their hope, presence, and warm greetings… I missed that feeling so so much.
As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I gazed at the crowd and the worker organizers arrayed across our chancel — 8 leaders of varying ages and identities, some more used to shelving books than public speaking, but all clearly ready to lead. I found myself pondering the courage and love that find humans reaching out of our comfort zones to do something important for ourselves and our community. I found myself admiring the beauty of leadership so clearly shared between many in a collective.
And as the evening unfolded and various folks rose to the pulpit or sat in wheelchairs and told their stories, I was very certain that I was on holy ground that had nothing to do with being in a church sanctuary.
It’s difficult to describe the sensation of that meeting other than to say that I was overwhelmed by a feeling deep caring. The stories shared of course had their share of pain and struggle in the face of difficult working conditions, policies, and wage & benefits issues, but what I kept hearing again and again was love — love in the struggle, love because of the struggle, love for one another.
These folks want our library to be a better place for our community, and for their own lives, and perhaps most profoundly, for each other, as fellow library staff. And the crowd gathered that evening wanted that too, so that we were all just sitting there in the spirit of care and a shared dream of thriving. It became clear to me in that moment how life-giving is the collective — how much powerful our imaginations are together. How much more powerful WE are together in exercising and embodying our dreams. The spirit of WE in that room was palpable.
I felt myself soaking it up like a flower in dry cracked dirt. When the time came to slip out and go put my kids to bed, I didn’t want to leave or miss a single moment of the communal spirit.
This is the possibility of collective organizing. This is the dream at the heart of a Union. It is the love that lifts us up in dignity, the love that refuses to leave our colleagues behind. It is the shared love of community that satisfies our thirst across landscapes of manufactured scarcity and control. The power of WE to shape our lives toward something more beautiful for each and all.
I don’t want to be too romantic. Labor organizing is of course a human endeavor, and complicated by human hypocrisies. Over many decades of history Unions have bridged divides and created them. They have overcome corporate strategies to deepen racial animosity and they have fallen prey to those strategies in very harmful ways. They have been just as gritty and hard as they have been caring and idealistic. They have seen power shared widely among members and horded by a few. So it goes with human endeavors.
But at their best, collective organizing efforts awaken and embolden in us the profound power of a larger WE than we otherwise dare to dream.
It is that Best that I experienced at the Library Workers solidarity meeting, and it is that Best that I invite us to stay our hearts upon this morning.
Across the last two years, Americans’ experience of and attitude toward our working lives have seen radical shifts, brought about by a global pandemic unveiling and deepening many of the long felt dynamics of late stage capitalism.
It’s all over the news with different framing language — They are calling it great resignation, the worker shortage, the resurgence of Unionizing efforts — all of these ways we are witness the people’s collective unwillingness to give our lives over any longer to an economy that cares nothing for us.
All of it is rooted in what I hope will be remembered by history as a profound reorientation of values in the face of our great global existential crisis these last two years.
At the very universal scale, it became so clear, didn’t it, what really matters in this life? It always does come clear when life bumps up against mortality and limits.
I know my own workaholism was brought for a while to a roaring stop — oh wait! My days here are short, and my loved ones are precious, and our time together is worth everything.
We also saw — perhaps more clearly than some of us ever had, a long time truth — that our current economy is built upon the plunder of inherent human worth.
That it will take everything it can from us and give us a pittance in return.
We saw this in the pandemic… in our own lives, through the experiences of other frontline workers, and the policy decisions unfolding all around us… we saw how little the systems upholding our economy care for us — how willing they are to sacrifice us for the sake of the market or the bottom line.
We saw how it is all built on using us up no matter the consequence like still more fossil fuel.
But we saw something else too. We saw something else too — we saw how well we can care for each other.
We saw it in unprecedented mutual aid efforts, in uprisings for the sanctity of Black life, in every space where we showed up or stayed apart to protect one another.
We caught a glimpse of how things could be different if we built it all upon care.
We saw how we could work together to make things different by investing in the collective, by caring for one another in a very material and embodied ways.
Now, we know some people learned a different lesson from this time and from cynical politicians and media outlets — some people did double down on going it alone, or ignoring our interdependence, or refusing masks or vaccines.
But I want to remind you that those of us who learned something profound about loving one another well, we are many. We are many. And we realized how much we care for each another, and we saw anew HOW to care for one another well.
And I think… I suspect… I hope… it has changed us.
In fact, I suspect that glimpse of the power of collective care is one thing at the core of this current moment in our history and the current wave of labor organizing and informal workers’ rights advocacy.
This moment in history, that perhaps we can cease to call the Great Resignation and begin to call the Great Organization.
This is not a time of people refusing to work — if we can double down on what we have learned about care, this may be a time of investing in the collective and creating structures that will love us back because they are us, because we care for us.
This Great Organization is unfolding everywhere. At Starbucks locations across the nation. In Amazon warehouses from Alabama to New York. Here in Columbia at our beloved library and so many other less formal places too.
Did you know Hospitality Industry workers here in Columbia are rallying to help one another access mental health care after the traumas of their last two years?
And that part of why that Amazon Union in New York came to be is because its leaders held cookouts and asked their colleagues what care they needed and then gave it…. Rides to the doctor and new shoes for kids, and, yes, also organizing for protections from back breaking work conditions?
The great Organization is unfolding, and it shows every possibility of helping us all create a new WE. A new shared power and new structures that turn us back toward one another.
This is good news for us all. This moment of possibility — this moment to turn away from systems of domination and plunder and to create structures of collective care in the rubble of those crumbling systems.
Unitarian Universalists believe that all of life is deeply interdependent — entangled in ways that are both profoundly beautiful and terribly threatening — surely a global pandemic has reminded us that our closeness to one another can be blessing or risk.
America’s experience of Covid-19 has shown us what deathliness unfolds when many try to escape or ignore our entanglement.
The forces of our economy and other macro-systems have shown us over centuries the deathliness that spreads when a few seek to control the entangled many.
AND, across generations there are also, always, those who show us what is possible when we deepen into a great and humble respect for our entanglement — when we seek to make our connections visible, and weave ourselves together justly.
This is the faithful good news of the Great Organization. This is our call to support collective bargaining and labor organizing, because at its best, it can show us the way toward weaving ourselves more tightly together in mutual care.
It can show us how we make our interdependence material by relying one another, showing up for and with one another, building trust and making decisions together, and caring for each other.
As a person of faith I also believe that human worth is a given, that it need not be earned and cannot be taken away. But it surely can be mistreated, deeply and damagingly. I find a call at the heart of my faith to join with all who resist such harm… to align myself with those who center in their dignity and demand better for and with themselves and one another.
On May 18, the workers of the Daniel Boone Regional Library will begin the process to vote up or down their union, together. They have already shown our community what it is to dream and nurture structures of collective care, structures that support the power of WE. I hope that we will keep showing up for and with them and with all who center dignity and reach toward one another in connection.
As Marge Piercy writes in her poem “The Low Road.”
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean,
and each day you mean one more.
Power to the WE, y’all! Happy International Workers’ Day!