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This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

Source code on GitHub (MIT license).

[...] Why on earth did I keep doing it?

Why did anyone? Because of their political beliefs? Maybe at first — I didn’t want to be an armchair revolutionary. But sheer ideological conviction is rarely a predictor of someone’s organizing stamina. More importantly: because your father was in a union, or — more likely — your mother needed to be; because your friend needed child care or you needed a therapist. These things genuinely mattered. But at some point you took a leap into excess. Was I really organizing forty hours a week because I wanted dental? At the rate we were going, I was unlikely to see any of the benefits anyway.

If much of my daily struggle was against the experience of grad school itself, I had also been looking for something like the union for a long time. I had ended up at the community-organizing nonprofit all those years prior after a few months spent volunteering with an anarchist collective in the ruins of New Orleans after Katrina, frustrated with the limits of mutual aid in the face of total state breakdown, and had been grasping for some kind of political activity that was both transformative and pragmatic ever since. Organizing was all about that dialectic. The union connected our demands — which were real but not exactly world-historical — to the long history of labor struggles, contemporary efforts to rebuild worker power, visions of a radically different future that we could play a role in bringing about.

So we demanded bread and butter, but we were ultimately organizing for the future of academic life, which was visibly crumbling around us; or for the revival of the labor movement, which had mostly already crumbled; or because it was intolerable to live in a city as segregated as New Haven and not do something about it. That our union had been organizing for three decades was both motivating and burdensome. We knew the past triumphs and failures, attachments and wounds; we inherited hope and melancholy. In this, it was not unlike the broader left: so much history, so much struggle — sometimes too much. We knew we had tuition waivers and stipends and health care because of the union; still, the fact that no one yet had won the whole thing in the end could be sobering. Why would we be the ones to succeed where so many others had failed? But it was also comforting: as there was GESO before us, so there would be GESO after. The campaign to unionize US Steel had taken nearly fifty years; more recently, Smithfield Foods had taken twenty-four.

Sometimes I felt I was organizing for the future of the entire world, in a deductive train that went: capitalism was going to devastate the planet; to fight it we needed strong unions, which meant new organizing, particularly in low-carbon fields like teaching, which meant building the academic labor movement — which meant that I needed to unionize the Yale political science department. It was absurd. Could I have been more quixotic, more grandiose, more self-important? Our style of organizing was intense, often all-consuming, and I knew that, too. I didn’t always like it. Often I longed for a nice life, an easy life, the life of the mind that academics were supposed to have. Couldn’t I just go to demonstrations here and there on the weekends before stopping off for groceries, the way I had before?

—p.23 Spadework (18) by Alyssa Battistoni 3 years, 11 months ago