I’ll be honest: I don’t love my job and I don’t think I’ve ever truly loved any job I’ve ever had since I began my working life in earnest. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had several lovely work environments in beautiful offices with truly fantastic co-workers — many of whom I still count as my closest friends — but I’d still not call that loving my job.
No, I’ve had jobs from unbearable to perfectly survivable, and the older I get, the more I realize that here in late-stage capitalism, a job I love is not the goal, –being able to put time and money and resources into things I want to see flourish is. I don’t do what I love, I fund what I love.
By this I mean, I am a donor of my money and time and skills. I currently do unpaid work for at least five different groups and give money and/or advice to dozens more. I don’t work on the front lines of any efforts to cure the sick or free the encaged or smash the empire, but I do my best to give to groups that do. And I’m finally coming around to realizing that funds and funders matter.
I recently facilitated a dinner event attended by people from both the commercial and nonprofit spaces, and I noted a distinct snootiness towards people who hadn’t committed their lives to radical struggle defined as working in a cooperative or a foundation-funded NGO. I’ve encountered this sensibility throughout my journey as an independent activist/organizer and it’s lame and wrong. The “revolution” will no more be funded by large non-profit donors than it will by Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
The truth is that the struggle has and will always require a diversity of tactics, as well as a diversity of funding and energy sources. The more we radicals understand and accept that, the easier it will be to start building cultures and structures of support that help us better share responsibilities and promote self/mutual care.
Activist guilt, that feeling that you constantly should be doing more for the movement, is real. Survivor/thriver guilt is real, but so is activist/organizer burnout and illness. If we embrace a model of funding what we love rather than doing what we love to death, we just might move our lives and efforts into balance, and begin modelling that new world we seek.
A few things that have been making me happy recently.
The Improbable Dome Builders
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the brilliant thinker and architect R. Buckminster Fuller fell in with a ragtag group of Puerto Rican teenagers on the Lower East Side that came to be known by the name of CHARAS (a nonsense word combining the first initial of each member). Fuller would come down to the neighborhood and teach the young people geometry and how to build his geodesic domes.
They went on to revolutionize the neighborhood with a community-empowering eco-minded project of build renovation and self-education. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the soft release gathering for the re-release of this magical project here in Brooklyn at Pioneer Works where many of the original members spoke about this magical experience. You can read more about and buy the book here.
Build An Ark – “Dawn” (2007)
I’m revisiting the beautiful Build An Ark 2007 album “Dawn”. Good 70s jazz vibe. Highly recommended! Just click play above.
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
Laugh if you want, but this old white man is saving my life daily. I heard about this book I think from Russell Brand, and I got it on audiobook. It first felt like a gut punch, but then I woman’d up and felt such relief. I’ve been recommending it to people left and right.
Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to make a serious run for president. She was underfunded and underappreciated but courageous and brilliant. Watch this document to learn your history and be reminded of the long history of liberal and Democratic “lesser evil”-ism that continues to lead people nowhere.
This summer I co-founded CoLET: The Collective for Liberation, Ecology, and Technology. It’s a much-needed space for politically radical technologists. We finally got our website to a good place. I am excited to make a radical intervention in tech spaces and a tech intervention in radical spaces. Our time is SO now. Check it out when you get a moment!
4) Bookchin on Streetfighting with Nazis back in the day
I’m still on a Bookchin kick and someone in the social ecology community sent along this timely clip. Know your history, people!
These two women have gotten me through many a tough day and given me my whole life with their groovy, funky, punky selections on this monthly independent radio show brought to us live from the streets of London. I love you, Ruby and Josephine!!
“Technology has played a major role in eliminating the domestic drudgery that for centuries culturally stupefied women and reduced them to mere servants of men…” –Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution
Like many tech startup workers, one of my work benefits is the ability to work remotely from home or elsewhere. In my case, this came as a result of my team gradually becoming geographically-distributed while still maintaining just one office.
Nearly half of my teammates work exclusively from home/remote. However, I am based where the company is headquartered, and, as such, I am expected to work primarily from the company’s office. This is not a huge problem for me, except for some days when I am either traveling, have personal or family tasks, or those days when there are major issues with NYC’s illustrious public transportation system. In those cases, it is helpful to be able to work from home or wherever I am currently staying. Unfortunately, that is never without its own complications.
First, the good.
The Benefits of Working From Home As A Working Mother/Wife
Working from home means I don’t have to go crazy with the minutiae of femme gender performance (what to wear, how to do my hair, making sure I have a full face of makeup), rush to drop off my kid, and then race to the train. Cutting the commute often also means…
While I can’t stay in PJs all day since I still have to leave the house to drop off my kid, I usually get a better breakfast and can get to the gym if I have those two hours of commute time in the bank. As a working mother and wife, any extra minutes to myself are a total gift. I am also sometimes able to schedule local appointments on those days or even just grab a quick coffee with a neighbor.
Starting the “Second Shift” Early
As described in Arlie Hochschild’s seminal book of the same name, the “second shift” describes the additional unwaged work many women are expected to do both before and after their waged work day. This shift includes childcare, cooking, cleaning, and responsibilities to/with extended family/community. While my husband is extremely helpful, I am still very much expected to be the “captain” of our domestic sphere. When I work from the office, I have to do this shift outside of work hours, but when I work from home I can sometimes squeeze a bit of it in. A load of laundry can go down at 9am instead of 7pm and dinner can get started hours before stomachs start grumbling.
While I’d love not to have to do this stuff at all, since it is on my plate, it can be handy to to use some of the daytime hours to try and tackle it.
The Downsides of Working from Home as a Working Mother/Wife
Missing Important Work Conversations/Opportunities
Everyone I know who works remote for a company that actually has an office tells me they inevitably miss out on the hallway banter, and I know that when I work from home — despite having a distributed team — there are many discussions that I don’t overhear and decisions that I hear about much later on because I was out of sight and out of mind. The more I can be in the office, the more I can keep an ear out for how I can be an advocate for myself, my team, and our customers.
The fact also remains that at many companies, leadership opportunities are not extended to people who work remote. I was promoted last year and I think without the day in/day out interactions with my boss, it would have been much harder to demonstrate my value. I put in the fleshspace face time, and he saw me putting in the work day in and day out.
Although I must admit that I don’t talk to my co-workers that much whether in the office or when working from home, there is always something to potentially be gained from quick water cooler conversation or post-lunch banter. The people I work with are very different from me and talking to them can give me new perspectives on our work and the world. I don’t get any of that when I am not in the office and people also don’t get any of that from me. While I have expressed my exasperation with “diversity in tech”, I will say that if we are going to push for diverse teams but everyone is working remote, then it seems the value of said diversity is greatly diminished.
Also, while I have no plans to stop the presses and take up the picket at my current place of employment, I do wonder about the future of unions with an increasingly stratified work force. Unlike the 40 hour work week or disability, remote work wasn’t granted after long-fought struggle, and that makes me suspicious. I can’t help but believe that this whole business of letting people enjoy the “freedom” of working from home is undoubtedly geared towards further alienating workers not just from their labor but from each other.
Expanded Second Shift
As outlined above, second shift work does often happen when I work from home. When I work from the office, I always go out and pick up lunch — sometimes even a coffee. When I work from home, I have to take time out to prepare my own lunch which is always a slippery slope into doing several other tasks in the kitchen and sometimes throughout the house.
Being at home means I have more time to run my eyes over everything that needs taking care of throughout my house, which inevitably leads to something needing to be wiped up or swept away or vacuumed. I, of course, can’t be doing that mess if I am not in the house.
Longer Work Day (if I am not careful)
The lines between home and work are blurred when I work from home. Whereas in the office I see my peers packing up and signaling quitting time, at home I can carry on working until well into dinner if I am not careful or if I let Second Shift cut into First Shift and then feel the need to “work off my debt”. This means that my goal of taking positive advantage of the two hours of commute time often goes unrealized.
All in all, I am glad that I have the ability to work from outside of the office when I need/wish to, but as a black working mother and wife, I am not a remote work enthusiast. While the freedom of the nomad life might be wonderful for a great many, the opportunity to be temporarily freed from the domestic sphere and also possibly increase my opportunities for career success seem to outweigh the joys of working in pajama bottoms.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of going up to beautiful Vermont to take part in the annual gathering of the Institute for Social Ecology. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been delving into the work of activist-scholar Murray Bookchin, and the Institute for Social Ecology is an institution that he helped to found over 40 years ago. The annual event is a chance for eco-anarchists, ecofeminists, Green Marxists, libertarian communalists, and every other persuasion of social ecologist (who can afford to) to make the trek and gather in the dual spirit of conflict and collaboration.
Despite my objection (that were clearly voiced over the weekend) to the glaring whiteness of the gathering and the lack of focus on female voices, the three days were still so packed full of useful information and brilliant quotables that my hand started to cramp up from how feverishly I was taking notes.
While I won’t attempt to summarize everything that occurred, I will share a few of my favorite quotes, as well as links to interesting groups/gatherings I want to research and potentially useful further reading.
My Favorite Quotes from ISE 2017
“When someone accuses you of essentialism, reject the argument but then go on to refute the category.” – Ynestra King
“We’ve all learned that if you take control of the state, the state eventually takes control of you.” – Lincoln Van Sluytman
“The crisis of our time is that we haven’t really explored what it means to be political.” – Eleanor Finley
“Don’t just share the ‘conscience experience’; share the capital.” – Cora Roelofs
In the beginning, there was the pure, innocent love of the craft. Hands on a motherboard, fingers on a keyboard, you marveled at your budding power of creation. Your ability to conjure something that seemingly wasn’t there before.
Then the harder part, earning your stripes, whether it was enrolling in formal education or joining an open source project. You felt uneasy, but maybe that was just nerves or imposter syndrome. It’d shake off in time, you thought, surely you’d grow more confident.
So you moved onwards into the hallowed halls of the tech industry — the Googles, the Apples, the Ubers, and the nameless-but-hopeful upstarts. And that uneasiness couldn’t shake. In fact, it oftentimes got worse. Bad Things happened. You tried to talk to your coworkers about it, but most shook their heads and laughed it off.
You tried to talk to HR about it and they transferred you to another side of the compound. You thought to yourself maybe something *was* truly wrong with you.But then you looked down at your hands, those same magical hands that found pure joy in the craft and then you looked up at your screen. There you saw a dreary spreadsheet or code for some pointless widget or the interface for yet. another. food. delivery. app.
It’s not you that changed; your magic did not fade. Our magic has not faded. We all still have immense power and capacity to harness our time and creativity to bring about solutions for the world’s ills and also enchant our own lives.
So the question is: why don’t we feel it? What is it we are doing that so disenchants us and who/what are we doing it for? What and whose vision are we servicing?
At this point we can’t talk about the Bad Things that go on in this industry as mere isolated events. How many women and people of color and others have whistle blown? How many of us see what happens to them and become too paralyzed to speak up or acknowledge anything—even to ourselves?
And even if we decide to speak up, to whom (and on what platforms), would/do we even make such appeals?
The Bad Things are not anomaly or abnormality. This is capital working towards its own ends. For all its talk about “thinking different” and manufacturing some sort of utopian future, the work we are doing , the people we work for, the VCs, and the banks funding them are doing what they have ALWAYS done. They remain in hot pursuit of ever more capital for capital’s sake, rolling over anyone or anything that gets in their way.
Furthermore, while neoliberal capitalism has evidenced great plasticity in terms of what it can tolerate on the surface while still keeping the gears in motion, any racism, sexism, classism, trans/homophobia etc. that we might encounter or suspect is endemic and essential.
Thus, in their never-ending pursuit of this manifest destiny, the people behind these cutting-edge platforms that many of us have so come to trust — the places where most of us upload our most private information and connect with our nearest and dearest — must deputize vigilantes to police the borders of their new frontiers. These vigilantes often go by the names of “online bullies” or “internet trolls”, but they are merely the low-paid mercenaries at the front, pushing forward the message and the mission of the monied and powerful.
This is not new. We can’t talk about the rise of new formations of internet-based hate groups without at the same time talking about the platforms where they gather and organize and the training grounds like unmoderated community forums, tech conferences that refuse to uphold Codes of Conduct, and HR departments that sweep accusations under the rug. Nearly every time one of those platforms and the execs who run them came to a crossroads where they could draw a line in the sand and create a policy with real teeth, they consciously chose not to.
So while the formidable work of groups like Project Include, Code 2040, Black Girls Code, and Girl Develop It is laudable, I don’t think that integration work alone will transform this industry. In fact, I’d argue that the people and organizations that fund these efforts do so precisely so that they can preemptively neutralize elements that have the potential to be truly disruptive and dangerous. With their money and seats on the board, they control the terms such that nothing ever really changes. The ship will still keep boldly going on the course that was charted long ago.
My goal is not necessarily for anyone to flip a table and walk out. I can’t do that myself, and I know we all have rent to pay and mouths to feed. What I do ask is that you:
Embrace your discomfort. Bad Things are happening. Unfortunately, the Bad Things are the system functioning as intended. While certain people claim to be regretful that this happened and others are playing the blame game, this is mere a diversion while the elites quietly re-establish order. A few whistleblowers will become prominent, fall guys will fall, deck chairs will be shuffled on the Titanic and nothing will truly change.
Understand that technology/innovation is not the proprietary domain of the so-called Tech Industry. Much technology and innovation is publicly-funded and open source and accessible to all of us. Even when privately funded, innovation represents the fruits of our labor and we should be able to leverage it all.
Connect with likeminded folks for mutual support and to start actively thinking about alternatives. Let’s challenge ourselves to build and nurture new, independent projects and spaces to unleash our creativity (I am working on something like this, reach out if you are interested).
Be not dismayed! Working together, we have limitless power to harness and direct our passions, courage, and skills to reanimate, reinvigorate, and liberate.
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Audre Lorde