Sunday, October 24, 2010

Building a Ship

Building a Ship

I recently stepped down from a position in the international. In thinking about this, I remembered something I wanted to share. I feel lucky that I had the privilege to meet Fellow Worker Utah Phillips before he died. FW Phillips sang a song with the refrain, "building a ship, may never sail on it, gonna build it anyway. That's an important idea.

"Building a ship." The IWW is a sort of ecosystem where several elements depend on each other, and move at different paces. One of the main things I do in the IWW now are trainings and administrative work. This is important but it's hard in that the pay offs don't come quickly and often happen elsewhere out of my direct sight/experience. This is different from helping organize a picket or a job action, or moving a co-worker in a one-on-one.

On a personal note, I'm happy to report that my wife is pregnant and that our daughter is due to be born at the end of August. I am very excited to meet my daughter and to raise her. At the same time, I know parenting will involve being stressed, missing sleep, being afraid, and a lot of hard work. Along the same lines, I used to think that revolutionary activity should always be joyful or make us feel good. I no longer feel that way. Obviously this stuff should have enjoyable and/or joyful elements, at least sometimes, but that's a different matter. The work we need to do is often hard and trying and tiring and involves sacrifices. Many things worth doing are hard and are not immediately rewarding. To not do them because they are not immediately rewarding is not justifiable. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing over all, like parenting. It's both rewarding and really hard at the same time.

"May never sail on it." I told FW Phillips that his music and stories were a big part of my introduction to the IWW, and that I had really enjoyed talking with him and hearing his stories. He said thank you. He said something like "I was your age when I met the people who got me into all this, and they were about the age I am now. Someday you'll be my age and will be getting new people into all this." It was (and is) a sobering thing to say, and definitely felt (and feels) like shoes I can't fill. It's also an important reminder to think long term: Utah was I think 73 when I met him. I had just turned 30.

All this ties in to the reasons I decided to step down. In short, I was and am feeling burnt out. On the one hand, I need to make sure I do not burn out entirely, so that I can continue to play a somewhat positive role for the long term. On the other hand, the point in the song is important. This stuff is not about immediate returns - or, at least, not about seeing our really big goals accomplished. I find that a useful reminder. This work matters. We have to keep doing it. For me right now hanging in for the long term means stepping back for the short term, taking on less in order to do better at the things I am doing in the IWW.

"Gonna build it anyway."

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