If “the system” treats people like shit, they will feel like shit.
If they feel like shit, they will treat other people like shit.
Some people focus on changing the way the system treats people. In my terms, those people are advocates--people who speak in behalf of others who they think aren’t able to speak for themselves, or lack the power to speak for themselves. Some lawyers, union business agents, social workers, politicians and executive directors of advocacy organizations are among those in this category.
Others are providers of services--people who offer something to alleviate feeling like shit or even making the shit go away. Some counselors, trainers, therapists, healers, affordable housing builders, inner-city teachers and child-care center workers are among those in this role.
And other people challenge those who are being shit upon to organize themselves to act to change the shitty system and change the shitty circumstances in which they find themselves. That requires of the people being shit upon by the system that they take responsibility to change the way political, economic, social and/or cultural power are exercised. Since most of their efforts in trying to change the system have been rejected or otherwise unsuccessful (“you can’t fight city hall”), organizing them is difficult. The talent for doing it is rare; I don’t find it too often. The people with this talent are community, labor, interest and identity group organizers. I distinguish organizers from those who might occasionally get the shit-upon to show up for a march or demonstration but then return to their previous condition; I call these people mobilizers. The line separating organizers and mobilizers is fuzzier than I’m making it appear.
Among advocates, service providers, mobilizers and organizers are some people who excuse the shitty behavior of shit-upon people who shit on others by pointing at the shitty conditions under which the shitters live. I think that’s both an intellectual error and a strategic mistake.
Yet other people condemn the people shit on by the system for being shitty. They (accurately) say of these people that they possess choice. They omit, however, any understanding of what living in shit does to people. I think that’s a big intellectual error and a strategic mistake as well.*
Shit-upon people of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but the shit in your lives.
*An amendment was offered by one of the readers of this paragraph:
"[T]he people that condemn SOME of those shit on by the system for being shitty themselves to other people also being shitted on by the system, understand what living in shit does to people, but also understand that removing the shit from those shitted on people sometimes requires removing the shittiest people from their environments. The people that make this condemnation understand that the union of shitted on people of the world and their organization toward a system that is not shitty is what will make the world less shitty, BUT with the shittiest of the shitty being allowed to terrorize the shitted on, the shitted on will have to continue their focus on mere survival in shit, rather than on fixing the shit, or they might be killed by those shitty people. The shittiest of the shitty, just like those shitty people who benefit most from the shitty system simply don't care about the desire of those living in shit to not live in shit. Both of these shitty groups are obstacles to the shitted on not living in shit. One adds to the shit sneakily, the other adds to the shit in the open."
Mike Miller has had almost 60 years experience as a community organizer. Before founding the ORGANIZE! Training Center in San Francisco in 1972, he was a founding member of SLATE and an SNCC field secretary. In 1967, he directed one of Saul Alinksy's community organizing projects.
(The quote at the top of the
page is by Desmond Tutu.)