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The Labor of Activism

Recently, a good friend of mine who is an advocate for Palestinian liberation posted this article about the potential toxicity of being employed in the social justice field. Its pretty good but my friend added in her commentary that we should also consider the unpaid work that we do on behalf of the political movements. At one point in my academic career I was invested in an intellectual community for whom nonprofit work was a rite of passage. For them it was also a privilege. While they were all working low wage non-profit jobs (with support from parents and partners), I was working in the corporate world. I needed the money and benefits to live. Unfortunately, the movement doesn’t pay bills.

But I also noticed, like the article mentioned, that for them the organization was the movement. And that sentiment placed me on the margins of our circle. It somehow called my loyalty to the movement into question. Which movement you ask? Didn’t really matter. As long as it wasn’t rooted in patriarchy. (A blog for another day)

Yet, under the oppressive system of capitalism we were one in the same. While we often critique capitalism in the activism we do, we never think about how the labor we do for social justice is labor. And much of the unpaid work is often done by women. In addition to jobs and taking care of families. In fact, when I went to South Africa earlier this summer I remember saying to many of the education and labor activists that we met how inspired I was that there were so many women in positions of power. Their response, “Its because nonprofit jobs pay the least.”

So I began thinking that the labor that is done by women on behalf of the movement is reproductive labor in the Marxist sense. Not sure where to go with that. Which is why its here, on the cutting room floor.


About Shana Russell

Woman. Scholar. Liberationist.

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