You don’t need to quit your job to work for the movement. (But if you want to, you have options)

In response to the social upheaval and, frankly, news all around us, I’ve sensed a new spirit from my friends and acquaintances; a sense of renewed interest in Joining The Movement. Often, that translates into “I should I get a job doing Good”. I’m not so sure about that.

The latest edition of YENTA, my matchmaking newsletter, has just come out. The following is lightly adapted from a section of it.

I don’t believe that your job determines your politics. You don’t need to have a job working for a certain special nonprofit organization to be part of a movement. A thing that determines membership due to employment isn’t a movement — it’s an industry.

We need passionate, capable people to be committed leaders of membership driven organizations. It’s important for all of us to show up, consistently, over time, with a local group building power. And the consistency is much more important than choosing the “right” one.

If “doing massive good for the world” only happened by people who were paid to do it, that means that we’d only win when, what? Over half the country worked for tax-deductible charity organizations? That’s unworkable.

How to rise to the moment (not via employment):

A little while ago, I asked on Facebook:

Let’s say a friend came up to you and said: “I’m fired up about the moment. I want to donate money. Where do I put it?”

What would you tell them? And why?

The responses were fascinating, and covered quite a range of ideas and organizations.

Here was my take:

  • *Where* you donate matters less than that you make it a recurring *monthly* donation.
  • Donations are nice. Dues-paying membership is better.
  • Join a group for which you can have an ongoing relationship. Donate monthly dues that you have some democratic control over where they are disbursed.
  • Show up monthly to a local organization. Again, *which* matters less than that you are consistently showing up.

This was about convincing people that there are other, arguably more effective models of making social change than targeted, large, one-off donations. The logic holds up, I think, when applied to advising someone thinking of making drastic career moves: both donations and membership are helpful too.

If you have the desire and capacity to switch jobs into The Movement, that’s great! I’m enthusiastic, supportive, and would love to help. But that’s not the only way to do big things.

Member-driven organizations that wield power locally are so important! And they’re often starving for driven, nice, non-flaky, members. And, often, money. Find them, be useful, be consistent. That, by itself, would be big.

If I were advising myself about groups to check out, I’d suggest a range of organizations that feel meaningful to me. But they’re tied to things like: being jewish, or being in boston, or knowing people who have run these organizations. So a thing that feels perfectly attractive to me, might be less attractive to others.

That said, here are picks that resonate for me:

  • Color of Change: They’re trying to become the new mainstream, and that’s great. Not trying to be the most radical, but if they successfully redefine “moderate” to be what they’re advocating for (what was perhaps considered radical 10 years ago), then the whole ecosystem takes a big step to the left.
  • Bail Funds: Especially as the police unjustly imprison people, this is a way to free them. And, on the appointed date, the money rolls over and can be used for another person! It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Bend the Arc: As a jew, I believe in doing my organizing *jewishly*. And Bend the Arc is a great way to do good anti-white supremacy work while keeping it grounded and accountable to me and my community
  • Working Families Party: Long-term power building.
  • Ujima: Local, Boston, radical, but also thinking about money, power, and shifting resources
  • Movement Voter Project: Strategic! Timely! Power building. Electoral / advocacy / legislative.

But again, I think the *choice* is a bit of a red herring. Showing up, consistently, over time, with both effort and money, is much more important.

All that being said, I am aware of quite a few fascinating roles to work for social justice (or adjacent) causes directly. It turns out that, this time, quite a few of them are for people with tech skills. But not all of them!

Note also — for a few different reasons, I’m going to conflate “social justice” with “progressive” and even “aligned with Democrats”. I realize that those are different terms, etc. And in a time where we are fighting police brutality, in a moment kicked off by the killing of a black man, talking about jobs in, say, Democratic politics doesn’t quite line up. There’s a larger conversation to be had about that. For now, I can only give you suggestions and tips that are informed by my experiences and network. And they are with more of the broad spectrum of left organizations than the specific slice dealing with policing, prison abolition, racial justice police brutality, etc. I do believe that working for left-aligned organizations makes the world a better place, though some organizations have different theories of change than others.

How to find a job that matches your values

Let’s say that you decide you want to leave your corporate job and go Do Good Things With Your Time. Great! Our jobs are usually over 50% of our waking life — doing something you believe in can be really nice.

So, how do you go about that?

Here are some resources:

Conceptually, what you are trying to do here could be described as a career switch to a whole new industry. This industry has a lot of different subgroups: a local racial justice group might have little day-to-day similarity to or interaction with anonline-first campaigning organization, or to a massive name-brand NGO. That’s real. At the same time, these groups exist in an industry that’s different than “the corporate world”, or the “government world”. There is history, best practices, culture, etc, that might be new and different to you.

And, crucially, “the progressive industry”, while intertwined with social movement organizations, is its own thing. There are office politics, and bad bosses. There are weird (un)ethical practices, and culture that might confuse or alarm you. Your personal poltiical activity will always be fair game to link to your employer, which can constrain your freedom of action. It’s not a utopia, by any means.

The progressive industry is also a place to do big, meaningful work, in a decisive and strategic way. There is professionalism, and coworkers that won’t flake in the way that a neighbor-volunteer will. Working for a mission-aligned organization can be really healthy and good for the soul. It’s different and refreshing.

So! What does this mean for you?

  • While there are exceptions, don’t think you can jump in and immediately apply your prior experience to this new role. Be a bit humble.
  • You *might* have to take a more entry-level position than you wanted. Sometimes, but not always, that’s for good reason.
  • Don’t be afraid to treat job conversations as negotiations. You still will have a boss. You still likely need to put boundaries on your work and stand up for yourself.
  • Once you get in, don’t be afraid to unionize!
  • Treat this with the professionalism, and care, (informational interviews, network-building, etc) that you’d make for other big job switches.

I hope I didn’t scare you off! Working in mission-driven organizations can be wonderful, and good for the soul. And all the above, of course, is just one man’s opinion.

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