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August 1, 2022Todd Jelen - AFM Symphonic Services Division Negotiator/Organizer/Educator
I often hear certain themes from local officers and committee members when talking about organizing: people just don’t want to join, it’s too difficult, people aren’t showing up for meetings, etc. The repetition of these negative affirmations can make it seem like organizing is a magical thing that only a certain few people can achieve. However, it’s worth it to ask ourselves if this lack of enthusiasm isn’t as much our fault as those who are forward-facing to members and the public.
We often overlook the fact that the easiest change to make in any scenario that isn’t working is to change what we are doing. This is one of the keys to organizing. If we personify Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” we can only blame ourselves for not adapting to changing circumstances.
Therefore, we need to change how we look at obstacles before we can expect change from others. When we personify the change we seek, we can successfully organize our locals and our Federation to face our collective challenges now and in the future.
We can start by listening more when we meet with members and prospective members and take care not to project our issues or vision onto them. For instance, we may be concerned that a musician is being paid under scale for an engagement. But are they? If they are happy with the pay but concerned about safety conditions in the venue, listen and draw out how those safety issues are affecting them in the job, as well as in their lives outside of music. Don’t try to convince them that they should act on your issue of higher wages.
People may not want to get involved based on union issues, but they will get involved based on their own. We can get more people involved in organizing by helping them solve their issues first, before attempting to educate them on broader issues. If we track these conversations, we can see clear trends. People are more decisive about organizing around issues that affect them, widely and deeply. Issues that hit the critical mass of interest fuel our movement.
Many officers think that if they can just get more people to attend general membership meetings, all will be good and membership will grow. But is the structure of those meetings a barrier to entry? Yes. The general membership meeting format enshrined in our bylaws is necessary for accountability and transparency to members. But they might seem awfully boring to a prospective member or a member who is disengaged. There might only be one topic of interest to them, and often they will have to sit through an entire meeting before it’s addressed.
Instead of trying to entice members to come to general membership meetings, engage more people by organizing special or informative meetings on one subject of interest within your local. Is there a group of musicians concerned about parking at venues? Hold a special meeting on parking. Is there a group of musicians concerned about safety in the workplace? Hold a special meeting on safety.
We can even look outside our contracts for inspiration. If musicians are concerned about homelessness (or another issue) in your city, hold a meeting to discuss that topic. Once people are engaged on an issue that they value and they are working with others to solve, it is much easier to ask them to attend general membership meetings, participate in concerted activity, or to become a member.
These are just a few ways we can remove barriers to engagement and grow our numbers. As you go through your daily tasks, ask what else you can do to engage people rather than continuing with the status quo. If we constantly engage people to help themselves and act in union, we create the transformative culture that we need to face future obstacles.
If you’d like to talk about how you can foster more engagement in your local or if you would like to receive training on how to have more effective conversations, please reach out. Nothing will change for the better if we don’t first analyze and change ourselves. We must make changes, if we want to see change in others.