Reading group will discuss No Shortcuts by Jane McAlevey

by John Ahlborg

January 23, 2020

The members of Cleveland DSA are getting uncomfortable. Although, since living under capitalism makes us uncomfortable at baseline, I suppose it would be more precise to say that members of Cleveland DSA are getting more uncomfortable. That’s because on January 30th we’ll be discussing Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, in which she asserts, “Every good organizing conversation makes everyone at least a little uncomfortable”(37). (Why “several long minutes of dead silence” during a conversation would make someone uncomfortable, I have no idea.) 

Jane McAlevey is a longtime organizer in the environmental and labor movements. No Shortcuts is her second book. She very recently conducted a national book discussion series with DSA, involving multiple mass organizing video calls. Much of her work has been with unions, but as she says in No Shortcuts, “This book is not about union organizing; it is about organizing” (16). Reading about the successful progressive campaigns in No Shortcuts will galvanize our renewed focus on organizing to build power in Cleveland.

McAlevey contrasts organizing with advocacy and mobilizing, and she argues that organizing is the only effective way to build power. Organizing involves continually expanding a base of ordinary people. Ordinary people who may not consider themselves activists – which is the point of organizing. Doing organizing work can make all of Cleveland DSA’s projects more effective and powerful, whether they be pressuring Cleveland city council to implement a cold weather plan, demanding lead-safe housing in Cleveland, resisting local ICE operations, or showing up in force to support local union actions.

McAlevey supports her arguments by describing four modern progressive campaigns that won important victories against power structures in workplaces and communities. Three of the campaigns were efforts of unions; SEIU in Washington state, the Chicago Teachers Union, and the unionization effort in a factory in rural North Carolina (during which the employer’s cooperation with ICE once caused 2,000(!) latino workers to walk off all at once). The fourth movement was an immigrant organization in New York City that successfully banned ICE from New York City and New York State, among other accomplishments. 

Cleveland DSA’s reading group is meeting at the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library on Lee Road on January 30th at 6pm. Discussion will cover the first half of the book. The second half will be discussed at the reading group meeting in February. Everyone, DSA member or not, is welcome to attend, even if you haven’t read the book! If you have any questions, or need help accessing the book, email Jane McAlevey suggests that organizing conversations should be uncomfortable, but she doesn’t say anything about reading group conversations, so please come for a pleasant discussion!