What is a Worker?

By Ashley Sanders

I have called myself many things in my life, as I am sure you have. I have been a radical and an anarchist, a feminist and a separatist, a secessionist and a primitivist. I am still all those things, depending on the day and my mood. But these –ists and –isms, for all their fighting, have one thing in common: none of them are big enough to do what we have to do, and none of them is complicated enough to honor the density of the most average human being. We need a new-old word, a word that is old enough to fit us all and new enough to house our vision of a new world. We need a word small enough to still mean something and big enough to fit all us fighters inside of it, with enough space to put out our arms and turn, touching only fingertips. We need a word that is a cat to your dogma, a vision to your ideology. We need a word that staunches bleeding in the body of the Left, that stops the civil war between the mind and the head, that allows for justice and mercy, beauty and survival, art and resistance, hands and lips.

The word we chose is worker. The other word is Mormon. Yes, we’re anarchists, but the beehive’s bigger than the A. And yes, we’re Mormon, but our heart is bigger than our religion. That’s on purpose. That’s because our work is louder and bigger than anything ideas can hold—our work is as big as the world and bigger than injustice. That’s because we are not -ists or -isms, we are workers. An –ism eats itself alive; a worker feeds the people.

And so, a worker manifesto.

Who are the workers? Everyone who hears the call.

And what call do we hear? The calls that others can’t, or won’t: the calls of the voiceless, the beaten down, the dignified but defamed.

Who are we working for? We are working for everyone, the everyone in each person, the neighbor everywhere.

Particularly we are working for those who must work so that others can avoid it, who have no choice but to do it: who must work to live, work to be heard, work for their stories, those humans who work down there, in the cracks between authorized realities. This should not be hard to understand: we work against people who have never had to work—in other words, majorities. And we work against them because their voices are loudest, because their stories are everywhere, because they live fine and fat, because they need only to stare and the world shapes to their experience, because if they did not hear it from us, they would never have to know that their loud, fine, storied reality does not cover the earth, that there are holes in it everywhere, and people living in those holes are more whole than they are.

Why do we do it? Because Jesus did, because it is real, because it is what we hear, deep inside ourselves, when power takes a breath or stops speaking. Because we don’t believe in lies yet. Because so far they haven’t found us, found us and tamed us and contained us—taken the embers off our tongues. Because we are young enough to know that every person is the person to at least one other person, a whole world in a small body, and the least we could do is not kill those bodies, maim them, let them go hungry or flatten them for our convenience. And the most we could do is a lot more than that: we could sit with each other, ask something, believe another when she says that ours has not been their experience, perhaps treat others like they are, each one, a beautiful and extenuating circumstance that requires all our art, our love and our best benefits of the doubt (doubt in the supremacy of our story). And because we know that the powerless are in themselves powerful—have no need for condescension, travel tourism, or platitudes about the people (Trojan horses with the imperialism of good intentions in their bellies)—we know that the powerless simply need more people who will sit quietly and respect their power, and allow them to return, undamaged, to the ones whose worlds they are, unbroken in body and spirit. So, mainly, we do that.

And what is work, real work? Work is sacred sweat. Work is a miracle that makes a possibility a reality. Work fights and does not concede. Work wonders: how did this get broken and what does it need not to break again? Work is the union of compassion and resistance, the make-no-mistake action assuring that you aren’t in it for yourself, that you aren’t a hypocrite or a talker at parties: because if you were, why would you be here at dawn, doing something in a way that is actually helpful? And work is not for employees; it’s for workers. (Employees sanitize the world for bosses; workers help pregnant worlds give birth with all the blood and skin and surprised cries befitting the truth.) Work is not paid in –isms and -ists; it works however it can to get the job done: and the job that needs doing is stitching the tattered world into a coat that covers everyone. And since work can’t afford to believe that there is only one way to make this coat, it is also congratulating everyone with a needle and thread—showing each other arms or buttons that need sewing.

Perhaps you are a worker. Perhaps you have stopped this childishness of believing This or That and come traveling light, offering lean muscle and a howling no against all the bad yeses in this world: the entitled yeses of wrongful power, of power that would destroy. And perhaps you are ready to be that rare thing, a Mormon Worker: to fight power and not people—to be a Christian in both forgiveness and fight, embracing your enemies so their hands aren’t free to hurt. If so, bring your needle and thread and tell us the part of the coat you are stitching. And we will both say: welcome, brother; welcome, sister.

Let’s all be prophets and make a vision together.

Perhaps you are wondering: am I a worker, or am I: scared, uncertain, weak, hurt, tired, in need of some work myself? For you, workers offer rest and some sentences to recognize your old self in. When you are ready, you can pick up your shard of mirror and put it back in place and we’ll reflect the real world rightly. So, ask yourself:

Am I a worker?

Workers are underground railroads for people who don’t need to ask where freedom is and isn’t, people who know where they are going but simply need some cover.

Am I a worker?

Workers say, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Please tell me why I don’t and how.

Am I a worker?

Workers know that their tongues cast long shadows of privilege, and only use them at high noon, carefully, in the light of love and consideration.

Am I a worker?

Workers know more sunrises than most, and the smell of earth as the light hits it, the spirits that rise as mist and vanish into air, and they keep those spirits in mind all day, until dusk, when the spirits settle back into the land and the worker goes home, well-worn and useful.

Am I a worker?

Workers bring food to the revolution, and a clean bed, a song from the throat, and beauty like flowers or talismans or bright stones; they are the ones who write the letters other workers pull from pockets in wartime—when it is time for war—in order to take the next step.

Am I a worker?

Workers expose power by asking of it what it asks of everyone else, and then waiting for it to howl with fury. Then they point it out.

Am I a worker?

Workers know they cannot work alone, if any of us are getting out of this alive, but they will work lonely, when nobody seems to care and there is so much to do by nighttime.

Am I worker?

Workers are gardeners, even if they don’t grow food: they put a small, unlikely thing in the ground, and make the earth around it better. They come back every day, even when no one sees what they can see, and water this invisible hope, talk to it, mutter to it, say: Grow, dammit. I need you to grow.

Am I a worker?

Workers are angry, sometimes. Sometimes they, like Jesus, throw some tables. Workers believe in anger and allow it in others, because they believe anger can be a form of love: a horror at injustice. A worker melts the infrastructure of evil with her anger—hierarchy, class, gender, race, borders, pipelines, prison wire, and prejudice—but they do not melt themselves. (What use is a molten worker?)

Am I a worker?

Workers wish they were angels, so they could speak their words like trumpets, but they know the loudest sound is a person doing what they tells others to, and so they work in silence for hours at a time.

Am I a worker?

Workers help other workers when they are tired, because Lord knows this world can make you tired. So they bring you soup or words or paintings or a leaf from the canyon every day until you are ready to sit up and throw off the covers and start again. But they let you be tired. Because, Lord knows. . .

Am I a worker?

What else is there to say? A worker is nothing more or less than a holy human being who is determined to do more than conquer evil: she is determined to out-rejoice it, to smother it with joy, to live a life so radiant and straightforwardly desirable that other people see themselves in it—it reminds them of something deeply familiar in them. And in the end, that is probably the entire point: to remind each other, every minute if possible, of a self we are always in danger of losing—to honor what is familiar in all of us.
Are you a worker? If so, then welcome.