Mike Straight
1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143

Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #68

    Work. Yea, I know what you are thinking. A four-letter word, a necessary evil, something to dread, something that needs to get done, as little as possible to survive. We have to trade our labor for money, so we reject materialism as much as we can, in order to have more time to truly live. That is the lesson we have taught ourselves, but is this the only way we should look at it?
    I started thinking about looking at employment differently a couple of years ago. I was in Pittsburgh and a friend of mine had just gotten a job as a librarian. It was a natural progression of his belief system, of spreading ideas and information to people, especially to kids. In his interview he not only stated his academic qualifications and experiences, but also his activities directly related to punk/activism. These activities, from booking shows to running a distro that he has done, gave him the skills to make him a better librarian. Now he goes to "work" inspired, happy, knowing he is working on a beneficial activity. He is not the only one I know like this.
    In Oakland I have a friend who's focus includes community building and environmental work. After jobs at the recycling and composting collectives, he is now building Greywater systems throughout the Bay Area and working on a program, which is developing a new currency for like-minded progressive groups and organizations. In Montreal a woman I know got involved in Punx not Junk, a punk orientated group working against heroin. That Activity led to others like it working with the city, and when a grant came for creating an overnight safe space for homeless kids, she was hired as someone who could understand and relate to the kids, and where they were coming from. It was a structured bureaucratic organization, but one where the grant money was definitely doing good things.
    I myself had this type of experience this year when I worked as a teaching assistant at a university, and then as a coordinator of a children program at a housing project in north Philly. These jobs let me teach history and environmental awareness to people who would not normally be exposed to a different perspective, and gave me the opportunity to work with kids, showing them new views of life. Sharing ideas and information as a job, and I tell you, it fucking rocked, especially with the kids.
    Also I found that often the abilities and mindset that I have learned from punk actually gave me hidden talents. When I was running the after school program on a shoestring budget, I amazed both parents, other teachers, and the kids on my "resourcefulness". (Years of roadieing with punk bands will give you an amazing amount of skills!) Also some of the best information of this generation comes from punk zines.
    One of the most fundamental elements of punk is that it has given us a whole new value system, of what is right/wrong and how we live our daily lives. This has a direct relationship with what and whom we support- both in what we buy and who we chose to work for. If we have to work, why not seek out an activity that we believe in?
    Even when we are in jobs where we don't find the actual work all that rewarding, then we can focus on how the structure of the workplace itself is set up. It's finding ways where the job can provide a rewarding atmosphere, and I felt this in a bar I was working in Philly. My job was making cheesefries and such, not my favorite activity, but it was the basic respect between the owner and her workers that I enjoyed. We had profit-sharing, decent wags and flange benefits, and an understanding boss (who is deservingly titled Mom of da Punx) who understood what the fuck we were doing, ranging from taking a month off to tour with our bands or being late to work because of a Mumia protest. It is rare to find this, I know, and it's one reason why I and the other employers gave her honesty and loyalty.
    Collective workspaces are even a better example, and one of the best I've seen is the Seward cafe in Minneapolis. Basically a breakfast/lunch dinner, it is a fully functional collective where each member has a say in the running of the place. Here the “employees" were the "owners", and not only was there not an exploitive relationship, but a sense of empowerment is gained when working in this situation. My friend who was involved in the collective told me that even though he is not too fond of cooking, he wouldn't leave that job because of the simple, fucking attitude that is there. He never had a job where he felt good about going to, before he went to the Seward. This is exactly what I personally strive to find.
    Yea, work may suck, but we need to look at way to make it less so. Too often I see amazing people settle for activities that ignore their talents and eat up their mental well being. I'm not saying we should put all of our energies just in activities that will give us a paycheck, I'm not saying that at all. But we shouldn't settle for just any old "job". By finding interesting jobs, or employers who respect us, or by creating new structures, we can make the best of living in this capitalist system. We have build a network and value system where our lives are not based around "work", now it is time to make the jobs we do, as rewarding and productive as possible.